Requiem for a Hurlbat

News broke this week that Ubisoft was closing down their formerly-known-as-Wolfpack Austin MMG studio. What this means for Shadowbane is inconclusive, but failing someone with an SGI in their basement swooping down and buying the codebase from Ubisoft (don’t laugh, it’s happened before) it looks like the game will close in a few weeks.

Shadowbane had a miserable launch and shortly afterward went through corporate gyrations Enron would envy, with the great majority of the game’s original creators being unceremoniously kicked to the curb. Those that were left did what they could, and you can be sure that at some point, I will pay them the ultimate compliment of stealing some of their ideas.

Still, it was a significant game in that it was uncompromisingly, legendarily PVP+. You could loot your enemies. Hell, you could loot your “friends”. You could burn down your enemy’s homes, sow virtual salt in their fields, and literally make it virtually impossible for them to continue playing (which, it must be said, probably did not help the game’s revenue model). I would argue that given the handicaps that Shadowbane suffered under for most of its life, the fact that it did as well as it did in terms of a loyal playerbase speaks volumes for the viability of a game that doesn’t treat their players as small children.

Sometimes, if you want a virtual world to have meaning, you have to trust players to make decisions about the world they live in. And threading the needle between empowering players to do so and protecting their play environment from being asploded in a fit of mutually assured destruction is… well… difficult. There’s some games that do that better than others, and not coincidentally, are being rewarded for it in the marketplace.

A game with PvP gameplay at its core won’t dethrone World of Warcraft as the King of All Media. But it can easily be profitable. And I’m sure we’ll see more of them in the years to come.

Until then, there’s always memories.