Spark of a memory
Playing through last week’s The Secret World beta event brought me back to seven years ago to the rise and fall of Monolith’s The Matrix Online. Maybe it was the excess of black shades-wearing, assault gun-toting heroes that littered the world or the bland combat animations that reminded me of a game that was — much like Secret World — offering a multiplayer experience that stood out in a predominately fantasy-based market.
I believe the torpedo dive of the Matrix Online is a story that game developers should tell at conferences every year as a reminder to all that one day you can have a semi-successful game and one patch later have absolutely nothing. In fact, there should be memorial somewhere in the San Francisco bay area — a lone granite monolith at the base of a reflection pond where developers can sit and ponder.
Some might not know the story of MxO. So here’s a quick rundown:
- Riding in on the coattails of the popular Matrix franchise, Monolith (known for their F.E.A.R series), Sony and Warner Bros. spent several years putting together an MMO that not only broke the traditional skill system, but offered a dying form of open world player versus player experience in a mission-based video game coupled with live developer-driven events.
- Although the idea was good, the execution was poor. MxO launched a few months past its deadline in 2005 to a client riddled with bugs. During the first month of its release, the game was unable to peak over the 50,000 subscriptions mark.
But it was one bug that would be its downfall.
Soon after beta ended and the game was released, players began exploiting a popular bug that let them repeat the same mission while gaining full experience — an obvious fluke that saturated the game with high-level players taking advantage of innocent low-level players in a game known for its open-world, no holds barred, player versus player environment.
On April 18, 2005 — just a few weeks after release — Monolith released a patch intending to fix the exploit, but instead offered a 80% nerf in experience and money to all players, whether they exploited the system or not.
The initial outrage was deafening. Not only did the patch fail to fix the exploit, it forced those who played fair to resort to using the exploit to get a decent amount of experience to level up.
Monolith quickly backtracked and removed the patch. The company’s development director William Westwater issued a statement to the community detailing the decision:
After reviewing the impact of Monday’s mission XP change, we agree that the new timer affects too many players. The settings were too extreme, hurting people who are just trying to have a good time. As a result, we are pulling the timers way back – effective immediately. Limits will be roughly 1/5th of the previous cap—about 2 minutes per mission phase.
We remain dedicated to making sure MxO is as fun as possible for the entire community and apologize for any frustration that you have felt this week.
But, as they say, what’s done is done.
I’ve never seen a backlash in an MMO like what had happened in the days after the patch. Thousands of players, as if organized, made their departure from the Matrix universe with only a few thousand returning.
Two months later Warner Bros. stepped down and sold all rights to Sony Online Entertainment who kept the clunky machine running for four more years before closing its doors on July 31, 2009.
I’ve always seen gamers as the forgiving type. Sure they might spend all night on the forums lambasting the game, but they always return the next day. For the MxO it was different.
The message was sent and the people had spoken.