Over the past couple of decades, quite a number of MMOG projects have suffered the rather ignominious fate of being canceled during development. It's difficult if not impossible to say which ones didn't deserve to make it to launch. That said, here are four, listed alphabetically, that particularly interested me. I wish they had been able to overcome the issues that led to their respective early demises.
I thought it was interesting that when I considered this topic, almost all the possibilities that quickly came to mind were from at least a decade ago. Maybe the passage of time has made me more nostalgic. Whatever the reason, they still stand out in my memory because they all got me excited, if only briefly.
The original single-player title didn't attract much attention at all during development. Nonetheless, those who were watching it knew it was set an open, post-apocalyptic world. Accordingly, even before it shipped in September of 1997, the thought of a massively multiplayer adaptation had already entered my mind, although only at a very basic conceptual level.
As far as I know, there was no significant movement in this direction for a full decade. Sometime before the Black Isle Studios division was closed in 2003, the possibility of making Fallout Online was apparently floated, but wasn't seriously considered. My understanding is that due to financial issues, there was no point; Interplay simply couldn't fund such an undertaking.
In 2007, Bethesda purchased the IP, which it had already licensed since 2004. However, Interplay retained the right to make an MMOG. Apparently, it had to come up with at least $30 million, begin development within 24 months and launch within four years of starting. It's not known if the funding condition was ever fulfilled. My guess is that it wasn't. Regardless, work did get under way, although how seriously is unclear.
Early in 2009, Bulgaria-based Masthead Studios was brought on board. The game was then officially announced in mid-2010. In the interim, Bethesda had initiated legal action to stop the project. It also sought to recover the MMOG rights, which it did as part of a settlement reached in 2012.
As things stand now, it looks like my best hope of Fallout Online actually coming to fruition is as Zenimax Online's next MMORPG. Who's to say it will actually happen? Even if it does, I'm sad that the game will have taken at least 20 years to arrive, and perhaps more so that Black Isle never had the chance to make it.
Launched in October of 2001, Dark Age of Camelot was an immediate success. While it was only natural to wonder what Mythic Entertainment would do next, I don't think very many people expected its follow-up to be announced as soon as it was, in mid-2002. The studio went back to the realm of alternate history, but shifted away from fantasy and the past. Its new project was a science fiction MMORPG set in a future where the Roman Empire, rather than falling, had continued to thrive, expanding far into the galaxy.
Even a dozen years ago, non-fantasy MMOGs were already solidly outnumbered. This helped make Imperator even more intriguing. So did the prospect of going up against a project that many, myself included, regarded as having the potential to take the entire MMORPG category to the next level in terms of reaching a larger, broader audience. That was, of course, Star Wars Galaxies. The collaborative effort involving SOE and LucasArts had been revealed in Q1 2000, and would ultimately launch in the summer of 2003.
In addition, another possible behemoth had been announced in September 2001. World of Warcraft would ultimately far surpass what anyone projected, but even back in mid-2002, there was no real doubt it would be a huge factor in the MMOG space. DAoC had taken only a couple of years to develop. Imperator would have to be part of the next generation. It was going to require more time. I remember thinking at least twice as long, meaning it wouldn't debut before 2006. Whether Mythic's internal target at that time was sooner is unknown.
I also recall that I felt the concept for the central conflict was rather intriguing. The enemy was a futuristic version of an even more ancient civilization, the Mayans. If memory serves me, they had relocated from Earth to a distant area of the cosmos, and were now returning to threaten the far-flung new Roman republic. The possibility that other past societies might be added to the game post-launch appealed to me as well.
By around mid-2004, it was fairly apparent that Imperator was unlikely to launch for a couple more years. It had shown and played pretty well at E3 and during a studio visit, and I was unaware of any potentially show-stopping issues. However, I remember wondering if the game was going to be fun enough to stand out.
At E3 2005, the studio announced that it had acquired the license to create a Warhammer MMOG. Ironically, it went live a little over three years later. In any case, Imperator was canceled that summer. Was this due to problems with the game or not having sufficient resources to develop both at once? Whatever the reasons, I remain disappointed by its failure to launch.