MxO's Last Day: Who's To Blame?

With The Matrix Online servers set to come down tonight at 11:59 PM, editor Chris "Pwyff" Tom has gone to hang out with them for their last few days and find out what where it all went wrong.

Today, on July 31st, 2009, thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of players will be 'jacking in' for the last time ever; once in, they will be bidding adieu to their fellow 'red pills' and perhaps throwing their last party while they're at it. If you didn't get any of those inside references, then chances are fairly high that you have not paid much attention to The Matrix and its MMO continuation, The Matrix Online. Chances are also very high that you would not know (or care) that MxO will be shutting down their servers forever tonight.

If you think about it, it's actually quite rare to see a subscription-based MMORPG go down the tubes, although that certainly doesn't mean that it doesn't happen. This year alone we've witnessed the sad demise of Tabula Rasa and saw the gates of Hellgate: London closing forever (I blame it entirely on the lack of LAN play!). The shutdown of The Matrix Online actually does come as an odd sort of surprise to me, as this is will be the first MMO that SOE has shut down, despite the fact that SOE publishes a lot of MMOs, and some of them aren't exactly the pinnacle of popularity (Vanguard, Planetside and Everquest Adventures come to mind).

Originally slated to be developed by Monolith Studios and co-published by Warner Brothers and Ubisoft, the Matrix Online looked like it had a solid team going. Unfortunately, following these announced plans, Ubisoft basically jumped out of the MMO industry, backing out on two of their MMO publishing plans and leaving everyone high and dry. Following this, Warner Brothers decided to pair up with Sega to co-publish the game, and a short four months later saw Monolith selling the rights to The Matrix Online to Sony Online Entertainment because their forecasted demographics were much lower than expected. Now, four years after their acquisition of this doomed game, SOE has been forced to declare this MMO over and done with. Obviously, as with any MMO that gets shutdown prematurely, many users have blamed SOE for the failure of the game for a wide variety of different reasons; but do any of these reasons hold any merit?

Some users say that The Matrix Online could have been a self-sufficient MMORPG, but SOE didn't want an unpopular title stuck to their name. Logging into the game, however, and experiencing the (lack of) human interaction on these servers tells me that SOE may actually be euthanizing MxO, rather than killing. Once an MMO becomes extremely stable and will not receive any updates or changes in the near future, hosting said MMO is not too expensive. When a company needs to pay their 50+ employees as they grind away at the next expansion - that's when things can get pricey. Unfortunately, I can't really see SOE giving up a title that can generate even the smallest of profits, as SOE is virtually the king in keeping up old and derelict MMOs. In this way, I believe it's very telling with SOE when they start phasing out their older games. Chances are very high that SOE couldn't even attract a sufficiently large enough user base to 'break even' on hosting charges.

So what else could have killed The Matrix Online so thoroughly? Some users attribute the shift of ownership and development from Monolith Studios to Sony Online Entertainment's much more laid back approach to development (some would say almost too laid back). One of the most interesting changes that resulted from the transfer from Monolith to SOE, however, has to be the LESIG players as they shifted from one parent company to another. Originally, the LESIG (The Live Even Special Interests Group) was in charge of playing key individuals in semi-scripted live events that would 'push' the storyline forward. I believe these LESIG players were even employed by Monolith Studios, thereby meaning they would be impartial and professional in their coordination of events. Unfortunately, when the ball was passed to SOE, the LESIG team was quickly dismantled, and saw itself transformed into a brigade of volunteer gamers who would take up roles as unique characters during Live Events. Unfortunately, as with any event that gives rewards and bonuses, cheating and favouritism soon became part of any Live Event, and the gameplay and story suffered because of this.

