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History of MMORPGs - 1980 -1990

by: Gustavo Lequerica-Calvo ; edited by: M.S. Smith ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

In the 80’s came the second generation of MMOs. It was a slow period for the development of MMO games since Internet wasn’t so common in the average home as it is today.. There were a few improvements with servers’ functionality, i.e. the speed was enhanced; but the real advances came in the 90's.

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    The Decade of the 80's

    Early Developments

    The decade of the 1980s was a slow time for the development of MMOs. There weren’t any new developments in matter of games, but it was the decade where programmers started to improve the capabilities of the servers to obtain a better game experience, and the efforts paid off since in the '90s the game experience reached its peak.

    In the 1980s, it was explored for the very first time the concept of pay per play. What is common and inexpensive today, at the time it was first introduced it was something revolutionary and expensive. One of the first games who explored the concept of pay per play was the Islands of Kesmai, in the year 1984.

    Islands of Kesmai was a two dimensional rogue-like game, similar to Dungeon and Dragons, where players used command keys to move within the game board limits. The concept of gameplay that Islands of Kemsai used wasn’t new but the developers improved the gameplay by adding a characters creator for each player and the use of items to gain experience in the game.

    Not only Islands used the idea of using items to move in the game, but it was also one of the first games to charge for play time. The rates were 6 USD per hour in a 300 baud modem (Baud is a lower measure in transmission of information trough the Net) and 12 USD an hour if the user had a 1200 baud modem.

    Other game that was developed in the '80s was Habitat by LucasArts Entertaiment Company. In terms of graphics it wasn’t the best game, but it improved the virtual community concept by facilitating communication between players. Technically, Habitat was the first successful MMO and it ran for almost half a decade.

    It’s interesting to see that Habitat bares some similarities with another successful game, The Sims. The concept of The Sims is almost the same as Avatar, a life simulator, except that Habitat came 15 years before The Sims, and the online version of The Sims has never had the same success as Habitat.

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    Impact of MMOs in the 1980s

    The influence of MMOs games in the '80s is weak in comparison to console games, i.e. LucasArts Monkey Island series, Indiana Jones series, Super Mario Bros. from Nintendo, Castelvania, Déjà Vu, and Departed just to name a few. Those games made their mark on video game history.

    With the technological advances made in the '80s it was possible to develop in the '90s games like Ultima Online, which is credited as the game that popularized the MMO genre worldwide. In the next article we are going to do a walkthrough of the Golden Decade of MMOs: The '90s.