Perfect Ten: The 10 saddest MMORPG stories

Every MMO tells a story through the run of its life. A lot of those stories are pretty happy, too. Ultima Online may not be the most happening place in the world right now, but its story is about launching a genre and then running for two solid decades. That’s a pretty great story. However much it’s become a tale of mismanaged expectations, World of Warcraft kind of became the most popular thing for a long while and brought in tons of new people to the hobby. Even titles with sad endings often have bright stories; the end bit for City of Heroes sucks, but everything leading up to that was a gas.

And then you have these 10 titles. These are titles where the whole story is a tragedy, start to finish, and in many cases the tragedy isn’t necessarily over, but the story is still just plain sad. There are reasons, of course, maybe even good ones, but the result is that the narrative for these titles is pretty sad all the way through.

When it lost me.

1. Warhammer Online

Arguably, this is the least sad story on this list. After all, Warhammer Online came out of the gates with decent numbers and made a big splash. It was just ultimately kind of a hollow experience with lots of bugs, and that hurt it from the start.

What made the game a tragedy was that it basically jumped the gun so badly that it then spent a protracted period limping around with obvious fixes needed but no budget to actually make that happen. And the free-to-play conversion that might have actually helped the title wound up getting kneecapped, dooming the hopes it may have had.

Firefell.

2. Firefall

Are you a fan of Firefall? Which version? Because there were like four or five complete top-down revisions of this title, and none of them ever quite managed to connect with a big audience. The game was also sacrificed on the ego of a developer who… let’s say made some questionable decisions. And might make them again.

The whole thing tipped over the edge into “tragic” when the game basically just stopped working for a while, then started up again with no explanation whatsoever. That was when the writing was on the wall, but instead of having a dignified send-off the game just went quiet, flitted between life and death, and finally just announced that it was going away with no ceremony.

The ice is thin, come on, dive in.

3. WildStar

You can, of course, play WildStar right now. I’d even recommend it. The game launched to great reception, and while the game has its issues, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. It was when people started colliding face-first with the unbelievably savage game at the level cap that everyone started leaving, and then it got worse.

At this point, the game has had several chances at bringing in new players without succeeding each time, and you get the sense of a team flailing and looking for traction to keep the lights on. It’s a really sad ending to a game we were highly anticipating as a site almost right up until, well, it arrived.

A BLOO BLOO BLOO BLOO A BLOO BLOO

4. Glitch

No story that involves going back into beta testing is a good one, and when the game in question is a remarkably charming and cute non-combat title, it’s even sadder. There were a lot of things about Glitch that required more time to cook, but the game just didn’t have that time. That’s the tragedy; not failure, exactly, but the fact that time was needed and wasn’t available.

Depopulated.

5. The Repopulation

Here’s the short version of The Repopulation. As part of the effort to keep costs down, the developers behind the title license the Hero Engine instead of developing something in-house. The Hero Engine developers go deep into debt and basically wind up holding the game hostage. So then the developers behind The Repopulation decide to port the game over to the Unreal engine, putting out a survival sandbox spin-off in the hopes of getting money to keep their development rolling.

Unfortunately, Fragmented doesn’t do as well as the developers had hoped, and they’re left with half of the conversion done, not enough money to keep going, and no game to show for it. The Hero Engine developers buy The Repopulation, and now the actual people who made the game have been cut out of the loop with only Fragmented left to them, while the people behind The Repopulation, who once held it hostage, now are apparently struggling to get a patch out. There’s no part of this story that isn’t incredibly sad.

Nope.

6. Pathfinder Online

It was always baffling to see someone look at the Pathfinder pen-and-paper line and conclude that Pathfinder Online should be a gankbox of the first order. But it gets downright tragic when you see that the game has been limping along half-finished forever with a paid early access that has stagnated badly. The game had two successful Kickstarters but never actually attracted the investors necessary to go any further, and now… well, there’s no ending to this story that sounds encouraging.

Oh jeez.

