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The Matrix Online

The Game Archaeologist: Classic MMOs in August

Anarchy Online, Asheron's Call, Dungeons and Dragons Online, EverQuest, Lineage 2, PlanetSide, The Matrix Online, News Items, Opinion, Ultima Online, Vanguard, The Game Archaeologist, Miscellaneous

The Game Archaeologist Classic MMOs in August
How few players do you need to have before operating an MMO becomes ridiculously unprofitable and in need of closing? In the case of The Matrix Online, we found out that the magic number was 500. I wouldn't have even guessed that so few people were in that game when its shutdown was announced, especially considering the vocal anguish that arose when SOE lowered the boom.

I guess it goes to show that we're often quite clueless what goes on behind the curtain. There's always this balance between the number-crunchers (who need players and money to justify continued operations) and the passionate creators (who are often developers putting in the effort because they simply love the game and its community). If nothing else, it reinforced my belief that SOE does bend over backwards to keep these games running as long as possible, much longer than some other studios would in a similar situation.

So what other news regarding classic MMOs happened this past month? It's time for another one of my patented roundups, complete with archaeological commentary!

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GDC Europe 2013: SOE talks game shutdowns, The Matrix Online

Sci-Fi, Events (Real-World), MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, News Items, Subscription, MMORPG

The Matrix Online
Sony Online Entertainment's Linda "Brasse" Carlson took the stage at this year's GDC Europe to talk about SOE's approach to community management, and in the process delivered a little insight into how studios can (and should) approach shutting down MMOs with waning or nonexistent player populations.

Carlson used Monolith Productions' The Matrix Online as an example, explaining that the game's population had dipped down to fewer than 500 players by the time the decision was made to take it offline in 2009.
The breaking point where cost of maintenance just to keep the game up was ridiculous. Sometimes you just have to shut these games down.
Determining when and how to sunset an MMO is never an easy task; Carlson noted that a studio should never "belittle the people who are deeply emotionally upset" about their favorite title shutting down.

The talk wasn't all about shutdowns, however; Carlson also discussed Sony's community management philosophy, which includes showing empathy to players, protecting developers from abuse, and using the player-driven community council to make more educated and agreeable decisions about the future of its games.

Gamasutra has a nice collection of quotes from the presentation, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Perfect Ten: Final moments of MMOs, part 1

Video, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, Tabula Rasa, Perfect Ten, Miscellaneous, Sunsets

The Perfect Ten Final moments of MMOs
Maybe many of us would just rather remember MMOs as they were in life rather than at the moment of their demise. But I believe that how a game went out is incredibly fascinating for many reasons and worthy of examination.

It's in these final moments when an entire community has to say goodbye. It's in these moments that the developers mourn as well before pulling the plug. It's in these moments that history is being made one last time. And it goes without saying that it's in these moments that everyone curses the unfairness of it all.

Today we're going to watch the first half of 10 videos featuring MMOs in their final moments. It's here we'll see how weird, crazy, sad, and interesting things can get. Maybe you were part of one (or more) of these moments or are simply curious what it was like. Either way, it's the end of the world as we know it. And we feel fine.

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Jukebox Heroes: The Matrix Online's soundtrack

Sci-Fi, Culture, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Jukebox Heroes, Music

Jukebox Heroes The Matrix Online's soundtrack
It's been almost three-and-a-half years since players were forced to unplug from The Matrix Online for the last time, but the memories and music remain. When I first was wowed by The Matrix back in 1999, the dark, action-packed score became an instant favorite of mine. It's a franchise in which the sound is critical to the feel of the films, and it makes sense that this would extend to the MMO.

The makers of MxO went to great lengths to retain the look, story, and audio of the films, which is why the trilogy's composer, Don Davis, was called in to create the music for the game. While the films are more dependent on an orchestra for the score, Davis went with a heavy synth sound for the MMO. It's still quite Matrix-y, however, and pretty dang cool to discover (or discover all over again).

Let's boot up this ancient laptop that I found and see if we can coax a few tunes out of it before Windows 98 shuts down on us for good.

