For my money, there are few more tantalizing and agonizing thoughts than the great “What Ifs?” of the MMO genre. What if one title had launched while another did not? What if Rhode Island had said, “No, thank you!” to 38 Studios? What if EverQuest Next, Ultima X Odyssey, and Titan were actually completed instead of being sentenced to the Land of Fan Disappointment?
While we will never know what might have been, there were plenty of MMO projects we knew to have been killed while in the concept or development stages. Some of these sought to take an established IP — whether that be television, book, movie, or video game — and adapt it to the MMORPG genre.
Today we’re going to be looking at 10 (well, 11) of these games and how they would have made their franchise debut as an MMO if history had skewed more in their favor. Which is the most maddening to contemplate? I’ll let you decide that.
When looking at just how disappointing a pre-launched, IP-rich MMO cancellation was, you have to consider two factors: How popular was the fanbase, and how close was the project to completion? Stargate Worlds is perhaps one of the most lamented title on this list, as it boasted an expansive franchise following and was already in beta testing before the studio making it folded. It’s a huge shame, too, as the concept of planet-hopping, puzzle solving, and optional non-combat classes showed a lot of promise.
While Harry Potter: Wizards Unite may scratch the community itch for an MMO when it releases later this year, rumor was that an actual Harry Potter MMORPG was commissioned by Electronic Arts in 2000 when the publisher snapped up the rights to make video games set in this universe. Richard Garriott’s Origin Systems was slated to oversee the project, but ultimately it went nowhere and was officially scrapped by 2005.
Yes, yes, we’re all getting Star Citizen soon and that will usher in a new golden age of video gaming. But back in the 1990s, Chris Roberts’ Wing Commander franchise was all the rage on PC, and some serious work was poured into developing it as an MMO flight sim of some sort. Both Wing Commander Online and Privateer Online (the latter being more of a freelancing sim than a war sim) were in development for a while, with none other than Star Wars Galaxies’ Raph Koster participating on the project. However, these games were canned in 2000 as EA pulled the plug on several MMOs to focus on the ones it already had.
Can I tell you just how long I’ve wanted a proper Fallout MMO? None of this 76 nonsense but a fully decked-out post-apocalyptic world with tons of other players. We almost had it, too, as Interplay attempted to make an MMO around 2008 after selling everything but the online gaming rights to Bethesda. A fierce and contentious lawsuit between the two companies brought the project to a standstill, and eventually Interplay got $2 million in return for giving up this dream.
It’s hard to imagine many video game franchises as popular and ripe for online exploitation as the Halo series. Bungie and Ensemble Studios took a stab at an MMO set in this sci-fi universe, and with a great team plugging away at it for many years, there was hopes that this could be a WoW-killer. Microsoft got cold feet, however, and this promising title was quietly put to bed around 2007.
Highlander never was the largest scifi franchise — but it definitely had its cult following and name brand recognition. This was enough for French studio Kalisto to buy the rights to make an MMORPG set in this world (insert “there can only be one” permadeath joke here). For a few years Highlander Online was in development, but internal difficulties and the issue of how to treat immortal characters kept it from seeing fruition.
World of Diablo
What if David Brevik — the mastermind behind the first two Diablo titles — had remained on board to do Diablo III? He might have spun the series into a full-fledged MMORPG. According to a 2012 interview, Brevik said that he and his team thought about making “an MMO experience” with public hubs, group questing, and open world exploration. By the time Blizzard actually sat down to make the sequel, Brevik and his cohorts had already left the studio and the game developed in a much different direction. Pity.
White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade series boasts a committed following in the pen-and-paper RPG market, and the idea that CCP was going to build an MMO in that universe had a lot of folks excited. World of Darkness teased us with the thought of a hardcore, mature-themed MMO made by an experienced studio. However, financial issues caused CCP to sell of the video game IP in 2015 and shut down the Atlanta studio that was making the game.
Dreamcast’s 1999 Shenmue was one of the most critically acclaimed titles on the console. While its attempt to create a fully immersive world wasn’t as realized as fans had hoped, it certainly left a strong following in its wake. The 2001 sequel only whetted more desire for additional adventures, which Sega and JC Entertainment attempted to give players when it announced Shenmue Online in 2004. The project was in development for a few years and suffered from a legal squabble over the rights. By 2007, the project’s cancellation was all but fact.
Ys: The Call of Solum
Believe it or not, this long-running action RPG series — which dates back to 1987 and features well over a dozen titles — received an MMO makeover in 2007. Ys: The Call of Solum boasted attractive graphics and a much more expansive world than players had seen of this universe to date, but the Korean-developed game barely got an English beta version running before it pulled the plug on the project in the west.