Perfect Ten: MMORPGs that died too soon
Your favorite game is going to die. I wrote about that. Some games are never even going to get to launching in the first place, unfortunately. But then there are these titles: games that went the distance when it came to development, marketing, promotion, testing… but somehow didn’t quite manage to stick the landing past that. These are the games that, in Transformers terms, are the hi-then-die cast of the MMO space.
That doesn’t always mean the games are bad, mind you. Some of these games were great fun. But through a combination of business model issues, publisher issues, player population, and just general weirdness, these titles couldn’t make it to a year and a half in the wild. Heck, some of them couldn’t even make it to a year and a quarter. And if you want to peruse this list and wonder why all of these titles are gone but Alganon is somehow still operating… well, we’re just as confused as you are.
1. APB: All Points Bulletin (4 months)
We’re starting off with the game that still holds the all-time record, running from June 29th to to September 16th. Only four months of operation! It’s never going to be entirely clear how the game died this quickly, since that involves knowing what was going on behind the scenes at Realtime Worlds, which was swiftly placed into administration and then shut down without more than a whimper. The absurdly weird business model didn’t help, where players could both purchase a subscription or hour-by-hour access.
You might be thinking that the game is actually still playable, but that’s the relaunched version which guts most of the social features and focuses entirely on the whole shooter aspect. That’s all well and good, but consider that the original was shut down and the relaunch is being developed by a totally different company, the original version is well and truly gone. And it probably will remain the fastest shutdown for a while, since it was a very short road.
2. Faxion Online (5 months)
Coming in close on the heels of APB’s short run time is Faxion Online, which… honestly, I still don’t know how this one shuttered so quickly. It was a neat little free-to-play title from the outside looking in, giving players a chance to play as the forces of Heaven or Hell while exploring areas themed after the seven deadly sins. And then it just… closed, quite suddenly, with no real explanation or exploration. Just a “sorry, folks, didn’t work out.”
I still want to know more about why this happened, but this was all back in 2011, so the odds of any information on it seems low. Just the same.
3. Seed (5 months)
For a very long time, Seed held the shutdown speed record, which is a shame because this was a genuinely novel design. The game placed players as part of the crew of a seed starship, exploring the galaxy for new worlds for humanity, with a heavy focus on social interaction and politics rather than combat. Players would do their best to repair sections of a malfunctioning station to gain political acumen as they tried to unravel what went wrong on a world out of contact from Earth.
If you’re thinking that sounds a bit like Mass Effect: Andromeda, you’d be wrong, because you shoot things in Andromeda. No shooting in Seed.
As linked above, our very own Game Archaeologist took a look back at the game’s initial design, launch, and reception, which unfortunately ran into the age-old trouble of launching too early and not having enough money to sustain itself. It’s a sad end to a novel design, and now there’s another title by the same name, which makes a revival seem unlikely.
4. Landmark (9 months)
Yes, we can definitely quibble about Landmark as a whole, but the fact is that the game actually launched last year. Of course, this was after the game had already had its primary reason for existence demolished with the cancellation of EverQuest Next, and the fact that Landmark’s purpose in the bigger scheme of things felt somewhat ambiguous even with EQN on the horizon didn’t help matters. When the game finally launched, there was reason to hope that some of the work from EQN would get ported over, but instead the game just got tossed into the dumpster less than a year after its actual launch.
There were a lot of neat ideas going on behind the scenes of Landmark, but it ultimately had a hard time getting traction as something more than the shell of EQN’s failure, and the fact that it had a beta running for roughly a million years didn’t help matters. One gets the idea that Daybreak itself wasn’t really clear on what Landmark was supposed to be, which isn’t a good position for a developer. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t really consider a game a sure thing until it at least has a playable demo?
5. Earthrise (12 months)
This is a weird one, a game that died and has been supposedly on track for a revival forever. The idea was to create a sprawling three-faction PvP sandbox with involved crafting, combat progression, and social systems. What actually launched was a game that people described as mistaking “sandbox” for “grind-based,” with a crafting system which required lots of time but never really delivered on its original premise. And, you know, it was also open PvP, albeit with high-security areas a la EVE Online.
The weird thing is that we keep hearing vague rumors of a revival, and one was even due to start testing “soon” for roughly half of forever. The last we heard of it was when it showed up on Steam with the promise that work was still being done, and it’s since gone silent once again. Time alone will tell.
6. Black Prophecy (14 months)
If you’ve already forgotten about this game, we understand. It was a space combat game where the main selling point was piloting a nimble fighter into combat, to the point where you had no real in-person avatar; you just controlled your ship and flew around in space. It had a mix of PvE and PvP, no auction house, and a heavily randomized crafting system. And then it shut down without much ceremony.
I very vaguely remember playing this one in an early test state and finding it vaguely decent but not tremendously compelling. It’s a pity, but it’s also worth noting that not every single title which fails quickly is one that’s too innovative or creative or whatever. Some titles just… don’t succeed.
7. LEGO Minifigures Online (15 months)
Oh, Funcom. The real problem with LEGO Minifigures Online wasn’t that it was an awful game or that it was terribly developed or anything; the problem was that Funcom needed this game to be a major hit. It wasn’t. It went back and forth between being free-to-play or buy-to-play, it went through a long beta period, and it was fun to play with kids but not successful enough to meet the company’s forecasts. So in broad terms, you can chalk this one up to another victim of Funcom’s longstanding financial problems.
Not for nothing, but I’ll really be happy when we can move on from the idea that LEGO figures are some kind of unique aesthetic. The very existence of the LEGO Batman movie leaves me cold, as if we’re somehow willing to accept a Batman movie which enjoys the weirdness of the character only when it features a brick-based aesthetic. I suppose it’s better than minions.
8. Glitch (15 months)
This one is just a straight-up heartbreaker. Much like Seed, Glitch was focused around having a primarily social system. It was also unbelievably charming in its artistic style and overall world presentation. You were left to just wander, explore,and change things for the fun of it. And it ultimately shut down in part due to limited audience appeal, albeit with a great deal of care paid to the staff departing when the game shut down.
There are revival projects in the works, but that doesn’t really eliminate the sting so much as it buttresses it slightly.
In fairness to the game’s developers, the game dropped itself back into beta status once it became clear that Glitch just didn’t have enough direction or goals for players to know what the heck they were supposed to be doing. It was – and is! – a standout in the field for many things, and I’d like to think that if Tiny Speck had a stronger up-front goal or two for players (and maybe a more forward-thinking platform), we’d still be talking about how special it is in the present tense. Here’s hoping for Children of Ur and/or Eleven, then.
9. Tabula Rasa (16 months)
You know, the weird thing is that if Tabula Rasa had been launched later, it might not be on this list. That isn’t just down to the game being far better than it gets credit for, mind you; it’s just that it died when the idea of a free-to-play shift was only just beginning to pick up market traction. Another two years, and it may have enjoyed a fate similar to WildStar, or at least it wouldn’t have been outright shuttered.
There were a lot of really neat things at work in Tabula Rasa, and at the end of the day what really hurt the game was that it had to be launched when the developers were still working at making those neat systems coalesce into a fun game to play. Combine that with the litigation with Richard Garriott (who went to space for the game), and the whole thing was just a big-old train wreck. Fortunately, Garriott himself seems to have taken some of the lessons of the game to heart when developing Shroud of the Avatar, which seems to have a brighter future.
10. Hellgate: London (16 months)
For all that this game was briefly the poster child for “failed release” (see: flagshipped), its initial launch lasted for a really long time before shuttering (the first time), didn’t it? So much for getting flagshipped.
It’s all right, though; the game will probably have another revival project before too much longer.