Perfect Ten: Hit franchises that were almost made into MMORPGs

    
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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.

Stargate Worlds

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.

Harry Potter Online

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.

Wing Commander and Privateer Online

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.

Fallout Online

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.

Halo Universe

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 Online

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.

World of Darkness

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.

Shenmue Online

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.

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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socontrariwise

Yawn.
I would love a Dragonhunters MMO though. Now that (French TV & video game) series is just absolutely made for a MMO with PvE focus, lots of little round planets to claim and have housing on and all this wacky humor.

Or the Neverending Story – the real thing, not just the first book.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I was interested in Stargate Worlds. Even had a link to the page they had where you could sit there rolling your mouse over the lock in dials and get the sound it used to make and would visit it just for that. Sadly, that one got left in purgatory due to some shenanigans where someone (allegedly) committed some embezzlement or some similar crime, so that game never got to even see light of day because a lot of the funding was siphoned off.

I actually own Wing Commander…the Super Nintendo version, and the Playstation 1 version (A smidge scratched up because I bought it used at a game store when I saw it.)…so I would’ve loved to see that game in some other form. By the time anything gets made in that universe, I’ll probably have croaked. (I actually vaguely enjoyed the movie, even if other people thought it was a pile of crap.)

I probably would’ve also played World of Diablo if it’d become a thing back when I was a rabid fanboi of Blizzard, but I learned my lesson and have kept my money away from them for a goodly few years ever since.

I read about a few of these others, but wasn’t too particularly interested/nor would I have played.

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Crowe

I would have played Stargate (actually did a piece of the beta), Wing Commander, Halo, and World of Darkness MMOs. I’d have probably given the Highlander MMO a shot too even though I’m usually much more interested in what a PvE game has to offer.

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Raph Koster

There were SEVERAL tries at a Harry Potter Online. I worked on one and even got to meet J. K. Rowling.

There was a Firefly one at one point.

I got offered Buffy at one point too.

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Zeph

I never knew how much I needed a Kosterian virtual world set in the Buffyverse until now.

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PanagiotisLial1

If I may ask, are you planning to work on/design any mmos in the future by the way?

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Rolan Storm

WoD is certainly a loss. It was meant for CCP with community already in place. All that power games, subterfuge and intrigue is weekday in WoD vampire world. Perfect fit. Yet did not happen.

Also I had no idea Raph was in development of Wing Commander and Privateer Online. That could have been a blast too. Well, now we have Roman Empire which never fell in Star Citizen. I found this fact satisfactory since ‘Imperator’ was shot down too. Sometimes I wonder where the hell all Roman attributes that supposed to be in place, then I explain myself that too much time have passed. :)

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Raph Koster

There’s a chapter with a detailed description of the game in my last book, Postmortems. PO had a lot of unique bits to it that didn’t fit with Star Wars so got dropped in the concept phase. For example, guilds in PO were companies… and there was an in game stock market so you could actually invest in guilds and get dividends!

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Rolan Storm

Hello, Raph! :)

That’s the one and only reason I had not bought and read your book yet. That blog article about SWG was sad enough. I mean I can stand rushed development and the fact that original player cities looked like developer designed. But when I read about hidden professions that was too much. :D And I thought original skill system was rich.

And now it turns out there was stock market in PO and companies instead of guilds (and I guess that’s not the only feature – I’ll count it as one big feature – that was interesting). How many great things did not see the light of day? I wish you guys band together and make some grand, vast in scope project that will include as much of those things as possible.

My little brother told me once that all that talk about old MMORPGs is just greener grass old man grunt, but that could not be farther from the truth. It’s not that I think everything was perfect back then (for example SWG I mention so often was grindy as hell and glitchy as well), it is innovation and ideas that were in place and attempts to make worlds -sometimes pretty successful, sometimes not – not just games.

And we, players, thankful for that.

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PanagiotisLial1

I really wanted to see a mmo based on World of Darkness. I first learned about World of Darkness when I bought an old single player game named Vampire The Masquerade: Redemption. It was one of the most fun single player rpgs I played. Its manual was pretty much a lorebook for World of Darkness detailing all the vampire sects etc

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Armsbend

Reading about Interplay selling off Fallout made my heart hurt. I really miss those guys. We are all the worse from their exit from gaming.

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Rolan Storm

True.

I got similar reaction to WoD shutdown reminder. I should not have read those alpha documents, least I knew what was lost.

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Siphaed

What about Overwatch, aka “Project Titan”, as you blurted at? That’s a hit franchise that was almost made into an MMORPG. Although backwards compared to the others on this list; becoming a hit only after it’s mutant shooter part remains from the MMO-not-to-be were put into use. But…maybe it would have never worked as an MMORPG with Blizzard at the helm and Activision backseat driving.

Also, as mentioned, we do get to see eventual progress to some of those listed. Chris Roberts’ “Wing Commander Online” is essentially what Star Citizen is. Capitalism in space and the current, in every harsh reality of the word.

Meanwhile, like it or not, but 76 is Fallout Online. That is the best of Bethesda. Mind that most of their PC games are best when modded by the community fans and implemented in a GOTY Edition a year later.

Both of the above cases emphasize that not every studio can make an MMORPG. Not every game setting is made to be transferred into that particular genre. We fans gush at the fantasies of such things, but fail to realize just how sordid the implementation would be.

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Alex Willis

Firefly?

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Fisty

World of Darkness is the biggest miss here for me. I know it wouldn’t be Bloodlines, but if it was anywhere near that on an RPG scale, with good combat and a live city, then it would have been the MMO for me. Other than Secret World, there really isn’t any goth style MMO out.

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Bruno Brito

I wonder if having a WoD MMO similar to SWG mechanics would be nice.

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Rolan Storm

Nice? Just ‘nice’? It would have been exquisite, man!

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Bruno Brito

Eh…WoD has some issues to be fleshed out before being a GREAT MMO. And i can see how they could screw it up.

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Rolan Storm

Oh, yes. There are could be only few ways to make it working (and only one to make it right), but numerous ways to screw it up royally.

Still want to see proper WoD MMORPG in my lifetime.

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Rolan Storm

And TSW not exactly that. I concur. Still wondering how fun it could have been playing Ventrue tank.