Back before the internet was a thing, people used to play games offline, sitting at a table with friends. Obviously this is still common and, as shows such as The Big Bang Theory demonstrate, popular culture still loves these kinds of games which involve characters that are set quests and challenges across the game; each roll of the dice can bring something different to the table (literally).
As the internet started to become available to more homes and at faster speeds, it became possible to bring these games online. At the beginning, these games lacked graphic detail as this kind of design was in its infancy, but instead relied on those playing to inject imagination into the text that was displayed on the screen in order to get the game moving. The kinds of directions each character could move in were limited to just basic functions such as moving north or south and ordering a character to start attacking. These early forms were labeled as multi-user dungeons, or MUDs.
It wasn’t just about the game and what that offered; it was more about the social aspect. Bringing people together online and interacting brought the game to life in a way that just a story line could not.
Before internet development allowed for fast multiplayer games, while everyone was still dealing with ponderous dial-up connectivity speeds, text-based games proved particularly popular as they didn’t drain the servers in the same way and land users with a hefty bill for exceeding data allowances. By focusing on these aspects at conception, rather than the gameplay, it allowed for these types of games to improve their user interfaces and explore different ways with which the users could interact with each other.
As the age of broadband connections and increased bandwidth came about and the proliferation of personal home computers increased, millions more were now able to participate in these games, broadening the reach of the most popular games at the time. At this point, MMORPGs rapidly increased in popularity as awareness spread of the kind of technology that was now available to make these gaming experiences more immersive, and word of mouth took over as friends got other friends involved.
World of Warcraft (WoW) is probably the most popular of all MMORPGs, with a gigantic fan base from all over the world.
Users of the game indicate that the popularity and large reach of the game stems from the focus on the user experience as a whole, which draws on the success of those text-based MMOs back in the 1990s when the graphic experience was not enough to get people interested. This approach means that when playing with friends and other users online the social aspect is so well developed that it adds a whole other level to the gameplay. This strategy helps to explain the continued success of WoW, as Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision/Blizzard, will no doubt tell you.
So where are MMORPGs destined to go from here?
Any successful gaming company will know that they cannot rest on their laurels and keep the same gaming experience forever; users will get bored and look for the next generation. Starter packs are an obvious way of bringing changes to a game without altering the entire thing, and give gamers control over their experience by allowing players to decide what kind of world they would like to go into within the game universe.
Currently, there is a lot of focus on bringing these games to mobile devices so everyone can be involved on the go, and this is where a lot of the advertising and attention seems to be drawn. As cell operators increase the data speeds and limits that are available on contracts, it is certainly getting easier to play these on the go, and it will be interesting to see how far MMORPGs can go in this capacity.
What other developments are currently on the horizon?
There is a lot of talk about 3D MMORPGs, which definitely looks like something to keep an eye on. 3D and virtual reality headsets are starting to come more into the mainstream and are becoming less of a rarity product. It is possible to get these headsets for increasingly low prices as the technology develops; soon everyone can be playing their favorite MMORPG and feel like they are even closer to the experience than ever before. With these emerging developments set to take further hold in the coming years, it is going to be an interesting time to see what format your favorite MMORPG ends up in.