The Digital Continuum: Why must MMOs die?

Kyle Horner
K. Horner|11.22.08

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The Digital Continuum: Why must MMOs die?

Sitting on my desk are copies of Earth and Beyond and Auto Assault. In fact, I've even got a CE box for Auto Assault (that thing cost me 80 bucks). Unfortunately, these games are just dust collectors now. I keep them to remind me of the possibility of sunset and how much it can suck. Even if you didn't play Tabula Rasa, there were thousands of people who did, and that's all that really matters

It seems like a silly thing to outright shutdown any MMO. When it happens, you always find yourself wondering, "Couldn't they have just cut down operating costs?" or something along those lines. I've had the chance to talk with various people on the development and publishing side of the industry and strangely enough most of them tell me that when an MMO gets turned off, it's usually because the publisher just lost interest in making it work.

Some say that since a game world is being sunsetted, that it must not have been that important. Generally, those are just people who don't play the game. If they do -- or were -- playing it, then they're likely embittered by the situation. Ultimately though, when a game dies it's a loss for everyone involved. This is one of the reasons I love Sony Online Entertainment. Say what you will about your beef with SWG, I know I've got my own gripes, but SOE doesn't seem to ever sunset a game no matter the situation; They get it. SOE keeps a world around for people regardless of subscription numbers and those players are eternally grateful for it. Something like that tells me that there was probably no reason for Electronic Arts to cancel Earth and Beyond or for NCsoft to cancel Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa.

Let's imagine that City of Heroes wasn't as popular when it first came out. There wasn't much to do in that game back than, other than fight bad guys. Fight, fight and more fight. Sometimes you had a costume contest, but then you'd go back out and punch/blast some baddies. However, if you play the game again today there are tons of new things to do: crafting, superbases, new instances, new zones, villain play, loyalty perks, PvP, even more customization, new power sets and soon even player-made missions. All of these updates have been incredibly high in quality, too.

"But Kyle," you may be thinking, "wasn't that done on a fairly sizable budget?" To which I would reply, "Hells no!" I was as shocked (and as grateful) as everyone else when I found out that the City of Heroes team has only been 15 people since the launch of City of Villains. This is a group that's been churning out three large, free content updates a year non-stop.

If you needed proof that a game like Tabula Rasa or Auto Assault could have soldiered on and seen tangible, worthwhile improvements on a rather small budget, you now have it. There's no big conspiracy at work here, though. The sad truth seems to be that the people with the money simply expect a lot more from some games than they probably should, and when their expectations aren't met the lifeline is cut off. I'm as disappointed in NCsoft as all the Tabula Rasa fans are, because of what could have been and because of what this says for future NCsoft titles that don't quite live up to expectations.
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