Back to the future – MUDs 15 years ago

15 years before World of Warcraft became the synonym for the western MMOGs there were MUDs. With thousands of players BatMUD was one of the dominant MUDs (multi user dungeon) of its time.  The most MUDs were based on fantasy theme  and used classic AD&D rule-set similarly as current MMOGs. The greatest difference to modern MMOGs was the lack of graphical presentations and eye candy:

Despite the lack of visual cues MUDs were able to create extremely vivid game worlds that become alive in the players minds. Similarly as books tend to feel much better on paper than on the IMAX screen, the MUDs felt more alive than other video games of the 90’s. What really made MUDs distinctive from the other games was the social interaction. 80 percent of the playtime was done in groups of 2-9 people. And the epic memories are based on 20 hour EQ-runs where 9 players went around the world solving the greatest puzzles and killing the meanest bosses.

MUDs were not only about the play and lore, but for many players MUDs functioned as an online meeting place where you checked in and out multiple times a day. You were able to save our status for others to see while you were offline – think Facebook today. It was also possible to send private messages for other users and MUDs also offered multiple different solutions for chatting. Pimping your character from equipment to castles where you lived was of course one of the more important elements of the whole MUD experience.

For me MUDs acted as a five year long degree in game design, virtual economies and social interaction. While studying I conducted couple of survey around social interaction and the virtual economy of MUDs. In my research on the value of online social interaction I found out that at least two couples had met in BatMud, married virtually and later married in real life. My other research project was based on virtual economy. I started to sell gold, equipment and services within BatMUD to test how people would react. And the outcome was way beyond my expectations. After couple of months I was able to make enough money to pay for my next European roundtrip. This was 1996 and the game had  less than 2500 active players.

Among the MUD players it was common to joke about how addictive the MUDs would become after the ANSI graphics would turn into rich real 3D worlds. Luckily it turned out that not many of the people on the list ended up spending the same 200+ days of real life on Ultima Online or WOW. For the original MUD players the graphically challenged world will always feel richer than the 3D world that leaves little room for imagination.

Read more about BatMUD
Read more about MUDs

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