2013 is underway and this year will likely feature more than a few obituaries for video games. Not that the medium is in any sort of extreme peril but as the future becomes the present, more and more games played online will be taken offline as their audiences shrink. Electronic Arts, one of the three biggest video game publishers in the world, regularly brings less populated games offline but its most recent service update is surprising. Both a perennial best-seller for the company and a selection of its popular sports simulators are being taken offline, demonstrating that the lifespan of online games is shrinking quickly.
First, EA is taking down its most popular 2010 sports titles offline just over two years after they were first released. On Jan. 11, EA will take down servers for Madden NFL 2011 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii, as well as the Madden NFL 11 Ultimate Team servers for Xbox 360 and PS3. (Ultimate Team is the virtual card collecting game featured in recent editions of EA’s sports titles.) FIFA Soccer 11 and FIFA Soccer 11 Ultimate Team will be taken offline on those same platforms and the PC version of FIFA 11 will be taken down as well.
Those heavy hitters aren’t alone though. NBA Jam for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 won’t be playable online any more. Nor will NHL 11 or NCAA Football for consoles. Electronic Arts is also taking down servers for NBA Live 2010, the last entry in its long running NBA simulator that’s experienced a tumultuous development cycle since with multiple reboots cancelled.
Sports titles aren’t the only games getting the axe in January. EA will also be shutting down The Sims 2 on PC and Mac just over eight years after the game originally released. In July 2012, The Sims 2 became the best-selling PC game ever made.
These closures are significant for a number of reasons. First, the server shutdowns for EA’s sports titles suggest that the publisher is taking its franchises offline faster than they have to date. It’s inevitable considering the need to keep people buying new entries in the series, but it demonstrates the need to evolve the current business model of these series. EA can’t keep making a new FIFA and a new Madden every year forever. At some point these games will have to become persistent products that are regularly updated with new features and rosters.
In regards to The Sims 2, EA is proving that video games need to be better preserved. Forget that the game can’t be played online any longer, the real problem is that players will no longer be able to download content. After this month, The Sims 2 will not be available as a complete product.
“[As] games get replaced with newer titles, the number of players still enjoying the older games dwindles to a level—fewer than 1% of all peak online players across all EA titles—where it’s no longer feasible to continue the behind-the-scenes work involved with keeping these games up and running,” reads EA’s statement on server closures.