When an MMORPG Dies

Aside from games with wild peripherals, the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) genre might well be the most difficult to preserve due to the way they work. Being online only games, when the company running the game decides it’s time to end it, due to financial reasons or introducing a new product, that game becomes unplayable. There are of course, exceptions, though rarely. Some games, such as Star Wars Galaxies and Phantasy Star Online have third-party private servers, where the server-side backend has either been reverse-engineered or leaked and is run by fans, often with some difference such as higher experience and item drop rates. Generally speaking though, they are gone for good. Most MMORPGs simple cease to exist when the time comes, but sometimes there are special “end of world” events, or the reason for end of service is very notable. A quick few of these follows.

MatrixOnlineThe Matrix Online
Lifespan: 2005-2009
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Sega & Warner Bros., later Sony Online Entertainment

The Matrix Online was an interesting experiment of blending ‘real time’ hand-to-hand combat with firearms, and being set in the Matrix gave the developers a lot of free creativity with regards to powers. Sadly, it didn’t have a lot of staying power, especially given that it was released two years after The Matrix Revolutions came out in cinemas and brought the franchise to a disappointing end. The game changed publisher hands partway through its life, and in 2009 Sony Online Entertainment announced they were ending the game due to low player counts – about 500 people still played the game

As the game edged towards the day it was scheduled to shut down, the remaining players were given near-developer levels of control on their abilities and as much money as they wanted, and Player VS Player was enabled on servers that were normally Player VS Enemy only. On the hour, earthquakes shook the virtual city, strange system messages telling players to “WAKE UP” appeared and finally, players had their avatars crushed as the Matrix crumbled. At least, that’s what was meant to happen, but latency and connectivity issues prevented a lot of the remaining players from seeing these events and they simply got disconnected and could not get back on in time.

Video game website Giant Bomb catalogued the last few days of the game on video, in a series called  “Not Like This”, referencing a line from the first movie, preserving the end of the game for those curious about how it worked.

 

TabulaRasaTabula Rasa
Lifespan: 2007-2009
Developer: NCSoft and Richard Garriott
Publisher: NCSoft

Tabula Rasa was a collaboration between MMO company NCSoft and one of the fathers of computer role-playing games, Richard Garriott. Garriott, also known as Lord British, created the Ultima series of games and kicked off the MMORPG genre (alongside Everquest) with Ultima Online. Two years after the game’s launch, Garriott decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of going into space and announced he’d be stepping down from development while he was on the International Space Station, marrying a couple who happened to be going up at the same time.

Whilst off-world, NCSoft decided to shutter the game with no real warning, due to a low population count. When Garriott came down to earth, he was understandably upset. He immediately sold his now nearly worthless stock in the game and started a lawsuit against NCSoft. He was successful, and was awarded USD$28 million in damages. NCSoft tried to appeal the ruling, but it was upheld. In-game, the story changed so that the aliens on the game’s world were repopulating so quickly that mutually assured destruction was the only choice, killing off all player characters.

Little was heard of Garriott after, until 2013 when he announced a crowdfunded game in the vein of Ultima Online, Shroud of the Avatar.

 

 

 

CoHCity of Heroes
Lifespan: 2004-2012
Developer: Cryptic Studios, later NCSoft NorCal, later known as Paragon Studios
Publisher: NCSoft

Another NCSoft product with a sudden shutdown, City of Heroes (and its “other side of the coin” expansion, City of Villains) was much loved for standing on its own in terms of character generation, setting and quest design. The development team was also very hands-on with the playerbase, which earned them a lot of goodwill. With that in mind, it was a complete shock to the players and developers both when NCSoft suddenly announced the termination of the game in mid-late 2012. The developers themselves didn’t know until the players did. In fact, they had content still scheduled – a hefty update that would see heroes and villains visiting a base on the moon, as well as an anniversary event.

