The Best MMOs That Died

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The Best MMOs That Died

MMOs have a relatively short shelf life. While a range of factors play into decisions to shut down these titles, the steep running costs and constant upkeep needed often mean that online games are shut down long before their time. Copyright law means that they can’t easily be brought back, and fan efforts are frequently shut down.

From The Sims Online to The Matrix Online, we look back at all the best MMOs that died and why we loved them.

City of Heroes (2004 — 2012)

city of heroes mmo online

City of Heroes was a superhero MMO where players could create their own hero and battle against super-villain forces. It was extremely customisable and received dozens of story and content updates that kept the game’s world consistently fresh throughout its eight year run. It also received a companion game in 2005 called City of Villains, where players could join the dark side.

In 2012, it was announced that the game would be shutting down as publisher NCSoft “refocused” its publishing support. While fan outcry was loud and persistent, the eventual shutdown went ahead regardless. But that wasn’t the end for City of Heroes.

In 2019, it was discovered that a secret private server of City of Heroes had been running for years after the game’s shutdown, and the code for this server was eventually leaked, much to the excitement of fans. This led to the creation of multiple new City of Heroes servers, many of which can be accessed easily online. NCSoft has chosen to leave these new versions running, so City of Heroes can still be enjoyed by all.


Star Wars Galaxies (2003 — 2011)

star wars galaxies mmo

Star Wars Galaxies was a game ahead of its time. This Star Wars MMO launched in 2003, in a time when the Star Wars prequels were still in vogue. Players could create their own original Star Wars character, take on a range of professions and travel through iconic Star Wars locations. Players could be a Twi’lek bounty hunter, a Mon Calamari entertainer — even a Jedi, if they really worked hard for it.

Star Wars Galaxies was ambitious and received several major updates and expansions during its long run. These added new space combat options and planets like Kashyyyk and Mustafar, as well as appearances from major Star Wars characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi. The MMO shut down in 2011 after a mutual decision between LucasArts and developer Sony Online Entertainment, although servers for the game had been closing en masse since 2009. It lives on in private servers across the internet.


The Sims Online (2002 — 2008)

the sims online Screenshot: Giant Bomb

The Sims Online took the classic life simulator to the wilds of the internet for the first time, allowing players to connect with other Sims in real time online chatrooms. The game took the basic functionality of the original Sims title and added a new levelling system as well as new jobs for Sims to take on.

It also featured a complex, Sim-run economy based on real estate and goods selling. Unfortunately, a glitch exploit eventually tanked this economy and led to a state of hyperinflation and poverty in the game that wasn’t fixed for three years.

The Sims Online also had its fair share of problems, with complaints pointing to a lack of content, low playerbase and monthly fees, but the game was still great fun, and it’s a shame EA has never revisited the formula. (Current rumours point out The Sims 5 may have an online component.)

In 2008, The Sims Online was briefly relaunched as a streamlined game called EA-Land, but four weeks after the rebrand, it was announced that the game would shut down. It closed in August of that year, and Maxis moved onto other projects. A new, free server has since been set up by fans.


Pirates of the Caribbean Online (2007 — 2013)

pirates of the caribbean online Screenshot: PotcoGlitch

Before Sea of Thieves, the hottest pirate MMO on the block was Pirates of the Caribbean Online. In this game, which was based on the film/theme park franchise, players created their own unique pirate and set off on a high sea adventure. Jack Sparrow and Will Turner featured heavily in the main plot of the game, but it featured an original story.

Players could take on a variety of quests, collect loot, gain notoriety and conquer great beasts in the game. It was shut down in September of 2013, and while the reasons are unclear, it’s likely to do with financial disappointment from the title and a waning fanbase.

While the original game is dead, a fan server has been going strong since 2017. Recently, active players celebrated Mardi Gras with a themed event in Tortuga.

Marvel Heroes (2013 — 2017)

marvel heroes

Marvel Heroes was a short-lived MMO based on Marvel’s most popular comic book franchises. It launched at the height of Marvel mania, and featured solid gameplay and a fun story that saw players controlling some of Marvel’s most beloved characters.

