As 2021’s gaming schedule winds down along with my grading activities, I am leaning back into some classic MMOs. There’s a lot of them out there and most are free-to-play. I was a huge Everquest player back in 1999 and I still enjoy playing the classic client every now and then out of nostalgia. But what about the other MMOs I played? I want to take a look at the past MMOs and share them with the community. I know there are several members actively playing Dungeon & Dragons Online which is still a great game to play. I plan to cover many of the MMOs and how to access them if they are still around in playable condition. Let’s take a look at the gaming world, shall we?
First up is the classic Ultima Online which kicked things off in 1997. This game predated the 3D video card-required MMOs by a couple of years. This was the first true MMO in my opinion although there were some others that met the definition. However, Ultima Online was the first one to achieve massive popularity with over 100,000 subscribers in the first six months. It would peak at 250,000 subscribers in 2003 which is crazy insane when you realize they were paying $10 a month to play the game. That’s a net revenue of $2.5M a month. Unfortunately, the development costs of MMOs began to increase later and now it’s an extremely expensive endeavor and quite risky too.
Ultima Online continues to exist though. It went through multiple expansions, put in a 3D client, and even moved around from studio to studio. Today, it is managed by Broadsword, the same company that manages Dark Age of Camelot. They are actively managing it and put out additional content annually. As with most of the older MMOs, UO has been successfully copied and offered online via private emulators. I myself never played this game, so I can’t really go into too much depth about it. I invite anyone who has to post a reply with their experiences playing it. There is a population of around 412,000 players registered via the official servers with about 3900 playing it daily.
This is where I need to explain what has happened with most of the older MMOs. They were all developed by game studios who, for the most part, were owned by larger companies. It took several million dollars to make these games back then which is peanuts today compared to the budgets some of them have. Eventually, either the monthly revenue declined as subscribers moved to newer MMOs or the original backers wanted to cash out. In some cases, the parent company sold the game studio and MMO to other companies.
To give you an idea of the costs to build a MMO, the early First Wave MMOs like UO and Everquest cost around $5M to make back in the mid to late 1990s. This was quite expensive then, but wouldn’t even be considered starter money today. World of Warcraft cost $65M to build the original game and has cost well over $200M since in maintaining and expanding on that original game content. But, WoW has also grossed over $10B of revenue too meaning they’ve made well over $9B in profit. It’s closest competitor in the time scale was Everquest 2 which took around $25M to product and it never came close to rivaling WoW for subscribers even though it outperformed the original Everquest. Today’s newer MMOs are hitting between $150M to $200M to produce if companies want a first-rate MMO aiming to pull down monthly revenues in excess of $20M per month or more.
You may ask why the older MMOs still survive today. Well, around 2010, the MMO market began to shift to a Free-to-Play model, with incentives for those who subscribe monthly. This has had a huge impact on the industry and this is what kept some of the older MMOs alive. The best example is Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) which was struggling after a couple of years to stay alive. In a very bold move, the game was moved to a free-to-play model and monthly revenue tripled. Once this was seen as a sustainable model, many of the older MMOs followed suit. This has led to what I call maintenance companies taking over the older MMOs. They are not seeking to generate revenue like the modern MMOs, but rather a steady income to pay for the costs of operating the MMO while also allowing for a development budget to add limited new content to the games, thus extending their lifespans by many more years.
While some may laugh at the idea, keep in mind that LOTRO used this model to continue developing the original storyline and eventually fulfilled the goal of building Middle-Earth into a rich and vibrant place where players can encounter all of the elements from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit books. Yes, Frodo throws the Ring into Mount Doom online! Today, the game continues to have new content added to it…all using the free-to-play model.
Okay, that’s more than I intended in this post, but I felt I needed to explain some things about MMOs. Share your experiences playing these games. I will be adding to this story about MMOs often as I explore many of them. Who knows? Maybe we’ll pick one and go build a guild and have some online fun.
Next up is EVERQUEST, the MMO that set the online world on fire in 1999!