Every video game with an online component has a hidden expiration date. No one really knows when it’ll hit.
Maybe a game will be popular and have a long, storied life, full of memories and patch updates and people who write forum posts about the Good Old Days. Maybe it’ll be underappreciated, but still supported, with a small community forming and keeping it alive.
Every game has a server that has to shutter some day, and the hope is whenever it comes, it will have been long enough. But sometimes an online game’s problems are simpler than that. Sometimes people just stop playing, astonishingly soon.
Consider Crackdown 3. I never got to play Crackdown 3’s multiplayer component, dubbed Wrecking Zone. I sort of forgot about it.
Wrecking Zone is unusual, siloed off as a separate download. You can launch it seamlessly from the single-player Crackdown 3 game, but only if you already have it downloaded — which I never got around to doing, because I didn’t need to at the time, and I never push more buttons than I have to.
Now, though? Now I want to play Wrecking Zone, and there don’t seem to be enough Crackdown 3 players left in the world to get a match off the ground.
I spent over two hours staring at the Wrecking Zone matchmaking screen on Friday, watching timeout messages appear over and over. I read some comic books. I peeled a tangerine, slowly and carefully, in one unbroken peel. I ate the tangerine, and also some cookies.
I switched from Agent Hunter mode to Territories mode, hoping that I would find someone out there to Crack Down with, but alas, not a soul. At one point, there were three souls, but Wrecking Zone didn’t deem that enough to start a game, so it sent us all back to the main menu, and I never saw a lobby screen again.
This is a shame, because Crackdown 3 was released on 15 February 2019. That’s three months ago! Not long at all! I have cheese in my refrigerator that old, and I’m sure it’s still perfectly fine.
Granted, I should’ve been prepared for this. The Crackdown subreddit doesn’t see a lot of action these days, and when people aren’t chiming in about the single-player game or sharing thoughts about Terry Crews, they’re lamenting the barren Wrecking Zone, or rallying folks to join them online, because the only way you can reliably get a match going these days is if you bring a crew with you.
I constantly worry about people abandoning online games before I get the chance to join them. It’s not so much fear of missing out as it is resenting that, for some games, I need other people to keep them alive while I am not playing them, so the game can remain playable whenever I deign to start playing. This is probably selfish of me.
No one can really be blamed if an audience never really materialises around a game. There are too many factors to consider. Marketing, competition, time, hard drive space, limited funds, personal taste — all reasons for people to not play a game. It doesn’t help that, according to Kotaku’s reviewer, Wrecking Zone was the least exciting aspect of Crackdown 3.
But part of me can’t help but think that three months is still a remarkably brief life for a game, especially in a world where games that are poorly received at first can go on to have illustrious second acts, as we’ve seen with Diablo 3 and Rainbow Six: Siege.
Maybe there is a corner to turn; maybe the Crackdown 3: Wrecking Zone team has some surprises in store. Maybe not. Every game like this has a timer. We don’t really get to peek at it. But when it’s up, it’s up.