Five MMOs on the endangered list

473I think that City of Heroes’ (and to a lesser extent, Glitch and perhaps Lucent Hearts) shutdown has caused some people to pause and wonder which MMO will be next on the chopping block.  Not to get maudlin or delight in “failure,” but let’s be honest: We all do think about it from time to time.  Whether a game’s shut down because of a lack of players and funding or because there’s a legal issue or a studio closing, it can and will happen.

So what MMOs do I think are most in danger of being sunsetted?  Five titles come to mind:

1. PlanetSide

Honestly, there’s just no reason for SOE to keep this game running.  It’s the only title in the studio’s library that hasn’t been converted to free-to-play, it has a F2P sequel that just launched, and it’s pretty long in the tooth.  Maybe SOE will keep the lights on for the sake of the dedicated few that stick around (and keep coughing up a subscription fee), but I don’t see that happening.

2. Warhammer Online

It pains me to say it, but I really don’t think WAR is long for this world.  Mythic is helming a leaking ship with no apparent hope for its future.  BioWare’s siphoned off several of its devs, DAoC is really old at this point and not going F2P, UO is even older, there aren’t any new titles in the works that we know about, and WAR feels like a game that they’d rather you not notice.

The fact that Mythic has outright said that it’s just not financially realistic to convert the game to F2P speaks volumes about its future.  Then you add on the fact that the studio also said that its MOBA version of the game will probably never leave beta status because of a terribly small playerbase, and I just don’t see WAR pulling out of this tailspin.  It was a great if flawed game in many ways, but there’s no hope left.

3. Guild Wars

NCsoft isn’t known for its bleeding heart, and if it sees that most of the Guild Wars fanbase has made the jump to GW2, their accountants are not going to look at the continued cost of operating GW1 fondly.  Hey, maybe those are very minimal costs and why not.  But GW1 can’t have much of a future making money for the company, and that leaves me with a bad feeling about it.

4. Final Fantasy XI

This one might be a bit of a stretch, but hear me out.  Not only is FF11 nearing senior citizen status in MMO years, but the studio is really desperate to make FF14 work.  Could it see FF11’s closing as a way to “encourage” the remaining players to make the switch?

Really, I have no idea what Square-Enix is thinking most of the time, and considering how volatile FF14’s history has been so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if the studio just tried to back out of the online space altogether.

5. Anarchy Online

Gah, it hurts me to even suggest this — especially considering I’ve just put it back on my computer.  But with Funcom’s recent staff layoffs and the rumors that it might be shopping around for a buyer, I have to wonder just how stable AO’s future is.  I mean, it’s not just old but there’s little left to draw new/returning players back in until or unless the team can pull off that graphics update.  And raise your hand if you think that’s honestly going to happen?

I don’t think all of these games are destined to be shut down in the next couple of months, I just think that these are the five titles I’m most concerned about right now.  Put them on the “endangered” list, so to speak.  What do you think?

Where to get MMO soundtracks

Yesterday on Too Long; Didn’t Listen (you know, that podcast you so adore!) Dodge and I were talking about MMO and video game soundtracks, a topic which I quite adore.  I wanted to follow the podcast up with a quick post about some places that I’ve found legal ways to obtain these scores:

Free MMO soundtracks:

Amazon MP3 downloads:

Direct Song:

Blizzard Store/iTunes/misc.:

Let me know if I missed any and I’ll add them to the list (I’m not looking to list/link torrents and CDs, however)!

Blogsplosion2011: Gaming grudges

Proving that more than one blogger can have “sy” in their name, Warsyde handles all sorts of MMO topics over at The Babbling Gamer.  I gave him a loaded bomb with this assignment written on it: “Pick three long-standing MMO grudges that the community just… won’t… let… go, and discuss why we can’t move on from the past.”

The MMORPG genre has been around long enough now that it’s starting to develop a distinct history.  That history includes, shall we say, “disagreements” between players and developers, players and other players, developers and publishers, publishers and retailers, and just about everything else you could possibly think of. Many of those disagreements have been lost to the sands of time, the rage has blown over and life has continued on as before.  Some of those disagreements though, have turned into grudges that many members of the community just can’t seem to let go of, and quite possibly never will.

