Achievement Unlocked: A look at the Guinness world records of online gaming

We're just over a month into the new year, and already we've got plenty to look forward to: The Secret World is expected to hit in April, TERA will follow shortly in May, and Guild Wars 2 will be out... sometime this year (we hope). But before we all start looking toward the future, let's take a moment to look back at some of the gaming achievements of the past.

Thanks to the handy-dandy Guinness Book of World Records 2012: Gamer's Edition, we've got a quick compendium of MMO-related records from the past year and then some, so if you're at all interested in the shortest-lived MMO to date or the longest time anyone's spent playing MMOs from inside a crate, join us as we take a stroll down memory lane to take a look at some notably (in)famous MMO achievements.

Let's start things off on a positive note with the record for the biggest MMO hack. As anyone who paid attention to the MMO industry last year could probably tell you, this dubious honor goes to Sony Online Entertainment. In April of last year, SOE revealed that the details of 24.6 million users had been compromised due to a database hack. Though no major damage occurred as a result of the attack (that we're aware of), it did result in SOE's MMO titles being taken offline for 12 days and a significant amount of community outrage.

Now that we've all been reminded of that particularly bitter piece of 2011 news, let's move on to the games themselves, beginning with the fantasy genre. We'll give everyone three guesses as to which MMO reigns as the fastest-selling PC game of all time, and the first two don't count. Did you guess World of Warcraft: Cataclysm? If you didn't, what have you been smoking and can you hook us up? At any rate, the most recent WoW expansion pack holds the title not only for the fastest-selling PC game but also for the fastest-selling MMO and (for the hat trick) the fastest-selling MMO expansion. And the titles are well-deserved when you consider the fact that Cataclysm sold something to the tune of 4.7 million copies in the first month, 3.3 million on the first day alone. For the sake of contrast, Wrath of the Lich King sold 2.8 million copies on its first day, with the number rising to about 3.5 million by the end of the month.

That wasn't the only record broken on Cataclysm's release date, though. As soon as the title hit shelves, the race for level 85 was on. Players plowed through Vashj'ir and Hyjal, blew Deepholm away, sped down the dunes of Uldum, and blazed a trail through the Twilight Highlands. The first player to reach level 85, however, was akin to the Highlander, in that there could be only one. The crown was claimed six hours after the game's official release by the ironically named Human Paladin Forscience, who achieved his goal with the help of his guildmates. Let's put that into perspective: The average player took three to four days of total playtime to reach the level cap.

Let's get out of Azeroth for a little while and dip our toes into the saccharine-sweet world of SOE's Free Realms. The popular F2P social title has the distinction of being the first free-to-play console MMO, courtesy of its release on Sony's PlayStation 3. The title has since reached a playerbase of over 20 million registered users and has paved the way for other free-to-play downloadable console titles.

Now, we all know that WoW leads the market in terms of sheer subscriber numbers, but subscription numbers say nothing about the number of players actively playing the game. While we're sure Azeroth has plenty of players at peak hours, it's not quite enough to earn the record for the most users simultaneously online in an MMORPG. That particular honor goes to a popular Chinese MMO known as Fantasy Westward Journey, which played host to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.66 million concurrent players on March 2nd, 2008.

Let's get a little eccentric, shall we? People have done some pretty... interesting things in the name of art but nothing so relevant to our interests as Wayne Long's recent display of performance art. During the first week of July 2011, Long packed himself into a tailor-made travel crate and had himself shipped from Bald Knob, Arkansas to Portland, Oregon. That's a journey of about 2000 miles. But how does this relate to MMOs? Well, throughout his week-long journey, Long had no contact with the outside world and instead was kept company only by Lord of the Rings Online. This act earned Long the staggeringly specific world record for the longest time playing a video game while traveling in a crate.

But not everyone is into elves and orcs and swords and sorcery; some people would prefer to do their talking with a lightsaber or to run the urban streets with a gat by their sides and a gang at their backs. And that's OK because now we've gotten to the world records held by games outside of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, not all of these records are positive. Take, for instance, All Points Bulletin. Back when the idea of APB Reloaded hadn't even been conceived, Realtime Worlds pulled the plug on the fledgling MMO after only 79 days in operation, earning the game the title for the shortest-lived MMO to date.

