MMO launches are one of the trickiest things in the world for a developer and publisher to orchestrate. In the case of single player games, the experience can be perfectly balanced and simulated in a controlled environment. For standard multiplayer games, you can easily cap the number of players involved and know how it’s going to turn out in a live scenario. A Massively Multiplayer Game on the other hand, is something else entirely.
You have hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people from all around the world, on different types of hardware, playing at different times, on different service providers, different connection speeds, all trying to play your game at the exact same minute. That’s crazy. Thousands of MMOs have existed and do exist in the world right now, so narrowing this list down to just 5 of the worst launches was pretty tough. Some games are on this other list that don’t appear on this list, and vice versa.
5) All Points Bulletin (APB)
Back before Grand Theft Auto created a literal Grand Theft Auto Online experience, All Points Bulletin, or APB, tried to be that very thing. In fact, the creator of both the original Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown series, David Jones, was the lead designer on APB – good sign, right? The pre-release hype was real, and expectations were pretty high around the game leading up to its launch in June of 2010.
Fast forward six weeks after launch and the developer, Realtime Worlds, is placed into administration, which is basically life support for struggling businesses. Everything from technical bugs, to connectivity issues, gameplay concerns, bad design, and any other problem you could think of were plaguing the game from the start. Just a few weeks later, in September of 2010, the game shut-down. It took the world only three months to experience, hate, and de-launch an entire game – a feat that is truly remarkable. APB has found new life since and is a much-improved free-to-play title currently available now.
4) Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
Since Vanguard: Saga of Heroes no longer exists, its easy to look back on its life with rose-colored glasses. However, on first glance at launch, it was pretty easy to get Vanguard confused with the other big game SOE had a hand in just a couple of years prior – EverQuest II – but the two were actually quite different. The entire Diplomacy system in and of itself was actually an extremely unique and innovative move forward for the genre as a whole.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the game’s launch went pretty terribly. In a world where World of Warcraft has already existed for nearly 3 years, you can’t put out a new triple-A MMO that isn’t polished and ready for the world to see. Maybe it was the almost complete lack of instancing or zoning, or the ambitious scope of the game at launch, but it just didn’t seem finished. Server connectivity or balance issues are one thing, but when the underlying code that your game is built upon is sloppy and messed up, that’s something that takes months (or even years) to fix.
3) Anarchy Online
But when you think of a bad launch for an MMO, you usually think of not being able to login, getting kicked off, losing progress, and other frustrating network issues. In that regard, Anarchy Online is absolutely one of the worst launches ever.
It didn’t stop there though. People were having issues just subscribing to the game, let alone actually playing it once they had access. Keep in mind: the game launched way back in 2001. During that time, a ton of people were still using dial-up connections, so waiting in a queue often wasn’t much of an option for someone. Luckily the game was able to combat back from its rocky start, but the opening few months were truly about as rough as anyone could ever fear an MMO launch could be.
2) World of Warcraft
The hero in its own tale of true redemption, World of Warcraft fought its way back from a horrid launch to become the most popular and most-played MMO in history. But if we flashback 10 years to when the game first launched, and times were quite different. With a company like Blizzard, that already knew how popular its properties like Diablo, Starcraft, and Warcraft were for the fanbase, you’d think they could have prepared a bit more for the launch of their biggest ever game.
It wasn’t just server issues though, quests were bugged, animations got stuck, and some portions of the game were simply unplayable. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that Blizzard has still struggled to learn their lesson. Diablo III had a pretty terrible launch. After several days, Warlords of Draenor is struggling to keep up with the flood of players. Maybe on the game’s 25th anniversary Blizzard will finally have a grasp on the load that a dedicated fanbase can bring to a game.
1) Final Fantasy XIV (The First Time)
For me, this was an incredibly easy choice. No other game on this list experienced the perfect storm of horrendously under-delivering on expectations, connection issues, gameplay problems, lack of content, and a billion other problems all at once. The initial launch of Final Fantasy XIV went so terribly in fact, that Square Enix even opted to not charge players a subscription fee “until it was fixed.”
Fast forward about a year and they finally started to charge for the game again, although it still was a shadow of what it should have been. Finally, when version 2.0 actually released, Final Fantasy XIV was actually what players expected and deserved the first time around. FFXIV earns the top spot for me not just because of how horribly the launch went, but because the studio was actually able to improve the game and deliver on its original promise – a feat that only serves to underscore how terrible it was to begin with.
I’ll be the first to admit that this is far from an exhaustive list. Virtually every MMO in existence has had issues surrounding its launch, it’s just a question of their severity and how long the issues persisted before finally being resolved. Also keep in mind that MMOs are incredibly relative experiences. Just because you had a horrible time trying to log into Guild Wars 2, doesn’t mean that, as a whole, the launch was terrible.
Either way, tell us some of your worst launch stories down in the comments below!