Sony and the NGE

Early in the last decade Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) released a little MMORPG called Star Wars Galaxies.  It was hyped as the savior of the genre and was going to revolutionize the way we played MMOs. Plus, you know, STAR WARS!  It . . . didn’t quite live up to the hype, and after a while the player base had dwindled to the point that SOE felt the need to invigorate the game by shaking things up.  They did so by instituting the New Game Experience (NGE).  The NGE essentially took many aspects of Everquest and pasted them into SWG.  The game went from a classless, skill-based sandbox to a class based themepark/sandbox mashup. Not only did everyone’s characters change dramatically, some characters were impossible to recreate under the new system (goodbye Creature Handler) leaving many players with a character nothing at all like what they had before. A good portion of the MMO gaming community has never, ever, forgiven Sony for what they did.  For many people, “NGE” is a swear word.

Star Wars Galaxies for many people was a complex mix of shattered dreams and refreshing gameplay.  Many players weren’t happy with the way SWG turned out, and didn’t like the simplistic adventuring content available at launch.  Nevertheless, the crafting system was top notch, it was still Star Wars, and the skill based advancement system was interesting and different from other things on the market.  Even though many people stopped playing SWG, they held a soft spot for it.  Then Sony tore the heart out of the game and replaced it with something new.  This upset both current and previous subscribers, as the game they held a soft spot for no longer existed.  Even if the nostalgia bug bit and you wanted to go play SWG, the game you remembered was gone forever.  Current players were hit even harder, as characters they’d spent dozens or hundreds of hours developing were ripped apart and rebuilt in strange ways.

Still, plenty of people still play the game today, so why has it been so hard for many gamers to just forget about the NGE and move on?  Probably because the NGE represents a fundamental betrayal of the unspoken pact between players and game providers — that we, as players, will give money to the provider to play in a persistent game world with persistent characters we evolve over time, and the game company will preserve that persistent world and your characters with clear continuity.  The NGE shattered character and game world continuity, and broke the trust between player and provider.

Warhammer Online Hype

“Bears, bears, bears.”  It’s a phrase that will go down in MMO marketing infamy, and one that anyone who follows MMORPG games has surely heard.  “Bears, bears, bears” was used in a marketing video for Mythic Entertainment’s Warhammer Online while describing a system in which players wouldn’t have to wade through dozens of bear corpses to reach a quest giver, only to have the quest giver task them to go out and kill 10 bears.  Instead, the quest giver would go “Oh, I have a quest for you to kill 10 bears.  I see you’ve already killed 10 bears, judging by the gore, bits of bear fur on your sword, and 10 foot tall stack of bear pelts you’re lugging around.  Thanks, here you go!  Quest complete!”

Gamers rejoiced, because we’ve all killed dozens of a monster only to have some quest NPC fifty feet further on task us to go kill some for him.  Never mind that we just killed dozens right in front of him.  The issue, of course, is that Warhammer Online didn’t deliver on this promise.  Instead of quest NPCs recognizing your kills for “kill x” quests, there were special “task” NPCs that would reward you for killing certain numbers of a specific monster.  That’s not so bad, though not what they promised, right? Except, infuriatingly, there were numerous cases of quest NPCs standing right next to the task NPC, offering “kill x” quests for the same monster type, and they wouldn’t recognize you had killed them already even though the NPC right next to them would.  They not only failed to deliver, they rubbed players’ noses in the failure.

This was just one of many ways in which Mythic failed to deliver on their promises for WO, but the fame of the “bears, bears, bears” bit has made this the one MMORPG players will never forget, or forgive.  It was just so over-the-top, and so blatantly unfulfilled.  Gamers were bludgeoned with the hype for months on end, with all sorts of wet-dream features being promised left and right.  What we got was a perfectly solid game that failed to meet the pie-in-the-sky promises of Mythic’s marketing team.  Mythic’s reputation has gone from that of a sterling independent MMORPG developer to that of an over-bloated hype-monster that can’t be trusted.  Warhammer Online wasn’t actually a bad game, but the community is unlikely to let this grudge pass, and it won’t be surprising if Mythic never releases another AAA MMORPG.

Anarchy Online Launch

One of the grandaddies of MMORPG gamer grudges (yes, UO Trammel is older, but I didn’t play UO so I’m not going to write about it), the launch of Funcom’s Anarchy Online in 2001 was so spectacularly bad that people still talk about it 10 years later.  Players attempting to play in the first few days of the game were treated to lag and latency so bad that something as simple as walking across a courtyard could take 30 minutes.  I’m not exaggerating, I actually timed it when I was trying to walk my character from one spot to another.  Rubber-banding, freezing, everything you could possibly imagine about a bad connection was present, all at the same time, constantly.  It was actually easier to force-quit or unplug your computer than log out thanks to the lag.

