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When Should MMORPGs Retire?

Adam Tingle Posted:
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As time marches on, things get old and eventually die. It is the depressing and ever present truth about life. So as we are now in the all too futuristic sounding 2013, it seems as good a time as any to ask: when do we finally put old timer MMORPGs to bed, and turn out the light for the final time?

EverQuest, Ultima Online, Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, and I could go on and on. The games list on this site is overflowing with the new, but also the very, very old.

Dark Age of Camelot, more than a decade in age still limbers up each day, and goes in for new rounds of PvPing with its engine creaking all the way - and I wouldn't be surprised that if in some dark recess of the Internet, players are huddled around the warming fire of Meridian 59, gently humming a tune like it was still the mid 90s.

So at what point should publishers call it quits? Or is that a choice not best suited to those involved in subscription fees? As an EverQuest veteran that still plunges a hesitant toe into the water of Norrath every so many months, I find it sad and bittersweet to revisit old haunts long since deserted; view landscapes threadbare with archaic graphics and lacking the imagination bestowed upon them in times gone by. It's just all a bit depressing really.

But then there are the players, the ones that have stuck by their virtual home through thick and thin, boom and bust. Owning the attention span of a small woodland mammal, I rarely pledge more than a handful of months at a time to any one game, but there are those that have been with Ultima Online since the very beginning - and surely after so many years it becomes harder and harder to let go.

One of the problems we now face with MMORPGs is the idea of oversaturation. Or at least this is a problem I personally face. Rather than accepting whatever online adventure I happen to have installed that day, I always find my mind continually wandering and roaming to other experiences - while I might be in Bree  minding my own Middle Earth business, I can't stop myself from asking "I wonder what Azeroth is like this time of year?"

Before I know it, I have installed 12 different MMOs, and I am sat in Kelethin thinking "but what about Bree? Lovely, lovely Bree?" It's an endless cycle that I only have myself to blame.

But nothing is worse than the sweet pangs of nostalgia I face whenever I decide that EverQuest or Asheron's Call should be my next destination. I spend hours upon hours researching, starting forum topics hoping to cut to the core of the issue with titles like "But what is the population REALLY like?" and then finally I dive in.

The results are almost always the same. I enter a worn out, husk of a game. There are a few gentle souls hanging around, offering helping hands to those who have dared to venture into such an archaic landscape, but it all seems so hopeless and desolate: these lands were once green,  but now autumn is sweeping through and before long we will hit the endless winter.

While I can come some ways to understand a veteran MMORPG player, I can never fully take in the dedication and loyalty that some have pledged to certain games. Relogging into the same place each night to sit in guild halls or oversee a community and social circle dwindle as each month passes.

And yet, there is such optimism to found within these older MMOs too. I have been told time and time again that "X is about to be bought by a French company" or how "Y is on the brink of being huge". Perhaps I should translate "Y" as being Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and point to the fact that it has been 6 long years and it still hasn't taken off.

Whenever I start playing an older online game I always get that sinking feeling that I somehow missed the party. That times were once good, but now they are in managed decline. I can slip and stumble over areas designed for parties and groups, but the sad fact is that the game probably holds nothing for me at the end of it all.

But while I may feel this, I can't discount the legions of veterans sticking close to the virtual world they lov. These people have created what amounts to second lives, and who are we to judge? But then, I wonder with the advent of free-to-play, wouldn't it make more sense for companies and developers to push their older games?

Instead of retiring, why not update not just content for players to increase the speed of the treadmill, but graphical updates, and things to attract newcomers. With successes such as Minecraft, and games such as RuneScape, is it really that far from logic to assume that old games can still be popular?

And this is an issue I always find myself closing in on. World of Warcraft is almost a decade old, and while its subscriber base has dropped, it still accounts somewhere in the millions. Could EverQuest or Anarchy Online not have kept going with ambition? Updating beyond content, refining, reiterating? It seems as though nobody really wanted to, or felt there was no real reason to once sequels and successors leapt through the door.

So then, at that point is it not slightly immoral to plunder and furnish with subscription fees for the players that publishers feel are no longer important? Would it not be better to retire MMORPGs and create sequels and build new homes for relocated fans? As always, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humour, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle

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Adam Tingle