Remembering the Legends: 9 Oldest MMO Games in the World

Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs or MMOs) are some of the most widely played games today, with millions of players committing serious hours to master these online playgrounds with their friends and enemies. Titles like World of Warcraft, Fallout 76, and Elder Scrolls Online may be household names in modern gaming, but the multi-user dungeons (MUDs) that preceded them in the 1980s were far more niche affairs. “Multi-user” was a primitive term for multiplayer before the world really knew what it had on its hands. Played on basic devices that used ARPANET to communicate with each other, these developers created the gaming equivalent of ancient cave paintings compared to the highly developed titles millions enjoy today. As the popularity of MUDs steadily increased, they were replaced by early MMO titles with more developed gameplay systems that users could play through online service providers that would charge by the hour. These soon became financially unsustainable for both players and providers, so when the internet as we know it today finally emerged, MMOs become much more straightforward for players to access. So, without further ado, let’s look at the oldest MMO games that paved the way for the billion-dollar juggernauts of today.

Tibia (1997)

Despite Tibia proving popular with players upon its release, the game has fallen out of memory for most gamers. If you want a history lesson, though, you can still play the title today on servers maintained by ClipSoft, the game’s original developers. The game is still played by more than 500,000 players today, and ClipSoft continues to add new content to keep them interested. There certainly aren’t many other MMOs from this era that can boast of having a player base today.

Ultima Online (1997)

Ask the average gamer about the first-ever MMORPG, and there’s a good chance they’ll say Ultima Online. Although Origin System’s title was by no means the first MMO in history, it served as many people’s point of entry into the genre and exerted a tremendous influence on its development. The developers took a long look at the MMOs that had come before them and perfected the form with better graphics, tighter mechanics, and a fully developed story. The game was officially released towards the end of 1997 and has managed to maintain a large and loyal player base to this day. The intellectual property has changed hands between developers over the years and is currently being managed by Broadsword.

Meridian 59 (1995/6)

Meridian 59 took the prize for the first 3D MMORPG when it had a small-scale release in 1995 (followed by a larger commercial release the next year). The game was developed by brothers Andrew and Chris Krimse while working as developers at Archetype Interactive. Despite being picked up for a larger release by The 3DO Company, the game did not perform well and changed hands before apparently shutting down for good in 2010. When the copyright reverted to the Krimses, they relaunched the title as freeware, and the game continues to be played today.

Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds (1996)

This Korean MMORPG was another influential title that left a lasting impression on the genre and helped establish Korea as an MMORPG powerhouse. Released by Nexon, developers of the hugely popular MapleStory game, the title was created around stories from the country’s mythology. The game is still being updated to this day and is enjoyed by players around the world.

The Realm Online (1996)

Other titles on this list may claim to have laid the groundwork for MMORPGs, but The Realm Online is considered by many to be the first true iteration of the genre. The game dropped in 1996 and one year before the term MMORPG became popularized. Its release coincided with the boom in home internet access in the mid to late 1990s and benefited from thousands of new users who suddenly had a way to play games online. Despite its initial popularity, mainstream interest in the title petered out, and its publishers dropped it in 2000. Today, superfan Frank Ross of Norseman Games owns the rights to the title and is continuing to keep the doors open and updates coming for a dedicated group of supporters.

Legends of Future Past (1992)

Legends of Future Past has the honor of being the first text-based MMORPG to arrive on the internet from the shadow realms of the proprietary networks that preceded it. The title was created by NovaLink developers Angela Bull and Jon Radoff, who released the title through CompuServe in 1992. Players were charged a princely sum of six dollars an hour to play the title, which doesn’t exactly sound like a Gamepass-esque value proposition. The game shut up shop in 1999, but its legacy is still felt today. It was one of the first games to include a crafting mechanic, and many of the paid Game Masters who maintained the game went on to be big hitters in the MMORPG business.

Neverwinter Nights (1991)

While it’s not the oldest game on this list, Neverwinter Nights is still regarded as one the most important titles in the story of MMORPGs. It was the first such game to feature proper graphics and was authored by storied game creator Don Daglow in partnership with Quantum Computer Services, the company that would go on to be AOL. Like most of the RPGs of its era, it drew heavy influence from the tabletop role-playing genre (which is hardly surprising, as it was a licensed D&D title). Its closure in 1997 suggests it didn’t quite have the legs of some of its competitors, but the sheer fact that it introduced such enduring concepts as chat features and guilds to the genre ensures the Stormfront Studios title a place in the MMORPG pantheon.

Habitat (1986)

The famous Lucasfilm Games studio developed Habitat in what is considered to be the first game to try featuring a large multi-user interactive environment. The game ran from 1986 to 1989, at which point the costs of maintaining it were deemed too high. The title was picked by Fujitsu and licensed for a Japanese release in 1990. The title mostly passed out of memory until The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment re-released it as Neohabitat in 2016.

Island of Kesmai (1985)

We arrive at last to what’s technically considered the oldest MMORPG of all time. The title’s inception dates back to 1980 when Kelton Flinn and John Taylor, two classmates at the University of Virginia, developed a game called Dungeons of Kesmai. Information is scarce about the title, save that the duo sold it to CompuServe in 1982. They then spent time developing a multi-user sequel to the title on CompuServe’s BASIC programming, and in 1985 Island of Kesmai was released. While the game has long since shut down, its place in the history books as the first example of an MMORPG is set in stone.


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Last Updated: Jul 29, 2021