While it was met with criticism at launch, Marvel Heroes evolved with time, eventually being rebranded as Marvel Heroes Omega as its gameplay formula and story offerings were expanded. In 2017, it launched on consoles, but by November of that year, it shut down. This came after Disney ended its relationship with developer Gazillion Entertainment and pulled the license for its characters. No reason was given for this decision, and the game has unfortunately stayed dead since the announcement.


Club Penguin (2005 — 2017)

club penguin shut down

Club Penguin was a family-friendly MMO that launched in 2005. It featured a range of fun activities and games for kids to take part in, including pizza making, pin-collecting and snowball fights. It was also a hotbed for kids to meet up with their mates and chat after school. In 2005, you weren’t cool unless you were on Club Penguin.

Paid subscriptions that allowed players to buy new cosmetic and furniture items buoyed the financial success of Club Penguin, but it wasn’t set to last. Club Penguin was online for over 12 years before being taken down and replaced with Club Penguin Island, an inferior spin-off MMO that was also soon shuttered by Disney. Since then, fans have resurrected it as Club Penguin Rewritten.


Toontown Online (2003 — 2013)

Screenshot: MobyGames

Toontown Online was a Disney MMO where players could create their own ‘Toon’ characters, defeat evil ‘Cog’ antagonists and travel through a world inspired by classic cartoons. The game was loosely inspired by Robert Zemeckis’ 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, although this wasn’t explicitly advertised.

While Toontown Online enjoyed a strong 10-year run, game designer Jesse Schell implied in 2015 that the game had operated on an unsustainable business model, which was likely the reason for its final end. Disney closed the service in 2013, stating its desire to focus on other services, like Club Penguin. Unfortunately, even that game was soon shuttered, making Toontown Online‘s disappearance all the more heartbreaking.

It’s since been revived at Toontown Online Rewritten.


The Matrix Online (2005 — 2009)

Screenshot: Giant Bomb

The Matrix franchise has often been described as ‘multimedia’ because its main story didn’t just run over the film trilogy. Gaps in the lore were filled with an animated anthology, comic books and three seperate video games. Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo are still available for interested players. The Matrix Online is not.

This MMO launched in 2005 and was a direct continuation of the events seen in The Matrix trilogy. Characters from the films made important appearances during key quests, and a lot of the complex lore not seen in the movies was explored. The Matrix Online shut down after only four years due to low subscription numbers, and ended its life with only 500 active users. It was a sad death for what made up a significant portion of The Matrix‘s deep story. While fan servers for The Matrix Online appear to be available, many projects to resurrect the game have since been abandoned.


Games preservation is an important issue. While arguments continue to rage over whether video games are ‘art’ or not, there’s no denying that they have an importance place in our culture and society. Games developers work hard on the games that they produce, and it’s a shame to see so much of that work gone to waste.

Some of these games have been rescued via the efforts of fans. Many more will remain inactive forever.

What are your favourite memories from these MMOs?

Comments

  • I still hold a candle for Tabula Rasa – cruelly taken before its time. Logos, base captures, a novel take on tab-targeting action combat. A KILLER soundtrack. Deeply satisfying skill trees and class options. Crafting that was actually useful while you levelled and not some sort of endgame activity for the bored. There was something really special being built towards in that endgame… but it died before it could materialize.

    Auto Assault. Still have my game discs for those, too. The AA disc actually had CD audio tracks on it, which I burned to my MP3 collection to carry forward ever since. (Great soundtrack, that. Just great.) Loved the theme, the style, the actual controls… it didn’t have any business being an MMO, really, and I still think in the age of low-fi indie successes, AA could still make it big as a revamped single-player/co-op post-apocalyptic action RPG.

    I built a monster gaming PC JUST to run MxO at the best that it could be run. I still have the chart which showed you which moves beat the other moves in its rock-paper-scissors combat system, and told you who some of the important lore characters were… in case you were a video game-playing nerd in 2005 who hadn’t already watched the trilogy multiple times. It got a little grindy, and the gates were a pain in the ass… and the promised ‘live GM events’ never ever ever happed at a time that a day-shift working Australian could participate. I don’t know what killed it… all I know is I enjoyed playing it, even if I wasn’t at the top of the pack, just repeating the flavourless grind quests needed to increment your power.

