For me, it started way back in 1999. It was February; I was 15. A friend of mine had me over to take a look at a new game he just got: Ultima Online. He showed me an ugly little isometric view of a town called Britain, though I couldn't figure out why - no fog or guys in furry hats. The area he referred to as the bank was overrun with people, real people, which was sorta cool. Then, he went down a ladder and started killing rats. Not demons, not hill giants, not people. Rats. And then he told me he was paying $10 a month for the privilege.
Somehow, and I'm still not sure how it happened, he got me to pick up a copy at Best Buy the next day. The following weekend, I managed to log over 24 hours in game. Watching him play his character was passive and boring. But when I logged in for myself, I realized what so many first-time MMOG players do: This is big, this is special.
I found my way over to that bank my friend showed me, and what was originally a mass of badly dressed characters became a group of individuals, individuals selling stuff and talking about killing things bigger than rats. A guy dressed like a wizard summoned a demon right next to me, then named it "a" and told it to follow him. Then a woman wearing nothing but a robe stole the sword I had in my backpack. The whole place teemed with possibility, and I was hooked.
Now, eight years later, MMOGs are bigger than they ever were. No matter what genre you like best, there's probably an MMOG out there representing it. If not, someone's probably shopping a design document as we speak. What, for me, began with a crowded scene outside a gray stone bank has exploded into gaming's great white hope, both financially and philosophically.
Which is why we're setting aside this week to talk to you about them. In issue 103, "Massively Multiplayer," Darius Kazemi makes his The Escapist debut to tell a modern-day detective story about tracking down gold farmers in a popular game. Allen Varney checks in from the Orient with a look at Korean MMOGs. Shawn "Kwip" Williams reminisces about Asheron's Call and its wide open world. Michael Zenke speaks to a few radiomen at the forefront of the MMOG podcast movement. And Dana Massey explains what Blizzard did right with World of Warcraft, but worries none of the other players in the field learned the correct lesson.