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Community Spotlight: Old School vs. New School

Posted by MikeB Thursday April 7 2011 at 1:19PM
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This week's Community Spotlight focuses on the the thread "What made old skool MMO's harder than modern day MMO's" by Calerxes. Calerxes admits to having gotten his start in the new age of MMOs with Blizzard's World of Warcraft back in 2004 and he genuinely wants to know the difference between the previous era of games in the genre:

I was not there at the birth of the fully graphical online roleplaying game aka the MMORPG, I've tried free shards of EQ, UO and SWG, I picked shards that tried to produce an authentic version of the original game but really its not the same as actually being there at the beginning so I did not stay long, though I do pop back in every now and again.


So correct my ignorance as I was not there.... what makes Ultima Online, Everquest, Asherons Call, Anarchy Online, Dark Age Of Camelot, FFXI more difficult and immersive than modern day MMO's like I have listed?

Let's take a trip down memory lane!

Loktofeit kicks off the discussion with an excellent post:

Online resources weren't as prevalent. For example, wikis didn't exist and fansites were more about events and guild news than walkthorughs.

NPCs weren't marked and quest logs weren't as detailed.

You could actually do things or have certain rep levels that would get you guard-killed in otherwise-friendly towns.

In UO, there was no global chat and even when one was introduced, no one used it. All chat was based on proximity.

Ingame maps were very limited, IIRC, in EQ, I had to constantly spam 'Sense Heading' to raise the skill that told me what compass direction I was facing.

No respeccing or skill builders available. If you took cooking on your swordsman in AC and were 30 levels into the character (took al ong time to do that back then), you either lived with it or rerolled.

People also played very differently back then, though.

  • People used their first character or two to learn the game before making their actual character. The first character almost always ended up a mule with a skillset or build that was entertaining to see years later. Now people expect their frist character to be their main and, as such, MMOs are designed to support that which means less expeerimentation and more direct information, less choice and more handholding, and definitely as little consequence as possible.
  • People back then also came from group gaming backgrounds. The early MMO gamers were that cross section of PnP gamers and computer users. They were people that actively looked for groups, wanting to emulate the teams they read in their fantasy books or played in their DnD games. As such, with a group-focused audience, the games were designed to offer challenge to groups, resulting in often torturous gameplay for most solo players (*cue the jackass that has to reply with how that isnt' true because they leveled their druid/necro/whatever to cap solo*).
  • Politics were more a part of gameplay.In the older games there was more of a hierarchy, and when you had a problem with someone you didn't start spouting profanity in general/local but rather went to your guild leader who went to their guild leader to resolve it. As such there were a lot of rules, written and unwritten that players generally followed.

someforumguy isn't quite as nostalgic as some about the "good ol' days":

Back then I played shooters and RTS games. The early MMO's were too boring for me. I never had any understanding for the dull and painfull mechanics that made everything take so long. The only challenges I saw in oldschool MMO's were challenges that had nothing to do with gaming in my eyes. Camping, corpseruns,waiting for mana to replenish, travelling times even if you were just going back and forth were ridiculous in my eyes.

Not fun and not a gameplay challenge. I wanted to be challenged in skill (twitched based) or tactically. This was nowhere to be found in those oldschool MMO's. Oldschool MMO's would never become popular in current market. (Most) people have a job already.

VengeSunsoar didn't find the older games harder necessarily, but he did certainly find them more tedious:

I personally don't feel old MMO's were harder.  They were longer than most newer games, they definately had points that were more irritating.  But the game itself, how you played wasn't any harder or more challenging... just longer and more tedious.

Actually as much fun as I had in EQ I actually find that it was more limited in almost every way than games today.  Less choice in developing my character, less choice in the areas I played (eventually solved by... what 16 expansions now), less choice in the content available for single player progression.

However I did like the teamwork.  These days I team when I want and solo when I want, however I will admit that sometimes sparking up conversations and keeping groups is harder today.  There has to be some way to not only make grouping as easy and rewarding as it is today (and yes groups get more xp, more loot and more coin than soloing) encourage teamwork, while still keeping soloing as a real viable experience and not the afterthought of games gone by.


