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May 24, 2007



Old MMORPGs don't die. They don't even fade away. They just get run as fan sites.


My favorite all-time MMO game is still alive and hanging on by a thread.


They have been talking about a revamp for ages now as well.

I saw that Starcraft II is coming out. I always loved that game too, except for the poor connection speeds and people who would drop from games.


Psychochild will never forgive you for not mentioning M59...


I'd say if a game is primarily about gameplay, it might end up having a finite lifespan. But if it is a good group socializing and communications tool (either intentionally, or made by accident by developers who thought their world was just for gameplay), then it can be near-eternal. Until communications tools get so much better that everyone eventually shifts. Would you expect a group of friends who keep in touch through ICQ to "stop playing ICQ"? Or stop emailing each other because they maxed out their skills and levels on the email program?

For the record, I believe the MMORPGs in the "ten years plus" club would start with Habitat (sole member of the twenty year club), which went through various incarnations and spinoffs & I believe still exists as Dreamscape or something of the kind. Neverwinter Nights on AOL and Shadow of Yserbius on The Sierra Network (later renamed ImagiNation) showed up in the early 90s - not sure if Yserbius ever reached massive usage numbers, though Neverwinter Nights certainly did when AOL dropped the hourly fees for a flat monthly rate. Kingdom of Drakkar and Island of Kesmai were notable (though not necessarily very massive) back then too.

The crop of earliest surviving games to earn the "Massive" title in MMORPG (all of them into the tens of thousands or higher) started with Meridian 59 in 2006, which was offline for a couple years but was brought back. I believe Furcadia was next, and that we can claim "longest continually operating MMORPG" - which Ultima Online was incorrectly claiming on their site a couple months back, not sure if it still says so. (I should probably have raised a stink about it somewhere to try and get free publicity, but I'm too busy making cool new stuff.) The Realm from Sierra launched a couple weeks after Furcadia, at the end of 1996. And Ultima Online launched in 1997, making it the only other member of the "ten year club" so far.

Of the four, I think Furcadia is the most socializing and communication oriented, which may explain why we're the only one still growing in usage. Ultima Online is probably second strongest in that regard, which is probably why their numbers have held up as well as they have. Habitat in its various incarnations has always been very oriented around social interactions, which again may explain why there's version of it still running to this day.

I always felt that to some extent, Furcadia was more in competition with free content hosting services like Geocities, Angelfire, etc. than with conventional games like Everquest. I note that Geocities and Angelfire both still exist too - though the former was bought by Yahoo, and the latter was bought by Lycos. Guess somebody noticed that community and user content had value before "Web 2.0" showed up! I suspect many of the latest crop of sites like YouTube, MySpace, Flicker, etc. will last over ten years too. There's even community aspects to sites like Amazon.com (user reviews and reviewer reputations), IMDB, and even Ebay that I feel remiss in not having investigated further...

If you have a really strong, healthy community, your game/service/whatever will last as long as the community lasts.


Dr. Cat: If you have a really strong, healthy community, your game/service/whatever will last as long as the community lasts.

I believe that is exactly 100% correct.

Which is why the current monomaniacal obsession with gameplay (especially grind-driven, loot-centric, combat-focused, Achiever-oriented gameplay) seems so strange to me. These players go where the Cool New Gameplay turns up. Why fight so hard to retain the unretainable?

The alternative is to create features that are attactive to the Socializers and Explorers because these are the gamers who invest something of themselves in a world. By offering them a world that is rich in communicative and system-tinkering detail, once you've got them hooked, they stay hooked.

To put it somewhat (but not entirely) metaphorically, Socializers and Explorers fall in love with a gameworld. That makes the cost of leaving a beloved world too high. Achievers (and Manipulators), by contrast, don't invest emotionally; they prefer the one-night stand... so why again do developers keep trying so desperately to make honest gamers of them?

Perhaps as a mere amateur I'm missing something obvious, but I honestly can't see why developers keep chasing Achievers -- not when a more dependable revenue stream is available by designing a game to attract the Socializer and Explorer gamers who will respect it in the morning.



In reply to Dr. Kat -- yes, Habitat, as Dreamscape, still exists. This was actually the first thing I thought about when reading this post.