7. Asheron’s Call 2

A sequel shuttering before the original game due to launch bugs that rendered the title more or less dead on arrival? That’s a tragedy all by itself, but what makes this even more sad is that Asheron’s Call 2 had a bright spot of hope in the middle. Suddenly it got brought back as a free bonus for subscribers to Asheron’s Call, and fans were all excited that maybe something else would come about.

Then Turbine shuttered both of the titles when its other MMOs got spun out into a different studio, and it became just miserably depressing to think about how that all ended.

He's going to kill Rod and Todd! That's terrible! ...in principle.

8. Darkfall

A fringe case? Perhaps. The way that Darkfall shut down is kind of sad. What seems worse, on some level, is the fact that there are obviously fans with a lot of investment in the game willing to work on revival projects… only to realize belatedly that there may not, in fact, be fans out there to support these revival projects financially.

Speaking personally, I’m not sad to see gankboxes fail. But I’m sad when people put a lot of effort into something that’s a labor of passion, only to realize after the fact that no one else is all that interested.

Bang bang, you shot me down.

9. PlanetSide 2

There’s only so much to be written that Justin didn’t already cover in his whatever-happened-to-PlanetSide 2 bit, so I won’t retread that; just go read it. But it still winds up as a sad story of what happens with games that get shuffled off to the back with companies that don’t seem to much care about continuing to run them.

Could have been a contender.

10. Landmark

I can’t really count EverQuest Next as a tragedy. It wasn’t a game that did poorly, it wasn’t even a game. It was an idea that never got released, and that’s fine, it happens. What is far more tragic is that Daybreak had already been selling a companion part of that game that was designed to, you know, go hand-in-hand with that game. And so it seemed to support Landmark briefly as a perfunctory effort, only to axe it soon thereafter when it had been in beta for approximately seven million years.

There was so much player creativity and so many neat ideas behind Landmark, but the game never connected with a large audience. Maybe with more things brought over from its cancelled sister project, it could have. Pity the people in charge weren’t interested in giving it that real chance, although whether that was due to apathy or lack of funding will have to remain a mystery.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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SirUrza

“It was always baffling to see someone look at the Pathfinder pen-and-paper line and conclude that Pathfinder Online should be a gankbox of the first order.”

Yeap. That’s why my interest in Pathfinder Online never surpassed the printed materials for the pen & paper game.

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Micha Spangler

From the list, The Repopulation is the saddest to me. The A&BT guys really worked hard with what little they had. Great people too. Only to have Idea Fabric put A strangle hold on them and force them to give up their game.

Off list it would be SWG and CoH. Both great games that met a sad demise.

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Cindy M

Tabula Rasa! That one hurt a lot. But I think the one that was the worst disappointment for me was Landmark /EQNext.

A game that would have topped every sadness though IF it had been made by a smaller developper:
FFXIV 1.0

There is no way that game would have survived had it not been a flag ship title by Square Enix. I bring it up because I remember living in fear in the first months of launch of what would happen to my most favorite game. Because it was so blatant how hollow it was and having been through Vanguard Saga of Heroes, Warhammer and so on. I was expecting the game to be shelved and to have to wait another 5 years for another FF Online.

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Warking

Revival, that one hurt my heart the most

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shibby523

Add Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising to the list. Failed the first time before getting out of the gates. Picked up by Heatwave Interactive and sort of released. Headed by CEO Anthony Castoro (who now is the manager over H1Z1 KotK) closed the game down suddenly without a word and vanished with the money and started a new company.

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Ket Viliano

Darkfall… no higher highs, no lower lows, the heroine of video games, it was.

So much potential, so much waste. I had been hearing about both DFO and Warhammer for months, as I saved up money for my first real case on up, parts and pieces computer. Warhammer had launched in the fall of ’08, and was getting poor reviews, so as I got my computer built in Jan of ’09, I jumped on the launch of DFO.

It started with a wild rush to buy the game, you had to just have faith that this was the correct website, as it was leaked about 24 hours in advance of the official announcement. This, buying the game, was the first phase of PvP. Cluster cluck from the day before it was born, it was.

