The Realm Online (originally known as The Realm) has been around since 1996. It’s really quite a feat for an online multiplayer game to be around for so long, especially since the game has a pretty outdated look and feel to it. But despite it being 20 years old, what’s even more interesting about it is the fact that no one really knows who is running the game.
The open world multiplayer online role playing game consists of everyday features, such as chat capabilities, personalized character creation, dungeon delving, and looting. These may seem mundane in comparison to today’s games and MMOs, but the game was quite revolutionary during the time around its initial launch, especially since the Internet was just starting to make its way into more homes across the world.
Once similar, but more progressive games started to hit the market, The Realm Online quickly became outdated. Its 2D graphics appeared to be heavily cartoonish in comparison, especially since games like Everquest and Ultima Online featured 3D graphics that brought the games more to life.
After The Realm Online started to lose players and its popularity, the game began its hot potato stage of life, being passed around between publishers in search of a home. Sierra Entertainment first gave it to Codemasters as a part of a bundle. However, Codemasters didn’t know what to do with the game, so they put it up for sale. Norseman Games ended up purchasing it back in 2003. The founder of Norseman Games, Scott Wochholz, bought The Realm Online with money from his family’s trust fund. Wochholz was also an active player of the game, along with his sister, Lynn Crow.
“It was his idea, when he heard it was up for sale, that the family make a purchase of it. I didn’t know a lot about it myself, but we all became convinced it would probably be a good idea.”
When Wochholz purchased the MMORPG, the amount of active players was around 200. Those players, however, refused to give up on the game. Sure, it wasn’t bringing in 3000 active players like it used to, but fans of the game kept it alive.
When forums were created for an unrelated mobile version, it served as a centralized meeting place for the remaining active users. Nostalgia seemed to be a heavy factor in retaining Realm‘s players.
Since the game has simple controls that are less complex than more recent games, it even provides players with disabilities a way to dive into an interactive online world. Steve Murphy, a long-time player and active member on the game’s forums, discussed why he started to play the game:
“Being introduced to different cultures and such a wide variety of people in a fantasy world was very overwhelming to me. The Realm Online was a game that, for the first time, offered me something that I never would have dreamed of in video games.”
The Realm Online seemed to unite players, just as many other games do nowadays. Crow met her husband through the game, and even had an in-game wedding. However, in 2004 the couple was banned from the game, along with Crow being forced to leave the company due to both personal and business related conflicts with her brothers.
The company, as a whole, appears to be unreachable. There are no interviews with Norseman Games around, nobody responds to their social media pages, their listed phone number is actually a wrong number, and emails remain unanswered.
Despite all of the secrecy and anonymity, The Realm Online remains up and running. Server maintenance occurs from time to time, their website is still in tact, and people are still enjoying the game.
Eric Grundhauser from Atlas Obscura decided to create a toon in order to see what the game had to offer, and you can read more about his adventures here.