MMOs are notoriously difficult to make. Not only do they demand a very specific attention to detail, but they also arguably require more content than the average game – and let’s not forget about the rabid fans that typically follows the genre.
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that over the years there have been some pretty massive flops.
This week on the MMO Update, we’re going to look at five of the biggest failures, pointing and laughing all the way.
5). Age of Conan
What it was supposed to be:
An MMO set in the Hyborian Age! Tough guys, gritty combat, and… naked people.
During 2008, Age of Conan and Warhammer Online were locked in a bitter rivalry. Both titles were well-funded projects by established developers (Funcom and Mythic, respectively), and both sought to challenge World of Warcraft as king of the MMO genre.
While Warhammer tried to make WoW look like baby’s first MMO, Age of Conan took things one step further by putting a pretty big emphasis on “maturity” – focusing on bloodshed and, as previously mentioned, naked people. While there’s nothing wrong with nudity, Age of Conan essentially touted it as a core, killer feature of the game.
After a series of delays to Warhammer Online that pushed its release from early 2008 to closer to the holidays, Funcom decided to take their chances and release their game early with high hopes of establishing themselves before Warhammer could even reach the market.
When it launched, Age of Conan actually seemed like a fairly awesome title – at least for the first 20 levels. You see, Funcom thought that it would be a great idea to isolate the player and make him feel like a total badass for the first part of the game, and this actually worked out pretty well. You felt like you were developing a hero who was about to go on an epic journey, not just some clown who liked to collect bear asses.
Once you got out into the real world, however, things started to change. Players who quickly made it to level 30 found that the game felt incredibly incomplete. Not only was it littered with bugs, but some content was just… well, missing. It became obvious that Funcom had released their game way too early.
To top it off, the “revolutionary” combat system that was touted as a core feature of the game was, in a word, terrible. In the process of trying to reinvent the wheel, they essentially came out with a lead cube. While critics showered the game with praise and its initial subscriber numbers looked promising, it quickly plummeted to obscurity, destined to become yet another lame fantasy MMO with more emphasis on breast physics than game mechanics.
Funcom merged most of the game’s servers, turning the title free-to-play in 2011. In addition, Funcom also cut somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent of its American staff. The company’s co-founder, Gaute Godager, was so disappointed with the title that he ended up leaving Funcom in shame.
4). Auto Assault
What it was supposed to be:
A truly revolutionary title that had nothing to do with elves! Auto Assault was set in an apocalyptic world where you basically had to drive around and kill people with your deathcar. How could a concept like that fail?
If there is one game that actually deserves sympathy on this list, it’s Auto Assault. Unlike many of the other titles here, it wasn’t trying to kill WoW, nor was it trying to be yet another fantasy MMO. Combat was more akin to a third-person shooter than an RPG, and the universe that NetDevil created was actually pretty interesting.
It was freakin’ Mad Max.
In their process of creating a barren, apocalyptic world, however… they created a barren, apocalyptic world.
You see, as cool as that sounds, it doesn’t really translate well into a MMO. Many reviewers said that it was a great game – but it was just too damn empty. Even the developers frequently referred to the game as “massively singleplayer.” Obviously, that isn’t really conducive to a game that wants to collect money from your pocket every month.
The game also had very little marketing behind it, and so very few people were aware of it to begin with.
NCsoft, the game’s publisher, shut down the servers on August 31st, 2007 – only a year after the game had been released.
It wasn’t so bad, though! Subscribers of Auto Assault were offered perks in what was NCsoft’s next major launch – Tabula Rasa, a totally successful title that did very well. And by that, I mean it also failed two years after launch.
And NetDevil? They went on to create Lego Universe… which closes its doors next month.
I’m so, so sorry.
3). Final Fantasy 14
What it was supposed to be:
A sequel to Final Fantasy XI and the second MMO in the Final Fantasy lineup. While aesthetically similar to FFXI, the gameplay was touted as being based on a skill system to emphasize “character development.”
It was a game that was supposed to fix all of FFXI’s problems.
Final Fantasy XI is a game that you either love or hate. Based heavily on group content, it was virtually impossible to solo and required you to be in a group all of the time. While this might seem like a great idea that emphasizes social play, it actually just made leveling a miserable, terrible, frustrating, stupid experience that I hate and want to burn.
So, clearly, you can see what camp I’m in.
Regardless, Final Fantasy XIV was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be more attractive to a Western market while still maintaining its typical Final Fantasy charm. In addition, they also claimed to be listening to player feedback, building a game that their fans wanted to play more than anything else.
And by all means, they appeared to be doing just that. Interviews with the developers and early videos seemed to be promising.
And then the beta came out.
Not only was the game miserably broken, but virtually nothing positive had changed since FFXI. While the game had become more solo-heavy, everything else felt as if it was being held together by hopes and wet sand. Not just regular sand, either – New Jersey sand, filled with needles and bacteria.
A lot of important information was withheld from the player, making combat and the process of leveling a guessing game based on frustration – not skill or any sense of accomplishment. Likewise, there was no game tutorial, nor any sense of a “starter” quest. You were just tossed out there.
Which might’ve been okay, except your connection between the digital world and the real one – the UI – was designed by Hitler. 1UP even went as far as to call it “maliciously incompetent.” You think Skyrim’s UI is bad? Try playing FFXIV. Using the UI in XIV is like trying to get your cat to paint your house. In a hurricane. This isn’t even hyperbole – it really is that bad.
