In every business there are failures. In the world of MMOGs, these
failures sometimes sting so harshly that even time does not erase our
bitterness over what could have been. As gamers, we invest a lot of
ourselves into wanting to play and live within universes that captivate
us. These universes can be derivatives of our favorite novels or
television series, or created out of thin air by talented teams of
developers, but either way, when a world comes along that captures our
imaginations, we canÂt let it die easily.
And so, in any conversation with an MMO gamer whoÂs been around for more than a couple years, you are bound to come across references to some of these great Âmight have beensÂ from years past. In this article, IÂll wander down memory lane with you, to tell you the tales of the MMOGs that never were, and update you on some that may once again march into the daylight in the near future.
To tell you the entire story of this troubled IP, IÂd have to be a professional lawyer and private investigator. The accusations, lawsuits, rumors and unconfirmed ÂinsiderÂ statements are so convoluted youÂd almost swear that they were intentionally crafted to deceive and mislead an outsider from finding the true stories behind the companies responsible for this MMOGÂs failure. And, you wouldnÂt be far from the truth. You see, Stargate Worlds, and the entire Stargate IP, was merely an innocent bystander in what turned out to be a multi-level get-rich-quick scheme, also known as a ÂPonzi Scheme,Â headed up by a CEO of questionable repute and even more questionable character. How it was that Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment managed to grab hold of the Stargate IP is still an unknown, but it seems likely that MGMÂs desperate financial situation over the past several years played a role. Perhaps they did not do their homework before signing the deal, and were blinded by the potential dollars a successful MMOG could bring to their door. However, the simple truth seems to be that Gary Whiting, as the head of CME, never intended to release a finished product to the public and was simply using the beloved Stargate franchise to further their own nefarious money-making scam.
By capitalizing on the reputation of this well-known IP, the leaders of CME headed up a multi-level marketing scheme, under the company name of ÂMMOguls,Â which brought in droves of relatively small-dollar-figure investors who were promised outlandish returns once the game was made available to the public. One published statement claimed that SGW was Âguaranteed to bring in 150-200 million subscribersÂ -- a claim so unbelievable that it should make any veteran MMO gamer laugh out loud. Unfortunately, several dozen claimants in the ensuing lawsuits bought into these outlandish statements and invested their hard-earned money into CMEÂs venture with the promise of reaping unearthly dividends at a later date. Needless to say, such promises were never kept.
As if that wasnÂt enough, the story doesnÂt end there. Since the collapse of CME under the weight of various statements and civil filings, various news sites (including Ten Ton Hammer) have attempted to get a straight story out of the parties involved, only to be shut down at every turn. Internal arguments and finger-pointing have become common with those caught up in the whole ordeal, and itÂs difficult to tell if anyone in this story is innocent of wrong-doing.
After all of this strife, what has become of the IP itself? What happened to Stargate Worlds?
The most recent news item to float out of the murky depths of the continuing litigation surrounding SGW is that a newly formed company called ÂFresh Start StudiosÂ (comprised primarily of former-CME employees) was offered the opportunity to buy the IP and all of SGWÂs assets for the sum of $100,000 -- a fraction of 1% of the total value of these assets based on the amount of third-party investments sunk into the venture. This resulted in additional legal action, because CME was not allowed to liquidate any of their assets while under litigation for bankruptcy. Former investors into CME are now suing Fresh Start Studios (and a laundry list of other parties involved with the transfer) over this questionable act, because without the Stargate IP CME now Âlack[s] any reasonable means or prospect of internally generating revenues."
ItÂs probably safe to assume that SGW is not due for a rescue story of the sort weÂve seen happen to other MMOGs in the past. It is likely that the assets and license will be tied up in litigation for some time to come thanks to the underhanded investment schemes and fraudulent tactics of those previously in possession of the IP. The best we can hope for, as fans of the franchise, is that MGM will retake the rights to this rich universe, and more carefully choose their next partner in the future. But considering MGMÂs rocky financial footing at this time, the future of this gaming franchise is far too uncertain to make any solid predictions.
Don't hold your breath ...
Gods and Heroes
Originally announced in 2005, Gods and Heroes promised to be the first ever MMOG set in the mystical world of ancient roman mythology. The game was developed up to the point of an invitation-only closed beta process, when Perpetual Entertainment (by then called ÂP2Â) abruptly announced their impending bankruptcy, and shut the game servers down in October of 2007. A mire of financial squabbles and posturing followed that left no clear indication as the final ownership of the gameÂs existing assets. Rumors at the time indicated it may have been obtained, along with the Star Trek Online IP, by a Korean-based MMOG company, but such statements were later denied after Cryptic Studios and Atari confirmed that STO was now in their hands.
