A recent Kotaku article about the closure of MMOs featured a mention of The Matrix Online including an interview with Dan “Walrus” Myers, MxO’s community manager turned producer. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the original article, “When An MMO Dies”
Exiting The Matrix
Long after the credits rolled in the third installment of the popular science fiction film franchise, players were still jacked into the Matrix via The Matrix Online. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sega, The Matrix Online came into being in March of 2005. EverQuest developer Sony Online Entertainment took over operation and development of the game in August of that year.
The plug was pulled on July 31, 2009.
Compared to other major MMO closures, The Matrix Online had a fairly long run.
A longer life doesn’t necessarily make a game’s termination less painful.
Daniel Myers began working on The Matrix Online as a community manager. By the time the game closed he was a producer. Today he works as a producer for Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming spy MMO, The Agency.
“Shutting down an MMO is rough on the development team,” Myers tells me. “These games have long development cycles that then continue for years after a successful launch. How each developer reacts to shutting down a game is personal and very much intertwined with what he or she have gone through in that time. ”
Myers recalls the changes he went through over the course of the five years he spent with The Matrix Online. During that time he changed companies once, attended five Sony Fan Faire events, and started working on a second project. On a more personal level he moved three times, lost 40 pounds (and gained 20 back), quit smoking twice, and added a lot more grey to his beard.
“Through all that, The Matrix Online had been a constant for me.”
Myers says The Matrix Online closed because it no longer met the needs of the business as a whole. It wasn’t a snap decision. “We proposed different options that were reviewed and seriously considered before the final decision was made. In the end, the overall cost of supporting the game no longer fit the business needs of SOE.”
And so The Matrix Online had to close. According to Myers it was hard on the development team, but not as hard as it could have been. Working at Sony Online Entertainment, the company behind EverQuest, EverQuest 2, Free Realms, Star Wars Galaxies, and several other MMO titles, most of the team found positions with other projects in the company.
The drawn-out nature of The Matrix Online’s closure also meant the developers got to send the game off with a bang. “The one thing I think all development teams want is to make whatever time is left memorable for their players,” explains Myers.
“For the final few months we reactivated old accounts and made all accounts free just so everyone who wanted to celebrate The Matrix Online could join in. We turned on all the events we’d used over the last five years and bumped everyone’s characters way past the level cap. One of the programmers was even triple-boxing for the entire final week just so he could fire off events on all three servers.”
The spectacular end of The Matrix Online was a testament to the passion and dedication Myers and his team felt towards the game and its players.
“When a game has been a constant in your life for that long, it’s hard to accept that it’s gone,” admits Myers. “There are still days that I wish I could log in and see the Megacity again. I don’t know that will ever completely stop. I kind of hope it doesn’t.”
The Five Stages of MMO Player Grief
Even the least popular massively-multiplayer game earns a strong community of stalwart supporters. After all of the naysayers half left the servers, an MMO audience is distilled down to the players most passionate about the virtual world they inhabit. They pay for the privilege of existing there, and when the servers go down, they are the ones hurt the most.
Developers do what they can to compensate players for their loss. Sony Online Entertainment gave The Matrix Online players that grand sendoff. NCsoft gave Auto Assault players parting gifts, including the chance to take part in Tabula Rasa, an MMO that ended up closing in 15 months.
“For the players we had, they were very passionate about the world and fiction, so of course they were very upset,” says NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury about the players that stayed with Auto Assault to the bitter end. “I suspect if we could find a way to revive it today, there would still be a small audience for it.”
Sony Online Entertainment’s Daniel Myers compares the process that players go through when an MMO closes to the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief. I’ve outlined them here, with Myer’s comments.
- Denial: “Some couldn’t believe that we wouldn’t find a way to continue supporting the game.”
- Anger: “Plenty of players were angry over the decision and how we reached that point.”
- Bargaining: “Lots of offers of support came through just to keep a live service going.”
- Depression: “There was a lot of sadness that the world they’d spent so much time in was going away.”
- Acceptance: “And, finally, accepting that The Matrix Online was going to shut its doors and we could have such a good send-off for it.”
Myers says his team saw all of those reactions, to varying degrees, though not everyone goes through all the stages, and certainly not everyone reaches acceptance.