Perfect Ten: Failed MMOs that could have succeeded with more love

    
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It's clear now.

Hindsight is 20/20. Unless you’re blind in one eye from nostalgia, in which case hindsight is 0/20. In any case, you understand that it’s easy to look back upon MMO history and announce where things went wrong and how those mistakes could have been avoided or corrected. We have the luxury of time and perspective with these things.

Yet it is also an enjoyable exercise to play the occasional edition of Alternative Gaming History. It’s the activity where you start with “What if…” and then go on from there to imagine different possibilities and outcomes. Today I want to engage with that by looking back at 10 launched MMORPGs that failed for different reasons and imagine how they could have succeeded if they had more love, time, talent, and money to back up their endeavors.

You can't play me!

1. Wild West Online

You might (or might not) remember Wild West Online as the MMO that came out of nowhere, launched way too soon, had a critical identity crisis, and lacked certain core options and features (such as, you know, female characters). Currently the title is all but dead, with a population in the single digits and a supposed relaunch on the way.

Obviously, this title was developed and pushed out the door far too quickly and didn’t know what it wanted to be. Yet I hold to the notion that an open world western MMO could be a big success if done right. WWO might have had a chance with a much longer gestation period, a deeper focus on PvE, and ovaries. I know that I was hoping against hope that this game would be somewhat playable instead of the mess we all knew it was going to be.

2. The Sims Online

The right idea at the wrong time, done in the wrong way, and in the wrong engine: This is the legacy that is TSO. Creating a social MMO with a robust housing system from one of the most popular PC game franchises of all time is a pretty smart idea. The problem was that The Sims Online looked dated from the get-go compared to the 3-D graphics of The Sims 2, it had no semi-autonomous characters, and it lacked compelling progression. With better graphics and a deeper look at the core design and gameplay loop, TSO could have been a smash hit with long legs. It still could, if EA would consider taking the series back in this direction!

3. Champions Online

Unlike a lot of other titles on this list, Champions is still running and presumably will be for a while yet to come. Even so, it’s hard to argue with the notion that the game failed to live up to its pedigree and potential. This was especially evident when City of Heroes shut down and those refugees didn’t swarm en masse to Cryptic’s follow-up superhero MMO.

What could have made Champs a success? A better free-to-play model that would allow anyone to build a character they wanted, for starters. Can we agree that this archetype stuff is nonsense? The pace of combat was a sticking point for others, especially with so many powers that were hard to sort out and use properly. I would say that ultimately this game needed a really good coating of polish and didn’t get enough of it, and that hurt it in the long run.

All right, the Lopp have some chops here too.

4. WildStar

We’ve been over this one many times, because the downfall of WildStar has been the topic of many gamer’s discussion in the past few years. In short, Carbine should have had a more unified and consistent direction, ditched the “get hardcore, cupcake!” attitude to focus more on casual play, and embraced free-to-play from the start. What’s painful is that there’s so much left in this game that really did work, and work well, but when the ship has a giant hole in its hull, it’s going to sink no matter how pretty the insides.

5. Firefall

If you look at MMOs over the past two decades, you’ll start to notice that a disproportionate number of scifi titles were canceled compared to fantasy. Scifi simply has a more difficult time gaining a wide audience, and Firefall — pretty and actiony though it was — felt the sting of this association. Plus, it really didn’t help that it initially aimed for a PvP market and then abruptly pivoted to PvE when that wasn’t working out. In another universe, Firefall would have had better leadership, no bus, and a PvE design from Day One to see success.

6. Tabula Rasa

We can point a lot of fingers — rightly, even — at NCsoft for this fiasco, but if we are all being honest, Tabula Rasa was pretty hobbled by the time it released anyway. The project did a complete ground-up redesign along the way and didn’t have much of a vision or a hook on which to capture the imagination of players. Even the name was pretty… vague for a war across the stars.

Richard Garriott spent a lot of player capital with this one, and those flocking to it hoping to see Ultima Online 2 or some other great masterpiece were left confused. It just wasn’t that good of a game. It was adequate in an era where it had to be magnificent. Either the team should have stuck with the first iteration or gone with a third, is what I’m saying.

7. Landmark

I… I hardly know what to say with this one. Heck, we hardly knew what this game was supposed to be, mostly due to Daybreak’s spectacular mishandling of it and the collapse of EverQuest Next. Yet Landmark could have worked with a better combat system and a way to make and market this game as a player-created space that was ever-evolving. Perhaps Daybreak needed to have more faith and put more effort into this game after the end of EQN to really get it going. I am sure there are players out there who would have loved to have seen that happen.

