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Ask Massively: Requiem for a Clean Slate

Kevin Stallard

It's the holiday season, and time, once again, for Ask Massively to spread the cheer as far and wide as possible. It is a testament to the love and dedication that I have for each and every one of my readers that I am postponing the hyper-ingestion of tryptophan-laden goodness today in order to answer your questions so that you may enjoy your holiday weekend free from the burden of unsatiated curiosity.

Dear Ask Massively,

I'm sure that you've heard by now that Tabula Rasa is going to shut down early next year. What now? It seems like only last week that the game was making so much money that Richard Garriott was taking trips into space. What about those of us who still enjoy this game? Don't we count for something?

-Ginny L.

Yes, Virginia, Tabula Rasa is going the way of Auto Assault and Earth & Beyond. As a subscriber, I am a little disappointed but not terribly surprised.

Having conducted a few "Post MMOrtem" sessions with fans at a certain convention in the past, I have heard some interesting ideas about MMOs that are shut down by their developers, ideas which could easily be applied to the brainchild of Richard Garriott.

First of all, I think it is a mistake for NCSoft to shutter Tabula Rasa entirely. Games can exist, nearly indefinitely with a small and dedicated fan base. Cram the remaining players on a server, keep a skeleton crew around for hardware maintenance and the very occasional bug fix, then just let it run. NCSoft has an existing selection of "Free to play" MMO's such as Guild Wars and Dungeon Runners. Why not Tabula Rasa?

Second, I don't believe that TR failed as a game. It had an engaging storyline and gameplay elements that were closer to a first person shooter than an MMO. I believe that expectations were a bit unreasonable for this title, and that the game fell victim to comparisons to a certain MMO with 11 million subscribers. Let's take the money out of the equation for a minute, because let's face it, the money is already spent. It's not like you're going to save money by shutting down the game. A long term/slow growth plan might grow a game like Tabula Rasa into a virtual realm with perhaps 50,000-100,000 dedicated users. These users won't be tempted by the "flavor-of-the-month" MMOs hitting the market. They'll remain hardcore fans for as long as the game is live. You might lose money on this game, but making a little money each year indefinitely is better than making no money for shutting the game down.

Finally, why not make the game Open Source? Let the small, hardcore, player community develop and grow the game. Again, you've already spent the money. Why not let the players run with it? At the very least, NCSoft could use TR to find and identify development talent or identify the features of their games that fans like (or dislike) the most.

Just because an MMORPG hasn't hit the financial numbers assigned to it by the bean counters doesn't mean that the game is a failure. Many "failed" MMOs live on thanks to a handful of dedicated players. There are still fan sites for Earth & Beyond and Auto Assault, and some fans have even taken over the development of their games as in the case of Meridian 59. I truly hope we haven't seen the last of Tabula Rasa.

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