Funcom has been tainted by the AO launch ever since.  Not that people think they can’t make good games, but rather there’s a vague mistrust of their technical competence.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, read, or participated in an exchange like the following:  “Hey, check out this new game by Funcom!”  “Oh, err, ah, aren’t those the guys that did Anarchy Online?  That game was horrible at launch!  I’ll give them 6 months to straighten things out before I even look at this.”  Of course, a game that doesn’t sell well in the first six months is generally doomed to a mediocre showing overall.  Funcom didn’t exactly allay everyone’s fears with the Age of Conan launch either.

This grudge isn’t going to go away because the launch was just so bad and so memorable.  People shelled out $50 to buy the game and were rewarded with something completely unplayable.  The Anarchy Online launch is a textbook example of what-not-to-do, and no launch since has been able to surpass its misery.  World of Warcraft itself had a pretty bad launch, but almost nobody remembers because comparatively speaking, it just wasn’t in the same league.  The Anarchy Online launch was so bad it’s become legendary.

Conclusion

The theme behind all these grudges seems to be betrayal.  MMO gamers tend to be a pretty forgiving bunch in the long run (or maybe just forgetful), but the lesson seems to be that if you betray the gaming community spectacularly enough you’re never going to live it down.  Sony still has conversations about the NGE, generally along the lines of “we’ll never do anything like that again, ever, we promise!”  Funcom is still trying to convince people they’re capable of putting out stable software.  Mythic is, well, I’m not sure what Mythic is doing, but I’m sure they’re not letting their marketing department do it, whatever it is.

There are lots of other grudges out there, what’s your favorite?

2010: Looking Back

As much as I love retrospective posts and Top X Lists of the Year, I suppose it’s almost time to tuck those away for another 364 days.  January 1st always hits me like a wall of normalcy after the hectic month that was December.  Once tomorrow rolls in, it’s back to normal schedules and normal objectives and no awesome holidays until President’s Day (party central!).

So instead of getting bummed about the 1st, I wanted to take a couple minutes to look back at 2010.  While it may have not been much for MMOs, I thought it was a pretty exciting year — announcements, betas, getting back into old games, and so on.  I actually played a lot of MMOs this year, including:

  • World of Warcraft: I wrapped up my interest in this game early on in the year, and was finally able to say goodbye.
  • Lord of the Rings Online: I got back into LOTRO in February and have had an utter blast getting a character up in high levels, being part of a terrific kinship, and participating in many non-combat events.
  • Global Agenda: Played it for about a week, it’s decent for what it is, but it’s not for me.
  • Star Trek Online: Despite numerous hiccups on Cryptic’s part, I’ve enjoyed STO off and on during the year, and have spent about 100 hours in-game so far.
  • Ultima Online: Finally got a taste of this classic MMO for a few days — nothing compelling, but cool to be able to say I was there.
  • Anarchy Online: Spent a few weeks revisiting this title and my memories from back in the day.
  • Allods Online: I liked the beta, but the launch cash shop ruckus turned me off of it.
  • Age of Conan: Yeah, spent a couple days going through the newbie zone.  Decent game, but I didn’t feel like sticking it out.
  • DCUO: Played a very little bit of the beta, thought it looked really nice but I wasn’t too thrilled about the consoleish feel.
  • City of Heroes: Returned for a couple weeks with the intention of seeing the Going Rogue launch, but a once-familiar staple of my gaming life felt really drab and meandering, so I quit.
  • DDO: Enjoyed it off and on, but ultimately it lost its grip on me and I let it go with a teary farewell.
  • EverQuest II Extended: Went through the intro zone and generally liked it, but was turned off by the graphics and the bizarre pricing plan.
  • Guild Wars: Been playing through the campaigns for the Hall of Monuments calculator, and although I haven’t been in-game for a month or so, I have plans to return.
  • Rift: Got into the beta, and have been slowly won over by this gorgeous and pretty dang fun title.
  • Star Wars Galaxies: Played it for a couple weeks for a column, liked it so-so but it just got me itching for The Old Republic after a while.  Cool space combat, tho.
  • Vindictus: Tried the opening level, it felt way too much like a mindless click-fest and quit.

