I think the common thread between all the competitive games that survive is:
- Divorcing the game from the publisher/developer’s continual influence and control.
- Preserving the ability to play different eras of a game.
And you know what is good at doing both of these things? Nearly every fighting game in existence. All of them have a community still around them. Yes, even the bad ones (sometimes especially the bad ones!). Why? Because the entire genre was built around local play on a machine not directly controlled by the publisher/developer: arcade machines and pre-internet consoles. Which means that every fighting game is expected to run local multiplayer and (given the limitations of online play and the precision needed in the genre), online play will always be inferior to offline. And with competition in the genre being primarily offline, there is no impending server shutdown that will yank the game from players.
As for the preservation, it was easy until recently as every version of the game were distinct products. While decried by many as being nickled and dimed, it effectively was the same practice as the “seasonal” content that is the norm now, but with a preserved copy of each season which allowed multiple “scenes” to form around each version of the game over time.
But that’s starting to change. There are different scenes for every version of Street Fighter II, III, and IV (hell, even the 3DS version of IV has its own small scene), but only the current patch for V. And if Capcom does not provide a way to switch between the base game, season 1, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 in the next few years, then only the most recent version of the game will be accessible (and whatever version are printed on discs, though even those are not perfect considering they would be missing day 1 patches).
But I’m getting off topic here.
The answer to the question is Yes. Definitely. Absolutely.
Because developers/publishers of multiplayer games today don’t care about either of those keys to keeping a game alive. Instead, they just run the old MMO playbook: always only support the new shiny thing, let the old stuff decay like an abandoned amusement park, and when the money starts drying up, pull the plug.
Any online game with no support for private servers are at the mercy of the developer/publisher for keeping a game alive (or a dedicated group of people reverse engineering a way to have them, but we saw the problems with that recently). I have very little hope that this is changing without some major overhauling of either how copyright works or how online infrastructure in games work.
And preservation of each version? Out the window. MMO’s were built on incremental, sometimes even more frequent than weekly changes. How do you preserve the “experience” of playing x era of a game when it was changed three days later? Blizzard is struggling hard with that answer when it comes to launching classic servers of World of Warcraft and little has been done to design game content around this problem in the 16 years since its launch. Hell, Apex has been out for 3 months and there are already 4 major updates I can think of that changed the way the game played.
And really the only thing we can do to change either of these is complain. The developers/publishers of each game are the only ones with the power (legally) to provide either.
So for the foreseeable future, if you want to play an online game, better be there early and often. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Vampire Savior to play.