Five Things That Shook the MMO World Before World of Warcraft

While there's no mention of EverQuest to be found, this two-page editorial penned by Richard Aihoshi on takes us back to the pre-WoW days of online role-playing games for a quick overview of the risks, features, and design elements that Ultima Online, Anarchy Online, Dark Age of Camelot, EVE Online, and RuneScape brought to the table well before Blizzard Entertainment entered the market. My favorite of the five just so happens to be the earliest:

If you're not familiar with the history of MMOGs beyond just the names of seminal releases, you might have the impression that UO was a sure-fire success. It simply wasn't so. During most of its development period, it was seen as quite a gamble. This may be easier to fathom if you consider that, among various other factors, Internet penetration was significantly lower. The obvious target audience, those who played MUDs or even online games of any type, was still tiny, and the viability of a business model that required not just a purchase but also paying a monthly fee was unproven except on a very limited scale.

Publisher EA was hesitant enough to make a decision that continues to benefit us to this day. It set the subscription price at a nice, round $10 per month, an amount that, despite vociferous outcry to the contrary, was pretty affordable, even to students. At the time, I thought it could have been higher. In retrospect, I believe UO would have attracted nearly as large an audience at $15, $20 or possibly even $25. The game would have been far more profitable, and the standard fee we pay today would be at least $20 or $25.

That said, there really wasn't solid evidence to suggest demand was so cost-insensitive. Indeed, for quite some time, until fairly close to launch, it was questionable whether the game would pull in and retain enough players to survive, never mind prosper. So, although EA's pricing decision led to the industry leaving billions of dollars in potential revenue on the table, it was understandable at the time.

We know now, of course, that UO kicked open the door to a new era of gaming. It's included in my list of major surprises because I still remember the time before launch when there were very real doubts, not only from external observers but also from the team, as to whether the title would be commercially viable. Against this backdrop, the degree to which it succeeded was highly unexpected.