The one thing that I thought we could all count on forever was that the MMO life cycle was pretty easy to understand. A game is launched, then it runs for a certain amount of time, then it shuts down. That last part kind of sucks, but the point is that you know when it’s time to move on. The life cycle is clearly one of creation, then life, then death, like a potted ficus or a cheap desk chair you get at Target.
But then sometimes you have a cheap desk chair that breaks in a crucial way, but you manage to screw the right sort of braces together so you can keep using it for another year after it should have been thrown out. And sometimes an MMO is born, and then it lives, and then it… doesn’t live, but it’s not actually shut down or in maintenance. Or it isn’t clear what’s going on with it, due to what seems to be total abandonment. Or it updates more than games which are supposedly live.
That’s what this column is all about. MMOs in a weird sort of limbo, where some facts are clear, but the results or the overall trajectory make no sense. Sometimes it’s not even clear if the game has actually launched or not. It’s weird.
1. Final Fantasy XI
One can understand Final Fantasy XI going into maintenance mode. The game had a good run. What’s a little less comprehensible – to the point where I have stopped making jokes about it because it’s just the same joke over and over – is the fact that the game is still receiving updates. Regular updates. Once per month, new stuff comes out. And sure, some months are lighter than others and focused more on regular monthly content rotation and bug fixes, but there are new and active events, new quests, new stuff to see, and generally far more stuff than you would expect from a game in maintenance mode.
Heck, there have even been statements from the development team implying that everyone would be happy to make another expansion for the game if demand was there. Between the obvious dedication and the fact that the game has made buckets of positive changes over the past several years, I know I’d be first in line to get that expansion. Square-Enix seems to have a very different definition of maintenance mode than the rest of us, but I’m not complaining, because the results are awesome.
Is Firefall dead? Is it still running? Who knows. It’s a fun game of the servers being on, then off, then on again, with no explanation or communication whatsoever. Fans speculated at one point that the game’s shutdown notice will just be the servers turning off unexpectedly and not turning back on, and all things considered that’s hard to argue against.
One may want to consider the state of Firefall before giving money to any of Mark Kern’s subsequent projects, obviously, but I assume our readers are smart enough to have already considered that fact. Consider this a statement for posterity, then.
3. Shroud of the Avatar
There have been no wipes for Shroud of the Avatar for, like, a year now. The game has been happy to let you pay money to play it for even longer. And yet the game still is not launched. It won’t be launched when the story is mostly finished in July. All of which begs the question of when the game will actually be considered “launched” by these standards. When the story is actually complete? When people have been playing for more than a year in that complete state? When the angels descend from on high to announce the creation of Archangel British? I don’t know, and I suspect no one else does either.
This isn’t necessarily a mark of quality on the game; I haven’t played it yet, and I admire the communication and the amount of work that has been put into the game during its lengthy early access period. But now it feels like a game where the launch trigger should either have been pulled or should be getting pulled soon, and it just keeps not happening.
4. Anarchy Online/Age of Conan
Neither Anarchy Online nor Age of Conan are officially in maintenance mode. We’ve never been told they are. But a financial report seemed to indicate they would be, and certainly neither game received any updates for a long time. Until suddenly there was an update for Anarchy Online, and we all stated to wish that there was an official statement about what’s going on with these titles rather than treating it like an elaborate game of jinx. Mention Age of Conan to Funcom and you get a punch in the arm while owing the developers a Coke.
Unfortunately, the situation with The Secret World seems fairly cut-and-dry. Sad, but still clear.
5. Diablo III
There is obviously still development going on for Diablo III. We just got that new Necromancer pack, after all, and there are new areas in the most recent patch. Except there’s also the more salient question of whether or not there is ever going to be a second expansion for the game. The development team seems to be giving players lots of reasons to just run through the same content over and over until the end of time, but there’s nothing new on the horizon, and even the Necromancer is just a new set of abilities to use in the same game. Play the game you’ve already beaten, only this time with corpse explosions and bone minions!
Personally, I think part of the problem here is that Blizzard has no idea how to handle single-player games at this point; the idea of a team finishing a game and just moving on seems alien to the company. Of course, at some point that’s going to need to change. Either development is happening or it isn’t, and if it is, someone needs to make something actually happen. Otherwise it’s just… well, in limbo.
6. Champions Online
Unlike poor Firefall, I don’t see the servers for Champions Online just not firing off again. The game is owned by a company and a studio capable of keeping it running for a good long while. But the game seems to be functionally dead… except for the fact that it then flares to life with some minor update or another, only to go quiet again a little while later. There was supposed to be a team dedicated to updating it, and that team vanished into the ether without anything actually happening.
This is a case where really, just being told the game is in maintenance mode would be kind of nice. We all know it already, we’re all just waiting to hear it. The fact that we haven’t is kind of obnoxious.
I freely admit I’m predisposed to not be fond of H1Z1 to begin with. But I also would hasten to point out that the game being split into two halves, only one of which supports the actual premise that was supposed to inform the whole game, is not indicative of a game with a clear direction. At this point, the game seems to basically have turned into an arena shooter no one seems to like all that much, but it keeps getting played based chiefly on momentum. I don’t even know any more.
Then again, considering that I don’t really understand how or why Daybreak does anything at this point, maybe this is less of a specific limbo and more of just a general company-wide trip to Limbo Land.
8. Fallen Earth
I find Fallen Earth to have a heartbreaking story from start to finish, and it’s not a game I actually enjoyed that much when I played it. But it was unique, it was a breath of fresh air, and now it appears to be stuck in a case of eternal maintenance mode without every saying “we are in maintenance mode now.” The game is functionally inert, and I really wish we could just either get the trigger pulled or get some development moving again.
This one seems like the most controversial pick on the list, because on one level there’s no real ambiguity about what’s going on with WildStar. The game has tried a lot of things to attract players, it seems to keep financially floundering, and so it seems like there’s an obvious point when it will be shuttered and dispelled. That part isn’t in question. What is in question is when that’s actually going to happen, and as a result it feels like a game with the sword of Damocles hovering over your keyboard every time you log in.
I mean, there’s no expectation at this point among most actual players that the game is going to pull things together and suddenly become successful. But somehow it just keeps going, and thus we all sit and wonder about when it’s going to finally enter that final spiral. Not a fun place to be in.
While Defiance was never a runaway success, it at least could justify its existence while it had a TV series that tied into it. That’s gone now. Whatever your feelings are about that series (the first season and the first bits of the second season were pretty good, at the very least), the two were tied together, and now the game is living on after the show but without the sense of having a whole lot of direction.
Of course, we also have no indication that the game is actually shuttering soon, nor have developers gone silent. By all indications, life continues on as before for the Trion Worlds team behind the title. But there’s still that sense of “what happens next” that swirls around the game, and it isn’t diminished by how long it’s been since the title first had to stand on its own.