Log in on first day, try to move, game crashes due to video overload, I was running a 9800gt, which was a bottom end card several years out of date, the cheapest still on sale. Had to pull an old DAoC on the lap-top trick, and look down immediately to cut the fps, then turn down the graph, which had options that no other game has ever had, such as point, line, and anisotropic. Anisotropic you see in other games, but not point or line. Point made the game look very pixelated, and line made it look flat, but you could get the graph to work even on really old hardware.

Ok, able to see, time to go kill a goblin! If you can hit one that is, as the desync issues were epically bad. Desync got better in the following days, and the gankers were not yet rampant at that stage. The mobs actually would try to dodge your attacks, something I had never seen before, and have scarcely seen since. The wolves were wild pack animals, ( yea, I ditched my elf toon and played wolf! ) scrabbling over cheap goblin loot, someone would kill steal, someone else would take offense and attack, go red, and then howl in desperate indignation as the pack would turn on them in maddened blood lust, chasing off to leave the gobbo spawn to the two of us who stayed behind.

The game was raw, all the way through, and wild. You could see exactly what someone was looking at by their position, rotation, and elevation of their head, which made stealth and mountjacking the most fun thing in the game.

Artistically, the game was a beauty, rich and varied in color and depth, with the sun and three moons, red, white and blue, giving wonderful hues to the world. At noon, the game would look normal like other games, but as the sun set, sometimes the whole scene would turn purple as the blue and red moon reflected the light from the setting sun. You could hide in bushes, most of which lacked collision objects, which greatly enhanced the stealth aspect.

What a grind the leveling was, so many hacks and exploits, people hiding in trees and rocks to spam magic, such a rush in combat, so wierd with odd and unexpected effects from spells.

The game was a riot of fun and tragedy, the highest highs, the lowest lows, Darkfall, Darkfall, the heroine of video games.

/end

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NeoWolf

The tragedy of EQ Next needs to be on that list.. but as it technically never existed I guess it doesnt qualify heh

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Mikka Hansen

Surprised by the lack of Tabula Rasa

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Duane Does not check email

Coh

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James Mock

CoH was sad because it’s closure came out of nowhere. It was doing relatively well and I knew many people that played and loved it.

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FreecczLaw

Everquest Next :(

As for Wildstar I don’t agree with your assessment. It is sad and all that for sure, but that game failed long before people got to the endgame.

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Michael18

Aside from SWG and CoH that others mentioned, I’d personally remove Wildstar and add SWTOR to the list.

Wildstar still receives updates and fixes (afaik) and is a playable MMO offering great action combat, for those who like fast paced action combat in an MMO, and a fun, unique art style, great music, and much more.

SWTOR also still receives updates but it was turned into a “non-MMO” during that time when the term and concept MMO went out of fashion for a while. Personally, SWTOR was probably my biggest MMO disappointment, comparing pre-launch hype with post-launch reality, partly due to wrong expectations on my side, partly due to lackluster design & implementation and engine limitations.

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Alex Malone

SW:TOR is a hard one to judge.

I would personally add it to the list. You had the awkward development process, where the creativity was stifled and the Mythic devs were just flat out ignored. You had the frustrating testing / pre-launch period where the beta tester forums were just chock full of bug reports and complaints about how the game sucked, performed like shit and wasn’t really an MMO.

You had all the hype pre-launch: “Bioware are building this, so expect the best storylines you’ve ever seen”, “Bioware are industry leaders with companions, you’re going to get the best ever”, “The guys who built DAoC designed our PvP system, its going to be the best ever” etc etc. All false.

Then launch…..oh, we’re at cap within a week? The storyline sucks? Combat really shallow? Companions annoying and pointless? Raids so easy, everyone in the guild is fully geared up within 6 weeks of launch? Engine can’t handle more than 20 people? PvP is, in fact, just a couple of battlegrounds?

Then the financial difficulties, which to me, are the saddest part of it. The game cost so god damn much to make that they needed large numbers of players just to break even. They failed hard. They needed 500k subscribers just to break even, but dropped below that somewhere between 3 and 6 months after launch (according to EA quarterly reports). This is what forced the F2P conversion but whilst that stabilised the money, it’s never generated enough to reinvest in any sort of meaningful way.