Whew, in retrospect, that’s a LOT!  And I’m not including all of my off-line gaming, including Mass Effect 2 (awesome), Back to the Future: The Game, Borderlands, Secret of Monkey Island, Dragon Age Origins, Torchlight and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

On the homefront, it’s been pretty crazy too: classes, work, family life.  Back in April my daughter was born, a daughter who’s now standing up and holding her own in play sessions with her one-year-old brother.  Being a dad is better than any game out there, which is why MMOs don’t stand a chance if they’re awake.

In February, I was hired by Massively to be a columnist and contributing editor, and in a way, it was a perfect fit.  I’ve always wanted to be a part of the games industry in some way, and writing about it comes naturally.  The folks over there are just terrific, and we’ve had a great year of covering the news and talking about the games we love.  I don’t know how you feel about the site, but I can testify to the real passion that everyone there has for MMOs.  It’s not a job, it’s being paid for what we were going to talk about anyway.  Well, okay, on days I don’t want to write, it’s certainly more job-like than others, but all in all I consider myself a very fortunate guy who has two jobs he really likes to do.

2010 wasn’t perfect — I didn’t lose all the weight I wanted to (although I made a small dent), I let a few projects slip that I wish I would’ve been better about, and I know that dividing my writing interests have hurt Bio Break in some ways.  But you have to take the bad with the good, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with how it ended up.

Yes, they are better. Or not. Does it matter?

As the resident older MMO columnist at Massively, I have a healthy respect for pre-2004 MMORPGs.  I really do.  They did a lot of (for then) cutting-edge innovation, they contributed a lot to the formation of this still-developing genre, and they raised the first generation of 3D MMO gamers.  A lot of people had a blast with these games, and in some cases, they still do.

I don’t have a single problem with this.  But it has started to really irk me how there’s a movement among some bloggers to elevate these games and this time period on an infallible pedestal by throwing out sweeping statements like “These older games were better, the newer ones are rubbish, aren’t fun, and people aren’t playing the games/systems they should in order to be real gamers.”

Again, you may like these older titles and how the way things were done.  That’s fine.  But here’s the thing: You don’t speak for me.  It’s heady to make widespread generalizations about the entire MMO playerbase, but it’s folly to do so.  MMO gamers are incredibly diverse, they want different things, they enjoy different things, and there are no perfect games that are all things to all people.

Asking the question of whether older MMOs were “better” is an extremely relative question, no matter how much one might try to dress it up.  What I’m sensing is that there are players who are restless and disgruntled with MMOs right now and are engaging in heavy-duty nostalgia back to a time where they didn’t feel this way.  They look at systems that have been phased out over time or types of gameplay that have become obsolete, and they try to connect their current malaise with these missing factors.  It very well may be for them, but I think this is just how life goes sometime.

What annoys me is that I really don’t  like to be told that the games I’m enjoying right now — and I *am* enjoying them — are inferior just because they’re not the ones someone else used to play back in the day.  Have we lost some features and types of gaming mentalities that did make the genre richer?  I don’t doubt that we have.  But have we gained a lot as well?  From my perspective, definitely.  I take so much for granted these days in MMOs that I would’ve given so much to have back in 2002.  I sincerely do not miss forced grouping, overly harsh death penalties, and the feeling of being completely lost in a game world.

Of course, it’s not like these things are forever gone — many of these older games exist still, and several newer MMOs have implemented features from the good ol’ days.  It’s interesting to see that many of the games that do try to recapture older MMO formats inevitably become a small niche game — Darkfall, Mortal Online, Vanguard, even (yes, I’ll be fair here) Fallen Earth.  There’s demand out there for those games and those features, but it’s being eclipsed by players who genuinely like several ways the genre’s developed.

Hobbies are extremely relativistic.  You can be a car fanatic and love the old muscle cars of the 60’s or the newer designs and features that we see today.  Your preference and perspective does not make one or the other “better” for everyone.  It’s just that we like to have the crowd agree with our viewpoint, so sometimes there’s temptation to take a few extra steps across the line and try to quantify factors that can’t easily be defined.  Was it better to have XP loss upon death in MMOs?  Depends on what you’re looking for in a game, what you first experienced, and how you might think it would affect your gameplay in a positive way (make you more cautious, increase the sense of danger, etc.).

