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The List: 5 MMOs That Were Doomed Before Launch

By Richard Aihoshi on September 08, 2014 | Columns | Comments

5 MMOs That Were Doomed Before Launch

In my previous list, I named four projects that I remember wistfully even though they never made it to launch. While thinking about which ones to include, the generally opposite thought also came to mind. There have been MMOGs that I feel should have been canceled before they entered live service. Listed alphabetically, here are five interesting ones that I believe were basically doomed to fall far short of the potential their publishers thought they had. 

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EverQuest Online Adventures

When EverQuest launched in 1999, it was an immediate, market-leading success. So, it was certainly understandable that SOE would look to take the property to its console cousin, the PS2. I remember, however, that the decision to develop an entire new game for that platform seemed somewhat curious. I don't know how difficult porting would have been, and I never learned why the company didn't choose this route. As a not overly well informed observer, I thought it would be faster and give new players much more content. 

Instead, EQOA was a prequel, set in the world of Norrath but hundreds of years earlier. Like its PC predecessor, it had numerous race and class options, initially 10 and 15 respectively, with more added later. I'll be up front that I never played the console offering after it went live and only experienced some brief demos before then. That said, my understanding is that it was consistent enough in terms of the IP, but with streamlined gameplay, meaning it had fewer features. The experience was essentially all about grinding monsters, with no nod to crafting, trade skills or other non-combat pursuits.

In addition to the narrow, repetitive focus of the play, there were other issues and question marks from well before launch. A key one was the available market. How ready were PS2 users for this type of game? Don't forget that most would have had to buy an add-on modem in order to play it. And even if this wasn't a barrier, the title's most direct competitor on the same platform was the more fully featured Final Fantasy XI, which was based on an IP that, especially within the console segment, had much greater pull. Furthermore, even being generous, the graphics were unremarkable.

Admittedly, it may seem odd to list EQOA since it endured for over nine years, from 2003 until 2012. However, the game never managed to build a sizable player base, so I suspect reasons could have been found to shut it down much sooner. I've included it here because I thought it was clear, even during development, that it was never going to gain more than a fraction of the audience SOE undoubtedly expected.

LEGO Universe

At a conceptual level, it's impossible to deny that a kid-friendly MMOG based on the hugely popular building block property has exceptional potential. So, when LEGO Universe was announced several years ago, I was immediately interested, both as a gamer and even more so an industry observer. Its prospective ability to attract children and youths into the online space was very intriguing. What's more, the IP had already transitioned successfully into video games, albeit mainly standalone ones. 

Also right away, I was curious about how the game would be monetized. Could it possibly become a breakthrough release for the free to play model in the west? After all, how is LEGO sold? In assorted small packages, and it's even possible to purchase individual bricks. So, while I surmised fairly soon that the title would opt for subscriptions, I was still somewhat disappointed when it did. An F2P option was eventually added, but it was very limited, and not a good fit with the way LEGO Universe had been built in the first place.

More importantly, the design wasn't really well suited to the title's primary audience. For instance, it seems natural to think a game aimed at kids should have a learning curve that is relatively gentle. LEGO Universe wasn't difficult for an experienced MMOG player to pick up, but it didn't do nearly enough to cater to youngsters. For example, the interface and camera controls were quirky and not particularly intuitive. I thought there weren't enough tutorials, and that the available ones could easily have better in terms of providing information and guidance in ways young users could easily read and understand.

LEGO Universe proved very short-lived, closing in January 2012 after less than 15 months. The parent toy company stated straight out that it wasn't financially viable. I'm still of the opinion that the IP has solid potential in the young segment of the MMOG market. However, I believe it was foreseeable long before launch that the game we actually got was doomed never to approach it.

Tabula Rasa

Coincidentally, Tabula Rasa, which shut down in February 2009, was live for roughly the same duration. Combining shooter-like mechanics with RPG-style invisible dice rolls, it was set on a couple of distant planets where humanity, was making a stand against a marauding foe known as the Bane. Earth had already been overrun, but we had found some alien technology that enabled the creation of wormholes. Using these, we had been able to contact and to band together with other embattled species, becoming the Allied Free Sentients. The action was heavily instanced, apparently to allow for a strong story element that never fully materialized.

Conceptually, the project seemed pretty interesting, and led by industry icon Richard Garriott, the team developing it had plenty of experience. But somehow, things never truly came together in the actual implementation. Indeed, the game was substantially revamped after work on it had already been under way for quite some time. As a result, the entire development period is estimated to have been six and a half years, maybe even longer. This certainly didn't help to build or to maintain buzz within the MMOG player target audience.

Observers have usually blamed Tabula Rasa's rapid demise on specific factors like its unremarkable crafting system and its lack of an auction house. Many also pointed to the rift between Garriott and NCsoft that, although it came to light a year after launch, undoubtedly dated from much earlier. Regardless, the game's closing was announced only days later. 

When Tabula Rasa went live, I wouldn't have guessed it would be killed off just 15 months later. By then, however, my initial enthusiasm had dissipated long ago. I felt it had become clear that the game had no real chance to gain a meaningful market share. At best, it would be a marginal title. At worst, it was doomed to die unlamented.

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