Of course, it's not like we were about to get out of the sci-fi-et-al. category without mentioning the current elephant in the room, so let's get it out of the way. From the beginning, BioWare has been touting Star Wars: The Old Republic's fourth pillar of story, and a large part of that fourth pillar was the fully voiced questlines. Everyone from player-characters to the most meaningless NPCs were given hours upon hours of fully voiced dialogue provided by dozens of voice actors. That monumental feat earned The Old Republic a spot in the record books for being the first ever fully voice-acted MMORPG.

But even for all of its hundreds of hours of voiced dialogue, SWTOR didn't snag the title for having the largest voice acting cast in an MMO. So what did? Well, think about it. What other MMO is part of a generation-crossing franchise that includes characters who have been voiced by stars such as, say, Mark Hamill? DC Universe Online, of course. Sony Online Entertainment's foray into the superhero genre included dialogue recorded by a whopping 263 different voice actors, among them Mark Hamill (reprising his famous role as the Joker) and the A-Team's Dwight Schultz (as The Flash and Martian Manhunter).

The world of MMOs, as we all know, is not always one of happiness and joy. Sometimes even our favorite MMOs will launch a patch or release a new feature that just pisses everyone off. No one knows this better than CCP, which faced an incredible amount of backlash in light of EVE Online's Incarna update. The update launched a fan reaction that would eventually come to be known as monoclegate (so named for a cosmetic in-game monocle that could be purchased for a whopping $60 US), during which 5,833 players claimed to be cancelling their subscriptions and leaving the game. Seeing as how the cancellations could have resulted in a loss of $87,203 US in subscription revenue, the folks at Guinness saw fit to claim this to be the largest threatened player walkout in an MMO.

And with knowledge of exactly how quickly an MMO fanbase can up and leave, developers tend to make it a priority to ensure that fans are contented with a steady flow of new content and features. Only one game has done this so well that it has earned itself a spot in the record books for the most free MMO content updates, however, and that game is City of Heroes. The popular superhero MMO title, which has been live since 2004, has released 21 content updates to date in addition to its two expansions, the most recent of which was Issue 21: Convergence, which saw the introduction of the game's free-to-play model.

But sometimes you just can't put out a new update every month, and MMO players are fickle creatures (believe us, we know), so how are you going to go about keeping them occupied until the next big patch? Let them create their own content, obviously. Many games have introduced content creation systems, such as City of Heroes' Mission Architect and EverQuest II's Dungeon Maker. But in terms of sheer player-created content output, one game -- may it rest in peace -- stood above the rest: Star Wars Galaxies. That's right, the dearly departed original Star Wars MMO released the Chronicle Master update for players in 2009, and within a month, players had created over one million missions. Unfortunately, we don't have a tally of how many player-created missions had been made in total before the game's end in December of last year, but whatever the exact number, it was enough to earn Star Wars Galaxies the spot for the most user-generated missions in an MMO.

MMOs these days aren't always about fun and games, however. Virtual worlds such as Second Life and Entropia Universe make it possible for players to create in-game content in exchange for real-world money, leading some players to focus solely on making as much cash as they possibly can. The record for the most expensive virtual property purchase to date belongs to SEE Virtual Worlds, which paid $6 million US in order to acquire the virtual property Planet Calypso within Entropia Universe. The company announced months later that it had acquired the rights to many well-known intellectual properties such as War of the Worlds and Total Recall, and it also announced plans to open up a Michael Jackson-themed planet within Entropia Universe.

It just wouldn't quite feel right to finish off this list without mention one of the genre's progenitors: Ultima Online. The original sandbox MMO has an entire section dedicated to it in the record book, and rightfully so. Any game that's been around for over a decade is bound to have some achievements to its name. UO holds seven titles in the 2012 book alone, including the title for the first retail MMO expansion pack, the first implementation of player housing, the first in-game ecosystem, and the (incredibly sad) title of the MMO with the most cancelled sequels.

And that brings us to the end of our romp through the past achievements of gaming. Thanks for joining us! Now get out there, enjoy the titles of the new year, and go set some records of your own. We'll see you in the record books next year.

This article was originally published on Massively.