    While I was waiting for MxO, I played City of Heroes. MxO died in the blink of an eye, relative to my time with CoH, so that was my preferred WoW-alternative for quite some time. I got super hyped about the CoV release, even getting the collector’s edition. Still have the City of Villains box, with its little figurines. Great box, that. Great shape to it. Like a shoe box. DCUO never really scratched the same itch… CoX had a really special vibe to it. (Also DCUO’s control system is maddening garbage.)

    Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was novel in some really delightful ways. Yes, it was PVP focused, but they really had some great PVE content in there, too. Their Public Quests founded a template that has since been borrowed/stolen to great effect by MMO survivors like GW2, WoW, and FF14. I miss filling out the encyclopaedia of varied murders for bonuses, too. Shame about WAR. The prophesized WoW-killer. I got a physical copy imported of that, and used to install it in netcafes where I could, just to play anywhere and everywhere. Great game.

    Wildstar… I wish it had done better. As in, I wish it had been better. So much hubris and confusion in one place, and so many minor, pointless annoyances that it couldn’t afford to have and didn’t need to have. It did a lot right, and there was plenty of charm, but the market it wanted to tap was thinning before it even got to launch. It’s a shame its PVE campaigns can’t be preserved.

    Firefall is a real tragedy. Some of my favourite gaming moments of literally all time were in that game. There was lightning in that bottle, but in their experiments with it they let too much out with every test, and the whole thing was retuned and retuned and retuned such that their changes weren’t improvements… just differences. They hopped sideways one way and the other, but never forward. For being such a close clone I really hoped that Anthem would capture Firefall’s escaped magic, and in some respects it did. But it inherited many of its flaws, too. I wore my collector’s edition beanie around Japan. Only use I’ve ever really had for it, being in Queensland. But it still brings back fond memories of my Commander-level founder’s package, complete with unique bike and exp boost. Useless now…

    And frankly, I count The Secret World as a dead game. TSW: Legends was a cash-grab, an unfulfilled promise that was never anything more than a lie to begin with – a reason to justify killing off the lifetime subs of TSW. If only they hadn’t been so stubborn about the inherent superiority of their actually deeply-flawed combat systems. Any design that takes a rich, detailed, intriguing game world of exploration and investigation, then litters it with unavoidable fights that either take several minutes each or require minutes of downtime each, is bad, bad, asshole design. But that charm was there, in the appeal of the tricky, puzzling investigations… difficult, but achievable. Problem solving that made you feel clever when you got it. MMOs don’t usually do that! And the progression systems WERE neat… novel and allowing for similar genius in build synergies. They were just shackled to some garbage philosophies about how much time you should spend in combat and how often you should be in combat.

    Still… for all their flaws, I miss them all, really.

    I miss the art, the music, the atmosphere, the optimistic release vibes of positivity and endless possibilities, of discoveries and adventures yet to come. It’s a real shame that the nature of the business – greed – means that all that artistry is lost to memory and whatever imperfect capture technology was available at the time.

    • TSW could’ve been one of the greatest MMO’s out there!
      You nailed the reasons why it was both one of the most unique and promising MMO’s and why it was a miserable failure.

      My memories of the investigations and game world still blow my mind.

    • Played most of those, and yeah… cant really argue with you.

      Tabula Rasa had some great concepts, but in the end became a lesson for developers everywhere for all the wrong reasons. It was the lack of mob variety that ended up doing me in, but I loved the dynamic events and the runes concept. CoX was a lesson in doing things right though, and it was a shame it shuttered. Its character design was a thing of inspiration.

      Probably my second most played MMO behind EQ (built a couple of rigs to be able to play EQ), though it’d be close with WoW. CoX was my goto MMO when I was burned out from EQ most of the time though. None of the other Superhero MMO’s got close.

      WHO, again, did a lot right, and just missed the mark overall for one or two simple reasons. As a side note, there is a pretty well inhabited private server still going for it, which even adds new content at various times. Doesnt seem to have gotten the ire of Cryptic (was it them who made it?) either.

