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?

11 thoughts on “Five MMOs on the endangered list

  1. I’m amazed GW is still running at all, after they just up and announced City’s shutdown out of the blue, aside from any potential complications relating to the Hall of Monuments. 😐

  2. I would agree with you on WAR and AO. Warhammer is living proof that the PvP set will always find excuses rather than pony up for a game targeted at them. Yes, the game has warts but so does every other game. What made WAR different was its focus on the PvP side of things (which makes it differ from every other game that just tacks PvP on, often segregating it to an easily ignored part of the game world), plus some of its obvious innovations (the public quest mechanic). It’s a cautionary tale for developers, really. As much as I love Mortal, the only PvP focused game to have any crossover success has been EVE and to me, that’s a shame.

    AO is going to die due to its age and how far behind the curve it is graphically, even when it was new! Nowadays, it hurts my eyes even looking at the models and textures in AO, though I still love the gameplay. And no, that graphic engine upgrade is going to be the Duke Nukem Forever of MMOs. By the time it comes out, it’ll be too late and no one will care.

  3. Smed has tweeted that they do not plan to shut down PlanetSide when they launched PlanetSide 2.

    Of course, he didn’t say they wouldn’t do it a few weeks later. On the other hand, they own the IP and the code. They are down to… is it one server now? And they clearly aren’t spending any time working on it. If they can let EQMac roll on, they might let PlanetSide do so as well.

    The only reason I can imagine WAR is still around, given EA’s track record, is that there is a contractual obligation with Games Workshop. I supposed we’ll find out if the game suddenly shuts down at, say, the five year mark.

    NCsoft’s colors are well known. Box sales are the revenue stream. How long will people keep buying GW boxes? (And how many sold by mistake to people thinking they were getting GW2? I wonder if that gave GW a boost?)

    FFXI and AO are both in the “things look bad, but the company doesn’t have much else to offer” sort of situation. Is an AO playing going to jump to AoC or TSW if it closes? Has FF14 scared off all the FFXI players already? As long as they are profitable, I cannot see them closing, since there are not a lot of alternative revenue streams.

  4. Funcom has actually brought in new staff to work on the AO graphics update, plus they have a revamp of the newbie experience being worked on. But it is all relative of course – the total staff is still something you can count on your fingers, without using them all.

    I do think the engine update will happen – whether the beta will happen in early 2013 as they have indicated is another matter though. I do not think the engine update alone will help in the long term though – there are more revamps needed to modernize the game.

    They will do a server merge soon, so that will probably bring down some of the operational costs.

    Of course, if Funcom would be sold to some other company, then all bets are off. But as long as the old guard is in place and they can still afford at least 1-2 developers to work on it I think they will keep it running.

  5. I have to agree on GW1, WAR and AO, all of which pain me personally, as I enjoyed all three of them. Especially AO, which was my first MMO, and I really enjoyed it. But then again, nothing is forever, and it has gone a lot longer than most thought it would, so perhaps it is for the best?

  6. Seem like all reasonable predictions.

    Personally, will be sad to see WH finally laid to rest. Lots of things that drove me from the game, but I really enjoyed some it’s innovations and fell in love with most of the background lore which will likely never be picked up again. The world will be a poorer place without squig herders 🙂

  7. Guild Wars I don’t know about. It may actually be getting a legitimate box sales boost from GW2 players who decide to create a GW1 account and earn some Hall of Monument shinies – I assume you can still earn those and it wasn’t a “must get these before GW2 launches” deal?

    I would actually add The Secret World to the list. The danger signs for a game getting shut down are usually that it comes from a multi-MMO studio or at least publisher (so shutting the game isn’t automatically the same as shuttering the company) and it’s a relatively new (under two years old) game that has failed to live up to business projections. A game like that can be shut down and a lot of its costs written off, thus offsetting tax on the other games that ARE profitable. Older games have amortised a lot of costs (so little benefit from shutting them) and cost very little to run in maintenance mode so even with a tiny hardcore fanbase they generate net revenue. It may be peanuts but it’s still pretty much free money at this point.

  8. Of that list, I’d say AO. GW, PS, and FFXI are all original IP’s that can stick around as long as the servers do, and I think the high profile sequel will deter the NCSoft axe. Warhammer is borderline, I think it will come down to whether there is any sort of decision point in terms of the license agreement for the IP.

