Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
PC Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Are MMOs Time-Release Vaporware? 193

KKnDz0r writes "Australian technology and gaming site 'Atomic' raises an interesting question about the dangers of MMOs that go bust. Are they part of a new breed of games that render themselves completely useless and without value if the parent company goes belly-up? It certainly seems that way in some cases, with Fury and now Hellgate: London both going to software heaven, leaving a player base holding relatively useless client software." While it's certainly not an issue for the large, continuously successful MMOs, we've lately seen a huge influx of companies trying to grab a slice of the MMO pie, some of which will inevitably fail. It would be great to see a dying company at least open up the server software, but how can we give them incentive to do so?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Are MMOs Time-Release Vaporware?

Comments Filter:
  • Incentive? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @10:49PM (#25599775)

    It would be great to see a dying company at least open up the server software, but how can we give them incentive to do so?

    That's easy. Buy the code from them. If it's not already owned by a parent company, you can probably get it for fire-sale prices. Chances are that it's already legally the property of creditors though-- purchasing or even renting the servers necessary to launch an MMO is an extremely costly venture, let alone the costs of payroll and development.

    • Re:Incentive? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by WK2 ( 1072560 ) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @11:08PM (#25599877) Homepage

      Or, we gamers could never pay for something that depends on the goodwill of the manufacturer to function. Buy Software? Sure. Rent services such as MMOs? Sure. But I don't understand why anyone would buy software that requires a service to function. This seems like a case of had it coming.

      • Re:Incentive? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @12:12AM (#25600187) Homepage

        I never understood paying for MMO software. So you pay 50 dollars, for the priviledge of paying 15 dollars a month?

        Pick one way of charging, and stick with it. Either lower the barrier to entry and only have monthly fees, or lower the abandonment rate and only have up-front fees. But don't double dip.

        *Note: I have played several MMO's at various points in my life.

        • Re:Incentive? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Trecares ( 416205 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @12:46AM (#25600377)

          The initial cost pays for the software development costs. The monthly fee pays for ongoing development and server/network expenses which can be considerable. That's why it's there. Some software have low enough costs that it can be sold for a low price or even for free, with the catch being the monthly fee. Others will usually heavily discount the initial purchase cost after a while when they've recouped most or all of the cost. Companies do it all different ways. Some (Anarchy Online) even dont charge monthly fees to get people into the door, but if you want the perks of the expansions, you gotta ante up.

          It's a sensible thing, and frankly, the monthly fee is much cheaper than anything else you could do to entertain oneself for a whole month.


          • by cgenman ( 325138 )

            You could say the same thing about any ongoing endeavor. Verizon could sell network access at 100 dollars for build-out + 50 dollars a month upkeep. ESPN could charge 30 dollar development + 10 dollars per month for access to their content online. You don't see ISP's (successfully) charging 4 months worth of fees to cover their cost of building out their data centers, do you?

            It's all how you recoup your initial and ongoing development expenses. Those should be together under the same heading! Unless a

            • Verizon could sell network access at 100 dollars for build-out + 50 dollars a month upkeep

              I believe it's called an "activation fee", and plenty of wireless carriers charge it.

            • Verizon could sell network access at 100 dollars for build-out + 50 dollars a month upkeep.

              If you want a hookup at your house or business that hasn't already been built, then, yes, Verizon will charge you run the line out and install it. Won't be just a hundred bucks, either.

          • by Hatta ( 162192 )

            It's a sensible thing, and frankly, the monthly fee is much cheaper than anything else you could do to entertain oneself for a whole month.

            If you don't figure in the costs of not having a life, sure. What are those hours really worth?

        • Eve only charges the first month's fee as your account activation after the 14 day trial. So there's at least one of them doing it.

          LOTRO is 1 month free + activation for US$25, so not so bad. I just went with the founders club and never have to pay again for access.

        • You pay $50 because you're getting the game pretty much right when it comes out and you're paying to get it right away. If you waited a bit, you'd only pay $20 for the initial cost once the price for the client software goes down. Since almost all MMOs give you a "free" month when you buy the software, if you're willing to wait you're essentially paying $5 (assuming a $15/month fee) for the installation media and manuals.

          • by tepples ( 727027 )

            If you waited a bit, you'd only pay $20 for the initial cost once the price for the client software goes down.

            The point of the article is that if one waited a bit, the servers would stop running and the client software would become worth $0.

