MMOs have a relatively short shelf life. While a range of factors play into decisions to shut down these titles, the steep running costs and constant upkeep needed often mean that online games are shut down long before their time. Copyright law means that they can't easily be brought back, and fan efforts are frequently shut down.
From The Sims Online to The Matrix Online, we look back at all the best MMOs that died and why we loved them.
City of Heroes (2004 — 2012)
City of Heroes was a superhero MMO where players could create their own hero and battle against super-villain forces. It was extremely customisable and received dozens of story and content updates that kept the game's world consistently fresh throughout its eight year run. It also received a companion game in 2005 called City of Villains, where players could join the dark side.
In 2012, it was announced that the game would be shutting down as publisher NCSoft "refocused" its publishing support. While fan outcry was loud and persistent, the eventual shutdown went ahead regardless. But that wasn't the end for City of Heroes.
In 2019, it was discovered that a secret private server of City of Heroes had been running for years after the game's shutdown, and the code for this server was eventually leaked, much to the excitement of fans. This led to the creation of multiple new City of Heroes servers, many of which can be accessed easily online. NCSoft has chosen to leave these new versions running, so City of Heroes can still be enjoyed by all.
Star Wars Galaxies (2003 — 2011)
Star Wars Galaxies was a game ahead of its time. This Star Wars MMO launched in 2003, in a time when the Star Wars prequels were still in vogue. Players could create their own original Star Wars character, take on a range of professions and travel through iconic Star Wars locations. Players could be a Twi'lek bounty hunter, a Mon Calamari entertainer — even a Jedi, if they really worked hard for it.
Star Wars Galaxies was ambitious and received several major updates and expansions during its long run. These added new space combat options and planets like Kashyyyk and Mustafar, as well as appearances from major Star Wars characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi. The MMO shut down in 2011 after a mutual decision between LucasArts and developer Sony Online Entertainment, although servers for the game had been closing en masse since 2009. It lives on in private servers across the internet.
The Sims Online (2002 — 2008)
Screenshot: Giant Bomb
The Sims Online took the classic life simulator to the wilds of the internet for the first time, allowing players to connect with other Sims in real time online chatrooms. The game took the basic functionality of the original Sims title and added a new levelling system as well as new jobs for Sims to take on.
It also featured a complex, Sim-run economy based on real estate and goods selling. Unfortunately, a glitch exploit eventually tanked this economy and led to a state of hyperinflation and poverty in the game that wasn't fixed for three years.
The Sims Online also had its fair share of problems, with complaints pointing to a lack of content, low playerbase and monthly fees, but the game was still great fun, and it's a shame EA has never revisited the formula. (Current rumours point out The Sims 5 may have an online component.)
In 2008, The Sims Online was briefly relaunched as a streamlined game called EA-Land, but four weeks after the rebrand, it was announced that the game would shut down. It closed in August of that year, and Maxis moved onto other projects. A new, free server has since been set up by fans.
Pirates of the Caribbean Online (2007 — 2013)
Before Sea of Thieves, the hottest pirate MMO on the block was Pirates of the Caribbean Online. In this game, which was based on the film/theme park franchise, players created their own unique pirate and set off on a high sea adventure. Jack Sparrow and Will Turner featured heavily in the main plot of the game, but it featured an original story.
Players could take on a variety of quests, collect loot, gain notoriety and conquer great beasts in the game. It was shut down in September of 2013, and while the reasons are unclear, it's likely to do with financial disappointment from the title and a waning fanbase.
While the original game is dead, a fan server has been going strong since 2017. Recently, active players celebrated Mardi Gras with a themed event in Tortuga.
Marvel Heroes (2013 — 2017)
Marvel Heroes was a short-lived MMO based on Marvel's most popular comic book franchises. It launched at the height of Marvel mania, and featured solid gameplay and a fun story that saw players controlling some of Marvel's most beloved characters.
While it was met with criticism at launch, Marvel Heroes evolved with time, eventually being rebranded as Marvel Heroes Omega as its gameplay formula and story offerings were expanded. In 2017, it launched on consoles, but by November of that year, it shut down. This came after Disney ended its relationship with developer Gazillion Entertainment and pulled the license for its characters. No reason was given for this decision, and the game has unfortunately stayed dead since the announcement.
Club Penguin (2005 — 2017)
Club Penguin was a family-friendly MMO that launched in 2005. It featured a range of fun activities and games for kids to take part in, including pizza making, pin-collecting and snowball fights. It was also a hotbed for kids to meet up with their mates and chat after school. In 2005, you weren't cool unless you were on Club Penguin.
Paid subscriptions that allowed players to buy new cosmetic and furniture items buoyed the financial success of Club Penguin, but it wasn't set to last. Club Penguin was online for over 12 years before being taken down and replaced with Club Penguin Island, an inferior spin-off MMO that was also soon shuttered by Disney. Since then, fans have resurrected it as Club Penguin Rewritten.
Toontown Online (2003 — 2013)
Screenshot: Moby Games
Toontown Online was a Disney MMO where players could create their own 'Toon' characters, defeat evil 'Cog' antagonists and travel through a world inspired by classic cartoons. The game was loosely inspired by Robert Zemeckis' 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, although this wasn't explicitly advertised.
While Toontown Online enjoyed a strong 10-year run, game designer Jesse Schell implied in 2015 that the game had operated on an unsustainable business model, which was likely the reason for its final end. Disney closed the service in 2013, stating its desire to focus on other services, like Club Penguin. Unfortunately, even that game was soon shuttered, making Toontown Online's disappearance all the more heartbreaking.
It's since been revived at Toontown Online Rewritten.
The Matrix Online (2005 — 2009)
Screenshot: Giant Bomb
The Matrix franchise has often been described as 'multimedia' because its main story didn't just run over the film trilogy. Gaps in the lore were filled with an animated anthology, comic books and three separate video games. Enter the Matrix and Path of Neo are still available for interested players. The Matrix Online is not.
This MMO launched in 2005 and was a direct continuation of the events seen in The Matrix trilogy. Characters from the films made important appearances during key quests, and a lot of the complex lore not seen in the movies was explored. The Matrix Online shut down after only four years due to low subscription numbers, and ended its life with only 500 active users. It was a sad death for what made up a significant portion of The Matrix's deep story. While fan servers for The Matrix Online appear to be available, many projects to resurrect the game have since been abandoned.
Games preservation is an important issue. While arguments continue to rage over whether video games are 'art' or not, there's no denying that they have an importance place in our culture and society. Games developers work hard on the games that they produce, and it's a shame to see so much of that work gone to waste.
Some of these games have been rescued via the efforts of fans. Many more will remain inactive forever.
What are your favourite memories from these MMOs?