8. Asheron’s Call 2

We’ve certainly learned that it’s not always the best idea to make and operate a sequel to an MMO that you’re already running. You’re cannibalizing your audience and fracturing your community, and no one wants that. But AC2 might have worked if it was tied together, somehow, to AC1 rather than separated from it. What if players could time travel between eras and take characters between both games? What if there were story arcs that spanned both AC1 and 2? It would have made AC2 a fundamentally different game, but it might have given that sequel a fighting chance.

9. Free Realms

We’re just dithering in the pool of Daybreak’s cast-offs, aren’t we? John Smedley said that Free Realms was notoriously difficult to monetize due to its primary audience being children with no credit cards. Yet I think that games like Roblox and Wizard101 would disagree here. Perhaps if Free Realms was marketed more as a family MMO and given kids more ability to create their own content then the dollars would have poured in.

10. EverQuest Online Adventures

This is an odd game to end the list, but I thought it served as a good example of how console MMOs need to expand beyond just one platform in order to survive. EQOA wasn’t ever going to be a blockbuster, but if it had come out on more than just the PS2, it might have grown a healthier audience and prompted the studio to take it to the next generation of consoles instead of leaving it to die on outdated hardware.

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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Bannex

How is warhammer online not on this list?

Age of conan will join the list once it shuts down.

Landmark? Lol what are you smoking… they just charged people to mess around with unused assets while they waited as long as they could to announce it will never be a thing.

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Christopher Angeles

Oh EQOA. How I miss you so. I wish it was released on the PC and went into maintenance mode and survived.

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Ken from Chicago

The recent remake of A STAR IS BORN, the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, has been getting tons of critical praise and a the single from its soundtrack, “Shallow”, a duet, sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper featured in its trailer, has been topping the charts. The first time I played the song, it instantly reminded me of WILDSTAR, at least Lady Gaga’s opening:

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired trying to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

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Joe Seabreeze

Warhammer Online. I loved it when it first came out. Then just weeks after it launched, they split the servers and player pop dropped. I just felt that it wasn’t worth logging in after that, so I cancelled my sub. And just like that, “poof” it was gone.

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James Crow

i played and loved all those games:
-The Sims Online
-Champions Online
-WildStar
-Tabula Rasa

i can add more to the list:
HiRez – Global Agenda
FlagShip – Hellgate: London
NcSoft – CoH\V

there is another game that i dont really know why it was cancelled:
Monstar & Me
it was pokemon like game, full of players.
later they tried to make a new game M&M 3 but it was cancelled before M&M 2 was.

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Pingly

I am sure everyone has one to add.

Mine: Zentia – It had so many peculiar features (playing as a baby) and so many fantastic systems. Pets, Gold Goblins, Guild Battles…

It also had the only MMO Quest that hit me so hard emotionally that I logged out of the game for the rest of the day (The voice in the well quest).

Fantastic work.

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Brown Jenkin

EQ Next makes me sad whenever I think about it. Alas.

As for Champions Online, I’m always surprised when people bemoan this game. Personally I always thought it was better than both CoH and CoV… but then I really disliked those titles.

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Geoffrey Smith

It’s people poisoned by the nostalgia for CoX and the mythology that has sprung up around it after its sudden sunset.

Lots of people really, really liked it. And given that, they are just negative anything that isn’t it in terms of super hero games. And it is such a prevalent view on this site that it seeps into other things.

Again, it got Champions Online included on this list of “Failed” games, despite it celebrating it’s 9th anniversary when this was posted. Along side games like FireFall and Wildstar, that will have lived and died in the time it has been around.

It’s…ummm…. counter productive, to put it mildly.

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Castagere Shaikura

I will never get why because their game got shut down they still piss on CO. I also bet non of these people have logged in to the game in years either.

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Nathan Aldana

Poisoned by nostalgia? hardly. I was there on CO launch day. hopeful for it and thinking it was actually pretty good.

And then they nerfed half the cl;asses on day one wuithout even a word to players they were gonna do that, utterly destroying dozens of builds and showing Jack Emmert was still the same guy who pulled the exact same shit he did on CoH.

Between that and the fact CO was just too cheesy for my tastes and well..when CoH went out to pasture I moved on alright..to Warcraft and DDO and ff14

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Castagere Shaikura

Its this site and Justin. For some reason they like to crap on CO even though they just had one of the most fun 9 year ani parties that was packed with players.

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kalech

Landmark was my first time supporting an early access game. I was warned not to buy early access games because they might not get finished… And then Landmark failed after its actual release. Ironic.

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draugris

Warhammer Online would be a good candidate too.

Celestia
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Celestia

I will never be able to wash off the stink from The Sims Online beta.