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End of an Age: The Unfortunate Side Effect of Online Games

With Warhammer Online and Toontown Online ending, a big problem with online experiences begins to take shape.

By Mike Williams. Published 6 months ago

Yesterday, Mythic Entertainment announced that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is coming to an end. Mythic's contract for the best-selling Warhammer IP has come to an end, and presumably the game isn't making enough money to renew it. So that's it. Anyone who has spent their five years within the world of Warhammer Online just has to pack up and go. There won't be that moment where you pull Warhammer Online out of an old, beaten box and give it another go for old times.

I recently transplanted myself from one apartment to another, which means going through years of collected junk. As I was pulling out my PC games last week, I came across physical copies of City of Heroes and City of Villians. I can never revisit City of Heroes and take another flight around Paragon City; NCsoft shut down the game on November 30, 2012. At the same time, they shut down Paragon Studios, ending all development on a possible sequel. I won't say I was an avid player of both games for the eight years the franchise was in operation at NCSoft, but I did pop in and say 'hi' occasionally. I was in the first alpha for City of Heroes and it was my first beta-testing experience ever, so the game will always have a particular shelf in the dusty corners of my mind.

Just taking up shelf space.

It's a phenomenon that's only recently become a problem, with the growing number of online-enabled or online-only games. In many cases, no server, no game. If you have a Super Nintendo, TurboGrafx-16, or Game Boy game you still want to play, you have to do some leg work, but there are options. Ebay still has vintage systems. New consoles like the Hyperkin Retron 5 allow you to play your old titles like you remember them. GOG has made a name for itself allowing users to reliably and legally run old PC games on modern PCs.

Some MMOs just keep on trucking, even with their sequels running alongside them. Everquest has been running since 1999 and has a new expansion coming out this month. Meridian 59 has Everquest's running time beat by four years. Asheron's Call developer Turbine found enough success to purchase the game from Microsoft and keep it going. Jagex's RuneScape is still running; the developers just added a '3' onto the end of the name with a whole host of new features.

But City of Heroes wasn't that lucky. It joins a long list of games whose communities were turned out into an online void: Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, Shadowbane, Phantasy Star Universe, Jumpgate, LEGO Universe, and Tabula Rasa to name a few. It's even worse if you're a player of social games on Facebook or other sites. The Sims Social, SimCity Social, CityVille 2, Empires & Allies, and Mafia Wars 2 all had two years of operation tops, and some players sunk significant amounts of money into those games.

Even single-players games that still work can get hit by the loss of online modes. EA has a long list of game servers it has shut down over the years, mostly due to the fact that the company releases annual EA Sports titles. Currently, you can't even play a game of NBA Live online against a friend! Other titles have features that require an online connection. Take this week's Grand Theft Auto V: without an internet connection, you can't take photos in-game. No murderous selfies for Trevor.

Passionate players are finding ways around these issues, usually in the form of private servers. These servers are illegal, but they keep old games or even old versions of games alive for players to enjoy. Do you miss Shadowbane? Are you in love with the original World of Warcraft? Itching for another game of Phantasy Star Online? Well there's probably a private server for you. The issue is that dealing with these private servers is hit or miss; you never know what you're getting into. For players that want to relive past glories, but stay on the legal and safe side of things, there's not many options.

The original Everquest is still running. Still running.

Or there's always trying to make your own game from the ground-up. In the case of City of Heroes, there's two groups of fans that are trying their hand at development. One group is working on game called Heroes and Villains, while the other is attempting to run a Kickstarter for The Phoenix Project. Unfortunately, both games are in the pre-production phase with teams that are just scratching the surface of their development capabilities. It could be years before we see the fruits of their labor.

As online grows and becomes a more integral part of our experience, that also means that when online support ends, so does that experience. And when it does, you're just left with a disc, some pictures, and the memories. If you're lucky.

What online game do you miss that you can't return to?

The best community comments so far 6 comments

  • Ohoni 6 months ago

    I definitely think that any game that goes online should have an "escape pod." There should be an official format to making a private server, and they should authorize their use. If they don't want to keep the game running, then fair enough, but so long as anyone else is willing to do it for them, they should make at least the minimal effort to let that happen.

    Of course I don't expect them to let go of the IP so easily or the access tools for further developing the game perhaps, but just letting the game continue to run in it's final state? They should be perfectly agreeable to that sort of thing.

  • metalangel 6 months ago

    Very interesting article. A decade ago I was fully in the thrall of Neocron, one of two non-fantasy MMORPGs of the time (the other being Anarchy Online, both were cyberpunky).

    I played it completely obsessively for about two years until the previously-free expansion pack became a full price release and I cancelled in disgust. It turned out that I hadn't been forgotten, as a friend of my dredged up a fairly recent post from the official forums of people discussing my antics online and at one of the meets.

    Anyway, fast-forward to early this year and I discover that a group of fans have bought the now-dead property and are running their own server as Free To Play, with an aim to upgrading and relaunching the game.

    This is awesome in itself, but doesn't compare to how bizarre it feels to be visiting locations, hearing sound samples and seeing enemy and item names that I haven't seen for a decade.

    As a secondary point, think also of all the single player products you might own with some kind of online-based DRM. Even if it only has to phone home once when you first install it, once the server it's looking for is gone, it's now worthless.

  • CK20XX 6 months ago

    I really miss Phantasy Star Universe, and I want the US Gamer staff to know that I really appreciated the 1-Up Cup event that occurred back in its heyday. PSU was one of the best games in the world to me... until Sega killed it with their gross mismanagement. There's still a joke among Phantasy Star veterans about "Segac", a maker of fine games (allegedly).

    The joke comes from PSU's Kubara line of weapons, which are illegal black market replicas of every other weapon that exists in the game. They tend to be weaker than the originals they're modeled after, plus every weapon's name ends with a C, so a Saber becomes a Sabec, a Rifle becomes a Riflec, and a Sega becomes a Segac. Their in-game descriptions also acknowledge that they may not be quite as good as the weapons you can find in stores or get from monsters.

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