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Free for All: The second annual Frindie Awards

Real-Life, Sci-Fi, Asheron's Call, Contests, Culture, PvP, Ryzom, The Matrix Online, Wurm Online, PvE, Opinion, Second Life, Vanguard, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Browser, Mobile, Casual, Virtual Worlds, Mabinogi, Kids, Alganon, Free for All, Family, Miscellaneous, Enter at Your Own Rift, Sandbox

Frindie Awards logo
It's time once again for the Frindie Awards, my attempt to shine some light on the best indie, browser-based, free-to-play, and unusual MMOs that are all-too-often ignored by press -- and players. This one is for the little guys! Well, mostly. It's also for those games that seem to have passed under the collective radar of Massively readers or that seem to be very misunderstood.

Picking the winners this year is just as hard as it was last year, maybe even harder. 2012 was an incredible year for MMOs, so I would rather have just put together an article that highlights every single favorite. In the end, it's more helpful to make myself pick out a winner. It's a rare thing for some of these games to even receive a nod on a major website, something I still can't figure out. Either way, it's best to think of all of the MMOs on this list as my favorites from 2012.

Anyway, let's get to the awards!

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The Perfect Ten: Ways MMOs explain infinite resurrection

City of Heroes, Dungeons and Dragons Online, EVE Online, Fallen Earth, Lord of the Rings Online, The Matrix Online, The Secret World, Humor, RIFT, Allods Online, Perfect Ten, Miscellaneous

The Perfect Ten Ways MMOs explain infinite resurrection
Why? Why do we die in MMOs and receive an infinite number of resurrections? Are we in a type of hell defined by endless combat and suffering, doomed to never escape the cycle? Is this a cruel experiment being performed by supreme alien beings from afar? Does that make us the living undead, immortal Highlanders, or something even more significant?

If you're looking at me with that look you have in your eye right now, I'd like to remind you that asking these questions is more in line with the core of RPGs than just mashing the 1-2-3 buttons. The rules that make up and dictate our virtual lives should have both meaning and sense, yet so many of these games expect us to just blithely accept that we can come back from the dead over and over without nary an explanation.

Well, I like explanations. Even if it's just polite nonsense, a thought-out reason as to why our characters are death-proof tells me that the devs treat their game with a higher degree of integrity than others. So here are 10 MMOs in which the endless cycle of death and resurrection gets at least a backhanded explanation instead of "shut up, just accept it."

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MMO Blender: Matt's immersive cyberpunk monstrosity

Asheron's Call, EverQuest II, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Star Wars Galaxies, Guild Wars 2, The Secret World, All Points Bulletin, Champions Online, TERA, Miscellaneous, MMO Blender

All right, maybe not that immersive.
Let's take a look at the acronym MMORPG for a moment. If you're reading this site, you surely know what it stands for: massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Ever since World of Warcraft hit the big-time, MMOs have been cropping up left and right in more shapes and sizes than many would have ever guessed. Swords and sorcery: check. Spreadsheets and spaceships: check. Roman orgies: coming soon.

But somewhere along the line, game developers have forgotten something. Before there were MMORPGs, there were just RPGs, played by folks gathered around the kitchen table armed with nothing more than pencils, paper, and their trusty dice. I'm not going to pretend that "I was there, man" because -- being a '90s kid -- I didn't get into pen-and-paper games until my teens in the 2000s. But even I know that those games put an emphasis on the "RP" part of RPG in a way that MMORPGs simply don't, and in some ways, can't. But I'm sure that I can't be the only one who still wants to escape to another world, to become fully immersed in that world and in my character. So in my Frankenstein's monster experiment today, I'm going to try my best to meld modern MMO features into an immersive fantasy roleplaying world. Won't you join me?

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The Game Archaeologist: When dead MMOs come back to life

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Hellgate: London, Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane, Mythos, Free-to-Play, All Points Bulletin, LEGO Universe, The Game Archaeologist, Faxion Online

Hellgate Tokyo
Maybe I'm alone in this, but my jaw just dropped when I came home this past week to see that Massively posted the news that Shadowbane is coming back to life. Granted, it's only going to happen in China, but still, that's pretty incredible. Shadowbane's been in the ground for three years now, and if I had to pick an MMO that deserved resurrection, this particular one would be farthest from my mind (no offense if you liked the game; it's just that there are so many others that are even more worthy).

