I dipped my toes into the mmo genre around 1998 with UO, Everquest, and Asheron’s Call being my first big three mmorpgs.
Each of these games were quite different from one another and varied in many many ways in the very core of their gameplay.
In Ultima Online you were literally plopped down into the world of Britannia and were completely and utterly free to do whatever you wanted. It exemplified in its truest form the “role playing” aspect of an rpg. You could be the brave hero that fought against villains, or you could be an evil dark lord that fought against other players, or just be a crafting making his goods and selling them in his shop. It was up to you to live in the world and do whatever you wanted. You were never told to follow this quest line or forced to be someone you didn’t want to be.
The open pvp/loot nature really made this all the more vital, it pushed people into social interactions, you have a red camping the crossroads? Ask at the bank for help and many blues would rush to your aid. You lose your armor? Strike up a conversation with a crafter, many were more then willing to help out a new player with equipment to get them started. Even if you didn’t like PVP, or looting it was a vital part of the cog in the machine that played off other facets that pushed people together to interact with one another in various ways.
The community of UO was by far the most social I ever played with in a game, still to this day. You had communities that would build up from people simply building their house near yours and then you getting to know them. It was routine to see gatherings, people throwing parties, tournaments (with prizes), weddings, all kinds of events. It was also common to see GM’s actively engaging in these things with the players.
Everquest came along and it was like stepping into a virtual game of D&D. Where UO was the open form of “rp” EQ went the other way and pushed players into coop and working together to tackle dungeons and bosses the likes of which weren’t really seen on that scale in a video game. The sheer sense of exploration in EQ, stepping foot into a new area with dangerous and new creatures, hoping that you didn’t die is still unsurpassed.
Asheron’s Call, this was the most dynamic mmo I ever played, even to this day. It showed what actual “updates” and how the internet could actually change and evolve gaming as we know it. With their updates the world itself felt truly dynamic. You might login one day just have the world that was once lush and green now be coming down with a light snowfall that’s gently laying on the ground. Then you come back a few hours latler and now that place is snowing heavily and the buildings and trees are covered in it.
Then you had the story updates. You would actually read about them before getting into the game and then you logged in and actually saw them there in the world. Everything from giant spires appearing over a city, to new mysterious shadow creatures stalking the lands, to the epic battle of the games gods fighting it out.
After I played each of these mmo’s I could not WAIT to see where the mmo genre would take us. My mind raced at the thoughts of the new and amazing mmo’s we could get, just imagine in 10 years times how different mmo’s will be I thought.
Boy, was I wrong, so so wrong.
We got a few decent games after Everquest (daoc, shadowbane, etc) and then along came World of Warcraft. In true Blizzard fashion they had masterfully studied the mmo landscape and cherry picked many design and gameplay elements from many great mmo’s of the time. The base “formula” they built upon was Everquest, with its theme park style world, “trinity” class system, quest/loot focus, etc. They built a very fun mmo that was easy to get in to and learn for many new players to the mmo genre.
The game literally changed the face of the entire genre because of its popularity. It dwarfed all other mmo’s (including EQ) by a large margin. It skyrocketed in sales and players, which attracted the notice of many publishers who had yet to dip their feet into the mmo market. They saw $$$ and wanted a piece of the WoW pie.
This led to a great stagnation in the market. Where EQ/UO/AC were a bunch of developers who ere actively trying “new” things and creatively figuring out a new genre, mmo’s now started to be made as though they were a car on an assembly line. What’s selling? WoW, it’s what players want they said, lets just copy it! Thus we got exactly that, a bunch of “new” mmo’s that were in fact not “new” but rather re-skins of WoW. We got them over and over and over.
The genre began to stagnate, people started to get tired of playing the same basic formula over and over. They either wanted something new/different or figured that if they were going to play a “reskin” of WoW….why not play WoW itself? They had friends there, they had characters, and Blizzard just released a new expansion that would give them new areas to explore and lv’s to gain.
I miss the days of UO/EQ/AC, when you would login to a new mmo and step foot into a new world. Not knowing what was around the next corner or what you might find. I am afraid those days are gone and they are never going to come back.
WoW didn’t mean to, but it killed mmo’s for me.