Nov 302011

I was sent a link to this set of YouTube vids on the history of the MMO genre from MUDs forward. It’s worth a look, even if only to get  a rare glimpse of actual video footage from some of the older games that many folks today don’t even know existed (after all, WoW invented the genre, right?)…

Among the oddities, errors, and omissions:

  • Leaving out Kingdom of the Winds, which predated Lineage.
  • Leaving out kids’ MMOs entirely, especially Club Penguin.
  • Saying that the Ultima Online team had never made anything multiplayer before (Ken Demarest, mentioned in the documentary, left very shortly after UO actually had a team put together — and the original core team that was assembled on the programming and design side was all MUD/MUSH/MOO veterans except for one guy).
  • Saying that Meridian 59 going flat fee was what opened up that business model… I’m fuzzy on this, but my recollection is that M59 was not flat fee at launch… it happened later. And for a while they had a weird complicated fee structure…
  • Leaving out Kart Rider, the genre explosion, and the rise of free-to-play in Korea… it just sort of stops short at Lineage there. Instead F2P seems to all be attributed to Runescape, which is a real misread of where the lines of influence actually flowed, I think.
  • No mention of key non-game worlds like Second Life and Habbo Hotel. I suppose this is excused by the emphasis on game worlds, except for the mention of Habitat.

As a side note, on the graphical MMO explosion — even though a bunch of titles launched in a very staggered way that is covered in the documentary, I think that in practice just about all of them started development around the same time. It’s just that some of them finished faster.

There’s definitely a book to be had about everything in this history… someone (not me) should go write it. 🙂

Vids after the fold:


  29 Responses to “3-part video history of MMOs”

  1. Happy to see them include important titles that don’t get mentioned like Habitat/Club Caribe, Kesmai, Neverwinter Nights, etc.

    But as ever, I’m always unhappy about any history of these games that doesn’t mention Plato MMOs of the 1970s, and doesn’t mention Furcadia (though clearly I’m biased there). At least we finally got into the Guiness Book of World Records last year. (Yay!) Could have been more mention of the influence of DikuMUDs, Mush/Moo/Muck, etc. but nobody cares.

    It is cool that the first computer they show is the PET. That’s the first one I had as a kitten. 😀

  2. bah I still prefer the graphic released by Namaste as it mentions Golemizer in it 🙂 (follow the management line to the right)

  3. Nexus: Kingdom of the Winds was mentioned briefly in part 2 during the Lineage segment.

  4. I wonder why so few of those who make this kind of documentary actually ask the people they’re talking about whether what they’re saying about them is factually correct? It’s not like we’re dead or anything.

    Nice footage of old games, though.


  5. Haven’t watched the video, but here’s something I can speak with some authority about:

    Raph wrote:
    Saying that Meridian 59 going flat fee was what opened up that business model… I’m fuzzy on this, but my recollection is that M59 was not flat fee at launch… it happened later. And for a while they had a weird complicated fee structure…

    The original intention for Meridian 59 was to have a “credit” system that was a bit similar to what many later Chinese games used: you’d buy so many “minutes” of gameplay and then they would count down as you played. The original intention was that the servers would be something your ISP would set up as a feature for their users. (Some old ISPs used to run things like Quake servers so that you’d have very low latencies and more powerful servers.)

    When AOL became a dominant force and went to a flat-rate monthly fee, that changed the goal. So, 3DO launched M59 with a flat-rate subscription fee of $9.95. (The original per-minute “credit” system was edited to count upward, giving the admins a sort of ‘/played’ record.)

    Right before UO launched, M59 went to their complicated fee structure; it was essentially $2.49 per day, but you got so many “free” days per week if you paid; you’d basically pay about $30 per month if you played like a typical MMO player. M59 lost a fair number of players to the better advertised UO, but ended up making more money overall as the remaining people paid a lot more.

    By contrast, The Realm required a yearly subscription fee. UO launched with a subscription fee, and EQ launched with a slightly cheaper fee ($9.89, a play on the name of 989 Studios, the original development company.)

    A bit of payment history for those interested.

  6. Thanks for the clarification, Brian! Gordon Walton pointed out to me yesterday that there were a few online game services doing flat fees even a few years prior to that.

    I know that what prompted UO to go flat fee was AOL.

  7. I recall the original Everquest was designed with the same per-minute model in mind, changing to the flat fee during the last third or less of development (roughly, kinda guessing on timing).

    And yes, shame they left out the DIKU/CircleMUD roots of a few things, especially considering the early scandal EQ ended up in relating to its similarity to the above.

    (Also, I have absorbed way to much trivia related to that game, I’m finding. I never even played that much! 😛 )

  8. AOL going flat-rate was also the direct impetus for Iron Realms coming up with the virtual goods model. I didn’t think our beta players would put up with mandatory subscriptions, and charging by the minute was out of the question at that point, so I decided to try selling some unique in-game items. It worked!

