In a nutshell: A good Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game is like the perfect government: An ideal we all strive for, but a difficult one to attain. For about the same reasons: By definition, an MMORPG is literally like setting up a small nation. A lot of things have to go exactly right. Consider all the hurdles you have to clear just to set up a successful game:

  • You need an original idea. Enough so you don’t get sued, and then a bit more so players have a reason to play it.
  • You have to code for compatibility. Whether consoles, PCs, or mobile, your game will run in a staggering number of varied conditions.
  • You have to meet a price point of affordability and still make a profit.
  • It has to be fun. A subjective term, because one person’s fun is another person’s bore.
  • Your game has to be easy enough for a beginner to figure out, but deep enough to provide satisfying play in the long run. This, alone, is a daunting design challenge that most people aren’t as good at as they think they are.

Now consider all the additional difficulties you have with an MMORPG. It has to be online in an always-connected state, so you have to deal with network issues. You have to work with more than one nationality or language. Otherwise it’s not massively multiplayer enough. Now once you have a huge user base, you have to police it; spammers, scammers, and hackers have been the bane of every MMORPG community.

Join us for a walk through the cemetery of dead MMORPGs. Perhaps we can learn from their mistakes:

  • The Matrix Online – They hung their whole game on the enduring popularity of a movie franchise that fizzled on the first sequel.
  • Age Of Conan – Over-promised on a buggy, unstable release.
  • Hellgate: London – Plain bad game design on an over-hyped title.
  • Wildstar – Buggy and unstable plus poor design.
  • Auto Assault – A car-based MMORPG turned out not to be a good idea.
  • Dark And Light – Released as a raw, buggy mess.
  • Gods And Heroes: Rome Rising – Aborted release and development hell killed it.
  • Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning – Just didn’t hit the sweet spot for a paid subscription game.
  • Motor City Online – A racing-based RPG didn’t take and was ahead of its time.
  • APB: All Points Bulletin – Basically Grand Theft Auto as an RPG, but mediocre execution.
  • Star Wars Galaxies – Survived eight years before company mismanagement drove players away.
  • Vanguard: Saga Of Heroes – Yet another unstable, stillborn release.
  • Final Fantasy XIV – Under-developed title with little content.
  • Tabula Rasa – Still another half-baked release full of bugs and unbalanced play.

The chief thing we learn from the MMORPG graveyard is that developers, designers, and testers need to tell management and marketing to get off their back and let them release the game when it’s finished – not demo-playable, not beta, but finished!