I started playing MMOs when UO launched. It had fishing and it was an extremely basic version of the activity at first – basically fish and junk. A while later they put in what I consider the most expansive fishing mini-game of all time – treasure chests.
I spent hours sailing across the sea fishing up all sorts of things. Treasures chests, sea serpents, water elementals and finding more treasure maps. I made a treasure hunter character just for this activity and it was awesome. It was hard mind you, you could easily die when you dug up a level 5 chest but from start to finish, fishing was one of the main reasons I played UO for so long.
EQ had fishing but it was (and is?) still rather basic. Pole, bait, find a lake each with different fish with different things to do. I maxed it without question and still had fun filling in the dead spots waiting for the damn boats.
WoW had fishing as well and at first it was even simpler than EQs system. It then added fishing pools, special fish, neat quests and amazing food. Now we have pets. I think I would put it as #2 in terms of fishing mini games for what I’ve played at least.
Rift recently (patch 1.7) put in fishing and after about 8 hours you can max what you need to. There’s the inherent achievement/artifact mini game that comes along with it but fishing as a whole is a simple affair. Perhaps they’ll put in some more stuff for people to do with it but I am finding myself fascinated with fishing once again.
It’s clear to me that I can’t stick with a game unless it has fishing and I think it’s one of those systems that shows that the rest of the game is solid enough for the devs to build something that’s nearly 100% flavor. How well balanced does your game have to be before you have the cycles necessary to devote to such a skill set?
I wonder how many other MMOs that are trying to enter (or establish themselves) into the massive pool of games will take the effort to put in time wasters like fishing. MMOs need time wasters with personal flavor. Games without them are simply destined for niche markets.