Beginning of The End?

While new MMO life surfaces and thrives at the E3 convention, existing cornerstones of the genre struggle to stay afloat in a vicious market. SOE and Mythic have been in this game for a long time, but both have suffered recent cutbacks that might turn out to be the harbingers of an impending doom.

EverQuest, the title that most MMO connoisseurs would claim is the father of the modern 3D graphical MMO, is about to undergo another server merger. This means that individual game worlds, previously separate from one another, will become a single entity. This move is only performed in the MMO industry when it’s decided that populations are too low to support continued autonomous operation of this many shards. Or to translate: The title doesn’t have enough players.

Side-by-side with EQ’s announcement, was the revelation of the same impending fate for Vanguard‘s servers, which comes as a bit of a shock considering this title has only been around for a mere 3 years since launch.  When compared with EQLive‘s record of 11 years of operation, this spells very bad things for the continued financial viability of Vanguard.  While EQ has led a long and fulfilling life, Vanguard is still considered a young title in MMO-years, and this announcement has the doomsayers in a froth.  Justifiably so, in the opinion of this site.

(Details of the EQ server merge can be found here — login/registration may be required.)

Both of these games fall under the management of Sony Online Entertainment.  Dedicated fans of the MMO scene will recognize this company as one of only a handful that has suffered through a noteworthy shut-down since the inception of the industry, which came with the closure of the Matrix Online servers in July of 2009.  Though other games have undoubtedly failed over the years, few did so with such hype and significance, and many blamed SOE for this failure, citing mismanagement and unrealistic development expectations, among other accusations.

SOE has done many players wrong over the long years since it first bought out EQ creators, Verant Interactive.  The list of transgressions and bad press that have followed them would make most major corporations blush, yet they continue to plug onward in pursuit of the online gamers’ souls and wallets.  Announcements of ‘cut-backs’ and ‘hardware re-allocation’ smack of bottom-line-focused corporate antics, which are never in an individual game’s best interest, and invariably lead to even more cut-backs as the resources needed to succeed get stripped away a piece at a time.  In light of these developments, it is doubtful that SOE is painting a bright and cheery future for either of these titles.

But SOE isn’t the only company feeling the financial crunch these days.  In a recent wave of layoffs, Mythic Entertainment let go several employees of Warhammer Online, including one of their primary producers and a well-known public face for the title, John Drescher.  Now, this title has been a great big ball of mismanagement left and right since before we even started play it, so this type of announcement doesn’t honestly cause me much pause.  But it does seem to indicate that EA/Mythic is having to take some pretty drastic cost-cutting measures just to keep the title afloat.  John‘s public statements since his departure have been very positive regarding Warhammer‘s future, but I can’t help but see this as the beginning of the real end for a title that’s already seen its share of hard times.  Especially with so many other hot titles entering the fray to vie for players’ hard-earned cash and free-time, including the recently-announced Warhammer 40k from THQ/Vigil which is likely to be in direct competition.

It’s true that the landscape of the MMO market is forever changing.  But it is usually in very small ways, or over very long periods of time.  There have been very few complete closures of “Top Shelf” MMORPGs since the genre flooded its way onto the gaming scene in the late ’90s.  It could very well be that we are starting to see the beginning of that era — when the aged and decrepit titles we grew up with are lost to dust and tumbleweeds as they are neglected for the newer, flashier titles, and all we are left with is nostalgia and clients that are unable to connect to the game worlds that, with the flip of a switch, have forever ceased to exist.

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