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5 MMOs That Have Lost Their Mojo

Richard Aihoshi Posted:
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With hundreds of titles available and in development, the MMOG space is more competitive than ever. Accordingly, most don't gain much attention from either the player community or the media. Even for those that do, maintaining visibility, awareness and brand image over the long term can be a struggle, especially after the shiny newness wears off. Listed in order of age, here are some still-live games that retain little or none of the market mojo they once had.

In compiling this list, it was pretty easy to come up with candidates to consider. To help reduce the number and thus to make choosing easier, I decided only to include titles developed in North America or Europe. I also opted to omit those that never managed to attain a decent, fairly broad level of visibility, at least within the MMOG sector. So, you won't find any niche or Asian offerings. Even with these restrictions, I'm sure many readers' opinions will differ. I look forward to seeing what you select and why. 

Ultima Online

As the first MMOG to attract more than a tiny niche audience, UO will forever be a landmark in the history of video games. During development, especially early on, there were major doubts as to the number of players it could attract and hold. These had abated somewhat, but not completely, by the time the title launched in the fall of 1997. Such fears were quickly shown to be unfounded. The game soon reached 100,000 subscriptions, then grew to its peak at somewhere around 250,000 in mid-2003.

By that time, UO's popularity had been surpassed by EverQuest's. As the MMOG category grew, others would as well. However, it remained a significant, visible factor in the market for some years. And no matter what happens, it will always be the title that kicked open the door into the modern era, thereby becoming the spiritual forefather to the hundreds of releases that have followed as well as countless more to come.

UO was also noteworthy in various other ways. For instance, it was well ahead of the curve in the area of housing, allowing players to build not only individual homes but entire communities (granted the way this was implemented did lead to issues). It was also less combat-centric than its major contemporaries, being more of a sandbox, a virtual world in which crafting, vending, exploration et al could be as important as fighting, if not more. It was also an experiment in terms of how users would interact if given the chance to be anti-social, even villainous. The results were informative and though-provoking to say the least, although this element wasn't much fun for the targeted players, especially those who felt they had done nothing to provoke or deserve what was done to them, sometimes by complete strangers.

Origin's opus continues to operate despite the long-ago closing of that famed studio. Initially assigned to Mythic, which was subsequently shuttered too, it has been under the aegis of Broadsword since last year. That said, while the game lives on, it hasn't attracted any real attention or generated notable news for years. To illustrate this point, there hasn't been an expansion since back in 2009. So, despite its venerable status, we can certainly question whether UO is still meaningful or relevant within the current state of the genre other than to the small number of devotees who continue to play it. As such, it wasn't particularly difficult to select it for inclusion on this list.

Asheron's Call

The last and least popular of the original “big three”, AC was nonetheless an important, influential factor within the early years of the modern MMORPG generation. Most notably, it featured monthly updates to help drive the story and the evolution of the gameworld, which was vast, reportedly 500 square miles, and completely zone-less. The design also featured a novel, pyramid-like allegiance system intended to foster cooperation; opinions vary as to how well it worked. The way magic functioned was also quite different and thus interesting, although pretty complex for its time.

For much of their respective development periods, AC appeared to be progressing neck and neck with EverQuest. Ultimately, it fell behind, launching about nine months later. We can only guess what would have happened if this situation had been reversed. What we do know is that even the most optimistic estimates say Turbine's title topped out in the range between 100,000 and 125,000 subscriptions. As a result, it always trailed behind both EQ and UO, and DAoC surpassed it by early 2002. 

Naturally, AC's popularity has eroded since then. So has its visibility and influence, witness that its switch to F2P last summer evoked rather minimal reaction. Updates had been discontinued a few months earlier, which had effectively moved the game from one that's still evolving into maintenance mode. Consequently, while it still has a small, devoted following, the questions about current relevance and remaining mojo apply even more to Turbine's long-lived offering than they do to UO.

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Richard Aihoshi

Richard Aihoshi / Richard Aihoshi has been writing about the MMOG industry since the mid-1990s, always with a global perspective. He has observed the emergence and growth of the free to play business model from its early days in both hemispheres.