    Funny how influential AOL used to be. (On a side-note, remember the widespread dismay on Usenet when AOL opened the garden wall?)

  9. […] Koster's blog Filed under: MMO Leave a comment Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) ( subscribe to comments on this […]

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  11. (On a side-note, remember the widespread dismay on Usenet when AOL opened the garden wall?)

    “The September That Never Ended.” I do actually miss the pre-AOL Internet.

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  13. With regard to flat rate, I believe the first one was Aradath. If not, it was Sceptre of Goth itself (which doesn’t even get a mention in the history). Mark Jacobs and Bob Alberti would be able to tell you definitively, if you desperately want to know.

    That said, “first” isn’t all that meaningful in a history if it doesn’t cause anything. I can show you that an idea’s time was coming, I guess. There’s no point in lauding something as “first” if it’s an obvious idea unless it caused other people to have ideas they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

    In terms of revenue models, it’s not as if “charge users a flat rate” is the kind of brilliant insight that can only come from the mind of a genius – anyone can think it up. It would be significant if the reason someone else adopted it was because they’d seen it in action before.

    As it happens, some of the developers of M59 did play SoG so it’s possible that they did indeed get the idea from there, but on the other hand they could have just thought it up themselves, it’s not difficult. I guess the thing to do would be to ask them.


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  15. It’s a minor point on M59 history, but we were planning on a flat fee before AOL announced their shift. It was their move that gave our decision greater weight (getting Trip to agree).

  16. Also left out Terra: Battle for the Outlands, released in early 1996 (and still played today).

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  18. I’d say the mention of Kingdom of the Winds was more than brief. Given the speed they rush through everything, it gets a good mention.

    The thing that most struck me was how little respect Runescape gets in general MMMO commentary. This video really puts into perspective just how important Jagex’s game has been, yet you could read MMO blogs for years and not realize it even existed.

  19. I remember in 1991, Ken Williams told me he was modelling his pricing for The Sierra Network after cable tv (later renamed ImagiNation Network, then renamed a couple more times as it was sold to AT&T and then AOL). There would be a flat monthly fee to subscribe and play, which would come with a number of games that’d be like “basic cable channels”. More premium games like a big RPG would cost an additional monthly fee, like you’d pay to get HBO or Showtime.

    His reasoning sounded pretty sensible to me at the time. Can’t remember if Shadow of Yserbius launched with an additional fee or not.

  20. there was no mention of World War II Online either, which is celebrating its ten year anniversary right now.

  21. There was no additional fee for Shadow of Yserbius (YS). The fee to play TSN/INN was around $2.95 a minute (they had bundles of minutes for like $30 and $50 as well), but they also had an unlimited plan of $99.95 a month. I do believe that they dropped the unlimited plan towards the end of INN’s lifespan shortly before they sold to AOL. But no extra fee for YS, Fates of Twinion, nor Ruins of Cawdor.

    I feel Total Entertainment Network also had a flat rate before UO as well, though likely more expensive. At least I don’t remember crazy $1k months playing Dark Sun Online… like I did for Neverwinter Nights and YS. (just did some research, it was $19.95 a month for TEN which launched a year before UO).

  22. Ah, I remember the year I got spectacularly broken up in a motorcycle collision, and got a very generous settlement, which I figured would be more than enough to get me through college.

    Then I bought my Atari ST and discovered the wonders of Compuserve. Talk about money sinks…

  23. god, so many names from the past. i used to be maddog, now i am bristle. in 2007 i went to second life and later opensimulator. i still dont have have any idea of what i want except for some sort of “game-second life/opensim”. second life is like the social muds from the old days but there is no game except for the commerical everquest, wow, and some others. there is no open source gameworld, at least in dec 2011. people have tried in the past — none survived.

  24. I was enjoying it until the third video which seemed to trail off. There’s so much to talk about but it’s not really a linear topic.

    It’s cool to see people talk about it at all though. Favorite games missing from this for me were Legends of Kesmai (the graphical version of IoK), and most of the really cool stuff Mythic did to be hosted on AOL and later on Kesmai’s Gamestorm. in general was awesome. $10 a month for access to LoK, Darkness Falls, Magestorm, Aliens Online, Warcraft 2 (, and like 30 other games back at it’s peak. I miss that service so much. I still have the install disk that they sent you when you subscribed. Dial-Up was so slow that I needed it to install Magestorm and the other games that were bigger than 2mb.

  25. Oh boy, Anarchy online is not even mentioned (neither is Shadowbane), and DAoC barely is O.o
    I guess it’s a purely maket oriented history…

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