Finally, the update and expansion cycle. I gave up on the game just before the first expansion when it became clear they weren’t going to fix any underlying issues, but it’s a sad state of affairs when your friends are completing expansions in 6 hours. Its even sadder when the community cheers about the XP changes, allowing you to skip 99% of the game and just do the class stories. How is it a good thing when an MMO is reduced to 10-15 hours of fairly generic questing? On top of that, the scope of the game narrows every expansion, to the point where it’s almost purely a casual story experience, with no meaningful gameplay, grouping, raiding, pvp updates or any attempt at community building.

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bobfish

SWTOR became a mess when it basically threw Star Wars away with KOTFE.

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Carebear

Put on the list and Blizzards “Titan”.. we may have not seen any info of it but there was speculations, expectations, dreams, and then a huge let down…

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Peregrine Falcon

I was honestly shocked that SWG and CoH weren’t on that list.

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Alex Malone

SWG had sad moments – the combat upgrade / new game experience, then it’s shutdown. But for the majority of it’s lifespan, the people actually playing it were still enjoying it. So, I wouldn’t call it a sad story, not like the others on the list, it just had some particularly poignant bad moments.

hurbster
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hurbster

Been done to death.

borghive
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borghive

I really wish Massively writers would stop using the phrase “gank box”!

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Mikka Hansen

Psychopath’s happy place

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Melissa McDonald

“Buffalo Bill” lotion application detention facility?

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wakkander

What term would you prefer?

hurbster
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hurbster

Unavoidable murder simulator ?

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Toy Clown

I didn’t see Star Wars Galaxies in that list either.

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Paragon Lost

I’d put Age of Conan and The Secret World on that list myself.

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Zadira Kindleriver

You should do a list of who had the most failed/shutdown games of all time, for no really good reason. I have a feeling that Daybreak/SOE would win, hands down. One of their really dumb, stupid and idiotic mistakes was closing down Free Realms. There is still no game like it available. I am most saddened about Free Realms but most embarrassed that I placed my heart, soul and money into Landmark. :(

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Melissa McDonald

I’ve opined in the past that the look of EQN/Landmark was a bid by Sony to do 2 things:
1) Offer a much higher-res version of Minecraft to MC players who were getting older
2) Offer a much richer, yet still cartoony and sorta friendly, MMO to FreeRealms players who were getting older

Of course all of that failed, but it made sense, the art style, and closing FR and the idea of coming up with a game that would appeal to not just that player base, but also to Minecraft builders.

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MesaSage

Please don’t parrot the Butterfield narrative that Glitch wasn’t fun or complete.

When Glitch went “back to beta”, Robin Hunicke left and that’s about all you need to know. There was very little veteran game experience on that team and she took it with her. She could see the writing on the wall.

The game NEVER needed fixing, or to go back to beta. It was a great, charming fun game that would have been solid for years. It was just Stewart’s need for Glitch to be the next Flickr that killed it. When he realized it wasn’t a billion dollar biz, he toyed with it until he killed it.

True story.

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Nater

Heh, may as well add Galaxies on there, too! The only reason it got shuttered was because of SWTOR. That was a terrible decision, too!

Estranged
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Estranged

Nater – it was a business failure.

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Melissa McDonald

I wish we could get a crowdfund effort to make the next EverQuest game. I’d back it.

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Doctor Sweers

:)

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Armsbend

A Second theft of your money is the charm eh?

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Melissa McDonald

Well in this fantasy Daybreak isn’t at the wheel, but rather devs who will actually get it done.

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Sray

I know that Wildstar’s at launch endgame takes the blame for the game’s failure to gain a significant audience, but it’s more than that: for all of the “personality” piled on top of it, a quick scratch on the surface shows the game is very generic. Tens of thousands of people have tried it during open beta, and as free to play, and bounced off the game long before reaching the endgame. When you ask them what they didn’t like I’ve found that you invariably tend to get “I dunno… it was just meh, like I knew what it was all about already” as an answer. Wildstar is just a game that offers nothing really any different than anything else out there.

