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12:57pm on Wednesday, 13th May, 2015:



I was in London yesterday evening, for a joint interview with Tristan Donovan (author of Replay: The History of Video Games). My fellow interviewee was Bob Alberti, one of the founders of the MMO industry, who brought along his wife Theresa.

Few people who play MMOs today will have heard of Bob. Few will have heard of me, of course, but even fewer will have heard of Bob. Bob was the person who brought Sceptre of Goth out into the open. He didn't program the bulk of the game engine — that was done by Alan Kleitz (whose surname I now know from Bob is pronounced to rhyme with "bites" rather than "beats"); Bob, however, wrote the bulk of game world that ran on the engine. His relationship with Alan in the development of Sceptre of Goth is therefore similar to mine and Roy Trubshaw's in MUD.

Of course, few people who play MMOs today will have heard of MUD, let alone Sceptre of Goth. If it hadn't been for a series of catastrophic episodes of bad luck and mismanagement, we could well have been calling MUDs SOGs instead.

I've read so many histories of MMOs that are just plain wrong, that I myself always try to get it right to the best of my knowledge and understanding. This is why when people introduce me as "the man who invented online games" or whatever, I always mention that I co-invented them with Roy Trubshaw. If I'm able (which isn't always possible in live interviews), I'll also correct the focus (it's just virtual worlds) and point out that plenty of other people independently invented them too: Roy and I did MUD; Kelton Flinn and John Taylor did Island of Kesmai; Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar did Habitat; Bruce Maggs, Andrew Shapira and David Sides did Avatar; Rich Skrenta did Monster; Alan Kleitz and Bob Alberti did Sceptre of Goth.

Almost all MMOs do descend directly from MUD, but that's an "almost" I'm always careful to use. There are at least three senior industry figures I know who played Avatar, for example, with Gordon Walton being the most prominent. It would be hard to argue that Crowfall is a direct spiritual descendant of Avatar, though, as it would be to argue that Rift is a descendent of Sceptre of Goth merely because Scott Hartsman was a player of the former. However, there are current in-development MMOs that can trace their family tree directly back to Sceptre of Goth. In particular, Camelot Unchained is a descendant of Dark Age of Camelot, which is a decendent of Dragon's Gate, which is a descendent of Aradath, which Mark Jacobs (lead designer and sometimes sole programmer on all of these) wrote because he was inspired by Sceptre of Goth.

All of this is history that needs to be recorded. It's just not right for pioneers to be forgotten merely because they didn't make millions from it. There are games historians today who think that virtual worlds began with Ultima Online or (for bonus points!) Meridian 59. A hundred years from now, there may be young researchers who are arguing in their PhDs that World of Warcraft had something to do with it. I won't care myself, of course, as I'll be dead; I care right now that few people care right now, though.

Bob and his wife were very engaging and the evening flew by. I only realised that three hours had passed because it was getting dark outside. Tristan recorded most of what we talked about and Theresa also took notes, so I'm hoping something comes of it.

I don't like it when people take credit that isn't theirs. I like it even less, though, when people such as Bob don't get the credit that is theirs.

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Copyright © 2015 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).