The first commercially released MMORPG actually came out in the mid-80s. Back then, though, it was known as a MUD which stood for Multi-User Dungeon, once again proving that inventing is half inspiration and half not naming it something so terrible everyone ignores you. Island of Kesmai could connect up to 100 players at the same time through the online service provider CompuServe. One hundred players may not seem like such a "massive" figure now, but in the 80s it was 98 more than our minds could handle.
Turns out MUD games go back all the way to the 70s and were actually quite popular on some particularly nerdy college campuses. Some jokesters even referred to them as "Multi Undergraduate Destroyers" due to their addictive nature. To put things in perspective, this was a period in time when the average household had three channels on their television, and may have had to wiggle an antenna to make them visible through the static. And these guys were already suffering from WoW syndrome.
Most MUD games were text-based, but others, like Island of Kesmai, used ASCII characters to simulate changing graphics, like so:
Add some pottery and it's a Zelda maze.
Kesmai implemented other features that are familiar to MMORPGs today, such as side-quests and the ability to trash talk other players through chat. As you can probably guess by now, the game failed to catch on, probably because it was way too expensive: It cost around $12 an hour just to stay connected to the CompuServe network. Also, a single command would take about 10 seconds to process -- that's almost two cents for every little movement you made. If playing WoW cost that much, Blizzard would own several countries by now.
"We'll keep the servers in South America and replace the Midwest with data centers. We'll build bunkers in Canada for the players. They'll be happy as long as they have Red Bull and Nutra-Paste."