MMORPG stands for Massivly Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game and is a computer game that can be played with thousands of other people in a persistent game world.
MMORPGs have their roots in the early MUDs, text based multi user dungeons played over telnet connections almost 20 years ago. Many of those muds still do well today, and it only goes to show which potential these type of games hold. In the late nineties the game developers finally moved away from the text based environment and put their games into fully graphical worlds.
Ultima online and Everquest kicked off the MMORPG hype that we experience today, and many of the bigger game companies want a piece of that cake. In 2004 Blizzard Entertainment indeed took a big piece of the cake for themselves with World of Warcraft, which entertains nearly 7 million people today (2006).
So, what happens in an MMORPG, or a MUD, what makes them so addictive?
The centerpoint of every MMORPG is the avatar or character of the player. It is a figure that the player controls and that represents him / her inside the gameworld. Most recent games offer vast amounts of character customization to allow the players to "forge" the appearance of their characters to their wish. Once the character is "designed" and created the player takes off in a huge gameworld – it has to be huge since it is shared with many other people – most of the time killing monsters and doing quests assigned by NPCs (Non Player Characters).
Killing monsters earns the player experience, which is needed for the player's character to advance to the next skill / class level. When a monster is killed it can be locked for items which the player can then sell to earn in-game currency. Rarely the monster might also drop a piece of equipment the player could use and this is without a doubt a main factor on why these games are so addictive .. the constant carrot dangling in front of the player's nose, as there might be a precious item drop on the next enemy they slay, or maybe the one after that, or maybe ….
Many times players try to level as quick as possible to reach the highest level in the shortest time and to participate in the end game environment of the game. The end game can be raids on very strong monsters that require 30-40 people to take on, or it can be a player versus player experience against other non-npc people, or both.
All in all the early MMORPGs scored by the freedom they got to the player in regards how they could experience the game world. Restrictions in the latest MMORPGs seem to have taken away that freedom in order to reduce player harassment or to keep players from making mistakes that would require the help of guides to fix.
This has led to "invisible walls" to keep players from falling off ledges and un-attackable npcs to keep players from killing them to harass other players and to keep players from accidentally attacking the npcs.
Here is to hope that the next true 3rd generation MMORPGs will bring us back some of the freedom we could enjoy in the first generation.