It's time to say goodbye to another old MMORPG. Kinda? This time the bell tolls for The Realm Online, which was initially released by Sierra Entertainment—creators of the Kings Quest point-and-click adventure series—in 1996. It was built in the tradition of graphical multi-user dungeon (MUD) games, which added visuals to the MMO genre's text-based precursors. It even made Steven Messner's list of proto-MMOs back in 2017.
Despite its age, The Realm Online has had its heart kept beating by fans in a way similar to City of Heroes—though in this case with the official backing of the IP holders Norseman Games. In 2018, Norseman entered into an agreement with the private server Mistwalkers, allowing the fanmade developer Rat Labs—now Realm World LLC—to update The Realm Online in an official capacity on a free-to-play server that would receive new content and quality of life updates.
An announcement made on June 21 of this year, however, marked a downturn in relations. Despite the developers' intention to continue its modernisation of The Realm Online's ageing bones, Realm World LLC says there was a communication breakdown between it and Norseman Games:
"At first, they seemed open and willing to entertain working out a deal with us, and we were confident in our ability to present them a compelling and valuable offer. Unfortunately, after presenting two offers to them we received little feedback."
"We were never provided a counteroffer nor any requested details to help us understand why our valuation was [inadequate]", the announcement continues. "As a result, our relationship is ending and with it our ability to continue to operate and develop the game."
Norseman Games do have plans to maintain its "Legacy Server", which will likely require a paid subscription as it had previously. This server, however, features none of the updates, bug fixes, or quality of life improvements made by Realm World during their five year tenure. They have not allowed comments on the post, presumably because fans feel that a commitment to "keeping the game alive and thriving" rings hollow in the wake of a 15-year-long step back. This may not be the end for The Realm Online, but it feels like the beginning of it.
While I haven't played The Realm Online, I do know the sting of losing an MMO. For me it was City of Heroes, but for others it was Star Wars Galaxies or The Matrix Online. These games might have been crunchy or dated or home to teeny-tiny anthill playerbases, but they were ours.
So I feel for those players saying goodbye to an old darling, no matter how poorly it's aged. "Finvarra's Fortress", Realm World LLC's version of the game, will be taken offline June 30, alongside five years of work poured into preserving a 27-year-old chunk of gaming history.