For example, I’ve been tooling around in Anarchy Online this month, revising my first MMO stomping grounds.  It doesn’t seem like much has changed to the core game — it’s still a pretty hardcore, no-hand-holding experience.  There’s some fun to it, sure, but a lot of frustration as well.  I keep having to go to the web to research where places are and how to do even the most basic things, like training up new skills.  Likewise, FF14 is getting a lot of “no hand holding” testimonies, which some players appreciate and some very much do not.

I think there’s a balance that has to be carefully maintained as MMOs progress, evolve and develop.  If you do too much to simplify game mechanics and do away with all difficulties, you end up with a cakewalk that lacks challenge and long-term appeal; if you stubbornly stick with mechanics that don’t work or just appeal to a very small segment, you risk alienating most players.  I get the feeling that this industry is still in the infancy stage — perhaps toddlerhood — and we’re a long way off from full-fledged growth and maturity.  It’s been a fun ride so far, but as for me and mine, I’m looking at the road ahead for inspiration instead of wistfully holding on to days long gone.

Middlers

For all of the shockingly many MMORPGs I’ve played over the past decade, it struck me last night how shockingly few of them I’ve ever leveled a character all the way to the end.  That paltry list includes World of Warcraft (3 characters), Warhammer Online (1 character), and, um, um… I guess that’s it.  Just the four toons.  For a genre where a common rallying cry is that “the REAL game begins at END game!”, I’ve shied away from being in the “real” game more often than not.

And here’s the thing — I think I’m in good company, being a Middler.  What’s a Middler?  It’s the term I’m using for players who constantly get to the middle of a MMO’s leveling curve, but rarely the end, for various reasons.  Maybe they’re altoholics, maybe the first part of the game is perceived as more enjoyable than the latter (leveling is certainly faster), maybe they’re skipping around to multiple MMOs.  For whatever reason, Middlers don’t have a lot of level capped characters, but they’re still fiercely devoted to these games and enjoy them quite a bit.

For me, it’s a combination of all of those factors, plus often getting burned out once a character starts hitting the higher levels.  One of the weird things about MMOs is that, in a way, the more you level up, the more you’re punished for it.  Think about it — higher levels:

  • Take more time and work between gratifying “dings” of leveling up
  • Usually give you fewer and fewer new skills and abilities
  • Feature more ugly, desolate zones that aren’t as exciting to explore
  • Pile on the “busy work” of lengthy grinds

Is it any surprise that passion for these MMOs dies down when we hit this point?  Some people power through these levels with their eye on the prize of the End Game, that messiah of content that will hopefully make playing fun again (and that, my friends, is a subjective toss-up).

Way back in the day when I played my first MMO, Anarchy Online, I was astounded at the sheer number of levels — something like 220, I think.  I didn’t play the game ever thinking I’d hit the level cap at all, so I just played it to play it.  Maybe that’s when I first became a Middler.

This is why I frown on game companies that only develop content for the end game, because I think there’s a lot of us who constantly recycle the early and mid game and deserve new content for that span as well.

Just curious if this description fits you at all — are you a Middler?  If so, what’s your reason for rarely if ever hitting the level cap?

One Year of Free-To-Play Fun

In an exercise designed to satiate a whiff of whimsy, I wanted to plot out an entire year of MMORPG gaming, where each month a player would hypothetically play a different title for free, paying $0 for their year’s experience.   What would I recommend starting with December?  Hang on to my every word, faithful readers, and let’s see:

December 2009 – For the Yuletide season, I’m going to recommend an old favorite of mine, Dungeon Runners, a sort-of snarky Diablo clone that enjoyed exaggerating and mocking RPG conventions while feeding your desire for mayhem and loot frenzy.  Since the title is being shut down on January 1, 2010 (with a nuclear explosion, as a matter of fact), this is the absolute last month to play it, and perhaps the best — they’re really jacking up the loot drops and XP rewards for DR’s final weeks.

January 2010 – Why not use the first month of the new decade to reconnect with a MMO of yore?  Anarchy Online has been running free-to-play for a couple years now (although with certain limitations if you don’t subscribe).  It may not have the glitz and glamour of more modern MMOs, but it’s one of the only “old school” titles that let people tromp around for nothing!

February 2010 – Assuming that Chronicles of Spellborn is still in “redevelopment”, or whatever that means, you can play this recent title for absolutely nothing — and that includes the full game!  Of course, there’s the very real chance that some day they might pull the plug or wipe the servers, but it’s a small price to pay for free fun.

