Game development is a long and often challenging process. This is especially true of MMOs, which require a lot of resources, and lengthy testing. As such, developing an MMO doesn’t always go perfectly. It’s not uncommon for a game to end up being canceled or reworked into a new project.
Over the course of gaming history, some monumentally important MMOs have been left unfinished. It’s depressing to think what could have been if only a games developer had just a little more budget.
Here are some of the best examples of canceled MMOs that we’ll never get to play.
World of Warcraft is impressive in its longevity. Blizzard’s fantasy MMO has remained one of the top dogs in gaming for well over a decade at this point.
While its audience has dwindled in recent years, its long lifespan is a testament to excellent game design. The thing is, though, Blizzard never intended for World of Warcraft to stay around this long. At one point, the studio was working on a brand new MMO that they expected would replace WoW as their number one game.
Titan was that game, and its history is very interesting – if only because it’s still mostly unknown. The game was in development in some form from 2007 to 2014 and went through a lot of iterations before getting canned.
Jeff Kaplan, a designer for Blizzard, has summed up the project thusly:
“You had a really amazing group that was working on Titan. They were really talented individuals, but we failed horrifically in every way … In every way that a project can fail. It was devastating.”
We may never know the specifics of what went wrong with Titan. It’s safe to say, though, that WoW fans would have absolutely loved it.
That said, all is not lost. The team who developed Titan before its cancellation went on to produce Overwatch. Kaplan claims that their failure with Blizzard’s would-be MMO was what motivated the team to make Overwatch the best it could be.
Imagine, if you can bear the heartbreak, an MMO made by turn-of-the-century era Rare. Fresh from the success of Perfect Dark 64, Rare could have enjoyed an influx of extra funding from Microsoft. Quest was designed to be an online multiplayer set in a fantasy world. It was also originally designed for the GameCube before moving over to the Xbox.
But as fantastic as a full blown fantasy MMO from Rare might have been, the game was not destined to see the light of day. Not much is known about Quest, or how far the game got into development before things went south. It’s believed that we have Microsoft to blame for the untimely death of a game that could have been fantastic.
Apparently, having made a significant investment in Rare, Microsoft wanted the company to focus on their wealth of existing titles. This, they hoped, would make the best use of their existing brand recognition. This meant axing Quest in order to focus on games like Perfect Dark Zero instead, much to the detriment of MMO gaming as a whole.
Microsoft seems to have a real axe to grind against MMOs. Over a decade after the cancellation of Quest, the company pulled a similar move again. This time, they teased fans by beta testing a mass multiplayer set in the Halo universe. Then they ultimately shelved the entire project.
A playable build of the game not only exists but was tested in early access in Russia in 2015. The free to play game had a variety of new level maps in addition to classic elements from older games. It seemed for a time that Microsoft would eventually develop this test into a cheap and accessible entry into the Halo universe.
Ultimately, though, developer Saber Interactive announced that, due to a lack of decision making on the part of Microsoft, the game had been canceled. Apparently Halo Online was little more than an afterthought to Microsoft, despite the wealth of financial opportunities that free-to-play MMOs offer.
The game is now gone, despite being well documented online by Russian Halo fans. These dedicated players have ensured that Halo Online is chronicled for a wider audience.
Marvel Universe Online
There’s a lot of obvious potential within existing pop culture universes, such as the home of Marvel’s pantheon of heroes, to create a powerful MMO experience where players can live out their fantasies by meeting their favorite fictional characters.
Marvel fans ultimately got to live out these fantasies in the MMO Marvel Heroes. However, this wasn’t the first attempt at bringing Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers to life in a mass multiplayer game. That honor went to Marvel Universe Online, a game that was once in development from Cryptic Studios. Cryptic are best known for City of Heroes, as well as Star Trek Online.
Ultimately, this game was canceled, purportedly because it would have been competing in the subscription-based market against good old World of Warcraft. Instead, we eventually got Marvel Heroes, a free-to-play game. While fun, it’s hard not to think wistfully about what could have been. Cryptic were almost able to make a City of Heroes with actual Marvel characters, instead of suspicious knockoffs.
Now obviously, fans of Games Workshop’s Warhammer franchise eventually got their own massively multiplayer game. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is not without its fans, but this was the second attempt at bringing the world of Warhammer to the MMO scene, and the story of the original game is a little heartbreaking.
Developed by Climax Studios, the first version of Warhammer Online was envisioned as an antidote to World of Warcraft. Where Blizzard’s game was cute, colorful, and had real-time combat, Warhammer Online would have a darker, grittier art style, with more complex character models that featured layered clothing, a vast, seamless open world, and turn-based combat to help accommodate for players with slower internet speeds.
Sadly Games Workshop weren’t thrilled at the art style being used for the game. This may have been because the company is notoriously protective of their IP in other media. What’s more, after determining that it would take far too much money to finish the game, Games Workshop pulled the game’s funding.
Not to be deterred, Climax pushed to keep working on the game, using their own money to keep the project afloat. Ultimately, though, there just wasn’t enough to sustain Warhammer Online. The game was canceled, allowing Mythic Entertainment to snap up the license and create Age of Reckoning instead.
While there’s very little chance that Climax could have delivered on many of their more impressive claims for the game (such as its Elder Scrolls style open world made for early 2000s hardware), this is one game that MMO fans will always remember as an example of something that could have, just maybe, been absolutely incredible.
As with Warhammer Online, we eventually got an MMORPG set in the wonderful world of JRR Tolkien’s imagination in the form of Lord of the Rings Online. The first attempt at such a creation though, named Middle-Earth Online, is significant because of its excellent pedigree. It was in development from Sierra On-Line, once one of the biggest names in adventure games, best known as the creators of such hit franchises as King’s Quest.
Sierra’s version of Middle-Earth Online would have been released in 2000, had all gone according to plan. This would have meant making it to the market at a time when the MMO market was new and exciting and wasn’t dominated by a few big players.
Unfortunately, though, Sierra was bought by Vivendi. A lot of the studio’s current projects ended up getting reshuffled. Without clear leadership, Middle-Earth Online languished for a while as it was bounced around between different creative teams. Finally, development was canceled.
Ultima Worlds Online: Origin
The prospect of a sequel to the granddaddy of the genre, Ultima Online, certainly sounds tantalizing. Over the course of history, two different follow-on games were put into development. Thanks to EA’s internal conflicts, though, neither ever saw the light of day.
The first sequel, Ultima Worlds Online: Origin (originally known by the far less bizarre name Ultima Worlds 2), was an attempt to improve on the formula of the original game. Ultima made a splash when it first released, but as a 2D game it soon appeared dated when 3D polygonal MMOs like Everquest started appearing.
Publisher EA initially approved work on an Ultima sequel. Then, purportedly, the company suddenly realized that this new game would take resources and audiences away from the original game. EA cut development on Origin in order to focus on the first Ultima Online. This meant that those who’d been hoping to see an updated, less dated version of the original game were left sorely disappointed.
Another attempt was made a few years later to produce a sequel to Ultima Online. This time however, EA decided to shut down the team mid-development. This led to the cancellation of Ultima X: Odyssey, leaving the world without a modern Ultima MMO.
In the history of mass multiplayers, there are plenty of half-finished projects and canceled games. These leave fans wishing that developers could have completed their work and shared their creations with the world.
While these canceled MMOs will never see the light of day, at least we can sit back and imagine how amazing they might have been. If only things had gone a little differently during their development, some might exist today.Related: Article, Halo Online, Marvel Universe Online, Middle-Earth Online, MMORPG, Quest, Shut Down, Titan, Top List, Ultima Worlds Online: Origin, Warhammer Online