7 Other Weird (and Sometimes NSFW) News Stories About World of Warcraft and Other MMOs

By Brian Hanson in Daily Lists, Video Games
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

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World of Warcraft and other Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs, for short) have long since been a beacon of hope for the friendless, the obsessive, or the bored among us. Now, thanks to an article in Monday's New York Times, MMOs have become a bastion for TERRORISTS. Or, more likely, bored NSA operatives grinding for experience and writing off their monthly subscriptions as a "work expense."

Whatever the case, the major media has had an odd relationship with MMOs over the years, since their inception in the mid-80's to their unexpected mainstream success over the last decade. Here's a look at seven other strange news stories to come out of the various MMO universes!




1) Richard Garriott, aka "Lord British," is Assassinated By Fire During the Beta for Ultima Online

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Ultima Online is often erroneously cited as the "first" MMO, but it isn't, not by a longshot. Aside from the various MUDs and other text-based BBS games from the '80s, there was also Lucasfilm Games' shockingly forward-thinking graphical online game Habitat on the Commodore 64. Nonetheless, nothing reached the level of sophistication from what we expect out of modern MMOs until Richard Garriott and his team of developers began work on the first truly immersive, graphical MMORPG.

Of course, the launch was anything but smooth. Any MMO player who gets in on the beta of any new-ish MMO can tell you any number of horror stories about glitches and bugs and deletions, but Ultima Online still has one hilarious legend that places it above all others. As any Ultima fan knows, the character of "Lord British," the nom de plume of Ultima creator Richard Garriott himself, is indestructible in every game in the series. Try as you might, and most players did, "Killing Lord British" was virtually impossible, without absurd stats or cheat codes.

So it was supposed to be in Ultima Online. During the beta, Garriott himself appeared as his "Lord British" character, to introduce players to the grand and wondrous world of Ultima. Until one brave yet foolhardy player decided to cast a fire spell on Lord British. This should've done nothing, but considering Ultima Online's various bugs, it inadvertently sent Garriott to his fiery death, causing all manner of disarray and confusion. This, in a game that was already plagued with server issues and horrendous lag, among other problems.

While Ultima Online eventually grew to become the first-ever profitable MMO, reaching north of 100,000 subscribers at its peak in the late '90s, no one in the gaming world - especially not the gaming press - ever forgot this hilarious incident.

2) "Gold Farming" Leads to Lawsuits in World of Warcraft

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But what's one online assassination compared to AN ENTIRE FORTUNE IN GOLD?

"Gold Farming" is a subscription service where you hire someone (probably a poverty-ridden, baggy-eyed foreigner working for slave wages) to play for hours and hours on end, doing menial and degrading tasks in order to give your character an endless supply if in-game currency.

Nowadays, Gold Farming has largely disappeared as the "Free to Play" model reigns as the preferred method of distributing MMOs. Why buy a subscription to a secondary service, when for $12.99 or so the company itself will just give you a mountain of in-game gold themselves? But as these MMOs were picking up steam, Gold Farming became a dirty-word in the gaming world. The enmity between your average joes, pro-level players, and "cheaters" taking advantage of these Gold Farming operations became so heated that there were actual lawsuits.

These lawsuits eventually garnered the attention of major news outlets, who were stymied by the idea that people were willing to pay other people to play their games for them, so that they could have more gold when they play their game. That they also pay for.

Somewhere there's that old adage about how easy it is to separate a fool from his money. But these gold farmers often took advantage of poor people in 3rd world countries, so fuck 'em.

Not that the good-ol' USA has been free of money problems stemming from MMOs either, though.

3) Curt Schilling's Unfinished MMO Causes Bankruptcy and Devastates Rhode Island

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Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling: holder of an MLB record for a postseason winning percentage, and avowed World of Warcraft fanatic. His enthusiasm for the games hit a - pardon the pun - fever pitch in 2006, when the MLB star hatched his own plan to make his own World of Warcraft. Except better.

Schilling spent millions of his own money acquiring quote-unquote "top talent" like fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore and fellow baseball nerd Todd McFarlane. Now, in case any of you didn't realize, it is exorbitantly expensive to make an MMO. In fact, the only game to date that's more expensive than any MMO would be Grand Theft Auto 5. MMOs require years of development, constant tweaking, frequent updates, long and stressful beta testing, and an army of technical wizards and staff to operate around the clock. This, in an incredibly competitive field with a clear market leader (World of Warcraft, natch), with no real guarantee of ever making any money.

And so it was that Schilling got in touch with the state of Rhode Island, who, strapped for cash and in need of a major boost in high-paying jobs like the tech sector, gave Schilling's 38 Studios a 75 million dollar loan, in the hopes that his expensive and ambitious MMO project, not to mention the single-player Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, would pay itself off in no time.

This did not happen. What did happen was the resignation of Rhode Island officials and a nasty Chapter 7 bankruptcy, alongside an army of unpaid staffers who'd abandoned friends and family to move to Rhode Island, suddenly jobless.

These virtual worlds and supposed to help us escape from the real world, not ruin it. Onward to the next page, with stuff about higher education, blood diseases, and sex!


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