Over its first three months the game signed up fewer than 50,000 subscribers, a pittance, so in June, Warner cut bait and agreed to sell the game to Sony. Last month “Matrix Online” was downsized from nine virtual “realms” to three, because users were having a hard time finding one another in the game’s vast digital ghost town.
The troubles of “Matrix Online” were partly of Warner’s own making; many players and critics agree that the game is a mediocre experience. But the online market used to make room for mediocre games. Now, the broader phenomenon is that so many contenders, including “Matrix Online,” simply cannot stand up to the overwhelming popularity of online gaming’s new leviathan: “World of Warcraft,” made by Blizzard Entertainment, based in Irvine, Calif.
With its finely polished, subtly humorous rendition of fantasy gaming – complete with orcs, mages, dragons and demons – “World of Warcraft” has become such a runaway success that it is now prompting a debate about whether it is helping the overall industry by bringing millions of new players into subscription-based online gaming or hurting the sector by diverting so many dollars and players from other titles.” ‘World of Warcraft'(WOW) is completely owning the online game space right now,” said Chris Kramer, a spokesman for Sony Online Entertainment, buyer of “Matrix Online” and one of Blizzard’s chief rivals. “Look, ‘Matrix Online’ is good, but it’s like being in the early ’90s and trying to put a fighting game up against ‘Mortal Kombat’ or ‘Street Fighter’; it’s just not going to happen. There are a lot of other online games that are just sucking wind right now because so many people are playing ‘WOW.’ “Kramer is in a position to know. Last November, his company released “EverQuest II,” sequel to the previous champion of massively multiplayer games. Such games, also known as MMOs, allow hundreds or thousands of players to simultaneously explore vast virtual worlds stocked with quests, monsters and treasure. Players sometimes cooperate to take on epic tasks, like killing a huge computer-controlled dragon, and sometimes fight one another in what is known as player-vs.