MMOG: An Overview of the Massively Multiplayer Online Game Phenomenon

Main Page - Introduction
Contexts for Libraries
What are MMOGs?
The Development of MMOGs
Issues and Discourses
Conclusion
Works Cited
About the Author

The Development of MMOGs

A brief history

Current developments




A brief history

        While the origin of MMOGs has been traced back to early table top role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, the start of computerized massive multiplayer games occurred in the early 1980s with the developments of MUD, the 'Multi User Dungeon'. These games, based on the classic dungeon setting of many table-top role play games, were played in a text format with computers linked directly or through other network systems (Kent 1). MUD games moved from text to graphical interfaces, and the number of players that could be handled by the network system was extremely limited. When the Kesmai game company released Air Warrior in 1987, only 16 players could participate at any given time. As Sony Online Entertainment chief creative officer Ralph Koster points out, “At the time, 16-player was a big deal. So, if you had a multiplayer game that exceeded 16, you might as well call it massive” (qtd. in Kent 1).

        The first game that would be recognizable as a MMOG to many of today’s players is Meridian 59, released in 1996 by 3DO. While marketing Meridian 59, Trip Hawkins used the terms ‘massively multiplayer’ and ‘persistent world’ to help pitch the game to the media (Kent 2). Although Meridian 59's player capacity is hardly considered massive by today’s standards (the maximum player number was just 250), and was similar to the number of players for text-based MUDs, it was the first game to truly make its way onto the internet, as opposed to being played on private networks (Kent 2).

        The following year, the Ultima role-play game went online as a MMOG, and immediately developed a following of enthusiastic gamers, as did the more strategy-based game Lineage. Player subscriptions reached the millions, and it became clear that there was a strong market for MMOG style games, although there was still a lack of awareness for these games among mainstream audiences (Kent 2). When EverQuest was released in 1999, it experienced an unprecedented media hype, and was met with wild enthusiasm and popularity. EverQuest quickly developed a great deal of notoriety due to issues such as videogame addiction and the buying and selling of virtual items with real money (Kent 3). The press surrounding EverQuest - both positive and negative - increased the profile of MMOGs among mainstream users and secured their position as a popular and highly lucrative form of computer game entertainment.


Current developments

        It is difficult to keep pace with the developments of MMOGs. Game technology has been improving with surprising rapidity, fuelled by a demanding audience and a strong competition market. Mirjam Eladhari’s 2003 article, Trends in MMOG, predicted that developing games will involve greater group dynamic capabilities, increased potential for character development, and the creation of more formalized social, political, and economic regulations for the in-game world setting. Not surprisingly, these developments have come to pass. The release of World of Warcraft (created by Blizzard Games) in 2004 prompted huge acclaim for the game's fast pace, large number of quests, and encouragement of social interactions between characters. In 2005, ArenaNet and NCsoft released an innovative MMOG called Guild Wars, which emphasizes the individuality of each character, encourages the formation of co-operative gameplay groups or “guilds,” and provides an environment that is as much a virtual social space as it is a game space. Furthermore, ArenaNet imposed no monthly subscription fee for players who wanted to access the multiplayer online servers; most MMOGs, particularly those with complex game and graphics capabilities similar to Guild Wars, do require some form of subscription should the player wish to join online games (Kosak and Lopez 1).

        While it is difficult to predict precisely how the MMOGs will develop in the future, the improvement of graphics and game appearance has always been high on the list of developer priorities. Regardless of whether the graphics style pushes towards extreme realism or more fantastical creatures, players delight in visually rich graphics that suit the mood of the game, with environments that are wonderfully beautiful or deliciously grungy. The success of the recently released MMO Strategy Game Civilization IV, developed by Firaxis, with its easy user interface and smooth integration of multiplayer game modes (Kosak 2), may prompt a surge in the popularity and development of more MMO strategy-type games, just as the success of EverQuest increased the popularity of the role-play multiplayer games. It is also reasonable to predict an advancement of in-game chat capabilities. MMOG real-time chat engines are often text-based, with players keying in their conversations in the same manner as one would with instant messengers. While voice-chat does exist on some MMOG games, the quality of sound is often inconsistent. As server and game technologies improve, so will in-game voice-chat capabilities, providing linked players yet another layer of immersion into the MMOG play experience.












Created by Lauren de Bruin
School of Library and Information Studies
University of Alberta
ldebruin@ualberta.ca
Last updated on March 8, 2006.