MMORPGs are computer games that can be traced back to the 1970s to non-graphical online MUD games, to text-based computer games such as Adventure and Zork , and to pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons . Habitat , a graphical MUD from the mid 1980s , pre-dated the modern notion of MMORPG by a decade.
The first modern MMORPG is now mostly credited as Meridian 59 ( 1996 ), but it was Ultima Online ( 1997 ) that popularized the genre. Both of these games featured a flat monthly subscription fee instead of the traditional per-hour plan. This new pricing model can be seen as the business motivation to shift from the hardcore gamer audience (who racked up massive fees) towards a broader, massive market. M59 and UO also arbitrarily set the benchmark at $10 USD a month, a figure that would later gradually increase across the genre. These were the first games that used and spread the term "massively multiplayer".
Meanwhile, commercial online games were becoming extraordinarily popular in South Korea . Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds , designed by Jake Song , began commercial service in 1996 and eventually gained over one million subscribers. Song's next game, Lineage ( 1998 ), was an even bigger success. Lineage reached millions of subscribers in Korea and Taiwan , and gave developer NCsoft the strength to gain a foothold in the global MMORPG market in the next few years.
Launched in March 1999 by Sony Online Entertainment , EverQuest drove fantasy MMORPGs into the Western mainstream. It was the most commercially successful MMORPG in the United States for five years and was the basis for ten expansions (as of May, 2005) and several derivative games. TIME magazine and other non-gaming press featured stories on EQ, often focusing on the controversies and social questions inspired by its popularity. Asheron's Call launched later in the year and was another hit, rounding out what is sometimes called the original "big three" (UO, EQ, AC). Yet another fantasy game, it at least featured an original universe. The future continued to look bright as Origin revealed it had started developing Ultima Online 2 .
By the late 1990s the concept of massively multiplayer online games expanded into new video game genres . Many of these games, such as the " massively multiplayer online first-person shooter " World War II Online ( 2001 ) brought some of the RPG heritage with them.
For fans of the genre, 2000 was a relatively quiet year, but developers and investors were buzzing to jump into the continually expanding market. Dark Age of Camelot launched in 2001 and can be seen as a successful post-big-three fantasy game: It launched smoothly, required less time to gain levels , and had an integrated player versus player system. Critics dismissed the sci-fi MMORPG Anarchy Online while it suffered through its rough first month in June. Growth of the big three nearly plateaued during 2001 as well and UO2 was cancelled while still in development, indicating that the market possibly had been saturated.
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