Admittedly, I wasn't around for the oldest of the old school. I got my start on Star Wars Galaxies back in '03, so I missed the boat on Meridian 59, EverQuest and Ultima Online; and while World of Warcraft was just slightly over a year away Star Wars Galaxies was pretty old school, especially at launch. As other users mentioned a lot of the "quality of life" features we take for granted weren't necessarily available back then. Galaxies launched without vehicles or mounts and only a few fixed locations per planet to fast-travel to so everyone spent most of their time walking. If you played at launch there were indeed corpse runs, loot and all. Adventuring wasn't a quick and easy affair, either; players had to stack up on consumables, get buffs, etc in order to go out and hunt and earn experience. Everything simply took longer.

In some ways, this was a good thing, and I feel contemporary MMOs often go too far in the other direction. Instant gratification is the name of the game now. I don't mind this depending on the game, but when I'm looking forward to some grand new MMORPG I'd definitely like to see a bit more of a happy medium.

What are your thoughts on the old school vs. the new school? Share 'em in the comments below!

TheMaelstrom writes:

I think VengeSunsoar was playing different games than I was. hehe.

EQ was a TON harder. Pulls were harder. Mob camps were harder. Learning which abilities to use in which situations was harder (conserving mana for CC abilities or burst dps if necessary). Hell, finding your way around was harder! EQ launched with ZERO maps. None. At all. You either learned your way around or got hopelessly lost in a freakin' huge world. The cities could be nightmarish to navigate until you learned your way around.


He also mentions less choice in the areas you could progress through, but I disagree there as well. Even in original EQ (most recently revived by the Time Locked Progression Server), most races had their own cities and starting areas, along with outdoor and dungeon areas in and around the cities. If you got bored in Neriak you could always go to Commonlands. If you didn't like it there, you could trek to Qeynos. If you didn't like it there you could take the boat to the other continent and xp in Faydark.

In my mind, EQ still offered the best overall feeling of a living, breathing world with stuff to do, see, explore, discover, and conquer in ways that no game since has even tried to replicate.

And yeah... sense heading was a NIGHTMARE to level up. But if you learned your way around quickly enough, it really didn't matter. :)

Thu Apr 07 2011 1:59PM Report
Durray writes:

I am definately a "new school" gamer I think what made old MMO's harder was simply that the old games were new for the time. An unknown and people had to adjust to them, learn them properly. They were missing elements and in my mind tedium and incompleteness was the price these first games paid for creating the genre. This undeniably made them harder or at least more convoluted. The market and the MMO formula are now well known even at young ages. The modern gamer has a finished/slowly developing genre, help from online communities. 

It isn't any less complicated just easier to learn. The difference between discovering new chemical elements and playing around with them. And learning about them in a text book then playing around with them...

But hey no doubt as a new gamer I will just get a "you weren't there man..." response.

Thu Apr 07 2011 6:00PM Report
TheCrow2k writes:

What I miss most about old School MMO's (UO was my poison) was the need to group. People now say "I dont want to be forced to group" and "I want to be able to solo" and funnily enough these are the same people who hit cap and then whinge about having nothing to do because msot of the high level content is suddenly group based (high level instances & Raiding).

Its all well and good to want to solo & not be forced to group. That is actually kinda what Single player games are for, part of the fun of MMO's is supposed to be the social experience. In the old days I would introduce my real life friends into new MMO's and we would group up and make friends from all over the world grouping with strangers who often became our friends & later would join us when switching to a new MMO.

Now I still introduce my friends to new MMO's but more often than not there is a lot more solo playability and therefore some people get several levels ahead of the others (where in the old das if you couldnt find a group you would work on your crafting & collecting, maybe grind for cash) which then causes difficulty in grouping as someone is always incurring a penalty.

I feel too much soloing is killing the MMO Genre. Personally I dotn want to pay for a boxed game & then pay an ongoing subscription to simple play on my own, there are far better solo gaming experiences available in normal out of the box single player RPG's.

So the biggest difference for me is there is less socialisation because the need to group up has been removed.

Thu Apr 07 2011 6:52PM Report
Nesrie writes:

Old school games had a real sense of adventure and danger, the two combined. I remember the first time my group and I traveled to Velious, experimenting with what might be KOS, where to travel, what places might be a good camp and wiping out in areas that seemed like a good camp until something we didn't know pathed in the area in the midst of a pull. I also remember discovering a rare item, a spider queen I think, that we didn't know was there.

