Thursday, September 16, 2010

APB: When the Servers Shut Down

Today it could be read at Gamasutra that Realtime Worlds, the developer of Crackdown and APB, will be closing down servers for its online street crime game. APB was a very recent online title whose release was met with a critical paddling and failed to reach commercial expectations. After a number of lay-offs the entire project is being closed down allowing just enough time for players to say good bye to the game and its community.

I recall reviewers at the time of release were often critical of its failings but hopeful for its future, because an untapped potential was there. Unfortunately now it is too late, and that’s only after two months of post-game existence. This shines a light on a major problem that’s kept me away from most online gaming – what happens when the servers shut down.

It’s almost unheard of that a work of art would become no longer accessible because of a company’s financial situation and lack of popularity. Plenty of works will go on tour to boost museum attendance across country, films will get DVD releases (where sales are better than in theaters) once they’re no longer able to fill the seats, and you can still find rare books and video games (just for a higher price than common ones). It does happen; there are some lost works and populous failures, but there has never been a medium before which has ever had to deal with constant user and monetary requirements like MMOs (and to a lesser degree online shooters).

An MMO requires a large community to provide a lot of money for the developer to logically continue supporting it, and when the developer is no longer able to the disk one buys and the hours one spent are wasted and can no longer be returned to. This is sad for the player, but the developers also sunk years of their lives into the creation of these games, and in ABP’s case to have it shut down mere weeks after release.

A popular MMO will garner years of success – WoW being the prime example. But a failed one will almost surely destroy the company creating it. The end result leaves nobody (player, dev, or critic) happy. No one benefits from this kind of failure.

But even the long lasting MMOs will one day disappear and all we will be able to do remember what was once and is no more. I can travel to the world of Halo or Max Payne as many times as I want in my life if I can find a disk and a functioning Xbox, or if I download them onto my PC, but the MMO lives a much more tragic life. It constantly suffers to gain and maintain an audience and once it loses the interest of the mob it will die and never return.

APB’s death is a grim reminder that all online gaming will eventually go in this same direction. And the most disturbing problem is these games are “money-makers.” There is no niche-audience, no hidden gem. They can only be gold or garbage with nothing in between. That is a major flaw for the genre.

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