  9. I only agree partially, which means i mostly disagree.

    Some time ago, in the AO forums there still was activity on update and rebalancing, but even that died down. In many other games, this would indicate an impending shutdown, but also note that it has very low operative costs, servers are cheap to maintain, it’s proven to be quite stable. While it’s not attractive to the “modern gamer”, i still have contact to some people from that game (4 years after i stopped playing), and they still are there. The games webradio is still active, some RP communities there just refuse to die, etc.

    Funcom has the reputation of not shutting down a game easily, and considering how low their maintainance costs on AO should be, the game should be profitable even with a small community, which is reason enough for FC to keep it alive.

    Due to TSW also being of FunCom, i dare to say that predictions of its demise are even further off, and i expect the game to be around for a long time still. True, it fell quite short from expected user numbers at launch, and the scenario also ensures that only a limited part of people trying it out actually stay. But on the other hand, those who stay are strongly bond to it.

    Updates are more frequent than in many other games on the market and unlike some “updates” of other games, they actually are as they do not only contain bugfixes and minor balancing, but also bring new content. Each of the last updates had several new missions, the last one brought a complete new raid zone, a theatre (with player controlable music, lights, curtains, props, etc) was implemented (name ONE game to match that) and customisation options were increased.

    While missions and raid zones may “talk” to all players, some of them indicate that Funcom wisely chose to strongly support the RP community. RPers might be a small lot, but if you cater to them, they make very loyal customers as they tend to form a strong community. For example, the game does not only have _several_ webradios connected to it, but they even are supported by Funcom. My character won an in-game contest of GridStream Productions and now has a T-Shirt of this radio stations Halloween Event. (Name any other game to rival this connection between playerbase and developers. )

    Of course, this is not without personal interest of the Developers. From an outside view, limited ressources were used (some stuff was made for the event anyways, so one or two more shirts for different in-game radio stations is not that much trouble) for a nice gain in player loyality. This is important for the game, especially considering that RPers are a very desireable group of customers. While the “sign up, rush and hurry, quit again” crowd burns game after game, a solid RP community not only guarantees income for a longer time, but they are also those who easily spend an extra buck for new outfits, pets and the likes, thus creating additional revenue from the item store. (Not to mention that they also make good “guides” for new players when proper means of communcation are available. This is still missing in TSW, but i wouldn’t be surprised if experience from AO at some time will leak over to TSW. )

    Thus, TSW might not have met expectations of launch sales and be a loss from a short term investors point of view, but current signs indicate that the current playerbase is sufficient to be lucrative while not only covering operative costs but even bringing constant content upgrades. (Time will tell how long they can maintain the pace of new content, but since they do not have to pay any big license, operative costs are limited and even if updates might get slower, i believe that the game will still be around for several years. )

    On the matter of WAR, while it might be on “low effort mode”, it’s just getting an update and i guess the poor game is forced to still drag on for a while. Although, from all i know it seems like they still don’t manage to get all cheats/exploits under control, which simply breaks a PvP game in my eyes. (It’s been good two years, but then players discovered one cheat which i later found that half of my guild started to use, which for me was the sign to move on. )
    {The game really has some strong and enjoyable features, would the developers have been given the time to finish it before delivery, and without being drained out to another game while there still was hope, it could have done greatly. Unfortunately, there’s to many “if”s in this. }

    Next on the list, i also doubt the demise of GW1 in the next time. Unlike FunCom, NCSoft does not follow the “it might not create a lot of income any more, but operative costs are low, so we keep it” principle, but GW2 is a very good reason to keep GW1 active still for several years. Connecting both games via the Hall of Monuments resulted in several GW2 players also buying GW1. Closing down a game with a very small number of subscriptions is one thing, turning off the lights of a game where you sold many boxes just a few months ago, on the other hand, could be a PR minefield. Thus i dare to predict, GW1 will still be around for a few years, even if tumbleweed would be rolling through the last active server. (Not that anybody would know how many servers it actually has, the architecture hides it better than in most newer games. )

    On FF i have no idea, i never played it, and i agree that Planetside 1 indeed will be gone in a while. I doubt that many players will stick to it with the newer one being F2P so i guess PS1s life expectancy is exactly as long as PR and marketing think it’s required to keep it alive to avoid negative feedback, plus a whoping 48 hours for good measure.

  10. Why would FFXI close when it still has a dedicated fan base of over 200 000 players? Why would Square Enix back out of a lucrative market, especially considering FFXI is their biggest money maker ever?

    Neither of those are rational decisions, especially from a business point of view.

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