Pulling the plug: What’s it like to mourn a game when the servers get shut down for good

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Death is a natural part of life, so said the great British intellectual Havelock Ellis. And Yoda. Yoda said it in Revenge of the Sith. The point is that mortality affects us all in ways big and small, and the grim reaper doesn’t turn a blind eye to video games either. Whether they’ve fallen miserably short of their sales expectations or have enjoyed a long and prestigious shelf life, games are regular victims to the dreaded server shutdown, where publishers pull the plug on their online components, removing all semblance of multiplayer or, worse, rendering them completely unplayable. 

This year alone, the servers of Demon’s Souls, Evolve, Guitar Hero Live, Paragon, Lawbreakers, and Radical Heights either already have been shut down, or are scheduled for the chop in the coming months. Head to the Reddit pages of these games, and it’s a bit like visiting a tombstone surrounded by wreaths of flowers, all bearing bittersweet messages written by those who miss them the most. 

You’ll find grieving fans consoling each other, sharing their coping strategies, and reminiscing on the good times together. If that all sounds a bit morbid (and a touch overdramatic), then you’re probably lucky enough to not have a game you love disappear forever, but imagine being told one day that you’ll never be able to watch your favourite film or eat your favourite food ever again, and you can understand why emotions can run high with these sorts of closures.  

No, it’s nothing compared to real grief for the loss of a loved one, but there is certainly a strange, lamentous element to the experience of parting ways with a cherished game. For me, it was Paragon. I played the hell out of Epic’s action-MOBA hybrid, especially as a nightly pastime to help me unwind and see in the cold winter evenings of the last two years.

A royale shame

Now that Epic has turned off the game’s servers after its muted performance on the market, I can’t even log in to say goodbye one last time, and it sucks. Given how the studio has decided to pool its resources almost exclusively into Fortnite Battle Royale, the general response to Paragon’s demise from its small but passionate playerbase has been anger (“F**k Fortnite” is a common refrain found across the game’s Reddit page), even if most of the expressed outrage is really just another manifestation of genuine grief. 

“After the announcement hit, it felt like a blow to the stomach.” says TraegusPearze, who adored Paragon so much that he even started up his own magazine devoted to the game, just a month before it got shut down. “I felt kind of sick, in a visceral "this is just a video game and shouldn't be making me feel like this" kind of way.”

“And I'm not the only one -- I knew countless streamers and pro players who thought that Paragon would be a future for them. When something like this happens, especially if you're invested into the community and content creation, it just feels like part of you is lost. People, myself included, dedicate so much time to creating content for video games nowadays and becoming a part of the community that it essentially becomes part of your identity. And to have it stripped away so suddenly is heart-wrenching.”

In the aftermath of Paragon’s unexpected closure, many are struggling to figure out where to go next. “I stay subscribed to this dead subreddit because it feels like a support group.” explains snareonthe3. “It's sad to me that Paragon only exists in our memories now. I quit playing all other games when I was addicted to Paragon and now that it's gone, it doesn't feel like anything can replace it.”

Natural selection

It’s no secret that 2K’s asymmetric, 4v1 monster-hunting game Evolve has been stuck in the sickbay for years, dying a slow but inevitable death after it failed to capture an audience in 2015. Developer Turtle Rock Studios repeatedly tried to restore the game back to health, going free-to-play, revamping the gameplay dynamics, and rebranding all the changes into a new, swanky package known as Evolve Stage 2, but it wasn’t enough. Publisher 2K Games recently announced that Evolve’s dedicated servers will be shutting down completely this September, letting the remnants of its playerbase know exactly when their favourite game is going to bite the bullet (though Evolve Stage 1 will still be playable on a limited peer to peer basis).

The general mood emanating from Evolve’s foundering community is that of resigned acknowledgement. We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when, and with 2K’s recent announcement, many players wanted to tell me just how much Evolve meant to them, even if it meant very little to everyone else. 