      The forced PvP ended up driving me away, though its one of only a few MMO’s where I enjoyed the battlegrounds. Go figure. Mostly because I had a good strat for the first one, and enjoyed it because of that. But it and TR’s push for PQ’s did gaming as a whole a great service. And deserved to be remembered for that.

      MxO I played, but never really put the time into it. Which was a shame, it had some great ideas as well. Wildstar… the less said about it the better. Like so many others, it failed for only a couple of reasons, but it failed none the less. When it got something wrong it really got it wrong. Grind killed that one for me.

      TSW I tried to enjoy, and in parts loved it. In equal parts though, it was just too different to get behind so in the end it just didnt keep me hooked.

    • Honour Roll of stuff I liked, but didn’t love enough to miss:

      Age of Empires Online (too cash-grabby a F2P implementation. Cute, though).
      Black Prophecy (Great concept, a little too janky to play without frustration).
      DarkSpore (NOT A FUCKING MMO, WHY IS IT SHUT DOWN LIKE ONE. STUPID FUCKING EA).
      Hellgate: London (that thing that keeps getting resurrected with its face absolutely is not HL).
      Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising (some really novel mechanics and an underutilized setting for the genre, but was clearly never going to succeed with a subscription).
      Neocron (technicality. Neocron 2 carried on from 1, was much better, and lives to this day).
      Perpetuum (EVE for people who like ground-based drones? It was… interesting. Arcane. It was a mess, but it had heart).
      RaiderZ (just… a lesson, I guess. It was to be a TERA/Blade&Soul-killer. It was not. But man, I remember following the dev-log journey, the promises and the art).
      Jade Dynasty (it was RaiderZ before RaiderZ was. I liked their division of martial arts schools).
      Rusty Hearts (I actually spent money on that. Fun little fighter/grinder. Exploitative as fuck, though – as nearly all Asian MMOs are).
      Myst Online (I always meant to get around to this, egged on by my absurdly Myst-fanatic friends, but never did. Watched some of it, though).

    • Oh man, I can’t disagree more about DCUO’s controls. That game was a broken unbalanced mess but it was a pleasure to play once you understood how everything worked. Combining the brawler controls with MMORPG action bars resulted in something really engaging to play. Rolling, blocking, doing combos and peppering in actions was so much more fun than just rotations and CDs.
      I really miss the Controller role. Having one person act as a battery/dedicated crowd control added a lot to the typical Tank/Heal/DPS trinity. I’m surprised it hasn’t really shown up in other games. Being able to hotswap group roles at a moments notice led to some nice speed strats. It also meant that most people used their off-spec to some degree so filling out Alerts and Raids was easier. Duos were awesome too. Quick, two player instances where you can just run through and wreck up the joint are a great way to have fun playing while waiting for people to show up.

      The big thing that I still struggle with in MMOs is that DCUO opened my eyes to the idea that a mount wasn’t some epic reward, it’s just gating off basic movement because they need unlockables to create progression. DCUO just lets you move quickly because who wants to walk?

      That’s not to say the game didn’t have massive problems in almost every area. I just found it was one of the few MMORPGs that I actually enjoyed playing. Usually I enjoy the exploration, the world, the progression, the social side, etc but in DCUO I genuinely enjoyed playing the game the way I enjoy playing Destiny. I even enjoyed fighting trash in Raids. It wasn’t just something I tolerated in order to get to the meat of the game.

    • I loved TSW, and agree with you on it being a dead game. Although you can still hop on the old servers (and quite a few of the European and Russian players do), the bastardised version that is TSW:L is not even close to the flawed atmospheric genius that was TSW.

      I still listen to the soundtrack every so often, and have wistful memories of Cthulhu, Illuminati and giant gold golems.

  • I just want more Wildstar combat.

    Combat is my biggest issue with FFXIV which is practically my life now, Wildstar just ticked my box for that so hard and I miss it sorely.

    • Yeah of all the dead MMOs that should be listed in the article but aren’t, Wildstar is definitely the one I miss the most. It had a cool setting, fantastic designs and some really fun moments.

      Also a big shout-out to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the original “WoW-killer”.