        • No, what you describe is fine. It costs money to have a physical box produced and put on shelves. The first month is typically free when you buy the box.

          What I get pissed off by is how they charge you to 'enable' multiple expansion packs for your account. Take, for example, WoW. If you wanted to play that, you would need to get WoW classic (~$20), the Burning Crusade (~$20, you won't use this much after you level 60 - 70), and Wrath of the Lich King (the new 'endgame' where most people will be spending thei

          • by snuf23 ( 182335 )

            I paid $50 for WoW when it came out and I think $40 for BC when it was released. The prices have consistently dropped. I've seen the Battlechest (WoW + BC) on sale for $30. I think it's pretty likely that Blizz will release a combined WoW + BC for cheaper once Lich King has been out for awhile.
            Most of the new players I've seen have purchased just the original game and waited until hitting 58 before getting BC. If you are a new player there is still a ton of content in the first 60 levels.

          • you miss that those who started out early paid $40 for the game, $40 for the expansion and $15 for all the months in between... And probably $50 for the next one, even though we've had an account the whole time.

        • by Aereus ( 1042228 )

          If so many MMOs are failing WITH charging for the initial software, what are the market chances for an MMO that starts out that much more in the hole?

          MMOs are an economy of scale -- the development costs are going to be similar whether you get 20k subscriptions or 2 million. If you spend $30-50million developing an MMO, by the time you pay for development costs people may have already moved on. Or you take so long paying for the initial game you can't afford to work on an expansion until after people have l

      • The first "M" in MMO means you need a lot more computing power and bandwidth on the server side than for a FPS server with a maximum of some 10 players. So even if the software company gave away the server software, it might be a bit too expensive for the average fan to run his own server for some 1000 players.

        But a MMO vendor could still gain some goodwill by including the server software, thus ensuring there can be at least "small" freeshards once the official servers are closed.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by trytoguess ( 875793 )
      If a MMO goes down, what does the creditors gain by keeping the severside code secret? I mean like after the chance of the code being bought by another group goes down the drain. Is there still an economic rationale?
      • Oh wait, silly me. Release code for free, and your competitors (which includes open source) could create something that carves a significant piece of the MMO niche, and that's unacceptable unless you totally ditched that market.
      • by Minwee ( 522556 )
        The First Rule of Acquisition [] isn't just some made up idea from Science Fiction, you know.
    • Creditors don't care about source code and IP when liquidating a company, they go for the fixed assets such as office furniture, the other stuff is not bothered with.
    • Re:Incentive? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @12:21AM (#25600257)

      I've had legal dealings roughly 30 times with people who are not the original creators, but own something 'IP'ish - either because they are the heirs of an estate, or because they got it in lieu of normal payment for debts. Over half those times, the new owners seemed to seriously overvalue the item, and by seriously, I mean thinking it was worth its weight in flawless blue white diamonds. Creditor/Debtor relationships seem to be a bit less skewed in this respect than estates, but it's still pretty common.
            If you look at the financial history of the great depression era, particularly with regard to magazine story and sheet music rights, there are huge chains of companies which got awarded assets upon their debtor's failures, and held out for way too much in turn, even as they were going bankrupt themselves. There are chains where the property was transferred by a court ordered bankruptcy times 25 times in a decade, which would mean the average case for them was a company ignoring all offers for a work even though they faced bankruptcy within, on average, less than five months. We know the offers happened, because the courts used that fact to evaluate how to split assets among multiple creditors equitably. Even if you believe we aren't currently in anything approaching a full scale depression, that still looks like a good model of what to expect today.
            There's a semi-fair chance that a receiver will realize that taking 5 cents on the dollar for the server code is better than any other deal they might get. But if not, expect them to set the price like the MMO is a sure fire World of Warcraft killer, plus some.

    • by WED Fan ( 911325 ) <<ten.liamhsart> <ta> <egihaka>> on Sunday November 02, 2008 @11:55AM (#25602883) Homepage Journal

      That's easy. Buy the code from them. If it's not already owned by a parent company,

      Usually it is owned and so mired in ownership issues that is would be useless if the "owner" wanted to release it.

      I worked for a...da da daaaaaa...DOT COM and between EDS, who had an agreement with us, Washington Mutual, who was acting as our white label credit department, and venture capitalists in South Korea and Europe, our technology was so tied up in who actually owned it, no one could even claim the authority to shut down the web site. The company is gone, but the web site is still active hasn't been updated since 2001, and the host is still being paid by some financial shell organization who has received instructions to do otherwise. Why, because noone has clear legal authority to do so.

