Beginning in August of 2007, open beta rolled out, in what easily became tens of thousands of beta testers. Reviews for the game were mixed as the NDA lifted, and the polarizing opinions that later defined the game's community came out in full force. From there, the game suffered a few personnel changes and brought out its biggest guns when Richard Garriott announced a promotional tie-in with a space flight. This wasn't enough to keep the game afloat, as Garriott himself left the flock and the game's closure was announced 10 days later.
This article at TTH gives a brief timeline for the features and highlights of the game from early beta to now. It's worth a read if you're curious about the game's life, or want to simply look back fondly at its progression.