Once World of Warcraft was king, it seemed like a contender to its throne was announced monthly. Here's a quick look at the competitors that were born or died — or both! — during WoW's rise.
This post is part of our series this week on the fifth anniversary of the launch of World of Warcraft.
Yes, I know that many massively multiplayer online games preceded World of Warcraft and persist to this day. Plenty of praise is due to the EverQuests and Ultima Online, to Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes, to Eve Online, Saga of Ryzom and others. There were here before Blizzard. But today's post isn't about them.
For reference, Blizzard's MMO launched on November 23, 2004.
MMOs Born Before WoW, Died During WoW
Asheron's Call 2: The first Asheron's Call from developer Turbine is still going and just celebrated its 10th anniversary, but sometimes you can't turn people onto a new thing. The sequel, Asheron's Call 2, ended four years ago, with some press attention from me at this semi-busted link of my old employer's and by reporter Clive Thompson, who attended the end of that world.
Born: 11/02. Died: 12/05
Shadowbane: The player-vs-player-focused fantasy game published by Ubisoft went free. Hung on for another three years, but got the axe in 2009, the year that you'll see throughout this post marked the demised of many any MMO.
Born: 3/03. Died: 7/09
The Matrix Online (pictured above): Backed by Warner Brothers and Sega, this was one of those can't-miss MMOs based not just a popular fiction but a fiction that was all about people jacking into another reality. This was also the rare movie-spin-off video game that was considered canon. The game blinked out this past summer, putting the entire franchise on hold, I believe.
Born: 3/05. Died: 8/09
Auto Assault (pictured above): The development studio that made this game is making a Lego MMO now, so don't feel too bad for the folks at NetDevil. I remember being impressed with the pitch for Auto Assault. Other MMOs would make you a character. In this one you could be a car, because, well, playing as a car could lead to fun gameplay. I regret never having tried it once it went live. Crecente had theorized that the game was just too different from its MMO peers.
Born: 4/06. Died: 8/07
Tabula Rasa: This MMO, overseen by Ultima Online creator Richard Garriott, flamed out quickly, hounded by complaints that it just wasn't much fun. At least the sci-fi game was stamped out by giant robots.
Born: 2/07. Died: 2/09
Dungeons and Dragons Online: One of MMO developer Turbine's tries for a game in the exact same genre as World of Warcraft — likely using much of the source material that inspired Blizzard's developers — this game became a free-to-play MMO this year.
Vanguard Saga of Heroes: Sony Online Entertainment's other fantasy MMO (besides EverQuest). Our Michael Fahey has posted about his lukewarm interest in the game a couple of times. Still going.
Lord of the Rings Online: The closest MMO, in terms of content, to World of Warcraft. Turbine's game is still going, still being expanded, and, Turbine said as recently as June of this year, even has a growing userbase.
Pirates of the Caribbean Online: From Disney. Fee to play, but costs money for the fully-featured version.
Pirates of The Burning Sea: From Flying Lab Software. Has had its dark days. But keeps getting patched. Still going.
Age of Conan: Funcom's MMO was one of the splashier contenders to WoW's dominance, boasting, at one point, 700,000 users. But its director quit the company over a year ago, expressing dissatisfaction with his work, and the buzz for this game has diminished significantly.
Warhammer Online: EA's big push in the fantasy MMO genre. Seemed to start strong, but the studio's been beleaguered. And, earlier this month, the game went free to play (for players okay with being capped at level 10). Not the signs of a game firmly entrenched in the market, sadly.
Aion (pictured above): NCSoft's latest MMO had, according to company claims, 400,000 pre-ordered customers ready for launch. Servers couldn't handle demand, exemplified by the user who got hit with a seven-hour wait to log on to the game. Fahey's been playing it, amid the crowds.
Champions Online: A super-hero MMO from the creators of City of Heroes, Cryptic Studios. Boasts a million created super-heroes, including a super version of our editor-in-chief. Our MMO mastermind Fahey has provided us impressions.
UPDATE: As some readers noted, this last list should have included NCSoft's player-vs-player-based Guild Wars, which was launched in 4/05 and is still going.
More MMOs are soon to be born during World of Warcraft's continued life. DC Universe Online. Star Trek Online, And more. Looking back, and the games that couldn't keep up with WoW or were born during it, tell me what I missed. And tell me what you think about why some games made it and others didn't.