The Game Archaeologist: Four efforts to preserve dead MMOs


As I type this, we are now living in a post-Warhammer Online world. You can probably tell by all of the rampant looting, devastating earthquakes, and heart-rending sobs coming from your neighbors' homes. For me, it's a strange thought that this game simply isn't there at all any more -- and there's no way to go back and play it, ever.

Or is there?

When it comes to MMO sunsets, there are varying degrees of death. Sometimes a closure isn't as final and complete as we might assume, and between the passion of developers and those of fans, we're able to revisit these games long after their expiration date. For a writer who is keenly interested in preserving MMO history, these efforts are of great interest.

So today we're going to look at four ways that people are trying their hardest to preserve dead MMOs -- and even let you play them once more. And I'm going to write about this without using the forbidden "E" word, too!

1. A potential WAR standalone client

Former Mythic developer Andrew Meggs posited a cool idea on his personal blog regarding WAR's shutdown, saying that there is a way to go back: "Nothing disappears as completely as an online game, where a central server is essential to running the game at all. But for at least part of Warhammer Online, it doesn't have to be that way."

Meggs went on to reveal that the developers had an option to flip a switch and play an internal-only build of the game that had no characters or combat but allowed the user to fly through the world to at least visit the lands and structures. He claims that it wouldn't be hard to release this version if the execs so chose.

"This won't compete with any current or future game," he said, "because it's not a game anymore. But it's a place for the die-hard fans to visit by themselves, to reminisce and remember the times they had there with others. It's something the hundreds of developers who worked on it will still be able to run for their kids someday. It's a piece of history for Professors of Game Studies in 2113 to better understand what MMORPGs looked like before the neural implants."

I think that's an intriguing and awesome idea, although it would require higher-ups to actually care about doing this sort of thing for no profit, not to mention wrangle out the possible IP issues. But I know that many players would love to have their favorite MMO world preserved, as Meggs put it, like a ship in a bottle.

2. The fan effort to rebuild Glitch

The death and afterlife of Glitch has fascinated me greatly because it's so unique in MMO space. First of all, developer Tiny Speck went above and beyond by keeping the website operating and offering up all of the game's art assets and source code for free.

With such unprecedented access to a deceased MMO's assets and full permission to do with them what they wanted, fans turned around and started to work on rebuilding the game (or a facsimile thereof). Children of Ur is a fan project that's making good headway already to recreating the Glitch experience, and as of December 17th, 2013, the project had characters that can move around on a screen. It may never be quite like the real thing, but for die-hard Glitch fans, it'll certainly be better than nothing.

3. EQOA: Forever on YouTube

EverQuest Online Adventures died in 2012, but an enterprising player managed to make quite a memorial for the title on YouTube before it was shut off. Instead of merely making a fan video, Jeremiah Johnson spent 35 hours recording the game and then spliced it together in a series of over 150 "choose your own adventure" videos that can now be experienced as a pseudo-game adventure.

As a result, you can navigate these videos to create a character, explore cities, roam the landscape, listen to the soundtrack, and more. It's mind-bogglingly awesome and one of the best tributes I've ever seen for a sunsetted MMO.

4. Island of Kesmai manualscans

Manuals and guides might well be one of the best sources of information about MMOs after they've gone the way of the dodo. A few weeks ago I received a nice email from Judith Haemmerle, the director of the Digital Game Museum (tagline: "We save games"). She was covering Island of Kesmai in the museum's newsletter and wanted to include a link to a column I did on the game in 2012.

She also wanted to mention that she had gotten a hold of an original Island of Kesmai manual and was taking scans of it to preserve it in case there weren't that many others out there. She sent me some of the scans of the manual's illustrations and a map, and I wanted to share that with you lovely folks today.

So we see that even in death, there's still ways to keep the spirit and even code of MMOs alive with the sheer moxie and ingenuity that is in abundance amongst fans. That makes me happy.

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.