      • Oh man, I totally forgot about Vanguard. Probably because I never subbed to it. Of the MMOs that have shuttered that I never played, I actually regret that one. Most were trash that were justifiably avoided, but Vanguard just… tried hard, but didn’t have the money, the manpower, the release maturity to make it to the big leagues. And… it’s not kind to say, but it needed some better art direction, too.

      • I played a LOT of Everquest back in the day, so Vanguard was always on my radar. It did a lot of things pretty well, but it also did a lot of things poorly. EQ never relied on quests, which while they got away with it (being, you know, because there was minimal competition) in time was shown to be a flaw.

        Vanguard went down a similar path, and the grind really hurt, particularly as newer MMO’s came along and kept stepping up the levelling path. Having said that, as I played a Bard in EQ, how Vanguard did their version holds a nice memory for me. Like bards in EQ, they were totally different to other classes, and I will always respect them for that. But man was it a slog to play that MMO. It just didnt flow properly.

    • See my only issue with Wildstar combat was that is was really latency based. As an Aussie it just added unnecessary difficulty for healing when you had to predict where people will be standing.

      FFXIV as much as I love playing it and boy did they go next level with the storytelling quality this latest expansion, the controls have always felt a little clunky, especially when it comes to jumping. Now if only my English speaking FC on Tonberry wasn’t so quiet and filled with cliques I’d probably put in more hours.

    • My problem with Wildstar’s combat was the lack of Oceanic servers. It rendered a great many abilities utterly useless, and it all but guaranteed that some enemy abilities were going to catch you no matter what you did. Any class that couldn’t use instant abilities or use-while-moving abilities was pretty much off-limits from Brisbane. This did mean I got to play the slashy-slashy claw rogue, which was a really fun class, but dammit all, if a game is going to require 300-500ms reaction times, it needs to have latency under 150ms.

  • There was a lot of good in vanilla SWG. Character builds, tradeskills, even the random mission generators. While it wasnt perfect, there was plenty to build on. Its a shame they turned their backs on those ideas, because they werent bad, just not complete. The combat revamp was a sad day for MMO’s, where one of the biggest franchises in the world openly took the easy way out. And ended up with a far lesser product because of it.

  • I didn’t know a couple of those games had existed, perhaps poor marketing? A lot of the games listed in the article were before their time or had entered at a time when other games like Wow were at their peak. Timing is everything.

    • After reading through my own lists, I feel like a lot of these might have survived were they released TODAY, in a more fragmented MMO market where WoW only has 5M subs, and the remaining 7M from the WotLK peak who cancelled are roaming the market for something else, each settling in various niches.

      Also, a lesson is to pretty much never trust Asian MMOs which are almost always designed around exploitation and short-term money-siphoning before shutting down to cash in on the next one’s novelty value. A couple of those leeches have managed to latch on to a particularly juicy vein and are getting nice and fat, so they’ll live as long as the host does, but even with the guarantee of longevity, they only survive as cash-siphons, which is what your experience will be, playing them.

      • Most of them would be a lot more practical given the state of technology today, and since their ideas aren’t dominated by Warcraft’s cementing what it means to be a MMORPG they’d be very refreshing.

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine for me, a great community with wonderful people. Now that it’s dead everywhere there are projects to get it and the never localised content up and running, but it’s a pity the story will never be finished as it was a great interquel to SMT 1 & 2.

  • I really enjoyed a lot of these… Warhammer was a big one I played a lot of with friends.

    But Matrix Online will absolutely always be what comes to mind first for me on this particular list. Loved that game.

  • I’m here to tell you about a game that probably none of y’all have ever heard about called Leap Day. It was a MMO, though not a MMORPG. It was developed by the guys at Sly Fox (well known for their bear-themed games) and it was a clever strategy game where using some constantly hopping (or leaping, I guess) creatures, you collected resources and following certain recipes, you combined them by placing them onto a machine and then you combined the resulting items into others and so on. The aim of the game was to create a system of conveyor belts and workers’ routines that fed the collected resources into the machines and then the resulting items into other machines at the correct recipe rates and so on. it was complex, very difficult, cute as hell and criminally under-marketed, so it was shut down shortly after it failed to grow an audience and the developers couldn’t justify paying for the online servers.

    I still think about it from time to time.

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