Like others said, there were no maps. Adventuring alone was very dangerous for several classes, and group adventuring was a blast. Oh, and just the act of traveling was... risky.  EQ had holes in the boats, boats that would take forever to arrive at the dock, that you could fall through, or my favorite, lost while zoning in leaving you to swimg a really, really long distance. The world were HUGE.

Some of these were bugs, but that sense of the unkonwn, discovery, factions and kind of running into the unexpected, haven't found that again.

Thu Apr 07 2011 9:15PM Report
xcarnifex writes:

I think it was a bit of people being unfamiliar with the game format in the beginning.  I've been apart of this discussion for a few days.  I've been trying to find the criteria people use to judge the "hardness" of these games, which I would think would be penalties, time consumption, and how easy it is to make mistakes that have last effects.  IE Everquest had the Priest of Discord, if you became PVP enabled by handing him the couldn't be healed or buffed by any non-PVP flagged people...and you couldn't go non-PVP ever again.


I am inclined to believe that those of us who went through the first generation of MMOs and continued into the future generations, we saw they kept a familiar format/formula for progression.  But they also sped up the progression, took out permanent choices whether in-game or via paid services, and provided a lot more information about the game whether via official channels or other players adding UI mods, websites, etc. 


If they would have deviated from the original gameplay to create an unfamiliar baseline might be reversed for difficulty.  But I think the original games were more difficult, not only because they were unfamiliar but because they weren't trying to streamline the game experience.  They were creating unique zones that may have not nessecarily played as well or gave positive experiences for most as current MMOs do.


I only played Everquest as one of the first generation MMOs, so I can only use it as an example.  

Probably the most famous/easiest/popular start zone was Qeynos front yard it's sewer system.  There wasn't anything too blantantly over powering that you could just stumble into there.

But then you have places like the Troll starter zone, where half the time you would randomly start swimming or get attacked by something submerged in the water.  You could tell Trolls were hated, because they had to put up with a horrible starter zone.  Or Ogres where it was just big open plains of no landmarks to guide you in a rather foggy zone with aggressive lizards and such.

Gnomes, the shortest race in the game has these big valleys you have to fight in with no guards close it was pretty easy to get turned around since you couldn't see over the top of the valley without turning your camera up to the point you couldn't see most things in front of you.  And some majorly different levelled stuff held in the same zone.  The highest I believe being the Minotaur Hero (think he was around level 30) and he could path a LONG LONG way...all the way to the entrance to the Akanon (Gnome city).

Dwarves had named roaming ogres that were significantly high level to kill them in a hit or two.


It's just not done like this anymore.

Thu Apr 07 2011 10:14PM Report
Jamkull writes:

my first MMO i got knee deep into was Asheron's Call, when it first came out it was a lot rougher than it is today of course. can't recall the name of the dungeon now but there was one that had a trap door and if you fell in there was no way out and your only option was to commit suicide by typing /lifestone and back then you died instantly and it took you to your last lifestone used.  of course that's if you didn't have item magic trained fairly well and had the recall spells learned.  which back then there were no scrolls but only trial and error of using spell components, because each account had it's own special combo of spell components (yes every account owner had a different combo of spell components for spells, as in your buddy's components to do recalls were most likely completely different from your own.)

Not like today where it simply portals you to said lifestone.  no more commiting suicide... i'll admit that was a bad undertone.   a lot of those older games started out really tough and as time went on they removed a lot of the tedious aspects in lue of what the people wanted.  and that trend has only continued in each and every new game.  it's like the old saying, you give them an inch and they take a yard.  But there have always been 3 very distinct types of players even in regular games.  especially in PC games... you have those that like to play the game for what it is and for what it is designed.  and then there are some that like to take the easy road strait to the top to brag to his buddies how fast he beat things although he/she used cheats to get there.  And of course there are those that reside somewhere in the middle of the each extreme.

I'll have to say back then I didn't have a life as I do now, I was single and had tons of time to kill.  And that was ok then... but now I have a wife and 1 child with 1 on the way and I much more prefer casual friendly games for the hardcore.  Because i simply don't have as much time to kill as i did back then.

