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A quick look back at Microsoft's canceled PC Norse mythology-based MMO Mythica


On Thursday, Microsoft held its 2024 Developer_Direct streaming event showing off new info for four of its upcoming first-party games that will be released exclusively for Xbox and PC platforms. However, nearly 21 years ago, Microsoft first announced a now nearly forgotten internally developed massively multiplayer game that got into legal trouble, and was then canceled less than a year later.

The game was called Mythica, and it was first announced by Microsoft in April 2003. At the time, MMO games were still in their infancy. There was EA's Ultima Online game, and Sony Online had Everquest, both of which launched before the year 2000. Microsoft had also published a fantasy MMO game in 1999, Asheron's Call, which was developed by Turbine, now known as WB Games Boston (Perhaps we will write about that game some other time).

Microsoft had some success with Asheron's Call, and wanted to make its own MMO game in-house, with its own game engine, to compete with EA and Sony Online's efforts. In the initial announcement, Microsoft stated that Mythica would be based on Norse myths and characters, "from the grassy fields and eternal spring of Asgard to the fiery heart of Muspellheim."

The press release added:

Using godlike powers, players can dispel droves of menacing monsters with a single blow or battle massive, monstrous beasts such as the Midgard Serpent.

Perhaps the most interesting gameplay feature about Mythica was that Microsoft wanted to give players a chance to have their own adventures they could play by themselves or with a small group. Here's how the press release described it.

“Mythica’s” Private Realms Technology envelopes players in story lines and environments that react to their actions in private areas of the world. Here players become the central characters in a heroic tale where actions have lasting consequences in their own persistent game world.

The idea of offering players the option to sign into a Private Realm server in an MMO game sounds a whole lot like the recently added private servers option in Sea of Thieves, from Microsoft-owned developer Rare.

Microsoft first showed off Mythica to the general public in May 2003 at that year's E3 show in Los Angeles. There are some pretty low-res trailers showing gameplay footage of the title from the show, along with the pretty big Mythica E3 booth, complete with a female Viking Mythica E3 booth babe.

The game was due for release sometime in 2004, and even in December 2003, Microsoft was still promoting the game with a Gamespot interview with its lead designer Joel Manners. When asked about the status of Mythica, Manners seemed to indicate it was still full steam ahead for its eventual completion.

The design team is] in full content production right now, while the development team is focusing in on [making the game] feature-complete. Our next steps are going into private and then public beta, so we want to make sure that we are ready for that!

Just a couple of weeks after that interview was posted, on December 23, 2003, Microsoft got hit with a lawsuit from game developer Mythic Entertainment. The developer, who had launched its own MMO, Dark Age of Camelot, in 2001, claimed Microsoft's use of the name Mythica for its MMO violated Mythic Entertainment's trademarks. At the time, Mythic's CEO Mark Jacobs stated:

We had hoped not to have to resolve this in court, and it is truly unfortunate that Microsoft declined to respect Mythic's rights . . . But our name and mark are among our most valuable assets. We have no choice but to defend them, regardless of the size and power of our adversary. We would expect Microsoft to react no differently if someone launched an operating system called Microsofta, just as Microsoft did when confronted with an operating system called Lindows.

Less than two months later, on February 12, 2004, Microsoft confirmed it was canceling Mythica. In an interview with GameSpy, Microsoft product manager Chris Lye offered up some reasons for the decision:

The massively multiplayer genre is a hugely crowded and competitive space. We didn't want to spread ourselves out over multiple MMORPG projects. We analyzed all the projects in the works and decided Mythica was the one to go. This wasn't about Mythica specifically. There were a lot of good things about the game. But, we had to make hard decisions about where we placed our assets.

The entire Mythica team of 40 developers was let go from Microsoft Game Studios, although they were given a chance to be rehired for other game projects at the company. Lye said the Mythic Entertainment lawsuit was not a factor in Mythica's cancelation.

A few months later, in May 2004, Microsoft settled with Mythic Entertainment. The Washington Post reported on the settlement, stating:

Microsoft agreed not to use the name Mythica or certain derivations in the future, and it transferred rights associated with Mythica to Mythic for "undisclosed consideration," according to a statement by Mythic.

In the end, it was for the best Microsoft canceled Mythica. In November 2004, most likely around the time the game was due to be launched, Blizzard officially released its own MMO game World of Warcraft. It instantly became a massive hit and it is more than possible that Mythica would have been seen as an also-ran game compared to Blizzard's MMO. Ironically, Microsoft now owns Blizzard and World of Warcraft.

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