But how can this not give you hope? Many of us have lost an MMO we loved or at least had a decked-out character populating the character select screen, and the thought of that game coming back against all odds is a goosebump-rising one. It may also smack of justice served, as some MMOs fail not because of faulty gameplay but because of mismanagement by the studio, complex legal wrangling, or bad marketing.

Today let's look at a few examples of dead MMOs that were brought back to life and what this may mean for the future of the industry. Zombie MMOs! Not, you know, MMOs with zombies.

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The Game Archaeologist jacks into The Matrix Online: Your memories

Sci-Fi, Culture, The Matrix Online, Roleplaying, The Game Archaeologist

What can you trust when your memories are merely the by-product of intelligent machines tinkering with your brain? When you come right down to it, who's to say that our alleged recollections of The Matrix Online weren't just computer viruses uploaded into our cerebral cortexes -- and that the game never existed at all?

Real or not, The Matrix Online is in no danger of being forgotten. Whether it's because of the meta setting, the too-hip-to-stay-on-cows fashion, or the interactive stories, MxO never fails to evoke passionate testimonies. After speaking with developer Ben Chamberlain last week, today we're going to turn the tables on the players themselves to see what they have to say.

Was The Matrix Online really all that and a bag of computer chips? Was it merely a good-looking graphical chat room or something more? And how will it be remembered many years from now when we sit our grandchildren on our laps and tell them about how we took the blue pill? Or was it red... I can never remember!

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The Game Archaeologist jacks into The Matrix Online: Jamming with Ben 'Rarebit' Chamberlain

Sci-Fi, Interviews, The Matrix Online, The Game Archaeologist

When we started into The Matrix Online month last week on The Game Archaeologist, one of the comments caught my eye. Massively reader stealthrider wrote:
Please, please do a tribute to Rarebit. MxO was his baby, and no one took its death worse than he.

He did everything for that game, much of it single-handedly. Everything from playing the canon characters and co-writing the story to fixing hundreds of bugs and even creating a new zone from scratch. Not to mention developing and implementing the story missions, new items, the RP item vendors, and pretty much everything else in
MxO's final couple of years. He even implemented and moderated a player-created minigame as part of the official story.

He retired from game development in the months before
MxO's shutdown. He was that dedicated to this game that he couldn't work on anything else afterward.

He's a god among developers, and he is as sorely missed as the game itself.
I think this sums up how many Matrix Online vets feel about Ben "Rarebit" Chamberlain. So instead of a mere tribute, we drove the MassivelyMobile over to Chamberlain's house (read: send a polite email request), and he graciously said he'd be glad to reminisce with us. So hit that jump to find out the last word on MxO from the dev who held it together!

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The Game Archaeologist jacks into The Matrix Online: The highlights

Sci-Fi, The Matrix Online, The Game Archaeologist

It's not every year that a movie comes along that captures the pop culture zeitgeist so powerfully and so quickly as The Matrix did. I recall lugging a few college friends along to see this in 1999 -- having heard only a few sparse details about it beforehand -- and coming out of the theater feeling as if we we'd been electrified. The bold mix of science fiction, martial arts, philosophy, action, and leather ensembles became the smash hit of the year, and a franchise was born.

And while we had great hopes that this would be this generation's Star Wars, The Matrix ultimately proved to be a lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon, impossible to recapture once unleashed. Sequels, animated shorts, video games, comic books -- none rose to the height of the original film, and eventually the franchise petered out.

During this period, an odd duck of an MMO was born: The Matrix Online. When you think about it, an online virtual world where people log in and fight against programs was a really short hop from the movie series. MxO, as it was abbreviated, was an audacious game with unique features, story-centric gameplay and a sci-fi bent in a field of fantasy competitors, and while it only lasted four years, it was enough to make a huge impression for its community.

So by popular demand, this month we're going to revisit the 1s and 0s of The Matrix Online to see just how deep the rabbit hole (and well-worn cliche) goes -- and what made this game stand out!

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The Daily Grind: Shut a game down or let it waste away?

Game Mechanics, Patches, Endgame, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Vanguard, Miscellaneous

It's not exactly a good time to be a player of Vanguard. Actually, it hasn't been a good time for more than a year now -- while the game isn't shutting down, the December letter that essentially announced the game's development was no longer ongoing was a serious blow to the game's vitality. What's in the game now may very well be all that will ever be in the game. Of course, you can argue that the players are still better off than members of The Matrix Online's community, since that game went completely offline.