Others cite the fact that the game was moving further and further away from its roots as a continuation of the Matrix trilogy. One user noted that The Matrix was all about the cyberpunk and the stylistic action, whereas The Matrix Online rapidly took on the feeling of a bizarre superhero shoot 'em up, with (literally), enemies that could shoot lasers from their eyes. This is attributed to the fact that the Wachowski Brothers, the ones responsible for the original Matrix Trilogy, ended up giving up full control of the story arc to Paul Chadwick and Ben Chamberlain; both of whom have more experience with the super-hero genre than the gritty cyberpunk style of the Matrix series. The Matrix Online story would ultimately end up with, literally, almost every lead character in the original Matrix series being killed off or made unimportant; leaving players to bond with newly introduced NPCs instead of playing with the big names like Morpheus or Neo (I realize Neo died in the third movie, but you get my point.)

I feel that The Matrix Online really suffered from having an extremely fractured development plan, compounded by the fact that it feels like nobody really cared about the game except the guys who couldn't afford to care about it longer than four months (Monolith). Warner Brothers did a poor job of promoting this game before its launch, and when SOE ended up taking over the game, the writing was already on the wall. While I understand that it's nearly impossible to implement a 'good' method of utilizing Live Events, I am still incredibly impressed with the dedication that some of these LESIGs had in relation to helping players immerse themselves in the game's storyline as it, literally, moved forward in the weeks and months of MxO's life. One user on the forum boards noted that re-organizations take an immense amount of time, and because (he declares) SOE merely wanted to court the WB for their DC Universe rights, then a story-intensive game like The Matrix Online really suffered from a lack of solid direction from its upper management.

Ultimately, however, as I log in to these servers to check out the population in its moments before absolute death, I find myself feeling very much like an intruder at someone else's party. The sky is raining ash, admins are summoning random Agents everywhere, and all players have found themselves immediately upgraded to level 69 and given tons of money to spend on random things. I felt out of place, however, because these are people who, for the past four years, stuck through it all together - and here was I, safely entrenched in my safer MMOs like World of Warcraft, Aion and Final Fantasy XI, looking in and watching a dedicated group of players awaiting the imminent death of their avatars. This reminds me very strongly of watching my own favourite game, Natural Selection, die out very slowly, and there being absolutely nothing I could do about it. It was a sad experience, if only just for myself.

In the end, The Matrix Online had some incredibly cool ideas that I would have absolutely loved to have taken part in if I had been given the opportunity (some of these live coordinated events sound just incredible). Unfortunately, as I can't go back in time to see just how cool this community was, I will, instead, sit at the sidelines of their 'end of the world' party (it starts at around 11 AM at Mara Church on Syntax) and watch these dedicated fans give this game the sending off it deserves. Was their treatment something they deserved? Perhaps not.

Goodbye MxO!

Christopher "Pwyff" Tom


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# Aug 03 2009 at 7:27 AM Rating: Excellent
Living on a Prayer
30,114 posts
so... sad. Smiley: cry
Poor Matrix Online.
# Aug 03 2009 at 2:13 AM Rating: Decent
68 posts
It is always sad when an MMOG dies, even if you weren't a part of it. I remember when MxO started development, I was still playing UO, and another great MMOG I was playing was about to close down. That other MMOG was Earth & Beyond, and I had been a part of that community since closed beta. I remember how I felt when EA pulled the plug on E&B, so I always get that sad feeling and nostalgia back whenever I see another MMOG sunset. Even more recently with Tabula Rasa closing, it was the same situation for me. I had been with TR since early in the beta, and even though I could see the closure coming, it still was disheartening. I often wished that I had given MxO more of a shot, even though I had tried the trial a couple of times. I could see that the game was lacking something fundamental because it didn't feel right when I was playing it. I didn't get the sense that I was in that world I saw in the movies... I'm not sure why either. Reading what many people have said, including this article makes it clearer though I suppose. It was just another project, another great IP that wasn't given the attention it deserved, and it died because of that...
# Aug 01 2009 at 6:02 PM Rating: Decent
sad when you read something and pick out an error just to rub it in the guys face... jerk!
Whose =/= Who's
# Jul 31 2009 at 12:13 PM Rating: Default
Whose is a possessive pronoun. Whose =/= Who's = Who is

Edited, Jul 31st 2009 4:14pm by ItsRed
Whose =/= Who's
# Jul 31 2009 at 1:04 PM Rating: Excellent
It's been a long day good sir ;(
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