News that Sony is shutting down the Matrix Online (MxO) on July 31 shouldn't really come as a surprise to anyone - MxO had reputedly been whittled down to a development staff of 1 full-time programmer (although SOE has 'pooled' resources that they can lend out within its title range to some extent) following the exit of Ben Chamberlain aka Rarebit, the most recognised face within the MxO team. For quite a while now this title had been listing with only a small (but dedicated) number of active players and surviving only thanks to the life support of SOE's Station Access Pass. But no more. MxO's time has come and it has served its purpose: to get the DC MMO licence.
Going back to 2005, SOE bought MxO off of Warner Brothers Interactive (WBI) following a series of mistakes and issues that MxO from a sure fire hit into a luke-warm fizzer. Arguably at the time of its launch the heat of the Matrix franchise had cooled dramatically, but WoW also launched prior to MxO and changed the face of the MMO industry completely. On top of this a number of development issues left the title feeling unpolished. Within four months of launching, WBI got MxO off its books and into the hands of SOE. Jason Hall was heading up WBI at the time and a movie studio directly developing a video game - and a MMO, no less - was seen as very risky.
I typed Neo vs Superman into Google and this was the best image I found. You've disappointed me yet again, internet.
So it was really nice of SOE to take MxO off of WBI's hands and make Hall's job a bit easier. Why did they do that? Because SOE wanted to develop a MMO based on DC Comics, who are owned by Warner Brothers. So the deal became MMO equivalent of dating the ugly girl in order to get to her beautiful sister - SOE took over MxO and stopped it looking like a total failure and in return they get to develop the DC MMO (now-titled DC Universe Online). At the time Marvel and Microsoft had just teamed up to create a MMO, which might not have been publicly announced but probably was known privately to SOE and WBI. A DC Comic-based MMO was bound to be popular, but following MxO's "success" I doubt there was much enthusiasm for trying to develop it in-house. Having SOE develop the DC MMO made the project less risky, plus the deal could be done for them to also take MxO and stop WBI looking so bad.
So SOE buys MxO, tries a little bit to see if it will grow, finds out that it doesn't and sticks it on life support until they can get DCUO well and truly off the ground. With development on DCUO in full swing and a lot of heat developing for that project, it is pretty unlikely that Warner Brothers is going to kill the contract at this point. Plus MxO closing now isn't anywhere near as embarrassing as it shutting down in the first 12 months of launch. Finally, Jason Hall is no longer with WBI and I'm sure everyone there would be quite happy if we forgot that MxO had ever existed.
So now is a good time for MxO to die, at least in the eyes of SOE (and probably WBI, who I'm sure were consulted just in case). I wouldn't be surprised if more struggling MMOs on the Station Pass also experience the kiss of death over the next twelve months, only to be replaced by newer (and hopefully better) MMOs.