And it would seem a majority of players in today are casual type players or just hardcore easy streak type players.  Thus WoW was the first game to really tap this market.  No one really knew the possiblities until WoW struck online gold.  And now lots of companies are out to stake their share so to speak.

it will take time but the dust will settle eventually and it will all come full circle and we will eventually start to see more variety for various markets once companies finally see the various types of players that truely exist.  Because we all know there were at a time more than 500k subs to EQ and around 300k subs to Asheron's Call when they were new.

sure they aren't "wow killers" by any means but it's still a good chunk of revenue.


Thu Apr 07 2011 10:41PM Report
someforumguy writes:

I find nice features and mechanics in most MMO's. I just dont like it when ppl act as the lacking of certain features in oldschool games is what makes those games better. To me it just shows that those developers were still noob.

Oldschool gamers in my eyes are comparible with old folk that talk about the great old days when everything was better and they had more sunny days. They dont like change and they dont like new people. They had to work harder for longer hours and had less to show for, because nowadays all those kids want everything to be handed on a silver platter.

But the worst part is where they see the challenge in games. Basically it comes down to waiting and repeating and then wait some more. The fact that a game stops being a game in that case, doesnt matter to them.

Thu Apr 07 2011 11:48PM Report
TheCrow2k writes:

I left out D&DO which is more from the modern Era but had good party mechanics & ingeniously structured dungeons that actually required you have certain classes onboard or a minimum number of alive players to overcome them.

It was probably a little too strict in enforcing the oldschool D&D party makeup but somewhere in that formula with some refinement is the perfect recipe to encourage effective grouping in an MMO and even just before it went F2P it was rare you had to wait long to find a group for any instances.

Fri Apr 08 2011 2:00AM Report
Kyleran writes:

It wasn't just nostalgia, they really were more challenging, and yes, figuring out how to minimize the negative aspects (i.e. travel times, down time etc) down to their most efficient form was part of the adventure.  Learning to pull and kill a mob camp w/o totally exhausting your mana was important so you could continue to pull until finally stopping for a minute or three to rest and regen.

I recall in DAOC your gear had so many aspects to it that really mattered.  First, your avatars skills made a difference, as an Infiltrator (steather/assassin) you could roll it high in Dex, and be great with piercing weapons, or high in strength and be better in slashing weapons.

This mattered because some opponents (human and npc) were weaker to one or the other.  (Chain to piercing, Leather to slashing, plate was vulnerable to blunt trama which Inf coudn't really do well.  Gear also had a con factor, purple, (which you could wear but it would degrade rapidly), red, orange, yellow, blue and green.  You tried to keep yourself in orange's/yellows but many a player was wearing blues at times because good gear was hard to find.

Speaking of which, the best gear was crafted, so perhaps hard to find isn't the right word, it was expensive (and sometimes timeconsuming) to get yourself geared up with the best crafted gear.

How was crafted gear better?  Gear had a Quality  rating, random dropped gear had ratings of about 85-89% and it was considerably weaker than gear in the upper 90's.  It almost was sort of like the Richter scale, there was noticiable difference in gear that was 98% quality vs the highly sought after (and rare) 100% gear.

Few players on their first run through wore anything but drops, and leveling alts was so much more efficient when you had some cash behind you to purchase (or craft your own) high quality gear.  Changed the experience significantly vs today's games where I find leveling with only Green Drops to be completely adequate and no real advantage to wearing higher quality gear when soloing.

This is only on example,I could name 1/2 a dozen easily that gave early games a complexity that you really forced you to chose your opponents carefully (Infiltrators normally steered clear of plate wearers, just wasn't a good idea) and plate wearers feared a good kiting mage, just couldn't get close to them.