And so, after it received multiple ÂBest in ShowÂ awards at the 2006 E3 and several promising previews, we were left wondering the fate of this once promising MMOG. Despite its history as a high profile development, it simply slipped into the darkness following PerpetualÂs collapse. For years no announcements were made, and no news or rumors surfaced. Quietly, our hopes of seeing this original and innovative IP come to fruition, were lost.
And then, as if heralded by the thunderbolts of mighty Jupiter himself, an announcement rang out across the internet in February of 2010. The dark silence was finally broken, and developer Heatwave Interactive announced their continuing development of the forgotten project. Current estimates put a release date at some point in late 2011, according to a quote from Heatwave CEO, Anthony Castoro.
However, skepticism still runs thick. The Heatwave Interactive website shows their only previously published products as an in-browser flash game available on Facebook, and a soundboard iPhone app. Fans of the original development may be dismayed to hear that Heatwave intends to bring the game to market as a casual web-based app. Yet they still display a trailer on their website that shows the assets and artwork included in the original development process.
So, where does the truth lie, and how will the final product look and play? WeÂll have to keep our eyes open, and find out for ourselves on this one. The mere fact that the game is now back in active development should interest fans of Roman mythology, or those enamored by the work originally created by PerpetualÂs developers. But the significant shift in delivery methods is likely to disappoint many of those who followed the original development under Perpetual Entertainment.
"I'm not dead, yet!"
When we speak of failed IPs and lost potential, few can forget the heartaches and headaches brought on by the colossal fall of Hellgate: London. Publicly released in October of 2007, the game was forced to shut down their servers after just over a year due to financial instability within the company. The IP was seized as an asset, because publisher Flagship Studios had put it up for collateral when obtaining capital from their investors to continue operation and development of the title. This server shutdown was perhaps felt hardest by those who had purchased lifetime subscriptions to the title, which by current estimates is said to include tens of thousands of players, each of whom paid $150USD apiece, the approximate equivalent of 15 months of play, and, unfortunately, several months shy of the time in which the servers remained active. The pain of this lost investment cut extra deep for those who bought into it, since the majority of Hellgate players did not subscribe to the game and instead played under a somewhat restricted free-to-play model. While these non-subscribers enjoyed robust gameplay options at no recurring cost, those who paid for lifetime subscriptions ended up feeling like second-class citizens, denied their proper reward for making the choice to financially support the gameÂs continued development.
The IP for Hellgate: London was later sold to Korean-based company Hanbitsoft, which has since opened servers in their home region to support multiplayer capabilities. As of February of this year, Hanbitsoft has obtained the rights to a US/EU release, and is looking to republish the title in those regions in the near future. Details regarding patches, upgrades and changes to the existing client since the 2009 shut down are difficult to track down, but it is likely that the newly re-released version of Hellgate: London (subtitled ÂResurrectionÂ at this time) will require players to purchase a new client.
The story of Myst Online, despite being fraught with disappointment, is perhaps as unique as it is inspiring. The game originally began development back in 1997 under the title ÂAges Beyond Myst: Uru LiveÂ and was intended to be the first multiplayer title to take place in the then-chart-topping world of Myst. Over the years, developer Cyan Worlds experienced a turbulent development process, as well as disagreements with their publisher, Ubisoft, over the single-player aspects of the title. Ultimately, the game ended up being released without a multiplayer component as "Uru: Ages Beyond Myst" but developers at Cyan Worlds refused to abandon further development of the title. It took them almost a decade, but in 2006 they announced a partnership agreement with the online game service GameTap, and a working published version of the multiplayer title ÂMyst OnlineÂ was finally released to the public in February of 2007,all thanks to the tenacity and passion of Cyan Worlds and their dedicated fans and supporters.
Sadly, thatÂs not the happy ending to the tale. Despite the rabid dedication of their small market of players, GameTap was forced to shut down their support for the title in February of 2008 due to concerns regarding continued content delivery and creative disagreements. And yet, even with this setback, the plucky Cyan Worlds team refused to throw in the towel and re-acquired the rights to Myst Online free of charge after a few months of negotiation. In February of 2010, a small private server was brought online, and the game was republished under the title ÂMyst Online: Uru Live Again.Â The game is now free to play, though no new content is currently being developed. Cyan Worlds has announced their intention to release the source code for Myst Online, however, which could potentially lead to user-generated content at a later date.
Â more to come!
It is strange to find such a varied collection of stories in a single business model. From companies actively seeking to scam investors and line their own pockets, to developers that care so much for a title that they release it free to the public after more than a decade of hard work, these tales show us a glimpse of the best and worst that this genre has to offer, and many of the perils that any upcoming title has to overcome in order to finally stand by its brethren on the shelves of retail stores around the world.
But for every shared story dozens more go unspoken. And for every story of success, there is at least one failure that we never got to play, or that passed into obscurity before its time.