Paragon Studios, who had split off from NCSoft somewhat and named themselves after the game’s city after Cryptic Studios sold control of the license back to NCSoft, did everything in their power to try and keep the game going. They worked out a deal to buy all the rights to the game and customer-base from NCSoft and everything looked like it was going to go ahead until the 11th hour, where someone fairly high in the NCSoft hierarchy changed their mind and refused the final sign-off, condemning the game to end. On the eve of the game closing, nothing special was planned. Most of the game moderators had their powers taken away, ironically mimicking what often happens in superhero comic books. The majority of players gathered together to see each other off, powerless GMs joining them. What little admin power remained spawned a few elite enemies nearby, which went largely ignored until someone would shout that they were the in-game incarnation of NCSoft management, leading to them being swiftly annihilated.

City of Heroes still has a dedicated fanbase to this day and with crowdfunded projects like City of Titans showing up, there’s clearly still some demand for a superhero themed MMORPG.

 

ARRFinal Fantasy XIV
Lifespan: 2010-2012, 2013 onwards
Developer: Square-Enix
Publisher: Square-Enix

Final Fantasy XIV is somewhat different to the rest of this list, as it ended up being shut down on account of being very poorly received by players and reviewers alike, leading to it being completely remade. The game was a spiritual successor to Final Fantasy XI, to date Square-Enix’s highest grossing game, however the game was doomed from the start. The Crystal Tools engine it ran on was not designed for multiplayer, let alone the scale needed. At launch, almost everything was server-side including mouse cursor position, causing huge amounts of latency for anyone not in Tokyo. A flower pot in town had more polygons than a single player-character, which lead to the game running abysmally even with a high-end Core i7 system. The game designer had little idea of what people wanted in a game, nor what made a game fun. There were no general quests to speak of, instead you got an allowance of quests to do every day which didn’t amount to much, leading to people needing to grind out experience points against monsters in the field, which revealed that there was “EXP fatigue” – after a certain point every day you’d only accumulate 50% EXP. Areas were horrific mazes, and teleporting to different areas also had a daily restriction, forcing you to make your own way there most of the time.

Suffice to say, a lot was wrong with the game. Square-Enix quickly reacted. They pulled the original designer off of the project and asked around the company for anyone who had a lot of experience playing MMORPGs and enjoyed them. They found Naoki Yoshida, who had cut his teeth on Dark Age of Camelot and had worked on another Square-Enix MMORPG, Dragon Quest X. Putting him in charge, they also waved subscription fees until they were happy with how the game was. Yoshida added and fixed a lot of systems in the game over time, but ultimately went to his superiors and said – “We can either keep trying to patch this thing until it works, and it might not ever, or take it down and remake it from the ground up”. And so they did.

A Realm Reborn was announced, and Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 ended up being used as a testbed for new systems such as Jobs (wherein a class would change into a more specialist form – Conjurer could become White Mage and Gladiator could become Paladin, for instance). After some time had passed, the game went down for a “Final Save” maintenance, where player characters were copied off into a backup so their looks could be used in the new release. There was only a day between this maintenance and the shutdown, and Yoshida remarked that players who log in might see some “interesting weather or something”. Initially for those who logged in, nothing seemed different. In the next few hours, that changed.

The villains of the story had succeeded in their plan to bring one of the realm’s moons down to to the earth, and hell broke loose because of it. High levelled monsters with the prefix “Deepvoid” roamed into every area, even towns, murdering players relentlessly. Any music that should have played was replaced with an echoed, sorrowful version of “Answers”, which would be played in full in the movie clip that anyone left logged in when the timer ticked over would see.

Then in late 2013, A Realm Reborn came out, totally remade, and surpassed any and all expectations. Within the first month it passed Final Fantasy XI’s lifetime subscription numbers and has continued climbing. A Realm Reborn is a marvel in every way, especially considering Square-Enix‘s usually bullheaded attitude towards what it thinks the consumer base wants.

 

This list is in no way meant to be concise, there have been endless MMORPGs shut down with as much or very little fanfare and event. This selection is just a few of the more memorable instances of such, and is meant to show that maybe not everything can be preserved as is.

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