This is a short history of my experiences with online games. For no reason other than I felt like writing it.
Definitions: I’m going to talk primarily about MMOs – massively multiplayer online games. In general, that means an online game that has a persistent world and some social functions. This differentiates MMOs from other games that you just play online, such as shooters like Battlefield or Team Fortress; or strategy games that you can play competitively such as Age of Empires or Starcraft. Sometimes these MMO games are called MMORPGs: massively multiplayer online roleplaying games. That’s an accurate description, since you are generally creating a character and then playing as that character or avatar, whatever it might be. Characters are not particularly reality-based. MMOs is shorter and easier to type, though.
I’m going to to TRY to go in chronological order here. Bear with me, as my memory tends to get just a little fuzzy on this. Dates refer to the year that I started playing the game, when I can remember it, not the launch year (although in some cases this is the same, because I started playing at or close to launch).
The Sims Online (2002): I got into The Sims around 2000 and played it pretty faithfully for the next few years. When TSO was announced, I applied for, and was accepted into, the beta. There were pretty high hopes for this game, but I won’t mince words: it kinda sucked. It quickly degenerated into a grind. Later, long after I stopped playing, there was some controversy about “cyber prostitution rings” and other dramas. Fascinating as a case study of online behavior, but not so fun as a game. TSO has since closed.
Dark Age of Camelot (2003): Now THIS was, and still is, a fun game. My first “real” MMO experience, I played DAOC for a couple years, and met people that I still keep in touch with. The graphics, at first, were pretty basic and crude, though later expansions upgraded the engine and improved the look of the world. There were three “realms” or factions: Albion (based on Great Britain), Hibernia (based on Celtic folklore), and Midgard (based on Nordic mythology). All three were fun, though I mostly played an Alb, primarily a minstrel and a wizard. DAOC really gave me a chance to figure out what play styles I enjoyed (player vs. environment, or PVE, much more than player vs. player, or PvP), what roles I liked playing on a team (ranged damage, healing, utility), and what roles I did not enjoy (stealth, melee combat).
Star Wars Galaxies (2003): The less said about this, the better, probably. Short version: it was really fun, immersive, and cool. Then SOE screwed us all and ruined it. The end. The only really good thing to come out of SWG is all the great people that I met. I keep in touch with many of them, and play other games with some of them now.
City of Heroes (2004): A really fun game! I’ve played it, off and on, since beta. (Yes, another game that was a beta tester for). This, along with its expansion City of Villains, was the first really successful MMO that wasn’t based on a fantasy setting, instead using super heroes and super villains in mostly urban settings. Lots and lots of free content updates, plus a few expansions. This is the MMO I was playing most recently, before switching to my current MMO (more on that later).
World of Warcraft (2004): This is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and for good reason. WoW is an excellent game. It’s fun to play, immersive, lots of content, with a low barrier to entry. I was there opening weekend, in November of 2004, and played it off and on right up until early 2009. It has become the de facto standard that all other games are compared to. Every new game that’s announced is going to be “the WoW-killer,” but so far, none of them have been. Love it or hate it, it’s not going away any time soon. I just canceled my sub this spring, and I’d probably still be playing it, but with a little kid now I need a game that’s a little more casual.
Second Life (2005): Not a game, but a virtual world, I included it here just because I did try it. To be honest, I wasn’t really a fan. It’s great for people with some programming or graphics skills, because there are lots of opportunities to create your own content. In that way, it’s sort of a big sandbox. There’s also a lot of porny stuff, which is probably unsurprising.
Guild Wars (2005): Guild Wars is kind of different, in that once you buy the box to install the game, there are no subscription fees (just about all other MMOs cost a monthly fee to play, anywhere from $10 to $15). It’s also a little different structurally, because there is no “server” to choose to play on. Everyone plays together, and public areas are “instanced” so that they don’t get overpopulated. The game is really fun, gorgeous to look at, and not particularly deep. There have been several expansions (I only bought two of them), and the game continues to be fairly popular.
Hellgate: London (2007): HGL was another oddity. It had both a single-player version and an online, multiplayer version. Considered somewhat of a flop, I guess I proved what a weirdo I am by really liking it A LOT. It too was mostly instanced, and it didn’t have a lot of the traditional MMO social niceties (lots of emotes, community events, etc.). The gameplay of HGL mostly consisted of going to a challenge area, running through and killing as much as you could, and picking up all the loot you could carry. It was kind of simplistic and I dug it. Sadly, the studio producing Hellgate went out of business, and the game was closed at the beginning of 2009.
Age of Conan (2008): Sometimes friends talk you into something, and you end up really enjoying it (see: Hellgate, above). Other times, they talk you into something, and you do nothing but regret it! That was Age of Conan for me. Some friends I met through Hellgate talked me into trying it, and I have to admit – the first 20 levels or so were fun. After that, well…it just kind of sucked. To be fair, the game’s been out over a year now and I hear that there have been lots of improvements. I did take advantage of a free trial offer to try it out again a few months ago…and meh. I just couldn’t get into it. If you like lots of blood and gore in your MMO, AoC is for you – it’s got it in spades. Also naked boobs, and generally gorgeous graphics. In fact, the one GOOD thing that came out of me playing AoC was, I actually upgraded my video card. That would come in handy for…
Champions Online (2009): The superhero game I’m playing now. I tried it during the open beta, and was impressed enough to buy it. Since then I’ve come to love it. I’m only just getting into it and I feel like there’s so much more to learn and explore. It’s incredibly customizable, from the costumes to the power sets to the powers themselves. It’s the first game I’ve played that really doesn’t have any classes – you can pick powers from every set, and make yourself a healing/tanking/magician with a submachine gun, if that’s your thing. It is SO MUCH FUN.
So that’s how I’ve wasted my leisure time for the last 10 years or so. Of course, there are some notable MMOs that I did not try, for whatever reason: Everquest, Everquest II, The Matrix Online, Lineage, any of the Final Fantasy games, Warhammer Online, Darkfall. There are also games that I played briefly, as part of a free trial or beta, and didn’t like enough to consider continuing: Free Realms, Runes of Magic, Lineage II, The Lord of the Rings Online, Shadowbane.
What’s on the horizon? Hard to say. I’ll be playing Champions for quite a while, I’m sure. Next year, there’s Star Trek Online to think about, plus Star Wars: The Old Republic from Bioware. And even Blizzard is working on some new mystery MMO – maybe they’re making their own WoW-killer?