It is now run through VZones.com and also has an adults-only version at Seducity.com (hilariously not work safe.) I think they went live on Compuserve as Dreamscape in 1995, with a beta in 1994. I myself didn't expect the place to stick around until 2000 but the rapidly dropping costs of servers seems to result in a perpetual eternity of online worlds (for other oldies check out The Realm, the resurrected Meridian 59, or the countless TELNET and web versions of BBS door games such as Legend of the Red Dragon.)

I will make this prediction that in 100 years time Ultima Online will still exist, even if it has 2 players on a user-run "shard."


If you count in M59 and Habitat, then you should count other MUDs too.


Like ageing rock stars, MMOs don't die, they just get more and more embarrassing to play. This is of course especially pronounced when you find out that you are playing the same MMO your mom is playing.


I wasn't trying to provide a history of virtual worlds with this item (Raph has done a pretty good job of that), but neither was I trying to take anything away from MUD1 or Habitat, and certainly not M59. Still, none of these have hit ten years with anything like the sustained player base of UO, much less the significant refurbishment we're seeing now (though the smaller-scale efforts of the guys at Near Death Studios to refresh M59 are notable).

Dr. Cat said: If you have a really strong, healthy community, your game/service/whatever will last as long as the community lasts.

No argument there. OTOH, keeping a strong, healthy community is easier said than done, as innumerable community sites have shown -- see, e.g., the WELL which is a dim shadow of its former glory, or TSO for a gameish world almost completely free of actual gameplay. These sites/worlds tend to start strong and slowly dry up like a puddle in the sun.

Why this hasn't happened with Habitat, M59, UO, DAoC, EQ, etc., is, I think precisely, if paradoxically, because of the gameplay: on its own it's not enough to keep things going strong (see AC, AC2, The Realm, etc., up to say MXO or Auto Assault), but I believe the influence of gameplay as a community catalyst has been incredibly underestimated. This isn't just about Socializers and Explorers, but about the ability that "shared peril" (or an analog) has to jumpstart a vibrant community.

IMO, this is one of the key reasons why virtual worlds like Second Life or Club Penguin have the high churn that they do. Yes, they're successful, to a point, based on their unique take on being in a virtual world -- but the worlds that have shown that they can keep hundreds of thousands of people around (and paying) year after year all have one form or another of persistent world/shared-peril gameplay as the foundation for their long-lived communities.

How long can this go on in such game-oriented virtual worlds? As Dr. Cat says, as long as the community itself remains fresh, strong, and healthy. But as we've seen, outside of small populations of 'true believers,' community for communities' sake doesn't fly for long.


Julian says:

"Like ageing rock stars, MMOs don't die, they just get more and more embarrassing to play. This is of course especially pronounced when you find out that you are playing the same MMO your mom is playing."

I guess that depends on what embarrasses you. I ran into my dad at an Alice Cooper concert last summer. I was shocked, but not embarrassed. I hadn't realized he had a cool side to him.

I don't see a need for an online game to "gracefully" retire ever. I agree with the previous comments made. If there is an active community (and if the company is still making some money) then why should it? Maybe as the hardcore fans stick with a game, we will see a return of hardcore geeks, as they will probably (after 10 years) know everything there is to know about a given world, and there will be a certain pride taken by those who have been there since the beginning.


Shared peril is certainly one way of injecting interest and sources of "stuff to talk about and share stories about" into a community.

What professional game developers need to be asking themselves more is "What ELSE could be a successful source of interest that makes communities grow larger and last longer?"

There's been a few asking that question - A Tale in the Desert, Raph's latest venture, etc. I think there's going to be a lot of money to be made in the years ahead by the games/worlds/services that find some of the better answers (and execute well on them, of course.)


What professional game developers need to be asking themselves more is "What ELSE [besides 'shared peril'] could be a successful source of interest that makes communities grow larger and last longer?"

Agreed. However, in researching community formation it's been fascinating to me how many long-lasting real-world communities have some form of shared peril at their start or near the core of their shared identity. This seems to be a pretty consistent marker for successful long-term communities. I'm pretty sure there are other catalysts for successful community creation but, for example, simple shared interest doesn't seem to be sufficient (in chemical terms, communities seem to have an activation energy that must be overcome for the individuals involved to reach a more stable community state).

There may well be other forms of shared contingency (beyond just perceived peril) that are sufficient for community formation, but actual examples of this are fewer than I had first thought. I would be interested to hear examples you or others might have that answer the question that you pose in a way that will likely lead to the genesis of long-term communities.

Answering this question is essential for the success overall of MMOGs and virtual worlds.

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