World of Warcraft launched in 2004. That makes World of Warcraft 15 years old, the age of an unruly teen who spends all their time playing World of Warcraft. And the cycle begins anew with the impending release of World of Warcraft: Classic, now in closed beta. Visiting Azeroth on the ground level for the first time, again, has been jarring for players, new and old. Vanilla features are getting reported as bugs and the much, much slower climb to the level cap sans the 15 years of quality of life changes and side activities will certainly lead to many gaunt-eyed staring contests in the mirror. Time has been kind to World of Warcraft. It hasn’t been kind to our ideas of what it once was.
But it’s been even meaner to all the MMOs that wanted a little nook in the caverns of our minds next to WoW. Like battle royale and mobas and survival games before that, MMOs were once the hottest shit. Being the next WoW felt like it was on every studio’s agenda. Some MMOs found footing, but nothing ever toppled WoW. Let’s remember the fallen (and the too-obscure-to-remember-it-fell-at-all). Here’s a look at some of the notable MMOs that came and went during WoW’s lifetime, with plenty of freemium MMOs skipped over for the sake of brevity.
City of Heroes
Release date: April 28, 2004
Died: November 2012
City of Heroes was a fairly popular MMORPG in which players assumed the role of a superhero and chose their own powers, combating gangs and criminal organizations across Paragon City. All servers shut down on November 30, 2012. A secret fan server has kept things going for over six years, though.
Minions of Mirth
Release date: December 2005
Died: September 2017
A cult fantasy MMORPG from Prairie Games, multiplayer features were taken permanently offline due to a ‘hard drive failure’. Making an indie MMO ain’t easy.
Release date: October 2005
Died: March 2017
The popularity of New Horizon Interactive’s cartoon MMO for kids wasn’t saved by its minigames or igloo customization options, unfortunately. Services shut down in March 2017, and it was a dramatic ending, though it was followed by a successor, Club Penguin Island. The original game lives on via private servers.
The Matrix Online
Release date: 2005
Died: August 2009
Monolith Productions had the uneasy task of turning a monolith movie into an MMO. It worked, but not well enough to keep players around. Unable to slow-mo dodge the inevitable, all services were shut down on August 1, 2009.
Dark and Light
Release date: June 2006
Another fantasy MMO, Dark and Light’s hook were it’s, uh, dark and light progression tracks. Bugs and poor visuals overpowered the dark and light. Services suddenly halted in 2008. Dark and Light rights were acquired by Snail Games, which made an early access survival game in 2017 using the same name.
Phantasy Star Universe
Released: August 2006
Died: September 2012 (Japan)
A bland successor to Phantasy Star Online, which was groundbreaking as a console MMO back in 2001. By comparison, PSU was a dated dungeon crawler the moment it arrived. Western servers shut down in 2010, while the Japanese servers hang on for two more years, until a much more popular sequel, PSO2, took over.
Dynasty Warriors Online
Release date: 2006 in Japan, 2010 in NA
Died: January 2014 (English servers only)
Koei’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms hack-and-slash went online, but otherwise looks a lot like classic Dynasty Warriors. It managed to stick around for four years in the West before the English servers were shut down in 2014.
Fantasy Earth Zero
Release date: 2006 in Japan, 2010 in NA
Died: 2011 in NA
An MMO with a complex, canceled-then-sold-and-re-released history that has done surprisingly well in Japan but mostly flopped in the West. The NA servers shut down just over a year after launch, though it’s still kicking around in Japan. Think big crowds of anime girls in PvP battles and you’ve got the picture.
Release date: February 2007
Essentially a chatroom for people to solve the series’ convoluted puzzles in, Myst Online couldn’t make a case for itself. Official services ended in 2008, but as of 2010, Cyan Worlds released the server source code. It’s largely used as a setting for fan machinima now.
Pirates of the Caribbean Online
Release date: October 2007
In an attempt to cash-in on the popularity of the movies, Disney Online meant for Pirates to coincide with the release of Dead Man’s Chest. Making games isn’t that simple, so it was delayed until 2007. Servers sank beneath the seas in September 2013.
Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine
Release date: April 2007 in Japan, December 2008 in NA, January 2009 in EU
Died: 2014 in NA, 2016 in Japan
Oddly developed by CAVE, the Japanese studio known for bullet hell SHMUPs, this Shin Megami Tensei spin-off was a popular post-apocalypse Tokyo RPG for years after launch. The western servers bit the dust in 2014, while the Japanese servers shut down in May 2016.
Release date: 2007
An unconventional, and ugly, sci-fi MMO that let players fly starships together. It was Star Citizen before Star Citizen, minus the millions of dollars.
Release date: November 2007
Died: February 2009
Richard Garriot’s MMO didn’t keep many players in its orbit. Servers were shut off in February of 2009, shortly after Garriott left (or was allegedly outed) from NCsoft.
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes
Release date: January 2007
Died: July 2014
Sony Online Entertainment was all about making MMOs and Vanguard was another stab at high fantasy, this time from a team led by former Everquest developers. It just wasn’t much fun. Servers shut down in July 2014.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
Release date: September 2008
Warhammer’s big MMO adaptation launched with a bang and offered some awesome large scale PvP with its Realm vs. Realm battles, but it had trouble holding onto players after the initial hype died down and the flaws became more apparent. Low subscriber counts led Mythic Entertainment to shut services down in 2013, though fan servers still persist.
Release date: April 2009
Died: March 2014
This was Sony’s kid-friendly attempt at an MMO multiverse, like WoW sans the cartoon violence and with way more minigames. SOE shut down servers in March of 2014, citing a lack of resources.
Battlestar Galactica Online
Release date: February 2009
Died: February 2019
A game we forgot existed only called it quits recently. Developed by Bigpoint Games, the MMO based on the beloved sci-fi series was permanently shut down in February 2019.
Hello Kitty Online
Release date: 2010
Died: August 2017
A cartoon paradise for Hello Kitty fans, Hello Kitty Online went quietly into the night. An exact time for shutdown isn’t clear, but a fan blog claims the last time they could log in was around August of 2017.
Release date: February 2012
Died: January 2014
Some quick history: Travis Baldree, co-founder of Runic Games, the studio behind Torchlight, once tried to make an MMO. Baldree and his team at Flagship Studios worked on Mythic until 2008 before running into financial troubles, so the project and existing work was sold off. In the hands of Korean MMO publisher HanbitSoft, Mythic was restructured and relaunched in April 2011. Servers shut down globally in January 2014.
Darkfall Unholy Wars
Release date: November 2012
Died: May 2016
Darkfall Unholy Wars took an unusual path to life for an MMO by going through Steam Greenlight. It looked more or less like Uglier Skyrim PvP.
Release date: June 2013
Died: November 2017
Disney ended relations with developer Gazillion Entertainment in November 2017 and Marvel Heroes was taken offline later that month.
Release date: July 2014
Died: July 2017
An ambitious MMO that introduced RPG systems into a persistent shooter sounded like a sure thing from the get-go, but financial troubles led developer Red 5 Studios to lay off 40 employees and eventually cease development on Firefall. Servers were shut down for the biggest E3 boother several years running in July 2017.
Release date: June 2014
Died: November 2018
Despite a catchy mix of fantasy and sci-fi and a largely positive reception, Wildstar couldn’t keep enough players around to justify the on-going costs. Developer Carbine Studios closed in September 2018 and Wildstar shut down shortly after in November 2018.
Release date: N/A
Died: March 2016
The follow-up to two of the most influential MMOs didn’t even make it out of development. Everquest Next was cancelled in March of 2016, though DayBreak Game Company said it would live on in MMO form as Landmark. About that…
Release date: June 2016
Died: February 2017
Once the ambitious first step towards Everquest Next, Landmark was a sandbox for players to build in, a bit like a less-blocky Minecraft. It shut down in February 2017, just seven months after release (although a closed beta had been playable way back in early 2014).