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.

10 thoughts on “The Day of Days: Anarchy Online’s Launch

  1. Longasc November 2, 2009 / 9:10 am

    Let’s see if “The Secret World “will depart from this honored Funcom tradition established by Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

  2. Jim November 2, 2009 / 10:09 am

    Such good memories I was also there on launch. That game was the first game I know of to use “instances” for dungeons.

  3. evizaer November 2, 2009 / 10:41 am

    If everyone could’ve went back to WoW after AO’s launch debacle, the game never would’ve recovered.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx November 2, 2009 / 10:58 am

    Man I remember AO’s launch, what a disaster of such epic proportions.

  5. We Fly Spitfires November 2, 2009 / 5:12 pm

    I enjoyed AO quite a lot when it came out. I don’t remember the launch being so bad but maybe it was all over by the time it was out here in the UK.

    Fun game. I tried to play it again this year but, ugh, the controls are just awful. You’d think they could add proper mouse controls by now…

  6. KillTrash November 2, 2009 / 7:04 pm

    AO was my first MMO and I was there for launch. I had a few disconnecting from server issues and severe lag on heavily populated areas, but other than that, it worked ok for me. It still is my favorite MMO and I played it for years!

    And Gordon, they actually added “proper mouse controls” for over a year (maybe even two!) now! Way before that, the only way you could control the camera was by using the numeric keypad, but it has regular mouse look, zoom and pretty much every other mouse feature from modern MMOs for quite some time.

  7. Muckbeast November 3, 2009 / 3:43 am

    I miss the Leets. 😦

  8. Rog November 3, 2009 / 9:09 am

    I know a fair number of gamers whom Anarchy Online was their first and last MMORPG, they became allergic to MMOs completely.

  9. cody September 9, 2010 / 11:03 pm

    I cant exactly remember when i started to play AO, was a LONG time ago. Possibly 5 years ago, i was little and looking for a mmo, hell AO looks amazing because i love space and sci-fi, so i played it off and on, now i’m quitting possibly, because it consumes your life!

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