MMOs have never launched well. Back in the day, Dark Age of Camelot became an overnight success in part due to their ability to ship a game that didn’t explode on impact. Still, even against this sometimes comical history of failure, some games have really gone above and beyond to screw their customers in those early, fragile days.
Let me say at the outset, there is no way a list of five games will hit every bad launch. We know and encourage you to tell us who we missed. A list of good launches might have been easier to put together, sadly, since there are so few.
Also, I am prepared to give a few “bad launches” a free pass.
World of Warcraft, for example, had a lot of problems that some of the games below did, but when you’re expecting 100,000 subscribers and get the population of some small… screw it, large European countries… well, you get a pass in my books. Even if you did inspire the awesome Queue Dance.
Some early games, like EverQuest and Ultima Online, get breaks too. Why? No one had really done it on that scale before. They get a guinea pig exemption.
I am also going to overlook two of the worst in history, because, honestly, I am not sure they ever actually launched. I’m looking at you MouRning (or whatever it was calling itself that afternoon) and Dark and Light. They claimed they launched sure, I think they even charged some poor souls money, but for all intents and purposes, those games were dead on arrival.
Honorable mention goes out to World War II Online who hilariously launched a World War II MMO with planes that couldn’t fly.
This is a list of five terrible MMO launches (emphasis on launches). This is not about how good the games were or were not, just the ones that fell down and went boom.
So, with that in mind, enjoy!
#5 – Star Wars Galaxies
I’ve heard developers and designers at game conferences debate the importance of the first ten minutes of a game in whether or not a player will play (and pay) in the long term. It’s why everyone is always redoing their newbie experience. The drop off rate in those few minutes can be brutal.
Now let’s go back to June 26th, 2003. SOE and LucasArts launched one of the most anticipated MMOs of all time in Star Wars Galaxies.
They turned what is supposed to be a formality into their newbie experience: Account registration.
It took players hours (4 or 5 according to CNet at the time) of errors, frustration and yelling at the screen to even get themselves registered, let alone run around in the lands once roamed by Luke and Anakin. The culprit was “database issues” apparently in one of the more maddening, say-nothing excuses of MMO launch history.
A lack of communication on a broken process to a bunch of fans who had been anticipating this product for years was, as you would expect, a bit of a problem. Perhaps that was a sign of things to come?
#4 – Aion
Of all the recent launches, Aion is the only one to sneak their way into this list. NCsoft suffered a fate many highly anticipated MMOs suffer and that’s a tough thing to get too upset about: queue death.
According to numerous reports, players in the game’s headstart program had a bit of a wait time before they could get in to kick some demonic or angelic ass.
And I don’t just mean a few minutes here or a few minutes there. More to the tune of… you know… seven hours.
One hour inspired dancing in the World of Warcraft entry, so you can imagine how pissed off you’d be if you went to the trouble of pre-ordering a game to avoid the cursed lines and then are told to wait seven freaking hours.
“While it is ridiculous waiting for 8 hours in a queue, queues are a good thing. Also consider that the algorithm calculating the queue times does make is skewed due to the special nature of launch and it not having much history to base numbers on,” said Sebastian “Ayase” Streiffert, a Community Manager for Aion in response to the queue complaints.
In the end, he’s probably right. I highly doubt if anyone actually waited out those seven or eight hour queues that it would take that long, but the optics are the optics.
This is the age old problem of MMOs. They don’t want to spend a billion dollars on hardware in case their game launches to a sniff and a whimper – see case Assault, Auto – but at the same time, they do need to be prepared for success. Aion seems to be ironing things out, but any game that asks an early adopter to wait for hours probably wasn’t quite there yet.
And let's be clear on one thing. These queues were during the pre-order headstart. That is the time when a totally predictable number of people were showing up since NCsoft knew how many had pre-ordered. There's no excuse for not being ready for that.
#3 – Shadowbane
“Play to crush,” became the game’s defacto motto, but it was developer Wolfpack Studios and publisher Ubisoft who got crushed in the fiasco that was Shadowbane’s launch.
You will note a common theme on this list. Anytime you mess with people’s account information in such a way that they fear they may get double billed, tell them they cannot pay, or make them worried they may be paying for someone else, you’ve done something terribly wrong. People generally like to keep their credit card information to themselves. When Shadowbane launched, bugs in their payment system went so far as to hand back the wrong names, billing addresses and credit cards to people during the confirmation process.
They overwhelmed their own customer support with all the screw ups, and made it virtually impossible to do the one thing you want new players to do: give you money. Ooops.
And let’s just say, the game itself wasn’t exactly ready for prime time either once people finally got logged in.