Final Fantasy XIV was so apocalyptically terrible that they replaced (that’s a nice way to say fired!) the entire staff from the top down. They also sent out multiple apologies to all of their fans, begging them for a second chance. In addition, they are in the process of essentially re-creating the entire game, intending to launch a “2.0” version sometime late next year.
Why not just trash the whole project, you say?
Square Enix’s CEO, Yoichi Wada, has admitted to the press that the game is so legendarily horrible that its very existence greatly damages the Final Fantasy brand. Basically, if they don’t fix it, they’re afraid it will haunt their dreams forever.
2). Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
What it was supposed to be:
Remember when games were hard? When MMOs were the bastion of the hardcore? When EverQuest was king of the lands?
Vanguard was supposed to be that, except more.
Vanguard’s development team was composed of ex-EverQuest developers, including Brad McQuaid, who was one of EQ’s leading minds. After the development of EverQuest went in a direction that he wasn’t pleased with, McQuaid left SOE to form Sigil games.
Sigil’s first title was to be Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, a MMORPG for true fans of the genre. Almost immediately, the company inked a deal with Microsoft for publishing rights to the game.
Fans of the original EverQuest immediately jumped on the Vanguard bandwagon. Sigil seemed, for a time, to be the ideal MMO developer. Even before Sigil had even announced their game, they had opened their forums, tossing all kinds of art and writing at their budding community. It seemed perfect – a game that was truly being designed for the fans, by the fans.
The hardcore crowd was going to finally get what they wanted! How wonderful!
Yeah, not quite.
Vanguard, in its attempt to appeal to the hardcore, had none of the modern MMO trimmings. No instances, no fast travel, no “fancy” character customization. It said it was hardcore – and it meant it.
In doing away with all of the “kiddie” features, they also managed to remove all of the fun. The game was tedious and depressing, to say the very least. Even the combat seemed like it was stuck in 1997, refusing to conform to what we non-hardcore players like to call “not painful.” Its only redeeming feature was the housing system… and even that wasn’t fantastic.
But screw those people that want fancy things! Hardcore forever! There’s got to be a lot of gamers out there that want that sort of experience!
Nope. No one wanted to play it.
Or, well, they did – and then they realized what a horrible mistake they’d made. While initial numbers were around 130,000, that number plummeted to virtually nothing immediately after the game’s first month.
After the horrendous launch, Sigil was absorbed completely into SOE. For its efforts, Vanguard did win a few awards, though! MMORPG.com awarded the game the “Biggest Disappointment” award, along with “Least Fun” and “Most Desolate.”
SOE understandably cut resources to the game, and in 2009 the remaining developers announced that virtually all of the game’s future content had been cancelled.
As of 2011, there is only one remaining server.
1). The Sims Online
What it was supposed to be:
The Sims! Online! That sounds like a total goldmine, right? I mean, who plays The Sims anyway? Totally people who love hardcore MMOs.
This will end well.
In the early 2000s, EA’s executives were all sitting around, trying to figure out how to make mountains of money to swim in. They already had one of the most profitable MMOs, Ultima Online, under their belt, and they wanted more. Considering how well The Sims had sold, someone came up with the brilliant idea to make an MMO using the Maxis IP.
The Sims was incredibly popular, and adding a social aspect to the series honestly seemed like a smart move. Hell, it was completely ahead of the “social gaming” curve that would happen almost a decade later.
I mean, it doesn’t even have to be that involved. Just let people build their internet houses next to each other and form virtual communities. Maybe toss in a few mini-games. How could you even screw this up?
Remember that line about hardcore MMOs? What, you thought I was joking?
Some brilliant mind over at the shell of Maxis decided that it would be a brilliant idea to add things like jobs, an economy, and a skill system in the game. Seriously. We’re not talking the gentle sped-up grind you take on in typical Sims games either.
This was hardcore. This was click your chalkboard or workbench for six hours to get enough internet dollars to build yourself an addition. It was like EA was trying to market The Sims to EverQuest players.
That’s hardly the whole of it, though. The game was incredibly buggy, laggy, and just generally miserable. Reviewers of the game pointed out that when they walked around their neighborhood, everyone was busy sitting inside, “working” – as if it was some sort of bizzaro suburbia.
You also couldn’t burn down your neighbor’s house. Where’s the fun in that?
As you can expect, it flopped. But EA didn’t want to let go! The game existed in a constant state of mediocrity and awful for five years.
Eventually in March of 2007, EA decided to try and boost the game’s numbers. The company renamed The Sims Online to EA-Land, adding a handful of new features and wiping the game’s databases clean. Representatives from EA started to post in the community forum again, and it seemed like EA had finally decided to make the game desirable.
It shutdown in April. Not a year later – literally the next month. Four weeks. Thirty days.
But that’s not even why TSO is on this list.
Despite how unsuccessful the game was from the very start, it somehow survived EA’s wrath for half a decade. During that same time, Earth & Beyond and Ultima Online 2 were both canceled. Someone seriously looked at this steaming turd and decided it had the potential to be more profitable than Ultima – a game that is practically begging for a sequel.
And people wonder why I’m worried about SWTOR.