The Game Archaeologist: Anarchy Online turns 12

The Game Archaeologist Anarchy Online turns 12

Most MMOs rolling into their 12th year (what few of them there are) live pretty quiet lives. Sure, there's the odd EverQuest expansion here and there, but for the most part the development has simmered down, the team trimmed to a handful of folks, and the best hope for the future is maintaining the status quo.

Anarchy Online, however, is not angling to molder in some nursing home. As the 2001 sci-fi MMO turns 12 this month, it's looking back at a year full of exciting developments, scary moments, and hopeful visions. It might be the smallest arrow in Funcom's quiver right now, but I see it as a scrappy underdog that isn't willing to lie down and be ignored.

So what happened this past year and what do Anarchy Online players have to look forward to? Glad you asked!

The Game Archaeologist Anarchy Online turns 12

Layoffs and restructuring

Let's start with the worst part of Anarchy Online's year because I'd rather get it out of the way than have it looming over the rest of the column. Funcom went through two major rounds of layoffs, one last year and one this past spring. Neither boded well for the struggling studio, although it attempted to put a good face on it by saying that it was restructuring the organization into a lean, mean MMO machine.

The good news is that Anarchy Online survived, although it did lose its lead producer and some staff. Joel Bylos took over the lead position for all three of Funcom's MMOs following the restructuring and posted a letter to the AO community about what it should expect going forward. While it didn't strike me with confidence that Bylos had little AO experience and will have his attention split between three games, at least AO survived and had its immediate future assured.

Bylos listed the three main priorities for Anarchy Online as improving its new player experience, getting the graphics overhaul done, and doing a balance pass on professions. It's not a new expansion (I think we're well past hoping for one of those with AO), but it's much better than nothing!

When two becomes one

After over 11 years of servers fostering separate communities, Funcom merged the two main servers down into just one this past February. While some folks were probably rankled at the move, everyone survived and life went on. In my opinion, it's a good move for any older game to consolidate its playerbase and allow more folks to be together.

Funcom also negotiated Anarchy Online's arrival on Steam and move to offering subscription bonuses, which could only have helped the game. If nothing else, the studio also reported that post-restructuring, Anarchy Online was seen to have an increase of players over last quarter.

The Game Archaeologist Anarchy Online turns 12

New beginnings and shiny visuals

The new player experience (or new character experience, to be more precise) and the graphics engine overhaul were continually talked up during this past year, although we're still waiting to see them come to the game. The graphics update in particular is of much interest to both current AO players and the MMO community at large.

There are some big questions that come with the graphics update that will be answered only when it goes live. Will the new style put off players who have grown fond of the old-school visuals? Will it really extend the life of the game, draw in new players, or be enough incentive for old ones to return? Will it still look like an older game even after the fact?

The devs did want to make it clear that the update won't mean that everything will get new graphics. For the most part, the world will be touched up, but brand-new art assets will be mostly limited to the beginning of the game. It was pretty cool to see progress being made this year, however, including tech that will allow armor to actually be glued on and protrude from character skins.

Happy 12th birthday, Anarchy Online!

The May update letter has the promise of a fun celebration for players: "We invite you all to join the tinker in her shady birthday preparations and to claim a couple of goodies from the Item Shop for free. As for events, conflict will fill the streets of Borealis during the anniversary events, resulting in a change in the balance of power."

So shake off the bad, embrace the good, and party it up, Anarchy Online players! You deserve it!

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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.