But is that really better? Many Vanguard fans almost wanted the game to turn off when SOE made the first announcement, and perhaps in some ways it's better to shut down with grace than waste away on progressively slower and smaller updates. Which would you rather face in your favorite game? A slow fading into the darkness, where the game is still online but less vibrant with each day? Or a cancellation that removes the game forever, cutting you off from an old friend but granting closure?

Every morning, the Massively bloggers probe the minds of their readers with deep, thought-provoking questions about that most serious of topics: massively online gaming. We crave your opinions, so grab your caffeinated beverage of choice and chime in on today's Daily Grind!

The Perfect Ten: The sadistic shopper's list for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Fury, RF Online, The Matrix Online, Hellgate: London, Tabula Rasa, All Points Bulletin, Humor, Promotions, Perfect Ten

With the holiday shopping season upon us, gamers are hot for great deals and cheap entertainment. As my wife's logic goes, if something is 80% off, you buy it, even if you didn't really want it in the first place. It's the principle of the thing, an automatic 80% dose of smug satisfaction at being a savvy shopper!

Not every deal should be pursued, however. Although most video games are playable for years and decades after release, not so with MMOs that have had their service shuttered. It's recently come to my attention that even though these games are completely unplayable -- rendered nothing more than a few cents' worth of a DVD and cardboard packaging -- online retailers haven't kept up with the times and keep these products on the virtual shelves long past their expiration dates.

That's not to say you should avoid these products at all cost, because studies show that a large percentage of Massively readers have a sick and twisted sense of humor. What would make a better gift this Christmas than a multi-million-dollar-budget MMO that died a horrible death years before?

So don't be the typical gifter who settles for a Blu-ray player or an iPod -- give a package of misery, disillusionment and broken dreams! Hit the jump for 10 items that absolutely belong in your shopping cart if you wish to be feared!

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The pain and suffering of MMO shutdowns

MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, All Points Bulletin

Like life itself, the MMO industry doesn't often seem fair -- promising games can die premature deaths while creaky antiques continue to chug along just fine. When an MMO like APB or Tabula Rasa announces that it's closing its doors after only a couple years (or months), the first reaction is usually to ask, "What in Sam Hill happened and why are they doing this to me?" Yet what isn't always considered is the emotional fallout on behalf of the devs.

Over at Kotaku, Michael Fahey examined the fallout when MMOs are shuttered prematurely, using the examples of Auto Assault and The Matrix Online as case studies. NetDevil spent four years developing the former, which lasted a mere fraction of that time -- 16 months -- as a live game. Ryan Seabury testifies to the pain that this causes for a dev team: "I won't lie, it hurts like hell still over four years later... Naturally, if a universe like Auto Assault that you sort of mentally attach to over multiple years suddenly ceases to exist, it's like a part of you dies." He personally points to NCsoft as the reason for Auto Assault's closure, stating that the game might still be in operation if it wasn't for the publisher's lack of faith.

On the flip side, The Matrix Online had a longer run and plenty of time to prepare for the end once word was passed down. Then-Community Manager Daniel Myers says that the decision was a matter of dollars and sense. Still, Myers admits that it continues to affect him: "There are still days that I wish I could log in and see the Megacity again. I don't know [if] that will ever completely stop. I kind of hope it doesn't."

One Shots: Patience, grasshopper

Sci-Fi, Screenshots, The Matrix Online, One Shots

While The Matrix Online is gone, there are those among us who remember the world fondly and miss its futuristic role-playing and live events. As we cannot get shiny new One Shots from these events any longer, we wanted to share this one from the heyday of the game that was sent in to us by Bv_dinner. She writes in to explain this moment from the history of the Recursion server in The Matrix Online: "[This is a screenshot of] my toon BlackVelvet aka BV sitting at one of the dojos waiting for other team members to show up. I was on a roleplaying server so I was waiting for the event to occur. Good memories and good friends were made there."

If you played an MMO that is gone but not forgotten, and have screenshots you'd like to dust off and share, why not send those to us here at oneshots AT massively DOT com? Be sure to include your name, the name of the game, and any stories you'd like to tell us about what went on in the screenshot. After all, screenshots -- like experiences -- are better when shared!

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