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The Free Zone: My Most Memorable MMOGs

Column By Richard Aihoshi on May 20, 2014

It's approaching two decades since I started writing about the massively multiplayer category. I don't recall the exact date or even which title was the first I covered, but since then, I've played hundreds for at least a few hours each, and seen lots more. Recently, I was asked which ones I most remember. While this question may seem simple enough, it  took me a fair bit of time and thought to answer.

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In large part, this was because I have fond memories of quite a few. No, I'm not going to subject you to the entire list and the reasons for each game being on it. Instead, I'll limit myself to three. Since I'm not big on precise rankings, they're in chronological order, eldest first.

The breakout

Although there are different opinions as to what the first MMOG was, the role that Ultima Online played in bringing the category into the gaming public's consciousness is unquestionable. It wasn't alone in this regard. In this region, EverQuest and Asheron's Call also attracted considerable attention, as did Nexus and Lineage in Korea. For me however, the one that stands out above the rest of this bunch is UO.

Perhaps oddly, I can't say I loved the actual game. I didn't hate it by any means, but it never truly resonated with my personal preferences built on years of mainly concentrating on single-player RPGs. Although I didn't expect or want the same type of experience, UO was enough of a departure from its offline forebears that I never got into it to a similar degree.

Nonetheless, it fascinated me. One major reason was because it very amply demonstrated that the MMOG category had immense potential, which was only starting to be tapped, to change the entire game industry. Another was that it showed the viability of a revenue model other than merely buying the box. Somewhere around then was when I first looked around for and became aware of others; one of these was based on selling in-game items rather than playing time.

The little game that could

Although Mythic Entertainment had been around for a few years and had released several online games, it's fair to say few people were aware of the studio before Dark Age of Camelot was announced. Even then, only the still quite small MMOG segment of gamers took much notice. This was understandable to a degree. After all, not only was the company virtually unknown, the entire team was very small even for that period, only about a dozen developers initially and perhaps double that number at launch.

In addition, while this didn't emerge until some time later, the project's budget was also pretty meager. Apparently, it cost about $2.5 million plus some lease deals to create and deploy. In any case, it remains one of my top handful of most-played MMOGs. 

Obviously, DAoC became a success beyond all reasonable expectations. I firmly believe that one contributing factor was Mythic's willingness to think outside the box, and thus to be different. This was evident in many ways, from the RvR design focus to having arguably the most forthright style in communicating with fans, outboarding the official forums, etc. Some individual things worked out less well than others, but even back then, it wasn't uncommon for teams to indulge in me-too thinking and practices. So, the underlying inclination to look at more than the middle of the road was refreshingly and thus memorable. And as I indicated last time, I continue to wish a lot more companies would dare to push boundaries. 

The game-changer

As significant as all the titles named above were, none had nearly the effect of World of Warcraft. Although I would never have predicted the degree to which this title came to dominate the entire category, I had felt for some time that MMOGs could be far more popular than UO and then EQ. Long before launch, it was abundantly clear that WoW would take the genre to another level. This further suggested the likelihood that the way of the future would be more theme park-style design, which represented another form of thinking outside the box.

So for me, this game is highly memorable not only because it greatly expanded the MMOG audience, but also due to how it led to a major shift in the overall type of play experience numerous titles provide. In this respect, I sometimes think the pendulum swung too far, but if anything, this might be an even stronger testament to WoW's influence. As well, for whatever it's worth, I'd say I spent more hours playing it than in any of the other games named above.

Closing queries

What are your most memorable MMOGs, and why?

Are your most memorable MMOGs the same as the ones you've played the most?

Which current MMOGs are likely to be considered most memorable 10 to 15 years from now, and why?


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The Free Zone
Richard Aihoshi has been writing about MMOGs since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. As a result, he has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.

He is the former Editor of RPG Vault and his column, focusing on free to play MMOs, appears on MMORPG.com every Monday.
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