Another One Bites the Dust

Looking back on our MMO-society, it is a very uncommon event for an MMORPG to get cancelled. I’m not talking about cancelled during development, or any of that hogwash. I am talking about the games that get cancelled after already having been launched, developed, advertised, and generally accepted into the MMO society. It just doesn’t happen that often; UO is still alive and kicking today, and games like the Sims Online (which has about 7,000 subscribers) just won’t seem to go away. In fact, off the top of my head I can only name a few games that have been cancelled:

  • Auto Assault (I actually liked this game, a lot)
  • Earth and Beyond (Always heard great great things about it)
  • Some racing MMO which I can’t even remember the name of, published by EA I think.

That’s it. Three, relatively well-funded, pay2play MMORPGs that were cancelled while people were still playing them. It makes sense though, why should an MMORPG be continually worked on and paid for by a company if the general populace is showing no interest in the title? Games like the Matrix Online, while having a stable community, only has 12,000 subscribers. That’s not a good number, and I bet when SOE comes under review from big papa Sony Computer Entertainment later this year, again, sacrifices will have to be made.

My whole point in this blog, is that the MMORPG bubble is become fat and bloated. We have MMORPGs from 10 years ago still running with decent populations, while newer MMORPGs keep floudering out the door with low subscriber numbers. Eventually there will come a time when a lot of these MMORPGs will have to get axed (I can think of a number of SOE properties that could take a hike). There is only so many MMORPG gamers at this point and with so many under-developed MMORPGs taking up small percentages of the population, chances are, the new MMORPGs that are launching with appropriate funding and development won’t ever reach the subscriber base to justify the cost and thus will be recycled into the same level of development and funding that games like Planetside, Everquest, City of Heroes, and The Sims Online have. That is to say: not much.

It’s a viscious cycle, and one that only seems to be getting worse as games like Tabula Rasa fail to achieve a sufficient base of subscribers.

Thoughts? Comments? Random acts of flamebaitery? Leave em below.


  1. Good article mate.

    I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. Prior to the last few years, there really haven’t been that many MMOs, so it’s been easy to keep them going. But consider the number of cancellations in the non MMO market. There have always been a lot of games cancelled.

    With every developer and his dog announcing a new MMO there are going to be a lot more cancellation announcements. And there are going to be more announcements like Auto Assault because publishers are going to want quick returns, unlike the original MMO developers who did it for the love of the genre.

    Hmmm. I reckon there’s a post there. :-)

  2. I very rarely read the small print within the EULA, but is there some sort of promise these game companies make to their subscribers, ensuring that the game carpet won’t be pulled from under their feet (without sufficient notice)?

    I’m not exactly sure how population trends chart in MMOs, but you’d think that at launch they would be expanding their population base, but after the first year, things would start to level off. After that, I imagine the subscribership would begin to decline, seeing slight boosts during key events like expansions and outside factors such as the cancellation or mass exodus from a competing MMO.

    WoW is breaking the mold because of their continued investment in advertising and the Facebook Factor ™. WoW is undoubtedly part of North American pop culture. When you have so many people playing it, it becomes even more successful due to word of mouth.

  3. I do not see the MMO market as being particularly out-of-whack for a free market. There is a market leader and a variety of market followers and niche players. This situation is not likely to change in the near future, particularly given the players involved.

    Microsoft Windows, for as awful as Vista is, is still far and away the market leader in consumer operating systems. That’s not to say that Windows is the Best OS, but it appeals to a whole lot of people. Nonetheless there are a variety of other OS options in the market.

    Google dominates the search engine market, but there are many search engine companies that manage to make a living, whether as an imitator/competitor or niche market provider.

    Even assuming for the sake of argument that Vista is so fantastically awful that it never reaches mainstream adoption, does anyone really believe that Microsoft is going to become irrelevant in the next ten years? You’d have to be off your rocket to take that bet. Same with Google, especially with the various Google products that accentuate and work with their search engine.

    How often does an OS actually “die”? Pretty damn rarely.

    This is by way of saying that the MMORPG market is taking the shape of a maturing commercial market in much the same way as happens in all major markets. Even the PC/console gaming market generally has followed this pattern. In sports games you have the EA juggernaut, for example. In FPS games you have a rotating competitive field of licensed engines that has its major players–Quake & Unreal, with some other market competitors.

    What will be interesting in the MMORPG area is how strongly the subscription/server software model benefits the established market leaders vs. new participants. Don’t think for a second that other software markets aren’t watching this one closely.

    Blizzard could still release the WoW equivalent of Vista that releases a small flood of players into the second tier of MMO games, but even that won’t knock off WoW. With the subscription model, it is easier to undo or correct “mistakes” and add/subtract features, which seems to be a significant challenge in the OS market, for example.

    Those are just some thoughts for consideration.

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