Online Multiplayer RPG Takeover

Online Multiplayer RPG Takeover

Well it’s finally happened. Online Multiplayer RPG games have entered the mainstream and show no signs of slowing down. Even mainstream news sources regularly mention games like World of Warcraft, Second Life, and EVE Online these days. In Asia, most Online Multiplayer RPG games are free to play which allows them to attract an even greater playerbase. Tens of millions of people, of all ages, play games like Maplestory in Korea, China, and Japan.

But it wasn’t always this way. The first Multiplayer RPGs were classic tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons that were played with pencil, paper, and a bag full of dice. Almost all MMORPGs have their roots in tabletop RPGs, from the traditional fantasy setting all the way down to the playable classes & races are pulled directly from D&D. Before the internet, gamers had to meet up in person either at a public place like the local hobby shop or at one another’s homes. One person played the role of ‘Game Master’ (or GM) and led players through epic campaigns.

With the advent of the internet, it became possible for gamers from all over the world to meet up online and role play. Since early computers couldn’t handle the rich graphics we are accustomed to today, most online multiplayer RPG games were played in chat rooms or usenets. The next step in the evolution of online multiplayer RPGs were multi-user dungeons, more commonly known as MUDs. These were text based PC games which supported multiple players. At that time, online RPGs were still a niche and most gamers still played the traditional tabletop games. Things changed rapidly with the introduction of graphical MUDs such as Habitat that supported primitive graphic user interfaces.

The term graphical MUD is still technically valid to describe today’s online mulitplayer RPG games but we now use the newer, flashier term ‘MMORPG.’ By the early 90′s, internet gaming was gaining popularity but it was only with the release of Ultima Online that MMORPGs went mainstream. It allowed thousands of players to interact in a persistent, open-ended game world. Players flocked to the game but the open rule set allowed small groups of players to ruin the experience of average users. Because of this, Ultima Online’s player base never exceeded a few hundred thousand.

The next advance came with the introduction of three dimensional graphics. Until that time, technological limitations made 2d visuals the only option but by the end of the 90s, computer hardware was becoming powerful enough to handle heavy duty graphics. EverQuest stayed true to the classic fantasy setting but offered a much more variation in terms of geography, playable classes, and races. EQ attracted even more gamers than Ultima Online but heavy loading time, a steep learning curve, and game imbalance issues prevented it from going global. Both UO and EQ have managed to stay online since their original inception which is quite an achievement considering their dated graphics and gameplay styles.

By the year 2000, most industry analysts thought the multiplayer online rpg market had peaked. How many more people were there willing to pay a monthly fee to play as an Elf? All that changed with the release of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Known for quality titles that and with a worldwide audience, Blizzard’s MMORPG quickly became a best selling PC game and attracted millions of subscribers from across the world. Today, online multiplayer RPG gaming’s undisputed champion is WoW, with over 11 million subscribers. Many MMORPGs have been released recently that try and emulate World of Warcraft’s playstyle but have fallen short.

And that brings us up to speed. Online multiplayer RPG games have grown rapidly and are now enjoyed by gamers all around the world. Today, they are even blamed for causing addiction and anti social behavior. Industry followers are already claiming that the market has hit another plateau but if history has taught us anything, it is to not underestimate the broadening appeal of online multiplayer RPGs.

By, Erhan Altay

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