The Game Archaeologist's top MMO stories of 2012

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
As another gaming year spins to a close, we here at the Institute for Digital Interactive Entertainment have been holding our archaeological department hostage with a trained buffy-tufted marmoset until it delivered a final report. After hours of begging and infected monkey bites, the head of that department, Prof. Justin Olivetti, Ph.D., handed us a scrap of urine-soaked paper with the following article inscribed.

While the Institute strongly suggests that you ignore this report and instead work on your button-mashing exercises, the board of directors stated that all such papers must be posted for the public to see.

This report is presented in the Yetbari typeface and contains a sequential series of items that number between 11 and 13.

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
1. EverQuest has a banner year.

If there was a classic MMO that could be awarded "best year overall," it would undoubtedly be EverQuest. While its late-'90s contemporaries are merely puttering along, EverQuest actually roared back into relevance this year. It not only converted to a free-to-play format, added a cosmetic armor system, and joined SOE's player studio system but came out with its 19th expansion. Not bad for a title from the Stone Age, eh?

2. City of Heroes closes its doors.

The way I see it, generally all pre-World of Warcraft MMOs fall under the umbrella of this column. So even while Eliot was holding a vigil for City of Heroes until the very end, it was of concern to this amateur game historian as well. As a beloved game and the world's first superhero MMO, City of Heroes' closure sent shockwaves through the industry. Maybe mild shockwaves, but we felt them nevertheless.

3. Vanguard gets free-to-play conversion and additional dev support.

When SOE started with its company-wide transition to free-to-play, many of us fully expected Vanguard to be tossed out in the process. The exact opposite happened: Vanguard went free-to-play and got a hefty bump of studio and developer support. That was a huge boon to the players and the future of this underdog MMO. (And while it's the newest game on this list, I've always felt that Vanguard is, pardon the pun, part of the old guard.)

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
4. Anarchy Online loses team members but forges ahead even so.

Anarchy Online had a tough year compared to many other titles here. It was affected by the Funcom layoffs and lost its director and other team members. Yet it showed a couple of positive signs, such as pushing for a Steam debut and demonstrating that its graphical update might be more than a fairy dream.

5. EverQuest Mac avoids a death sentence; EverQuest Online Adventures is axed.

While SOE's spring cleaning arguably saved one or two titles from extinction, others were on the chopping block. EverQuest Macintosh players, the few there were, discovered that their home was scheduled to be razed. After pleading their case, the fans convinced the studio to stay the execution -- and even offer the game subscription-free from there on out.

EQMac's cousin, EverQuest Online Adventures, did not escape the same sentence. The PlayStation 2 title was swiftly and permanently sent packing around the same time.

6. Meridian 59 goes open-source, player attempts 3-D conversion.

Meridian 59 decided to throw caution to the wind this year and let players have at its source code. We've yet to see what might happen with Meridian 59 following this experiment, but one player teased the possibility of converting the game to true 3-D.

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
7. Classic MMOs are honored in fun ways.

I always like seeing games honored for their contribution to the genre, and we saw a couple of these this year. Time created a list of the top 100 video games of all-time and included three MMOs: World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, and EverQuest. Another interesting honor was the inclusion of EVE Online in an art museum exhibit.

I can just hear Indiana Jones now: "It belongs in a museum!"

8. The ProSiebenSat.1 deal

Apart from being the most annoying company name to type out ever, ProSiebenSat.1 gave not just a few European gamers headaches when SOE announced that it would be transferring operations in the region to this media firm. There were a lot of changes, confusion, and migration headaches, and Smedley had to come out several times to try to patch up the injuries it caused.

9. Final Fantasy XI announces expansion, goes quiet.

A new expansion is usually a celebrated event, but Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin has proven to be a puzzler. Not only did the studio decide that it wasn't going to support it on the PlayStation 2, but it's been remarkably quiet on the expansion ever since its announcement. Is there reason to be concerned?

Update: Apparently not. I wrote this column a week and a half ago, and totally didn't expect for Square Enix to suddenly announce a release window of late March 2013. So I guess all is well here!

The Game Archaeologist seals up 2012
10. Shadowbane comes back to life (sort of).

Shadowbane's
return was a half-hearted victory for fans of older MMOs. It was certainly terrific to see that a classic title could be revived, but it was unfortunately made available only in China. Still, kind of cool to see anyway.

And speaking of comebacks...

11. Asheron's Call 2 is resurrected!

Call this the "nobody in the world would have ever predicted this, not even those smarty-pants Mayans" award. Almost as an aside, Turbine announced that it had booted back up the long-dormant Asheron's Call 2 on a completely new server. I spent the last column talking about my thoughts and experiences with it, so I won't bore you with more of the same. It was definitely one of the neatest things I've seen happen all year in this industry, however.

12. Ultima Online turns 15, has server hiccup

Nobody likes rollbacks, but when they happen today, it's usually a matter of hours or a day at most. Not so with Ultima Online, which had to make the difficult decision to roll back a popular shard whopping two weeks in December. That just could not have felt good to anyone involved, and I can only imagine the player frustration at this.

The really unfortunate thing is that this put a sour ending on a great year for the game. As the eldest continuously running MMO, Ultima Online is also the first to its 15th birthday, and plenty of developers came out of the woodwork to share memories and experiences from this seminal game. Now if only they could get an Ultima Online sequel off the ground...

So that's it for 2012! Stay tuned for another terrific year of surprises and many more classic MMOs remembered. Seriously, I have at least 20 more to go through; you'd think I would have run out already. What game would you like to see covered next?

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.