Although not the first implementation of a virtual world, MUD1 written by Rob Trubshaw, was the first successful virtual world. Rob wrote MUD1 in his final year of a Computer Science degree at the University of Essex. Initially written in MACRO-10 for the DecSystem-10, it rapidly became difficult to maintain. A decision was made to rewrite the game in two separate parts – the game engine and a multi-user dungeon definition language. Crucially this allowed for updates to the game engine without drastically affecting the world itself and visa versa.

MMOG: Development

In 1980 the development and maintenance of MUD1 was handed over to Richard Bartle. The popularity of MUD1 grew outside of the University of Essex and developed as new technologies allowed individuals and other universities to interconnect their computers through a number of mediums including ARPAnet (which was to become the Internet) and JAnet the Joint Academic Network.

Meanwhile, Steven Murrell, another undergraduate at Essex University, wrote PIGG which was aptly described by Richard Bartle :
“This system uses a much more fluid arrangement as far as descriptions go than MUSE, in that the program actually attempts to work them out from other objects/rooms. Thus, upon entry to a room, the program would scan
around and describe its contents“

Due to the engine and definition language architecture of MUD1, a number of interested individuals round the world created new worlds based on the MUD1 engine. Thus between 1985 and 1989 a number of MUD’s were released including: Gods, AMP, Mirror World, Federation II, Shades and MUD2.

In 1987 AberMUD, was produced by students at the University of Aberystwyth, in 1988 the code was ported to the C programming language, opening up a whole world of opportunities for University’s and individuals running AberMUD on UNIX machines worldwide. AberMUD spread like wildfire with incarnations cropping up all over the world. This spawned many derivatives of AberMUD notably: TinyMUD, LPMUD, Gemstone II, Dragons Gate, DikuMUD and TinyMUSH.

These games started to make their way onto the fledgeling online services market. In 1985 GEnie and QuantumLink started putting games at the fore of their online services strategy making Gemstone II and Dragons Gate available to the masses via dial up connections in America6.

Initially online services charged per minute. However due to the competition of numerous start-up companies a price war ensued between the major players, resulting in a switch from the pay-per-hour model, that proved lucrative in the early years, to a flat-rate pay-per month model. This model brought in substantially less per user, made services available to many more users balancing out the costs. These games now in a new business context, would set the future business models for future MMOG.

MMOG: The History of MMOGs

In 1997 Ultima Online7 (UO) was released heralding a new era for online games, graphics. Although graphical virtual words were not a new thing (Meridian 59 was released a year earlier, with limited success) UO was the first graphical world to achieve commercial success. In 1998 Lineage was released in Korea proving extremely popular, a year after Lineage, EverQuest was released. EverQuest’s success was runaway. By January 2000 it had exceeded the total number of active subscribers that Ultima Online had at the time, despite being released 18 months later. EverQuest’s subscription levels was to outgrow all expectations setting a standard for future MMOG.

Since the release of EverQuest many new MMORPGs have been released. Some of them were EverQuest clones but others were more original. Asheron’s Call8 was not as successful as EverQuest, but regardless was never-the-less considered a huge success for Turbine spawning numerous expansion packs and Asheron’s Call 2. Dark Ages of Camelot9 and EVE:The Second Genesis10 provided a full player driven economy, giving hours of playtime
just transporting goods around, the huge universe.

Many games that have been released up until now have been what are considered role playing games (MMORPGs). However attempts have been made at making other genres of game available in MMO form. Most notably PlanetSide11 which was the first massively multiplayer first person shooter (MMOFPS). Unfortunately it didn’t seem to sit properly with the MMORPG players who felt that it needed some lore and story-telling around the game.

Similarly, the FPS players didn’t think it could be classified as a true first person shooter because it implemented a Cone of Fire(CoF) system, to replicate recoil and inaccuracy. PlanetSide’s other fatal flaw was that it was very resource hungry, often causing poor playability on all but the best machines, limiting its market severely. Other genres like simulations, have made an entrance on to the market The Sims Online12 being an example.

An important part of the genre of a game is the lore that surrounds it. Many games choose to create their own lore, story-line and setting from scratch. However, it can be advantageous to use licensed story lines. Some licenses are very strict such as the Tolkien universe implemented in Middle Earth Online13 and George Lucas’ universe in Star Wars Galaxys14 – both have strict licensing agreements, restricting the content and extendibility of the universe. At the same time, though, a huge amount of advertising comes for free.

Middle Earth Online, for example, was slated for release in 2001 to coincide with the release of Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring, which would have given it a huge advantage due to the hype surrounding the films. Other sources for lore, story line and setting can come from fairy tales and legends such as the Arthurian story’s that inspired Dark Age of Camelot.

In summation, the MMOG market started from small free text based virtual worlds in the 1980’s to become a multi-billion dollar market, providing a sizable income and fueling future developments and advancement.