Friday, May 29, 2009

Another One Bites the Dust

Matrix Online is shutting down. The real news in this story, of course, is that Matrix Online was even still running in the first place. Back in 2004 when this game went beta, all eyes were on the MMO universe. There were titanic titles just coming out or on the horizon in those days: World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, and Guild Wars. And now, 5 years later, World of Warcraft is cultural behemoth rewriting the rules for community size and revenue stream while leaving all other in its sizeable shadow.

And yet the MMO field draws more competition every year. Matrix Online is not the first major title to be shut down, face serious contraction, or generally under perform expectations. It won't be the last. Still, studio after studio are foaming at the mouth to dive into the MMO space. Persistent, subscription based worlds are a dime a dozen these days, and no good businessman charges headlong into a packed and highly competitive marketplace. Unless that businessman runs a gaming company, of course. There are other ways to drive revenue, however. The Sims, for instance, gets plenty of mileage out of regular, lower priced micro-expansions. Thats a model that could work for RPGs too, I think. The Half Life Episodes already trend in that direction. Under such a model, the game could continue to live on for decades giving it the chance to become one of those landmark titles, such as Doom, Civilization, or Halo.

The MMO graveyard will continue to grow, at least for now I'm afraid. Perhaps one day sanity will return and interesting new franchises and worlds will be given a fair shot at success by not chucking them into the meat grinder of subscription gaming. Hopefully some smart developer will look for new ways to fund his studio, a way that doesn't include server shut-down dates and titles that just quit working. Like novels, games should never come with an expiration date.

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