      Now, can you imagine what happens to the servers and code of companies that go belly up and why most can't, even if they wanted to, open up the system, or at least provide a free license to operate servers without them?

  • I think... (Score:5, Informative)

    by BJH ( 11355 ) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @10:51PM (#25599797)

    ...I should point out that Hellgate: London was not actually an MMORPG, and it includes a single-player mode so it can indeed be played even if the servers are no longer available.

    • At least a few people get this very important fact. I hate that HG:L keeps getting lumped in with MMOs and pointed at as a story about how MMOs fail.

      HG:L didn't allow LANs to prevent piracy. Diablo II was pirated out the ass, and all it took was making a few copies of an original disc and viola, LAN parties. It was great for college students. And since the HG:L crew came from the Diablo II world, they knew that.

      They just picked a total cluster-frak way of trying to deal with it, and then making it a sub

  • by Revotron ( 1115029 ) * on Saturday November 01, 2008 @11:02PM (#25599845)

    When World of Warcraft bites the dust, you'll have a whole hell of a lot of people with 10gigs of data on their drives that does seemingly nothing. Thankfully, when that happens, it's a simple matter for the 11-million-some subscribers to switch over to a private server.

    However, for fans of smaller, less popular MMOs, they're essentially screwed if their provider shuts down and nobody's reverse-engineered the server software.

    I think it would be a good publicity stunt for the software companies if, when they shut down an MMO, they release the server software for private use. They don't necessarily have to open-source it since their own proprietary code might be re-used in future projects, but if they at least gave the die-hard fans a way to keep enjoying the game, they could build up an even more loyal following rather quickly.

    • While "private" servers are nifty etc they really aren't remotely like the real thing.

      I played with one and found so many bugs in encounters I knew quite well that I found it to be kind of a joke.

  • what's the point? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ephemeriis ( 315124 ) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @11:09PM (#25599881)

    I guess it might be nice if they open-sourced the software so that people could run their own servers... But I really have to kind of wonder what the point would be. What makes these games fun isn't the amazing engines or terrific game mechanics - its the players.

    These days there's hardly any gopher servers out there (yes, I know there are a few) - so gopher clients aren't particularly useful.

    Players move on to the newest, shiniest games out there. Without constant upgrades and expansions, players get bored pretty darn quick. And then your playerbase shrinks... There aren't enough people around to get groups or run raids... Which means less fun for the remaining players... And before too long there's nobody left to play with.

    I suppose someone might pick up an open-sourced game server and expand/improve it enough to keep people playing... Might even do a good enough job to get people to pay for it... But I really have a hard time seeing any game living for terribly long after it's been abandoned by the original company.

    I mean, there's a reason these games go under in the first place - they aren't making enough money because there aren't enough people playing them. Open sourcing the code might allow a few die-hard fans to keep playing... But the odds are pretty damn good the game will be dead (or close enough) before too long anyway.

    And really, as an MMOG player myself, that doesn't bother me. Unlike a novel or a CD or something like that I don't feel that I'm purchasing an item when I buy an MMOG. I feel more like I'm joining a club... What I gain is the fun, experience, and memories of playing with other people. Not an item that I can revisit later on. It's like when you go on vacation to Mexico - what do you really have to show for your money when all is said and done? A few souvenirs maybe... Some photos... But the main thing you have are the memories of what you did.

    • I just wanted to write about a counter-point. Ragnarok has lots of private servers, and it still has quite the player base. It also allows server operators to tweak the server settings so that players get to pick server settings that most suit their taste. Note: I play WoW, used to play Ragnarok, and have friends who still play it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cookie3 ( 82257 )

      >I really have a hard time seeing any game living for terribly long after it's been abandoned by the original company.

      Like... Continuum? []
      Or Gladiator? []
      Or ZZT? []

      I would generally say that if the original developers/company _offers_ the game (and/or the source) for free with no support, players will freely support it themselves. A community will form around the players who support the game, and the game will l

  • We had the story recently about a court considering the "theft" of a virtual item.

    If I have the Sword of Slaying Everything except Squid (which has some real-world value), and the company decides to cancel the project, can I sue successfully?