Besteaglealive, in particular, believes “Evolve was ahead of its time. While it had its issues, it’s one of the few games that got “hunting” another player right, and it’s sad to see a game shut down, especially when the move to free to play seemed to breathe some life back into it. I hope this isn’t the ultimate end of the franchise; a sad mix of bad business decisions, initial launch problems, and the internet turning sour on the game stopped Evolve just short of being a truly great game to play.”

“It’s frustrating knowing that 2K is shutting this thing down.” concurs SharkLordSatan. “I know that keeping servers up and running costs time and money, but they’re a multi-million dollar company. They had, in my opinion, virtually no reason to force Turtle Rock Studios to cease development on Evolve and to kill the servers. Had Turtle Rock been allowed to continue development, I imagine Evolve would have - pun somewhat intended - evolved into something greater than it currently is today.”

A hero's demise

That sense of regret for what could have been permeates the discourse around all of these shutdowns, whether it’s Lawbreakers’ untapped potential as a great shooter released in the wrong time or Guitar Hero Live’s scheduled disconnection firmly spelling the end of a planned rebirth for the once beloved franchise. That latter example is even more interesting, as Guitar Hero Live’s servers - which let players enjoy a rotation of streamed songs via Guitar Hero TV - have been fuelling the game for almost three years. 

"Shutdowns are always going to be sad, yes, but they’re also a chance to celebrate our hobby and treasure the memories they’ve given us."

The game will still be playable once Activision takes it offline in December, of course (and so you’d hope for a title with an original entry fee of $100), but this move will cut down its library of 484 songs to just the 42 saved on the actual disc. That’s a 92% deduction in track content which, as music rhythm fans will know, can make or break a Guitar Hero game. Naturally, Guitar Hero Live’s vestigial subset of regular hobbyists is understandably peeved, even if many of them will happily recognise that the game was never a series highlight.

As one player, astral_oceans, puts it: “The worst part about Guitar Hero Live's death is that it shows the Guitar Hero franchise is almost certainly dead. We're not going to see any Guitar Hero games for a long time, if ever. Guitar Hero Live was Activision’s attempt at reviving the series after it was already killed off years ago, so it failing once again just shows that we've likely lost it forever.”

This sentiment is shared by Wagsii, who tries to describe their disappointment with Activision’s decision despite not being a fan of Guitar Hero Live itself. “I'm not concerned about it getting shut down, and most Guitar Hero fans aren't either.” they admit. “It's getting shut down for a reason, the game was awful. No one plays it. The thing that really hurts is that they didn't kill the franchise just once, but twice. The mainstream isn't going to give it a third chance. It's likely the end of Guitar Hero.”

Life finds a way 

There is still hope, however, of life after death for all of these games, albeit often without the support of the people who made them. Guitar Hero fans have since moved on to Clone Hero, a community built spiritual successor which tries to succeed where Guitar Hero Live failed. When FromSoftware killed off Demon’s Souls servers, fans set up their own private, open-source servers that essentially performed the same function. Epic released $12 million worth of Paragon assets on the Unreal Engine for developers to use for free, so who’s to say whether someone doesn’t make a unofficial sequel from the ashes of Paragon’s remains? 

Indeed, just recently, EA decided to turn Skate 3’s servers back on, with no prior explanation or announcement (though some believe its in preparation for a Skate 4 announcement), so there’s always the possibility of resurrection for a long-dormant title, though the chances undoubtedly remain slim. And even if they never do come back, there’s a beauty to the way in which these games - and their exit from the online realm - are able to bring people together, allowing them to bond over shared passions, and, in the case of Clone Hero, inspiring them to create something new, continuing the legacy of their former pastime. 

Games leave an impact on people’s lives, and the ways in which they positively affect us, either on a personal, individual level, or as a community at large, last long beyond whatever happens to the game itself. Shutdowns are always going to be sad, yes, but they’re also a chance to celebrate our hobby and treasure the memories they’ve given us. 

It’s a bittersweet sensation that’s aptly embodied by the players seen enjoying their final, documented moments of the original Planetside, before the game went offline forever. Its inhabitants are sad to be leaving but, more importantly, they’re happy for the time they shared. In the face of all these oncoming closures, I say we could do well to imitate that same spirit.