The genre of MMORPGs, if it should even be called that, is a fairly new phenomenon in the world of gaming. Dating all the way back to the MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) of days gone by, the MMORPG has quite a few long-running games in its library. Most gamers might attribute the birth of the genre to a simple few: Ultima Online, Everquest and Lineage. While these pioneers should largely be considered the games responsible for bringing MMORPGs into the public eye, they are not the oldest titles out there. Ultima Online is going on its 13th year of activity, but believe it or not there are five games that came before it which are still alive and kicking. There may be a few technicalities that could switch the ordering around, but without further adieu, here is the list for the five longest running MMOs.
#5 Nexus: Kingdom of the Wind
Launched in Korea in 1996, and again in North America in 1998, Nexus could also be slotted at number four but we're going to go with the North American release date for the purpose of this list. Nexus is something of a harbinger for what was to come out of Korea. While the most notable "old-timer" from Korea is thought of as Lineage, it was Nexus that first brought the MMO into the collective conscience of many Eastern gamers.
Sporting the now classic over-head 2D graphics similar to games like Ultima and Diablo, Nexus is more than just "another Korean grind", as so many imports are often declared. While leveling up is the main method of character advancement, there is a more interesting method of advancement that actually involves the social structure of the game's community. Players can become judges, tutors, and even Game Masters (officially employed by the developer) to help address community and gameplay issues. The complex social structure is likely one of the main reasons Nexus has survived for so long, and is still a game enjoyed by many today.
Launched in January of 1997, Tibia is our fourth oldest game on this week's list. It had the unfortunate honor of being one of the last western-developed 2D offerings before the 3D graphical boom in the late 1990s. Without the big name clout enjoyed by the later-released Ultima Online, some posit that Tibia's visuals kept the game from enjoying the mainstream success of other games launched around this time... a point which is rather debatable. Free to play with an optional subscription to grant additional features, Tibia has been a cult-favorite for 13 years now despite never really gaining major notoriety. CipSoft, the game's developer reported that there are about 1.3 million registered accounts, and while that doesn't mean there are as many paying subscribers, I wouldn't hesitate to call the game a success even if it is under the radar a bit.
Sporting a very familiar overhead view reminiscent of Richard Garriott's Ultima series, Tibia has many of the same features other early games in the genre had, including something that seems to be taking a back-burner as of late... quests that involve puzzle-solving and cooperation to unlock further content. At many points in the game, a certain quest is required to be completed before gaining access to a new area. Archaic though it may be to many of today's modern MMO gamers, Tibia is one of the games that started it all and is still keeping on today.