Historically, space-bound MMORPGs have not had as easy of a go as their fantasy counterparts. For one thing, there are proportionally fewer of them that even existed. For another thing, early cancellations of genre titles like Earth and Beyond probably served as warning signs for other studios not to pursue similar projects.
But I’ll give this to developer NetDevil at least: It tried its awful best to bring a spaceship MMORPG to market. In fact, it tried so hard it did it twice. The Jumpgate series may not be widely known across the MMO genre, but it does have its fans and defenders who were hoping that at some point, one of these games would go the distance.
So what were the Jumpgate MMOs and why didn’t they succeed? Let’s investigate.
The origins of Jumpgate can be traced back to 1996, when a trio of coworkers in the IT sector banded together to work on a side project: a space sim MMO named Jumpgate. After a year of working on the game in their spare time, Scott Brown, Peter Grundy, and Steven Williams left their job and formed their own studio, NetDevil.
NetDevil wasn’t a multi-million dollar company from the get-go; it was a small operation that leased one room with over a dozen employees eventually packed into it. The development team poured all of their efforts in getting a product to market as the MMORPG genre was taking off.
“It was the first game any of us had ever made, and it was a game we had always really wanted to play,” Scott Brown said. “We were all big X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, Wing Commander, and Elite nuts. We just loved that kind of game, and wanted to bring that experience online. With Jumpgate, there were only five of us by the time that game shipped.”
In September 2001, Jumpgate blasted off on home computers. Initially, 3DO handled the publishing duties of the MMO, but NetDevil subsequently took that back after the contract for this arrangement was broken.
Inspired by the aforementioned action space sims, Jumpgate put players into the role of a starship captain rather than an earthbound adventurer. The hope was to “capture a kind of Han Solo-type of experience,” as the studio was fond of saying
As with Earth and Beyond, players could align themselves with a particular faction and work to help their side dominate. By all accounts, this was a fairly traditional space sim, with mining, combat, trade, and space station management forming the core of the game’s content. Players had a lot of fun gaining wealth and decking out their ships with the best mods for any given situation. Players had to get used to the way that the Newtonian physics flight model worked, which elicited some praise due to its faithful recreation of actual space flight.
With the original Jumpgate failing to be the take-off success that NetDevil hoped, the studio diversified its efforts by working on another vehicle-based MMO, Auto Assault, in the mid-2000s. The team also began construction in 2007 of a proper sequel to their first love under the name of Jumpgate Evolution.
As the name implied, Evolution was the next step of the Jumpgate franchise, offering better graphics, faster combat, and more features. Ship captains would have the option to conquer territory for their faction, while more peaceful-minded PvE players could engage in trade and the economy. The MMO was to be set further in the future of the original Jumpgate, with the galaxy’s politics and structure changing to reflect that.
So why make another Jumpgate? NetDevil executive producer Hermann Peterscheck said that the studio was passionate about it and saw an opening in the field: “There’s no big action space MMO, something Freelancer Online or Wing Commander Online. We want to play that game and since it doesn’t exist we want to make it. We also hope and suspect that there are other people who feel the same way.”
The idea at the time was to operate both Jumpgates in parallel. “We still have a lot of players that love the game and we’ll continue supporting it,” said Scott Brown in 2008, “Jumpgate Evolution will essentially be like Asheron’s Call 2 and EverQuest 2. Set in a similar, yet different world. A world of the future.”
All of this work and operation was enough to catch the attention of Gazillion, which acquired the smaller studio — and its IPs — in the summer of 2008. NetDevil thrived under Gazillion for a few years, going on to launch its most popular game yet, LEGO Universe, in 2010. This would be the last hurrah of NetDevil, as the studio experienced multiple layoffs and then was effectively shuttered in 2011.
As for the MMORPGs themselves, the global version of Jumpgate actually lasted over a decade, closing its doors on April 30th, 2012. Unfortunately, Jumpgate Evolution — despite becoming feature-complete and in internal testing by 2009 — never came to fruition and failed to make it to release.
Fans of the franchise weren’t left completely abandoned in the void of deep space. An emulator, Jumpgate TRI, took up the mantle of the MMO and has been running for several years now. In addition to that, in 2019 it looked like some of the developers of Jumpgate were returning to make a spiritual successor called Warp Nexus. However, as of 2021, there hasn’t been any follow-up with this project.