The Oldest MMORPGs in Gaming History
While games like Ultima Online and EverQuest helped popularize the MMORPG genre, they aren't the oldest MMORPGs. World of Warcraft doesn't even make the list with its 2004 release date. So which game is actually the oldest MMORPG? Check out the list below of the 13 oldest MMORPGs in gaming history. Some of these may surprise you. Keep in mind, we didn't include some the early online MUDs (multi-user dungeons) such as Island of Kesmai (1985) or Shadow of Yserbius (1991) in this list, but tried to stick to traditional MMORPGs.
With it's 1986 beta release date, Habitat is without a doubt the oldest virtual world. The game pre-dates Ultima Online by 11 years and World of Warcraft by a whopping 18 years. Habitat was developed by Lucasfilm Games, yes the same Lucasfilm company behind Star Wars, and was the first attempt to make a gaming world truly massive. Simple online chat rooms existed well before Habitat, but Habitat was the first graphical virtual world that attempted to have MMO like scale. The original game was incredibly ambitious for its time and ran from 1986 to 1988 before it was shut down, but relaunched as Club Caribe by Quantum Link (AOL) in 1988. The game was never successful, but was a huge technological innovation for its time.
Kingdom of Drakkar (1989)
Kingdom of Drakkar is a relatively unknown MMO that launched back in 1989 that was developed by Brad Lineberger. The game had its roots in an older MUD (1984) called Realm, which became Kingdom of Drakkar when a front end graphical user interface was created. The game features 8 bit graphics with brightly colored visuals reminiscent of older Ultima games. Surprisingly, Kingdom of Drakkar is still playable today, making it one of the oldest playable MMORPGs. The base game is free but access to some content requires a subscription.
Neverwinter Nights (AOL) (1991)
Neverwinter Nights was developed by AOL, which at the time was known as Quantum Computer Services. Neverwinter Nights was the first successful MMORPG to display graphics and helped to pioneer the genre. The game is based on the Dungeons and Dragons franchise and is seen by many as the first “actual” MMORPG, with actual being in quotes because it featured the kind of gameplay you'd expect in an MMORPG. Habitat pre-dated Neverwinter Nights by 5 years, but was largely a virtual world rather than a traditional MMORPG. The game ran on Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system and launched with maximum server capacity of 50 players, but grew to 500 by 1995. Playing Neverwinter Nights wasn't cheap, it was $6 per hour to play when the game first launched, as servers and internet bandwidth was super pricy in 1991. The game ran from 1991 to 1997 and simply couldn't compete with up and coming titles.
Meridian 59 (1995)
Meridian 59, or M59, was the first 3D MMORPG and was developed by ArcheType Interactive. The game origianlly ran from 1995 to 2000 before it was shut down, but was later relaunched by Near Death Studios. M59 was called by many as a graphical multi-user dungeon, but the developers preferred the term MMPRPG, which later evolved into MMORPG. The game pre-dated Origin System's hugely popular Ultima Online by more than a year and boasted revolutionary 3D graphics in an online game. The game is still around today as a free to play title supported by the game's original developers Andrew Kirmse and Chris Kirmse.
Legends of Kesmai (1996)
Legends of Kesmai, or LOK for short, was developed by the same folks behind Island of Kesmai, a 1985 fantasy multi-user dungeon. Unlike Island of Kesmai, Legends of Kesmai features a fully 2D world with a top down camera. It was among the first successful graphical MMORPGs and featured 2D sprites. The game was available on America Online and GameStorm.
Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds is the first Korean MMORPG to make this list. The game was developed by Kru Interactive, which was actually a part of Nexon before it split into two companies (Nexon as we know it today and Kru Interactive). Nexus was the first popular MMORPG after Neverwinter Nights and features much of the gameplay most people associate with MMORPGs today. It was one of the few MMORPGs before Ultima Online that reached wide scale success. Despite launching in 1996, Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds remains in service today as a subscription based game (it's free to play up until level 49 though).
The Realm Online (1996)
The Realm Online was a graphical MUD developed and published by Sierra on-line that featured turn-based combat. The game's first year was seen as only a moderate success, as 25,000 accounts were registered, but only 100-200 players were ever online even during peak hours, which was hardly massive. The Realm Online simply couldn't compete with Meridian59's, Ultima Online, or EverQuest, so the game was quickly abandoned by Sierra.