March 2010 – Get your Harry Potter on by signing up for Wizard101, the acclaimed title that mixes together turn-based combat and bright wizardy venues.  They have an unlimited free trial that certainly gives you a nice big chunk of the early game, which took my wife and I a few weeks to run through earlier this year.

April 2010Warhammer Online’s “endless trial” is next up for your gaming pleasure — the full Tier 1 experience, with 24 classes, PvE and PvP is yours for the taking.  If you’re willing to roll up a few alts, then this will more than meet a full month’s worth of fun.

May 2010 – Ever since switching to its hybrid free-to-play/microtransactions/subscription model, Dungeons & Dragons Online has earned the title of the best free MMO you can get your grubby mitts on.  It comes highly recommended from myself, and the free content is quite expansive, certainly more than a month’s worth.

June 2010 – Cute little Asian MMOs that are funded entirely through microtransactions might not be your thing (and they certainly aren’t mine), but Maple Story is one of the best and most beloved if it is.  So enlarge your eyes to 500% of their normal size, color your hair bright blue, and embrace 2D zaniness.

July 2010 – An Adventurer Is You!  Or so proclaims the folks over at the long-running Kingdom of Loathing, one of the wittiest browser-based MMOs in the world.  There’s no catch on the cost (players who want to support the game can purchase special items in the shop), and the wordy game has enraptured many a soul — including mine.

August 2010 – We’ll assume that by next August, Allods Online will have left beta and gone into full launch, in which case you might already have heard the siren’s call to play it.  It’s been getting excellent press so far, and for a free to play title, why not give it a whirl in the dog days of summer?

September 2010 – Many a MMORPG player has cut their teeth on Runescape, the free to play browser MMO that showed how far the limits of Java could go.  It might not be the most polished or good-looking title, but it’s had a number of overhauls and revamps, and hey — it’s light on the wallet.

October 2010 – Speaking of runes, Runes of Magic bowled a lot of people over in 2009 as both a decent WoW clone and an excellent free to play title.  They’ve already released their first expansion (also free), and you could certainly do a lot worse than give this a try, particularly if you are a current or former WoWhead.

November 2010Sword of the New World is one of those odd little MMO cult hits that you know, intellectually, are better than the rest of the pack, but may have yet to ever give it a whirl.  So why not, in this last month of our hypothetical experiment, do just that?

6 MMORPG Mascots

leet

1. Anarchy Online’s Leets

Anarchy Online’s a “serious” scifi MMO with serious high-tech soldiers running all over the place, proving how awesomely buff they are by subjugating an entire planet.  Among them frolics the Leets, little groundhog-looking things that exist for no other reason than to subtlely mock the “elite” or “1337” players that feel as if they’re all that.  Dude, you might as well give up — these little guys are already leet!

They come in different varieities: Leets, Eleets, Leetas, Soleets, Phear Leets, Supa Leets, Santa Leets, Wereleets, Godzillaleets, Frankenleets and Draculeets.

murky2

2. World of Warcraft’s Murlocs

Across WoW’s two worlds and four continents, there is a truly mind-boggling array of creatures, beasts and beings, but none are so infamous as the beloved and (often) beheaded Murlocs.  “People fish” is how their character creation process went, and if you can get used to toothy fish walking around, that’s only the start of their oddity.  Most of the Murlocs’ fame come from their insane aggro radius and their unique gurgle war cry, the latter of which is often imitated by fans and people choking to death.

For their part, Blizzard has embraced the cult of the Murloc, giving these fish men even more personality and culture in the most recent expansion pack, as well as handing out two non-combat varieties of murloc pets: a baby murloc and a space marine murloc.

150px-Gwen_(Prophecies)

3. Guild Wars’ Gwen

Like several MMO mascots, Gwen wasn’t created to be one, but for some reason players had such a strong connection to babysitting this 10-year-old in the prologue of the original game that it soon elevated her to the figurehead of the game.  As a child, she is playful and talkative, skipping around you as you go about your business.  Although she was assumed dead in the post-searing Ascalon part of the game, fan enthusiasm for the character prompted Arenanet to bring her back in an expansion pack — both as an adult character, and as inspiration for the expansion pack’s name: Guild Wars Eye of the North.

