Five More Intriguing MMOs That Didn't Launch
In almost two decades of watching and writing about the massively multiplayer landscape, the announcement of a new project has never failed to catch my attention. That said, they don't all do so to the same degree; some interest me far more than others. Over the years, I've seen at least several hundred titles enter development. For a variety of reasons, they didn't all make it as far as launch, including some that had exceptional appeal for me.
Because my MMOG-related interests are fairly eclectic, there's no single set of features or elements that guarantees I'll have a high level of interest in any particular endeavor. Accordingly, the titles on this list are somewhat diverse. Furthermore, since they were selected based on nothing more than my personal interests and preferences, I would be surprised if anyone agrees completely. Last summer, I named Four MMOs That Died Pre-Launch. There were others I could quite easily have chosen instead, so here, in alphabetical order, are five more I remember wistfully.
If you weren't paying attention, you could easily have missed the project that was intended to be Funcom's second MMOG. Unveiled at E3 in the summer of 2001, shortly before the launch of Anarchy Online, Midgard was put on hold before the end of that year. As I recall, this happened as part of a major downsizing occasioned by the former title's under-performance. This status officially became permanent several months later.
The immediate reason why Midgard grabbed me was that I felt its underlying concept had clear potential to be both different and innovative. While its foundation was the history and myths of the Viking era, the game was to be more than just an MMORPG in a Dark Ages Norse setting. As one notable point of differentiation, it would incorporate a substantial strategic element focused on resource management and economics. This may not sound ground-breaking or even unusual now, but back then, such aspects were typically far less important they have subsequently become.
The characters would all be human. They would be able to adopt a wide range of professions including quite a few that seemed likely to be oriented more toward social interaction than combat - trading, crafting, gathering, hunting, fishing, etc. What's more, Midgard would also have a meaningful political element. Ambitious players would have the chance to become village chiefs and even to control large territories, but only if they were astute enough to keep the residents content. Similarly, especially capable merchants could aspire to build their own commercial empires.
Although little information ever came out about it, I was also rather intrigued by the possibility that Midgard might help the MMO category to take a meaningful step forward in the area of story-telling. The project lead was Ragnar Tornquist, who had just finished making the highly acclaimed adventure release The Longest Journey. In addition, I knew that he, as a developer, had a very strong interest in making something different, which he would demonstrate later as the team leader on The Secret World.
Sadly, Funcom's tight financial situation in mid-2001 prompted the launch of AO some months before it was ready.
The effect on the player population result was unsurprising. A lot of people who bought the game left quickly, and poor word of mouth kept many others away altogether. With much less revenue coming in than the company hoped for, layoffs became inevitable. So did the cancellation of Midgard, regardless of its potential. But, if only for a few short months, it was a project that really excited me.
In last December's list of 5 Non-Fantasy MMOG Concepts With Unfulfilled Potential, I included accessible space flight / exploration / combat. In that article, I mentioned Earth & Beyond. Westwood Studios' short-lived entry into the MMOG space debuted back in 2002 and was shut down just days short of its second anniversary. While flawed, it was also, at its best, a lot of fun, and frankly, I still haven't played anything else that has given me a similar vibe.
Curiously enough, the project that might have come closest was in development not only right around the same time, but also at another division of publisher EA. As extensions of its hugely popular Wing Commander franchise, Origin had released Wing Commander: Privateer in 1993 and Privateer 2: The Darkening three years later. A third offering was announced and canceled in 1998. Nonetheless, there was still considerable interest in both the main IP and the spin-off, which added mercenary play and was more exploration-oriented.
According to seemingly credible but unconfirmed reports, preliminary concept work on Wing Commander Online was done around 1997. It doesn't appear that this endeavor was ever actually greenlit for development, but this isn't clear either way. In any event, Privateer Online did get the go-ahead, probably sometime between late 1998 and the middle of 1999. The team assembled to make it was as experienced as anyone could ask for at the time, including senior members of the group that had created and launched Ultima Online.
For reasons that remain unknown, the project was canceled before it had progressed far enough to announce, likely in the early part of 2000. Maybe EA opted not to move forward with two space MMOGs that might compete against each other for the same audience. Or perhaps the company's ties to and faith in the entire Wing Commander IP had eroded since creator Chris Roberts left Origin in 1996. No matter why, Privateer Online intrigued me tremendously even though I only knew of it via rumors until after it had been killed.