    • I think that's absurd.
    • Sword of . . (c) Steve Jackson Games
    • Well it would be nice for some legal precedent to be set. There is a lot of unknowns about who owns what. Many MMO creators even claim ownership over the software you bought. So you may walk out of a store with cd's, a box, manuals, and some flashy pin-up art, but you really only bought a license?

      You may be told you won an in game prize for a contest, but actually the developer owns your prize? What are they claiming you won, exactly?

      You may be given in game cash as an incentive to return to a game, but it'

    • No, because the sword only has value as long as the MMORPG exists. As soon as the company closes up, the sword no longer exists. Also, the "contents" of the game don't actually belong to you (check the ULA). Through your subscription, you have a non-exclusive right to use the item.

      The kids were able to be charged with theft because they used real world intimidation to take posession of something that had value on line.

  • This same thing happened with Auto Assault. It was a unique and genuinely fun MMO. It was akin to Steve Jacksons Car Wars, something I'd been waiting for for years.

    I bought this game, subscribed, and played it for about 4 months. Unfortunately the game had no longevity, was fundamentally flawed design-wise, and went 'belly up' in about 6 months. I've still got the box and the CD and the manual. It's really a shame this game didn't get fixed and stay afloat because I love the idea of an MMO like this.

    • They're still selling multiple copies of that game in the store across the street from me. I pity the poor suckers who buy it.

      • I have a copy that I got free from NCSoft I think a month before they shut it down
        it had a decent mic/headphone combo with it so I guess I got about $10 worth of hardware for free at least

  • The MMO's may go belly up, and you can offer to buy it. But, the studio doesn't necessarily go belly up with it. In game advertising or, massive advertising across the ridiculous amounts of social networks may help.

  • Only now it takes more skill to succeed
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Saturday November 01, 2008 @11:55PM (#25600095)

    The development of MMOs shows that we'll soon see this happen a lot more often.

    MMOs have turned into the love child of VCs. They see the success of WoW, see what kind of a huge cash cow it is, and of course they want a slice of that cake. We will see a lot of MMOs pop up left and right in the near future. Actually, we do already see that happen.

    Now, early MMOs were mostly a kind of game for a rather small audience, and they were developed as such. EQ, UO, let's not talk about Meridian, they didn't really expect millions of subscribers. And because of this, they aimed lower and already considered the game successful if it managed to break even, which, in turn, wasn't so terribly hard to do with lower expectations (from the players), lower cost of development and the "new kinda game" smell all over it, covering the stench of tedium.

    We're now in a post-WoW world. And players have seen it. Love it or hate it, WoW is, from a purely playability and long term interest point of view, very successful. The world is big. The graphics are nice. The quests are easy but managable. Boring from time to time, but never as boring as many others were in so many other MMOs. And most of all, the game is very open end. You can't have it all. Even if you play constantly, have no life outside of it.

    Now try to recreate that. Your problem, as a developer, is twofold. Your prospective players will judge you by the "fun" they have in WoW. Your VCs will judge you by the revenue of WoW.

    Can you compete with that?

    To make matters worse, you have to be different from all those hundreds if not thousands of other MMOs that are pumped into the market. So you have to be "new" in some way. Do you think EQ could even get a foot into the door today? Let's even give it up to date graphics, do you think it could? By today's standards it's boring, it's static, it's limited.

    So the bar gets higher and higher for new MMOs. The cost rises as well. VCs want their money back. And the share you can cut out of the cake gets smaller and smaller with more and more competition.

    So we'll see a fair lot of "small" MMOs fold. Often within their first year. We'll have to watch subscriber numbers closer, and be prepared to jump ship in time when we notice the game fails. I mean, who wants to "waste" his time building a character that's gone soon?

    Which bears the question, why don't we just play to have fun? I mean, like we used to? Aren't games meant to be, you know, fun?

  • "It would be great to see a dying company at least open up the server software, but how can we give them incentive to do so? "

    Why would you want a game that by it's nature needs constant updates to be released? What's that you say? The community can release a constant stream of fresh and exciting content that will keep the people coming back for more. Wonderful. Type up a business plan. Oh wait.

    • by babyrat ( 314371 )

      The community can release a constant stream of fresh and exciting content that will keep the people coming back for more. Wonderful.

      I'm not usre if you are being sarcastic here - but apparently you are not aware of the MUD craze of the 90's. That is exactly what happened.

