There are some video games that just won’t die, and we’re not talking about entire franchises like “Madden” and “Mortal Kombat.” No, we’re talking about individual games that have weathered the storm of time and still boast active communities and new gameplay features years after they’re first released. Of course, you can only enter this conversation via one game, and it’s dominated the industry over the last decade.
The behemoth in the room is “World of Warcraft,” and yes, trailers for video games really did used to be put together that badly. The 2004 MMO (massively multiplayer online) game changed how video games were designed and played. Now, its graphics have gone rusty, its gameplay has been surpassed, and its media coverage has evaporated, yet still millions play.
“World of Warcraft” may be on its way out, though. At the end of 2014, it still counted more than 10 million active players. At the end of 2015, that number had dropped to 5.5 million. “World of Warcraft” isn’t in new territory here; developer Blizzard can look to another MMO that’s stuck around for an incredibly long time.
That would be “Everquest,” which takes the crown for longevity among MMOs. The aptly named “Everquest” was released in 1999 and, even today, the number of active players can still be counted close to 1 million. “Everquest” and “Ultima Online” formed an experiment: the first pair of truly visual MMOs.
Text-based MUDs (multi-user dungeons) were even older, but had failed to penetrate the mainstream. They lacked the critical reception, media attention, and – most importantly – the visual component of their later brethren. “Everquest” has remained so popular, it’s received at least one expansion pack every year since 2000. Look at those graphics, they’re awful by today’s standards. And yet something about the gameplay, community, and world of “Everquest” still refuses to relinquish its players to the spate of hundreds of MMOs that have come along since.
The game even dropped monthly subscriptions later than many newer MMO titles, in March 2012. Much of this is the work of the developers and publishers. They’ve released 21 expansion packs in total, including the most recent in November 2015.
“Everquest 2” was released in 2004, and proved similarly popular without ever killing the original. It’s seen 12 expansion packs and continues to be played by a sizable community. Yet MMOs aren’t the only games that stick around forever.
Among shooters, “Team Fortress 2” is the longest lasting shooter that still enjoys mainstream relevancy. Released in 2007, it remains the third most-played video game on Steam even today (behind DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive). The game enjoyed a nine-year development cycle, lending it a perfect balance upon release that kept players coming back for more. Yet what’s really helped the game survive is developer Valve’s undying dedication to evolving the game.
What you play today in “Team Fortress 2” is very different from what you played in 2007. You’d be able to recognize it as the same game, but the gameplay has become more frenetic and less tactical. It now has a core component of finding, building, and trading different weapons among players, adding a mini- or meta-game of collections within the actual game. Several new modes have expanded the scope of the original gameplay, meaning players have far more variation to enjoy than ever before.
Those games are great examples of a developer doing a terrific job of helping their game and its community stay alive across the years. The next two are superb examples of a community doing the job itself.
“Garry’s Mod” was released in 2006. Like the dingbat crazy uncle of “Minecraft,” the open-ended construction game regularly ranks in the top 10 of Steam video games. Its player numbers have uniquely crept up across its lifespan. As a physics sandbox, “Garry’s Mod” caters to the creation of a variety of other games inside the “Half-Life 2” Source engine. What that means is that “Garry’s Mod” gives the architecture to players to both make and play a variety of other games inside the main game.
“Trouble in Terrorist Town,” for instance, pits a team of terrorists against two traitors trying to kill them in a specific amount of time. No one knows what side anyone is on, and as players are offed, the survivors have to piece together who the traitors are while the traitors try to set traps and frame others. It’s the gameplay equivalent of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”
“Prop Hunt” is another game played within “Garry’s Mod.” One team has to hide within a level as shape-changing props. They can move, but they have very little health, so it’s a game of camouflage. Become anything from a crate to a saw blade to a can of beans and try to hide. The other team tries to seek you out before a time limit runs out. If they attack a real prop instead of a camouflaged player, they lose health, meaning they have to figure out the prop’s nature in other ways, including testing the physics of the prop by trying to move it.
Other games range from using the prop set and construction mechanics to create a form of pictionary, or designing racing cars to run a track, or even planes to dogfight. Players keep on inventing new games, new props, and new mechanics.
Another game that’s lasted quite a long time is fantasy role-playing actioner “Skyrim.” This is because developer Bethesda releases Creation Kits along with its games. These allow modders to develop anything from new costumes and weapons, to new houses, to entirely new plot lines. Or avoid all the fighting and get the visual, weather, and atmospheric overhauls that make taking a walk in the Nordic wildernesses of “Skyrim” even more beautiful. Mod in a sky filled with glimmering stars, or tougher blizzards and frostbite mechanics, or rolling fogs so thick you get lost in them. It means the player gets to create their own interpretation of a world, like re-telling a myth in their own voice.
The mods are voted on, reviewed by, and even bug-fixed by users. Everything’s free, though you can donate to popular modders. It means you can play “Skyrim” multiple times – and yet never inhabit the same world or play the same way.
In fact, Steam’s player numbers for “Skyrim” offer a fascinating glimpse into the seasonal habits players have for some video games. Most games see a spike during summer vacation – it’s when students find more time for entertainment. That number usually dips once the school year starts, and then recovers every November. As Spring hits in March, the number drops again until summer vacation. The pattern is decidedly seasonal. Aside from having the time during summer to play, people really like to play “Skyrim” in the winter. Maybe it’s like sitting by a fireplace with your feet up, reading a book. There’s simply added atmosphere if you play a wintry game during the winter.