1. Asheron’s Call 2
Release Date: November 22, 2002
Shut Down Date: December 30, 2005
Life Span: 1134 Days
Asheron’s Call 2 made it a bit over 3 years, but was a disappointment from the start. The original Asheron’s Call is still alive and kicking, as is Ultima Online and EverQuest — the other two games that make up the ‘Big Three’ classic MMORPGs. Despite it being announced that AC2 would be different from its classic predecessor, fans of the original game were outraged at the radical changes. Change wasn’t the only problem, AC2 was plagued by balance issues and a totally broken chat system for several months after release. Turbine tied its hopes to the game’s first expansion titled Legions. When its release didn’t lead to an increase in subscription numbers, the game’s shut down was announced. While it’s always a shame to see a MMORPG go, Turbine made a great tactical decision. Closing the under performing AC2 allowed them to work out what would become Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, both of which are excellent free to play MMORPGs today.
2. Earth & Beyond
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 24, 2002
Shut Down Date: September 22, 2004
Life Span: 729 Days
Earth & Beyond was one of the first major Sci-Fi MMORPGs. The game was set around 2575 AD in the Milky Way Galaxy. There were three playable races: the Progen, Jenguai, and Terran, all of whom were decedents of today’s Humans. An uneasy peace between the races was broken after the discovery of an ancient alien technology that allows instant travel between sectors of space. After another bout of war, the alien technology was reversed engineered, allowing the three races to spread their civilizations across the galaxy. Players were able to control their avatars, and spaceships. There were three professions to chose from: Warrior, Explorer, and Trader. Players could gain different kinds of experience depending on the activities they chose to pursue. Taking jobs from NPCs, selling loot, and buying items resulted in Trade exp. Visiting navigation points and completing exploration jobs resulted in Exploration EXp. There’s no need to go into detail of how combat exp was accumulated. The max level was 150 and it took several months or up to a year for a casual player to hit that mark. Earth & Beyond lasted less than 2 years, and was the final game to be developed by the legendary Westwood Studios. The studio behind the Command & Conquer series (among many others) was folded into EA’s larger operations soon after.
3. Auto Assault
Release Date: April 11, 2006
Shut Down Date: August 31, 2007
Life Span: 507 Days
You have to hand it to NCsoft for at least trying new things. Before Tabula Rasa, they released a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max inspired MMORPG where players controlled cars, motorcycles, semis, and tanks. There were three factions: Humans, Mutants, and Biomeks. Gameplay took place almost entirely on vehicles, but players could dismount to visit towns. After advancing through the beginner zones, players could enter two different ‘layers’ or instances, one which allowed PvP and one that didn’t. There was no death penalty in Auto Assault so users were free to act reckless and drive around as they saw fit. Despite its unique setting, the game never attracted a large player base. It just couldn’t compete with the major subscription based MMORPGs available, and the whole free to play model was just starting to gain ground in the West so it probably wasn’t a viable option at the time.
4. Tabula Rasa
Developer: Destination Games
Release Date: November 2, 2007
Shut Down Date: February 28, 2009
Life Span: 484 Days
Officially titled Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, the game was designed in part by some of the leading names behind Ultima Online. Tabula Rasa means ‘blank slate’ in Latin and the game was meant to be a totally new MMORPG experience, unencumbered by the Tolkien-D&D-EverQuest mold that every single fantasy MMORPG up to and including World of Warcraft fit neatly into. Players in Tabula Rasa moved and fought in real-time in a Sci-Fi setting. The game had an interesting feature called Dynamic Battlefield where human and alien NPC forces would fight for control over strategic points and bases. Players could join in and help out, or continue doing quests and progressing by other means. The game had a voluntary PvP system called Wargames. There were a couple options available including duels, feuds (clan wars), and large scale PvP maps. Only one map, Edmund Range was eve implemented. Besides lacking a clear focus, the game failed due to constant disagreements between the developers and publishers. The drama between Garriott and NCsoft had to finally be settled in court.
5. All Points Bulletin (AP
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Realtime Worlds
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Shut Down Date: September 16, 2010
Life Span: 79 Days
What could make more sense than a MMO version of Grand Theft Auto? A large, urban sandbox sounds simple enough, but things just didn’t pan out for APB. Players were asked to pay upfront for an unfinished game, then they had to buy hourly or monthly game time. With broken gameplay mechanics, and a lack of direction, its little wonder that APB didn’t command the audience the developers originally expected. The launch was supposed to give them an injection of cash to buy time to patch the game, but players quickly lost interest. Less than three months after its release, APB was scheduled to shut down. To my knowledge, that’s a record in the MMO industry. APB did have some bright spots including character customization and gameplay that encouraged cooperation.
All five of these failed MMORPGs had potential. Except for Asheron’s Call 2, they were all very different from each other and from the typical fantasy games that we see all over the place. Most of them came and went prior to the free to play age so we can only reflect on how they would of looked and played had they been converted to free to play titles. Many of these games still have scattered fans that dabble with server emulation and lobby for their favorite game to be reborn. Perhaps with the viability of f2p, some of these games will find their way back to market. Only time will tell. While we wait, what was your favorite subscription based MMORPG that shut down?