If you’re trying to remember why The Sims was as popular as it was, just take a look at some of the other popular games of this era that preceded it. In a time of intense online multiplayer shooters and deep RPG experiences, The Sims came along and offered an experience that celebrated the simple pleasures of life. It was a leisurely game that touched upon what had made SimCity such a hit years before but afforded those who played it the chance to engage in something much more personal than city building.
The true impact of The Sims, though, can be found in the memories of the diverse group of gamers who grew to love it. While it’s certainly impressive that The Sims appealed to more casual players like few major titles of its era, what’s truly amazing is that it was often enjoyed just as much by those playing Counter-Strike, Doom, and Diablo.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
2002 | Bethesda Game Studios
Games like Morrowind had existed since the ‘80s. We’ve talked about a few of them on this list. PC gamers had long been able to access deep single-player RPGs that offered complex character building, a variety of quests, and a sweeping story. However, none of those games also offered a fully 3D world.
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a deep RPG for a post-GTA III world. It was no longer necessary to play a game like Ultima IV and dream of what such a game would look like in 3D. Morrowind offered an RPG experience as compelling as any that came before and let you live it out in a stunningly beautiful universe.
It’s a testament to the contributions of Morrowind that’s it’s often difficult for modern gamers to play even the greatest RPG experiences that preceded it. This Elder Scrolls title just makes everything that came before it feel inevitably dated.
World of Warcraft
2004 | Blizzard Entertainment
If we can’t summarize EverQuest’s importance by simply calling it the first MMO ever, then we certainly can’t even flirt with that claim when talking about World of Warcraft’s importance. Thankfully, millions and millions of you already know why the game is on this list.
World of Warcraft refined the MMO formula and made it more accessible than ever before without watering down the depth of the genre. As a result, World of Warcraft became the most popular game of its era and consumed the free time (and often more time than that) of people who had probably never even played a proper RPG before. Suddenly, studios everywhere had to ask new questions regarding their previously assumed perceptions regarding what kind of experiences the masses wanted and could handle.
The game outlived not only its competition at the time but many other games labeled as the next big thing. Much of its success can be traced back to the way it allowed so many gamers to participate in what is essentially one of the most incredible social experiments ever organized.
Team Fortress 2
2007 | Valve Corporation
Nobody really knew what to make of Team Fortress 2. What began as a realistic, team-based military shooter turned into a Saturday morning cartoon somewhere along the way. On top of that, the game was strangely released as part of The Orange Box after years of development and hype. Some fans feared the worst, but nobody could have anticipated what Team Fortress 2 would become.
In many ways, it was the first games as a service title. Don’t hold that against it, though, as Valve used Team Fortress 2 to showcase just how such a game could – and should – work. Not only were Team Fortress 2’s microtransactions based on cosmetics, but Valve regularly updated the game, ensuring that it continued to feel fresh year after year. We wish more live service games would follow in Team Fortress 2‘s example.
2009 | Mojang
Minecraft certainly inspired plenty of clones, but that isn’t why it’s important. It also advanced the idea of games as a series of tools (seen in other games like SimCity), but that’s not it either.
No, Minecraft’s true impact can be found in the way it forever changed how we share our gaming experiences. Minecraft was the game of the YouTube era. There were times when it felt like the only thing more popular than the game were the YouTube videos based on Minecraft and the content creators who created entire communities in its giant sandbox. That’s hardly a surprise considering that the game’s seemingly infinite number of possibilities afforded its most imaginative players the opportunity to create things that others only dreamed about.
It wasn’t just the elaborate builds that drew people to Minecraft, though. Minecraft is best remembered as the game that taught all of us about the true power of sharing our gaming experiences in the digital age.
League of Legends
2009 | Riot Games
It’s not fair to say that League of Legends came out of nowhere. After all, the original DOTA was released in 2002 as a Warcraft III mod, which was based on a 1998 Starcraft mod. People knew what a MOBA was, even if the concept wasn’t that popular.
What nobody knew was exactly how popular League of Legends would make the genre. A combination of exceptional game design and fantastic timing turned LoL into not only the definitive MOBA game but one of the most popular games ever made.
League of Legends not only essentially killed the RTS genre as we know it, but it’s one of the games responsible for the rise and continued growth of the global eSports scene.
2013 | Bohemia Interactive
Some people have a bad habit of underestimating the value of failure. While DayZ fell as hard as any game has fallen due to a series of bad decisions, it’s also responsible for helping shape the landscape of modern PC gaming.
DayZ began its life as a mod for Arma 2, but this multiplayer zombie apocalypse simulator soon took on a life of its own. For a time, all anyone could talk about was the stories they gathered by spending time in DayZ‘s digital version of the apocalypse. At the time, nobody had pulled off the experience quite like DayZ.
In the process, DayZ inspired not only the popular genre of multiplayer survival games like Rust, 7 Days to Die, and Fallout 76, but its concepts and functionality also gave birth to the battle royale genre that spawned PUBG, Apex Legends, and Fortnite. So next time you’re shooting your way to a victory royale or a chicken dinner, make sure you tip your hat to the original survival experience.
Read our complete History of PC Gaming series at the links below:
Part 1: 25 PC Games That Changed History
Part 2: The Greatest PC Gaming Innovations
Part 3: The Legacy of Baldur’s Gate
Part 4: How EVE Online Evolved from Online Game to Real Life
Part 5: The Return of FMV Games
Part 6: What Role-playing Means to the Creators of Fallout
Part 7: The Legacy of World of Warcraft
Part 8: Revisiting The Matrix Online
Part 9: The Forgotten Innovations of Half-Life
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014.
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