Though many of the original Rpgs for the plato mainframe system in the late 1970s also supported multiple, simultaneous players, the popularity of multiplayer modes in mainstream rpgs did not begin to rise sharply until the early to mid-1990s. For instance, Secret of Mana (1993), an early action role-playing game by Square, was one of the first commercial rpgs to feature cooperative multiplayer gameplay, offering two-player and three-player action once the main character had acquired his party members. Later, Diablo (1996) would combine crpg and action game elements with an Internet multiplayer mode that allowed up to four players to enter the same world and fight monsters, trade items, or fight against each other.
Also during this time period, the mud genre that had been spawned by mud1 in 1978 was undergoing a tremendous expansion phase due to the release and spread of lpmud (1989) and dikumud (1991). Soon, driven by the mainstream adoption of the Internet, these parallel trends merged in the popularization of graphical muds, which would soon become known as massively multiplayer online role-playing games or mmorpgs, beginning with games like Meridian 59 (1995), Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds (1996), Ultima Online (1997), Lineage (1998), and EverQuest (1999), and leading to modern phenomena such as RuneScape (2001), Final Fantasy xi (2003), Eve Online (2003) and World of Warcraft (2004).
Though superficially similar, mmorpgs lend their appeal more to the socializing influences of being online with hundreds or even thousands of other players at a time, and trace their origins more from muds than from crpgs like Ultima and Wizardry. Rather than focusing on the “old school” considerations of memorizing huge numbers of stats and esoterica and battling it out in complex, tactical environments, players instead spend much of their time forming and maintaining guilds and clans. The distinction between crpgs and mmorpgs and muds can as a result be very sharp, likenable to the difference between “attending a renaissance fair and reading a good fantasy novel”.
Further, mmorpgs have been criticized for diluting the “epic” feeling of single-player rpgs and related media among thousands of concurrent adventurers. Stated simply: every player wants to be “The Hero”, slay “The Monster”, rescue “The Princess”, or obtain “The Magic Sword”. But when there are thousands of players all playing the same game, clearly not everyone can be the hero. This problem became obvious to some in the game EverQuest, where groups of players would compete and sometimes harass each other in order to get monsters in the same dungeon to drop valuable items, leading to several undesirable behaviors such as kill stealing, spawn camping, and ninja looting. In response—for instance by Richard Garriott in Tabula Rasa (2007) – developers began turning to instance dungeons as a means of reducing competition over limited resources, as well as preserving the gaming experience—though this mechanic has its own set of detractors.
Lastly, there exist markets such as Korea and China that, while saturated with mmorpgs, have so far proved relatively unreceptive to single-player rpgs. For instance, Internet-connected personal computers are relatively common in Korea when compared to other regions—particularly in the numerous “pc bangs” scattered around the country, where patrons are able to pay to play multiplayer video games—possibly due to historical bans on Japanese imports, as well as a culture that traditionally sees video games as “frivolous toys” and computers as educational. As a result, some have wondered whether the stand-alone, single-player rpg is still viable commercially—especially on the personal computer—when there are competing pressures such as big-name publishers’ marketing needs, video game piracy, a change in culture, and the competitive price-point-to-processing-power ratio (at least initially) of modern console systems.