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The One Man MMO Project
The story of a lone developer's quest to build an online world :: MMO programming, design, and industry commentary
The Demise of an MMO
By Robert Basler on 2011-06-25 01:21:09
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com

One thing that bothers me about writing a MMO is that one day, it will be gone. SOE announced they will be shutting down Star Wars Galaxies yesterday which got me thinking. So much effort went into developing that game, players played it for years, and as of December 15, it will all be gone. Just like The Matrix Online, FIFA Online, Tabula Rasa, and so many others. Sure, from time to time a MMO comes back, Hellgate, APB, but usually once they're gone, that's it.

I have programs I worked on 25 years ago that people still use today. And nothing is preventing them from running another 25. A MMO is a different beast.

People ask the developers to open-source the servers, but often that isn't practical. The company might be closed with nobody to do the work to get the program ready for distribution. The servers might use licensed code or components that can't be made available and are expensive to strip out and replace. Perhaps the game technology is running other games and security is an issue. In many cases the servers are simply big and complicated and require experienced people with a lot of game-specific knowledge to build and maintain.

I do think its cool when people decide to write their own replacement servers like SWGEmu which brings back the old Star Wars Galaxies.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the inevitable future of my game. Something to think about.

By Jack Kerras on 2012-03-27 02:13:58
Homepage: email:reekshakar at hotmail dot com
It occurs to me that just about everything is subject to this nowadays.

When it comes down to it, MMOs are the only genre of game that really -requires- a big-time, always-on server running to make the game playable. When you look at a game like Halo 2, now defunct, the difference between making multiplayer games available between that and Tabula Rasa is astronomical.

Despite the fact that Halo 2 had a matchmaking service attached to it, it's still just a listen server. They figure out who's the best overall connection between gathered players, host it on their machine, and the others hop in and play. That functionality doesn't seem ridiculously difficult to make available. Even with an interface as clunky as 'put your buddy's IP address here', I can see some customers from the 'net cafe I used to run hopping into a game of Halo 2 like the old days.

Tabula Rasa is sadly a loss, just because almost none of the information in TR is client-side. Maps, sure, but all the enemy databases, gear, everything, all of it is gone with the servers. NCSoft has a lot of cross-pollination between their online games in terms of code, apparently, so the security issues are in the big-time.

I guess the end of this whole ramble is that nowadays you don't -have- to be an MMO to be gone forever. It doesn't have to be hard to accomplish. I can play Halo 2 but I can't play it with friends who aren't in my house. That's kind of a huge shame, and that is going to be the case for all but a statistically irrelevant number of modern video games.

In twenty years, barely anyone will even remember them. But we'll still be able to play Unreal Tournament 2004 and Quake 3 and Sacrifice and any number of other games that are looser on requirements. That bothers me a lot. It seems like my favorite part (core-gameplay-only, pure-mechanics, no-story-shenanigans multiplayer) of my favorite evolving art form will be all but unrecoverable.
By Robert Basler on 2012-03-27 13:06:08
Homepage: email:one at onemanmmo dot com
I was just reading this weekend about more server shutdowns at EA. I left in 2009 and I don't think there is a single game I worked on (of 30+) that is still playable online. That is really disappointing.
By Jack Kerras on 2012-03-27 18:17:41
Homepage: email:reekshakar at hotmail dot com
I wouldn't call it disappointing as much as awful.

Many of those games are the numbered-EA-sports-game titles that you kind of expect to not last much past the next iteration's release, but still, there's no real way to hop on an early one and play through to a later one anymore. There's nothing about them that makes them stick around. No real ownership of the thing, no ability to do a lot of the stuff you should be able to do with your games.

It makes me sad, and it seems like there really isn't anything I can do to help matters. I love game design but I am a God-awful coder.

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