MMOs Kept Alive By Their Communities
MMOs get shut down regularly. With an ever-growing number of games, ever-rising standards, and an ever-growing reluctance to pay for games, it’s only inevitable. But some MMOs get lucky. Perhaps because the developers allow someone else to take over or the game’s code gets leaked somehow, some MMOs live on. Today, I am going to take a look at MMOs that are living on officially thanks to the community. For this article, I am exempting unsanctioned private servers and emulators like those based on Tibia and Star Wars Galaxies, among others.
Endless Ages is bordering on immortal. Originally created by Aaron Boucher’s company Avaria Corporation, Endless Ages entered beta in early 2001 before launching on July 1st, 2003 as a subscription title that also required a box fee. It was sold alongside its engine to Rapid Reality Studios in late 2005 after the company was impressed by the game’s new browser client.
Rapid Reality would later launch a spiritual sequel, Phylon, which lasted less than three months on the market before being shut down in July 2007. Having played Phylon myself, I can assure you that it was an underdeveloped, buggy mess of a game with poor AI and little to do. Its only redeeming feature was its PvP arena which was far too little to hold the audience or make them look past the rest of the game’s flaws—especially considering it launched as a subscription title. When Phylon was shut down, Endless Ages disappeared along with it.
In May of 2008, Digital Motion Entertainment, a company owned by a former player, obtained the game and the rights to it, later re-releasing the game as Endless Ages Reborn. This incarnation of Endless Ages lasted less than a year before Digital Motion made a move to sell the title via the game’s former homepage. As an added piece of trivia, I once inquired about the amount they wanted to sell the game for, receiving a quote of “between $2500 and $5000.” It was far less than I had expected for such a game that, at this point, was beginning to seem unkillable.
Evidently, they managed to sell the game, as an independent fan and developer brought it back online in 2009. Eventually having become fed up with the complaining of the community, the owner shut his server down in anger and “open sourced” the game in early 2011. The “open source” release only consisted of the client, the server, and all of the developer tools. The source code was not included as, at the time, the owner claimed that he was not given the source code as part of the sale. He explicitly stated that he would not provide setup instructions either, as he was washing his hands of the game entirely.
Not three months later, a new Endless Ages server, Planet IIA popped up claiming to bring back a “more vanilla feel.” Despite this, zones from Phylon and mmolands would be added in a way that made sense in terms of the storyline. This server did not last half a year and it appeared that Endless Ages would be gone for good.
This was not the case, as two servers appeared in February of 2015. Both have continued to run until now, each having garnered their own small community. Throughout all of the turmoil, all of the shut downs, and all of the times the game has changed hands, Endless Ages fans continue to bring it back online to this day.
Myst Online: URU Live
Myst Online: URU Live—developed by original Myst creators Cyan Worlds—launched on February 15, 2007 as a GameTap-subscriber exclusive MMORPG. The game was a resurrection of the failed multiplayer portion of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. Perhaps because of the GameTap requirement or perhaps because of its niche appeal, Myst Online was shut down on April 10, 2008, citing a lack of subscribers.
Following negotiations with GameTap, Cyan once again obtained the rights to their game and brought it back online as MO:ULagain in 2010. This time, the game was made free-to-play without any extra costs. They would later open source the client and tools needed to work on the client in 2011. Since the open source release, Cyan has confirmed that they would not be creating any new content. Instead, they have committed to hosting the servers indefinitely while a new system has been put in place to allow fans to create their own Myst Online content.
Originally developed by Reakktor Media—who would later go on to create Black Prophecy—Neocron 2 launched on September 29, 2004 to mixed reception. Many Neocron fans regarded it as the lesser version of Neocron, with many features removed. The game’s time online was a rollercoaster, eventually becoming a subscription-free title that no new players could sign up for because Reakktor’s account system was broken. I had once eventually managed to sign up for the game a year or so after it went subscription-free to find that there were only two other players online. Not unexpected, I had thought at the time, most had likely given up by then.
In April of 2012, Reakktor Media handed the game’s source code and servers over to a team made up of former game masters. The new team, called The Neocron Team, is formed entirely of volunteers from the community and runs the game at no cost to the player. They have continued to develop the title since it was handed off to them and most recently began work on replacing the game’s assets with higher quality assets.
These are but three titles that have been kept alive in some way by their respective communities. Many more likely exist out there, their status as community-driven titles not as obvious as these. It may be a surprise to see that this is something that does in fact happen, but when you think about it, it’s quite simple. Wouldn’t you bring back your favorite, long-since shut down MMO if you could?