The Soapbox: Your MMO is going to die, and that's OK

City of Heroes
There is no question about it: Bringing games online has fundamentally changed the way we play and interact with one another. Thanks to the web, we can share games with our friends from thousands of miles away. We can hang out with people who live in other countries and learn about human beings who exist in completely different realities. Playing MMOs is an incredible, unique experience that gives players an honest chance at turning their favorite personal hobby into a full-on social engagement.

For any of these experiences to be possible, a game must be connected to the web. Without a server humming away in someone's basement or the cold, dark corridors of an MMO developer's hushed office, the games we talk about here on Massively simply wouldn't exist. The side effect of this online requirement is that every online game, no matter how popular it may be at the moment, has a finite lifespan. Eventually, your favorite game is going to die.

This is a good thing. Here's why.

Letting go

In MMOs, the big stories are mostly created by the players. Sure, the developer writes a bunch of lore and the NPCs shout quest text at you everywhere you go, but our most memorable experiences are always the ones we share with other humans while playing the game. What's really exciting about this is that many of these moments have nothing to do with the game's story at all.

RIFT
One of my favorite memories of World of Warcraft is of a time when my best friend and I took two naked dwarves on a sightseeing tour around Azeroth. Literally nothing could be further from the game's main storyline. In RIFT I once lost two hours of my life because no one in my group could figure out where or how to complete the quest we were on. The chat was as hilarious as it was profane. All MMO gamers have these stories.

"There's nothing wrong with sharing a beautiful moment and allowing it to pass into the ether."


Someday, RIFT and World of Warcraft will shut down. They'll be gone. But we'll have the memories forever. And there's something uniquely special about experiencing a moment of joy with some friends that can never be replicated, of doing something that no one else will ever do again. Our stories of Star Wars Galaxies or City of Heroes are only made more precious by the fact that those games no longer exist. The moments are somehow deeper, denser, because we quite literally can never go back.

There's nothing wrong with sharing a beautiful moment and allowing it to pass into the ether.

Moving on

One of the stupidest things about being a person is that we really like doing the same things over and over. Comfort and familiarity are more enjoyable for us than fear and insecurity, so we stick with what we know. As long as our favorite MMO keeps chugging out expansions or new content updates, we're content to let our gaming tastes languish in a stagnant pool of familiar mechanics and ages-old macros.

Star Wars Galaxies
All of this changes when a game shuts down. Suddenly, we're thrust out of our comfort zone and forced to find a new game to play -- sometimes even with (gasp!) new people. We find ourselves dumped from the noble rank of legendary healer to the drudges of serving as a noobish spaceship captain, and this scares the living hell out of us and makes us long for the days when we knew what our keybindings did and our mounts were prohibitively expensive.

Sure, we miss our characters, their assets, and those old familiar settings. But every hour we spend in our normal MMO is an hour we could have spent experiencing something completely new. Something different. Something that challenged us as people and as gamers. Not all new experiences are good -- some are awful -- but living a full (gaming) life is all about stepping out of our little boxes and forcing ourselves into the unknown. Even bad experiences are valuable.

When a game dies, the publisher helps us start new adventures by shoving us out the door.

Ending stories

There's one thing that every great story has: an ending. Single-player, narrative-focused titles set up a problem, give us the tools to fix it, and send us on our way to be the hero/bad guy/space marine. We tick off the necessary accomplishments, locate the right resources, and utilize those resources to end the conflict and leave the world in whatever state it was that we were hoping to create. It's nice, neat package.

Guild Wars
Conversely, MMOs force us to live in a world of perennial conflict, where the next big catastrophe is just around the corner. There's little (if any) single-player arc to speak of, there's no resolution, and there's no cutscene where everyone hugs and celebrates a job well done while Ewoks sing songs in the background. It's a non-stop cruise from level to level, skill point to skill point, and emergency to emergency. When's the last time our main characters didn't have a list of tasks to accomplish?

Or to paraphrase Anderson from Mass Effect 3: When's the last time your characters just..sat down?

When an MMO dies, our characters finally rest. The dangers that lurked near the edge of the galaxy sleep forever. Those rifts stop opening, those villains stop plotting, and those pirates stop hijacking everyone's space cargo. It's just the black nothingness of the void, a void in which you are free to invent the conclusion to the story you began when you first started your character on his or her mythical journey.

The death of an MMO gives us a chance to set our characters free.

Into the sunset

It's never an easy thing to say goodbye to an MMO. It's never fun to watch as the community we share gets taken offline, permanently. But saying goodbye gives us a chance to meet new people, build new things and take on new adventures. Even with our characters gone and their worlds unplugged, our memories and our legends live on. It's not the title on the box that makes the experience worth having.

EVE Online
Every MMO player is a phoenix. Every shutdown is a flame. We carry our memories forward, reborn from the ashes as new avatars in new worlds. Our digital experiences, much like our real-life ones, are special because of their impermanence, because they are fleeting.

So when the time comes for your game to go dark, do not mourn. Don't create a thousand-page forum thread explaining why the publisher/developer is evil. Just say your goodbyes and prepare yourself for the next great adventure.

MMOs die. Stories end. But we players live forever.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews and not necessarily shared by Massively as a whole. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published on Massively.