A brief history of MMO games

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 307. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

When sci-fi ’s first writers imagined virtual realities, they’d never have guessed the ease with which we could access them. With just a few clicks of a mouse, we can step into online worlds filled with adventure. We populate fictional cities, we create digital cultures and we tell stories together while exploring strange new horizons. 

MMOs are defined by their immense scope. They take the basic foundations of roleplaying games and stretch them over massive worlds where countless players coexist together. Whether you’re diving into dungeons, hawking goods in a market or plotting the downfall of a rival guild, MMOs are at their best when they inspire us to be social. Here, I’m going to explore the history of this genre by touching on ten of its greatest examples. These are the games that pioneered online roleplaying, building the template that all others would conform to. Some of these worlds have diminished with time, but their legacy continues to shape the genre

1997: Ultima Online

The grandfather of modern MMOs, Richard Garriott’s quest to take his popular Ultima series online was initially met with disinterest by publishers. Before Ultima Online, the closest thing to a modern MMO was text-based multi-user dungeons (MUDs). But Garriott’s vision ended up being so successful it kickstarted a genre. You could be anything you wanted. Some were warriors, some were thieves, and some just wanted to be a merchant. 

What made Ultima Online so memorable was the way it inspired a sense of community. Without the luxuries of global chat, players had to interact with one another directly. They could steal, cheat, and kill one another. Over time, reputations were formed and the virtual culture of Britannia gave shape to player-made heroes, villains, and everyone caught in between. 

Best moment: One player…

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