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markfromindy

My interest in Wildstar died the moment I read about the designers talking about how hard core raiding was going to be the game’s focus.Sure they tried to backpedal on that stance later on, but I’ve seen that movie more than once, and didn’t like the ending any time. Ever.

borghive
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borghive

I think the combat and the art style were the two main things that did this game in.

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sirsam

Are you mad? Those were the only REDEEMING qualities…

The quest hubs, arrows everywhere, minimap, mobs standing around and respawning within seconds, shoot me in the face gear grind did it in. Its every mmo ever.

hurbster
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hurbster

It was the Wow graphics and God awful performance at launch that did it for me, cupcake.

presbytier
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presbytier

I still find the performance to be real badt in spots and I am using a GTX 1080.

kofteburger
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kofteburger

Landmark is the only game I have dreams about. I don’t care if EQN waa cancelled. I would be perfectly happy with a building /resource gathering game set in a persistent map.

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Amorey

Landmark , forever in my heart <3

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Michael18

What a wonderful tribute to this very special game!

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Little Bugbear

That’s a beautiful little video Amorey Sweetrose.

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enamel

UO2 *sniffles*

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Oleg Chebeneev

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is worth mentioning much more then most of those titles. Also sucks that Chronicles of Spellborn didnt work out. Id love to read article from Justin about Spellborn and what the hell happened to it.

Also Darkfall is perfectly playable and there is alternative version coming soon.

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squidgod2000

I got two great years out of VG. Tons to explore, racial starting areas, good raids (APW still one of my favorite raid zones) etc. Was definitely the EQ2 I was looking for.

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Nemui Byakko

Vanguard: SoH should be #1 :(((

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Loopy

Good video outlining the reasons for Vanguard’s death.

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Melissa McDonald

does it cover the pig-ugly avatars?

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Eliandal

I really do wish Warhammer had been given the chance to go FTP by GW. Unfortunately, it was not to be, which is too bad.

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Nater

Heh, there’s a private server up. It’s actually pretty decent.

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NeoWolf

I backed Pathfinder Online as I support Paizo and their setting, however I knew the game would fail for the most part as it was a PVP game, which contextually made ZERO sense, Pathfinder RPG is not about PVP, the River Kingdoms is not about PVP..PVP in the context of the game made absolutely no sense.. not focusing it on the PVE adventure experience and using it as a platofrom to bring their adventure paths online as expansions and DLC was a massive blunder.

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Godson69

I’ve been an avid player of the PnP game and love the setting. When I heard the Online version was going to focus on PvP, I knew it was dead.

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David Harrison

Daybreak Games, just like Sony Online Entertainment before them, kills every game it touches. Go ahead and get your article written up for Everquest 1 and 2. They’ll be here in no time on the sad endings bandwagon.

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Alex Js.

Yea… Whole Sony Online Entertainment company basically turned into a graveyard of ideas long time ago (even before PS2/EQN were announced), mostly thanks to the certain US-based “industry veteran” leadership there ;-)

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Boom

But it still winds up as a sad story of what happens with games that get shuffled off to the back with companies that don’t seem to much care about continuing to run them.

Age Of Conan should be on the list under these circumstances

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Legend Of Vinny T

Maybe Champions Online, too? Although that story is more infuriating than sad, considering how Cryptic effectively blamed the players for the studio’s own actions.

abyssalstar
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abyssalstar

CO is sad. It had so much potential to be -the- superhero MMO after CoH was murdered, now it’s basically on maintenance. Sure, Cryptic pushes out a little content update maybe once a year, and a steady drip of cash shop stuff, but it’s clear the game is the unloved one.

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Armsbend

For me – Repop wins hand-down. I cannot imagine working day and night on code to essentially have it stolen from me. In the real world if the guy who washes my car takes the keys and threatened me until I hand over the pinks – they go to jail. In gaming kids can legally gamble and you can be held hostage and nothing happens. Funny world.

presbytier
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presbytier

I am really confused how that did not end in a bunch of lawsuits. Of course, another interesting question has any Hero Engine Game actually gone on to be successful?

wpDiscuz