The Game Archaeologist: The history of Hi-Rez’s Global Agenda


This past week, former Global Agenda players woke up to a surprising reality: Their game, which went offline in 2018, suddenly was back. Hi-Rez Studios said that it was a test that nobody was really supposed to notice, but hey, the studio wasn’t going to overlook the flood of goodwill from players rejoicing over this unexpected reunion with their old characters.

This “resurrection” may prove to have a lifespan measured in mere days, but for the time being, it reminded all of us that Global Agenda used to exist and had its devoted fans. I figured that there was no better time to dust off the annals of history to look at this multiplayer shooter and its legacy upon the genre.

In 2005, Erez Goren and Todd Harris banded together to form a new game development outfit called Hi-Rez Studios. Former City of Heroes and Call of Duty devs were recruited to focus on churning out a hit library of online shooters and competitive titles. Eventually the team would spawn such works like Tribes: Ascend, SMITE, and Paladins.

But before all of that, Hi-Rez poured efforts into its very first title, a team-based shooter called Global Agenda. Using the Unreal Engine 3, Global Agenda was positioned to be a strong competitor to other online shooters at the time such as Team Fortress 2, PlanetSide 2, or Halo. Oddly enough, the game’s mixture of science fiction and spy genres brought it more closely in tone to SOE’s own abandoned The Agency.

There was more of a focus on MMO aspects, including a slower time-to-kill, upgradable weapons, and open world exploration, than what was typically found in other online shooters. The budget was somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 to $15 million, which was too much for what little revenue it actually pulled in.

Many players who were there at the time remember Hi-Rez’s amusing “No Elves” marketing campaign which sought to highlight how Global Agenda’s sci-fi setting was a refreshing change from the fantasy-saturated landscape:

In February 2010, Global Agenda stormed the scene to very solid reviews and strong community enthusiasm. Players enjoyed flying around on jetpacks and fighting in the game’s several different PvP modes, including breach, control, and payload. For the PvE minded, there were additional co-op dungeons that teams could attempt to beat within a certain time limit. And for the truly organized, Agency vs. Agency territory battles would rage over the game map.

It didn’t take long for Hi-Rez to realize that a subscription-only approach was going to hurt the long-term prospects of Global Agenda. The studio quickly pivoted to a clumsy free-to-play model by 2011, a move that reportedly increased the playerbase five times its original size. It also experimented with in-game voice ads as another way to generate revenue.

The game saw three major updates during its lifespan. Sandstorm came out in 2010 with a new desert zone and an overhaul to many of the game’s systems, while 2011’s Free Agent introduced the new business model, skill tree pruning, and an endgame raid. The last content update, Recursive Colony, added more story content, repeatable quests, and an open-world zone in summer 2011.

Global Agenda was a modest but not overly profitable hit for the studio, and Hi-Rez knew that it had to keep pushing forward to avoid getting bogged down in a losing prospect. In addition to other titles that it worked on, Global Agenda 2 was announced to be in development back in 2012. This semi-sequel would have repurposed some of the assets from the first game to make a much improved, more PvP-focused successor.

“We launched GA without open-world [stuff] and many in our community say those were the best days of GA,” Todd Harris said in defense of the reduced focus. “We know there are other players who enjoy the open-world content, but we felt like the game focus became diluted after that.”

Unfortunately, Hi-Rez put the sequel on the furthest backburner that it had at its disposal, relegating the project to vaporware in many fans’ eyes. Even worse, the game that it did have — Global Agenda — stopped getting any attention or updates whatsoever from the team.

As we wrote back in 2017, “The game wasn’t so much canceled as it was ignored out of existence. Hi-Rez took it off Steam but left the servers up and running, marooning a dwindling population of die-hard players to the game of their choice.” And that situation didn’t even last, as a server move in 2018 ended up killing the game beyond recovery.

Or so we thought, prior to this week.

Between this odd resurrection of the classic game and news as recent as 2021 of movement on the sequel, the Global Agenda franchise may not be quite as dead as the poor elves it slaughtered along the way.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to 2004! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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