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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!