Furcadia is a free to play MMORPG with social elements that originally launched on December 16, 1996 and is still in service today. As the name of the game suggests, Furcadia is an MMO inhabbited by anthropomorphic creatures; It's an MMO for furries. Despite its age, the game is still running; it's one of the longest running MMORPGs.
Tibia is one of the oldest MMORPG and most successful MMORPGs. Despite its launch in 1997, the game continues to be popular even today, boasting 15,000+ players online at any given time (as of 2015). Tibia was developed by CipSoft in Germany and was a huge hit in Europe upon release. Tibia was a huge step up from the original Neverwinter Nights game and feels more like a modern MMORPG than everything that came before it.
Ultima Online (1997)
Ultima Online was the game that brought the MMORPG industry into the spotlight and was first truly “massive” MMORPG. The game was designed by Richard Garriott's Origin Systems Inc and was the first MMORPG to ever reach 100,000 subscribers. The game peaked in popularity in 2003 with 250,000 subscribers and has been in steady decline since. The game is still in service as of 2015.
Dark Eden (1997)
Dark Eden is one of the only horror themed MMORPGs ever released and gave players the opportunity to play as either Humans, Vampires and Ousters. Dark Eden was a unique MMORPG, as it was set during more modern times and wasn't just another generic fantasy themed game. Dark Eden is developed and published by South Korean studio SOFTON and the game is still in service even today in Korea. The international version of the game was available from 2008 - 2013, but shut down. Dark Eden has a huge following in the West though and as such, there are dozens of private servers for the game in existence today.
Lineage is a fantasy themed MMORPG developed by South Korean game studio NCSoft in 1998. Lineage put NCSoft on the map as an MMO developer and the game was tremendously successful. It was developed by Jake Song, who also designed the popular Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds MMORPG back in 1994. The game's North American servers ran from 1998 to 2011, but the South Korean servers remain in service (as of 2016). Despite its age, the game boasted ~1 million subscriptions as of 2008 and generated 2 trillion Korean Won in revenue ($1.8 billion) for NCSoft as of late 2013, making it one of NCSoft's most profitable games ever.
EverQuest was Sony's first MMORPG and alongside Ultima Online, helped bring the genre to the masses. The game was developed by Sony's 989 Studios and the game's design is credited to Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, and Bill Trost. Within a year after the game's launch, EverQuest's subscription numbers had surpassed the reigning champion, Ultima Online. Subscriptions peaked around 2004 with ~500K subscribers. EverQuest launched as a pay to play subscription game, but introduced some free to play elements in early 2012. Since the game's 1999 release date, EverQuest is still in service and has launched 21 expansion packs to date, with the game still in active development. The game's 21st expansion, The Darkened Sea, launched on Oct 28, 2014. The game's success led to the development of EverQuest 2 and EverQuest Next.
Dark Ages (1999)
Dark Ages was developed by the Korean game studio KRU Interactive – the same company behind the much older MMORPG – Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. Dark Ages was the first MMORPG to feature a rich political system and still remains in service today (as of 2015).
Helbreath: The Crusade was developed by Korean game studio Siementech and launched into beta on August 1, 1999.The game launched in North America in early 2003, nearly 3 years after its Korean beta. The U.S. version of the game was rebranded as Abaddon Apocalypse as of mid 2014. Despite its age, the game maintains a loyal playerbase. There are even hundreds of private servers out there for hardcore fans of the game.
The 4th Coming (1999)
The 4th Coming, or just T4C for short, was an MMORPG developed by Canadian game studio Vircom Interactive. The 4th Coming was one of the first MMORPGs to introduce the "rebirth" system, now popular in games like Ragnarok Online. The game boasted 500,000 registered players by 2002, but these numbers paled in comparison to Ultima Online and EverQuest's success. The original service by Vircom ran from 1999 to 2006, but a newer version of the game, The 4th Coming V2, is available through a company called Dialsoft.
I also made a video for the Oldest MMORPGs in Gaming History:
Have you played any of these games? What other old MMORPGs have you played? Discuss it in the comments below!
By, Omer Altay