October 20th marked the 30th anniversary of the very first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). For those that don't remember MUDs, these text based multiplayer computer games were the precursors of modern MMOGs. I think it's safe to say that multiplayer computer gaming was the exclusive domain of hardcore gamers and geeks back then. People playing MUD1, Elendor MUSH or Pern MUSH were nerds, like myself, that knew computers, knew gaming, and loved roleplaying online. With the advent of online games with graphics, MMOGs like Everquest and Ultima Online began to attract a wider variety of gamers. The gaming demographic began to shift.
Modern MMOGs like World of Warcraft ushered in a new era of gaming and a very different demographic of gamer. WoW's colorful, friendly style, easy to use interface and simple gameplay concepts make it very easy to pick up and play. WoW appeals to almost everyone: parents, kids, men, women, and people that might not normally play video games. It's about as close to mainstream as you can get in a MMOG. While the Wii is often credited with finally capturing traditional non-gamers, I submit that MMOGs like WoW did it first and continue to do it well.
A key to WoW's success also lies is its low system requirements. Recent MMORPGs like Age of Conan and Warhammer may have more sophisticated graphics, but their higher system requirements work against their success in capturing a broad demographic of gamer. High system requirements are not just problematic for those particular games, but for the health and growth of PC gaming in general. Let's face it, when compared to console gaming, computer gaming isn't as cheap, accessible or simple. In order for MMOGs to continue to thrive, something needs to change at the hardware level. Without competitive pricing and standardization, PC gaming will continue to wither.