  • by Yaur ( 1069446 )
    isn't this a problem with the whole SaaS concept? At least with a game you don't lose anything that has "real" value.
  • "... companies trying to grab a slice of the MMO pie, all of which will inevitably fail."

    There, I fixed it. Nothing lasts forever, anyone who invests their time in an MMO believing it will be around forever (yes, that does include WoW, you damn lunatics) is seriously illusioned.

    If you get a pet, you should be prepared for it to die. If you get a car, you should be prepared to eventually give it up for another.

    This isn't any different, trying to resuscitate a dead game is just humoring nostalgia.

    • Re:Correction (Score:5, Informative)

      by LingNoi ( 1066278 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @12:42AM (#25600361)

      What rubbish, some of the first MMOs ever made, gemstone, Ultima Online, Meridian 59 (the first 3d mmo) are still going strong.

      Everquest is almost 10 years old (1999) and that's still going strong.

      Back up your baseless claims.

      • Define strong.

        • Making money, just because they're not in "hot awesome games" magazine doesn't mean they're dead. That is infact the problem with the games industry..

          "we gotta have wow hotness" the game developers say. So they don't look at their customer base, spend all their time being cowboys on gamespy and then wonder why they don't make any money.

          • Since EQ, which was released when most people still had 56k, disk space, bandwidth, and processing power have reduced in cost considerably.

            If none of these had become less expensive over time, do you think EQ would still be as popular as it is?

            Everquest still does exist, it's still coming out with expansions, and it's impressive that it still may be making money, but it won't forever.

            How long do you think EQ will keep making money, getting subscribers, giving SOE enough incentive to keep the servers up? 5 y

      • Hell, even some of the old Muds are still going, small user base now days, but still ticking along! []
  • This is an MMO that beta'd, died, came back with fan run and company verified servers, died again, came back under gametap, died yet again, and now maybe might come back with fan servers a second time.

    At this point I doubt Cyan even owns Myst, Uru, or Plasma, the engine they bought and built up. I don't see any future where the fan's will get source code to the servers, or even the ability to run a server free of Cyan's control. Any company going belly up after investing millions obviously hasn't recoupe
  • I'm sure there is stupidity and greed standing in the way, but the obvious fix for this is to have one company acquire all of the failed games.

    I know SOE has done this with several games (the Matrix, particularly) and is able to turn a profit even on very low subscription numbers because they already have all the infrastructure in place for their other games. The aggregator company could also gain leverage by selling access to multiple games for one price. For example, any two games for only $10/month, o
  • by scotsghost ( 1125495 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @05:30AM (#25601319) Journal

    And you people claim to be geeks. Here's the crux: Vaporware gets announced, but never released. Abandonware gets released and then abandoned. [] []

  • by DaveV1.0 ( 203135 ) on Sunday November 02, 2008 @09:00AM (#25601903) Journal

    One goes out and buys specialized client software to access a service. One pays a monthly fee for the service. One uses the software to access the service. The service goes away. The software has no more use.

    Where is the poblem? Go out and buy the client software for some other service if you really want that service.

    Here, let me give you a real world comparison.

    One goes out and buys a membership card to an exclusive club which allows entry without paying a cover charge. One pays a monthly fee to maintain one's membership. The club closes. The card no long has a use.

    Here, have another:

    One goes out and buys a membership card to gym which allows entry without paying a fee every time one wants to work out. One pays a monthly fee to maintain one's membership. The club closes. The card no long has a use.

    Exactly what is it people are complaining about? Is it that the specialized client software they "bought" doesn't work with every other MMORPG? Or, are they just whining that they can't play the game anymore? I ask because the game is not the client. The game is the service run by the company. No company, no service, no game.

    Should people who paid for a CompuServe client and subscription bitch and moan because they now can't use the software they bought?

    To anyone who is whining about not being able to use the client for that MMORPG that folded, pay attention:

    You bought software and got use out of it. You used it for what it was intended. You played the game. You had fun. But the company didn't make enough money to stay in business and now the game is over. The end. You were not cheated. They did nothing wrong. These things happen. Grow up, get over it, and get a life.

  • If gamers stop buying games that depend on a server to operate, especially those that insist on phoning home before playing even in single player mode, the companies will be forced to escrow the server source such that the shutdown of their servers triggers a 3rd party to release the code to the public (and in fact, creates a legal obligation to do so).

    If they really don't want to run servers anymore and also don't want the source released, they'll have to make some sort of arrangement with someone to run t

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.