Wow! – MMORPGs & RPGs
Role-playing games, as originally concieved, were an activity for 5-8 people sitting at one table. Most people control a single character in an imagined world, and one person provides the world. MMORPGS, on the other hand, approach the situation very differently. Not long after their creation, RPGs were brought to the computer. The first RPGs were single player affairs; one person ran their character or characters, and the computer provided a world and story for them. However, with the advent of large computer networks like the Internet, it became clear that something more was possible.
Instead of each player existing in their own world, players could now share their world with each other, interacting with the world elements controled by the computer or another player. The first games to do this had simple text interfaces and only allowed one player to play at a time, and were typically hosted on local BBSes. Then they moved to the internet, and added complex graphics. The era of the MMORPG began with Ultima Online which used modern graphics and allowed thousands of players to adventure in a shared world, fighting both the monsters and threats provided by the designers, and each other.
Players could also fish, farm, and craft goods, thus creating a virtual economy of consumption and supply among the game population. Many more MMORPGs followed, refining design elements and trying new settings or genres. Some were popular, and some were not. The MMORPG didn’t really take over, however, until World of Warcraft. While not fundamentally different from the many MMORPGs that came before it, WoW managed to take a popular franchise and combine it with compelling design and gameplay to become the most popular MMORPG ever.
With more than 11 million subscribers, many of whom play for hours a day, WoW is a virtual world more popoulated than many small countries. Entire real-world industries have sprung up around the game, involving leveling up characters, selling in-game gold for real money, and providing other aid and services. Many games have tried to challenge WoW for the top spot in the hearts and checkbooks of games, but none have succeeded so far. Who knows what new features and design elements the next king of MMORPGs will have, or how many people it will draw into its virtual worlds.