Fri Apr 08 2011 5:24AM Report
hardicon writes: old school games were not necessarily harder, but they were much different. i only played asherons call and it reminded me of old school pnp dnd with my friends. then i got on darktide which reminded me of being in a madhouse. the basic thing about those old school games is they did not hold your hands, in ac i dont see how people figured out some of the quests, there was no help websites that gave you a walkthrough. if someone in your guild didnt know and you couldnt find someone in the game that knew then you were gonna have to figure it out or be sol. the thing that stood out most to me though in asherons call was the combat, no pvp combat can ever compare because its all tab target and the defender has no chance to dodge. in wow pvp is all about using broken game mechanics to win, but in asherons call you could dodge spells, dodge attacks, if you had more run skill than someone then you could run away from them, not everyone ran at the same speed, some had better jump, you could dodge arrows that were shot at you, all this took skill, it wasnt just tab target auto attack, go eat a sandwich. that is what i miss the most about old school games. Fri Apr 08 2011 8:33AM Report
Sensai writes:

Perhaps it all can be summed up by the word "forethought".  Outside of only a few raid and heroic instance encounters, for example, forethought is completely absent in modern games.  Modern games allow you to just jump into character creation, spit out a toon, and jump headfirst into fights where no planning or strategy is required.  If you die, you lose a few seconds of your time and then you are on your way again.

Games like EQ and DAoC (mostly on the RvR side) required you to understand the game mechanics, understand how to pull and manage fights, and actually pay attention to everything that was going on around you.  Therefore, there was far more immersion than you typically find in modern games.

Sure there were more time sinks, but that certainly is not what made these games more challenging, and accordingly more rewarding.

Fri Apr 08 2011 5:38PM Report
Jamkull writes:

yeah AC required quite a bit of hand and eye coordination compared to any MMO to date.  with the right timing you could dodge spells and arrows outright without the need for a defense skill that has some random number attached that decides if it misses or not.  fights with large groups of shadows were always my favorite in the first year.  amazing times...  That is one rare game i look back on that had so much epic monthy story elements that made raids look like child's play.  I lost an entire set of armor from a death from a huge group of shadows out in the swamps, my corpse was underwater so there wasn't much of a way to find it other than using the [ and ] keys to find a corpse.  which there were a lot of corpses that day.   but a year later I had  way better armor than that anyway but at the time it was pretty devistating. oh the nostalgia...

Sat Apr 09 2011 6:35PM Report
MurlockDance writes:

Heh heh, starting out in MUDs, it's no wonder that these games were pretty closed off for mainstream players up until WoW. In the old text-based MUDs, you had to know how to macro, otherwise they were impossible to play. We take colored text for granted in today's MMOs, like in combat for example. In fact, I think most people don't even pay attention to the combat text anymore and just watch floaty numbers. In the text-based MUDs, we had to macro all of that ourselves, and watch the text fly-by like hawks in order to figure out when to heal the party, or what-have-you.

EQ1 was absolutely jaw-dropping when I first saw it. UO was too much based on Ultima for me and I had little empathy for it when it first came out. But EQ1 was the graphical representation of all of my beloved text-based MUDs! The only thing that peeved me at the time was the subscription ironically enough. I didn't see why we had to pay every month for something that was originally run for free by volunteers (and usually by pirating space on a university's servers) like the old MUDs.

The old school MMOs required lots of patience and time. Casuals could get into them but only if they were patient and realised that it would always take longer to get to point B from point A than people had more time on their hands. Casuals just accepted that back then. One big difference I noticed on the server I was on was that more people RPed back in those days. If you bumped into someone and you didn't want to be in character, you had to add ooc somewhere in your sentence.

DAoC was the first MMO released that had casual elements to it. It was so much easier to play than EQ1 was: the mob AI was better, pathing was better, and pulls in general were less chaotic. There was less medding needed, more skills one could choose from in the hotbar, learning spells was so much easier, etc. Plus, there were far more classes who could solo and that was seen as a good thing by most players! And the player community and RvR was amazing. I will never forget those pre-ToA days.

I think that MMOs have come a long way and some of the newer elements would have been very welcome in the old MMOs. Nostalgia is great and everything, but new MMOs have polished up a lot of the stuff that was irritating. I feel myself quite happily immersed in Rift, so immersion is not necessarily a thing of the past, at least not for me. It is also much easier to die in post-WoW MMOs, so character death means little. If it was so easy to die and ended up in EQ1-like corpse runs, the MMO genre would be much more hardcore (in the D2 sense, not hardcore vs casual sense).

There are good things and bad things about both old school and new school. Either one is a fan of this genre or not, but I feel bad for those who are not and still persist on coming to forums like these and bashing everything.

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