180px-Chatty

4. Free Realms’ Chatdy

So I guess by the time Free Realms came out, SOE was hard-pressed to think of a mascot animal that hadn’t already been used to promote various products ten times over.  Thus, the rare blue-mohawked flying squirrel applied for the position and was accepted without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m not that familiar with Free Realms’ expansive lore, so I’ll just assume that Chatdy also burrows into the skin of /AFK players, lays his eggs, and watches with glee as small flying squirrels burst of their chests a week later.

karl

5. Dungeon Runners’ Karl

German demons might be a dime a dozen, but players of Dungeon Runners were partial to Karl, whose ever-present head sat at the bottom of your screen and got obscenely excited when you leveled up.  While his throne was briefly supplanted by the popular Bling Gnome, Karl will be the once and future king of our hearts.

cohimage

6. City of Heroes’ Statesman

Although it’s tempting to call a flagrant ego foul on this one, admit the truth: if you had created your very own superhero MMORPG, wouldn’t it be irresistable to Mary Sue yourself into the role of the lead character?  So let’s not blame Cryptic’s Jack Emmert for doing something we probably all would do.

Statesman even prompted a lawsuit by Marvel Comics, who found the character a bit too like Captain America for their liking.  Actually doesn’t Betsy Ross own the copyright to red, white and blue with stars?

The Day of Days: Anarchy Online’s Launch

leet“AO’s European launch is imminent. If our good friends in Europe have any sense, they’ll give this game a wide berth, whatever its price. The sooner Funcom closes the lights on the few remaining players in this flaming wreck of a game, the better. Perhaps they can sell the remnants of their tattered code to a real developer and someday we’ll see the game reach its potential. It’s a certainty that Funcom itself can’t pull it off.”

~ from Timothy Burke’s 2001 review of Anarchy Online

“Anarchy Online is now launched, and it is time for a little update on the status of the game. The launch on June 27th has not gone as smoothly as we had expected.”

~ Funcom official statement

One of the first MMOs I ever played for any substantial time was Anarchy Online, which I picked up mostly for its scifi theme.  At the time, I had a putzy computer with a dialup connection, which didn’t help when I tried to log on and get into the game.  It REALLY didn’t help that I stumbled into what would become known as the “worst MMORPG launch of all time”, which meant that nothing worked, and I spent the better part of an hour trying to cross a patch of land and kill a guy without the game bugging, crashing, or dropping me through the world.  I unsubbed after that (only to resub for Shadowlands).

If Anarchy Online’s launch is but a vague friend-of-a-friend mention to you, I’d encourage you to take a trip in a wayback machine, and read Something Awful’s beat by beat experience on that most fateful of days.  It’s both enlightening, and helpful to keep our current launches in perspective.

So what went wrong with this launch?  Just how bad was it, really?  Let’s take a trip through the timeline of the disaster:

  • June 27, 2001 – Anarchy Online launches in NA and Norway.  “The number of subscribers we had at launch were much more than we had anticipated.” (CM Tor Andre)
  • June 27, 2001 – According to Wikipedia, “Customers were unable to register to play using the product keys included with their installation discs. Others were accidentally billed for the registration fee twice, although they were never charged for the second bill. The game software would crash repeatedly, according to reports from players. Significant portions of the game world were inaccessible, and the game’s servers were routinely out of service.”
  • July 2, 2001 – “Numerous complaints from Anarchy Online customers cited problems with registration and difficulties retrieving patches needed to play the game.”  Funcom issues a statement through Gamespot saying that they were hard at work fixing the registration system.
  • July 2, 2001 – Funcom announces 35,000 registered accounts created.
  • July 3, 2001 – Funcom issues a statement on their website, apologizing for the disaster, and promising that no player would be charged until the mess got fixed.
  • August 12, 2001 – Funcom sends out a Post Launch Newsletter, detailing why the launch went so wrong.
  • September 21, 2001 – To lure players back, Funcom opens a free one-week trial.

In short, although the Funcom team thought their product was ready for retail, they were up against four major problems that caused this “perfect storm” of a disaster: more players than anticipated, an understaffed customer service department, a borked registration process, and severe technical issues that put the game in a nearly unplayable state for many.  Even to this day, the mess of AO’s launch remains a textbook study in what NOT to do for a game launch, although even as recent as this year, MMOs release with many of the same problems, proving that either we just don’t learn from failure, or these games are almost impossible to launch without a hiccup or two.

As for Anarchy Online, the upside is that they proved that even the worst launch in history could be reversed by a dedicated dev team and a quick response to player concerns.  While other MMOs have come and gone since then, Anarchy Online is still running, with several expansions and a much-ballyhooed free player program under its belt.