The Shady, Not Good, Probably Illegal Story of Wild West Online

Luke Hardwick

4 years, 4 months ago

Wild West Online Screenshot

Before I dig in to this, I'd just like to say that the most difficult aspect of recounting the disastrous tale of cowboy-themed MM-No Wild West Online was deciding where to start. This is partly because it's unclear where one controversy ended and another began, but mostly because there are just so many pieces to it that could be dismissed as coincidence on their own, but when connected reveal a nearly decade-long plot to scam players out of their money. If you're willing to bear with me for a little while, perhaps I can help you understand what I mean.

A Snake in the Grass

In order to provide adequate backstory, we must first discuss the role of one Sergey Titov and his alleged non-involvement in its' development. Even if you don't recognize him by name, you've likely read stories of his work - games such as The War Z (later renamed Infestation: Survivor Stories due to copyright infringement) , Shattered Skies, and Romero's Aftermath. Those games are what we in the business like to call "cash grabs", as they were strategically released alongside better-known titles in hopes of leeching off their hype. Identical in both quality and substance, Titov's games would release in an unfinished, broken state, with many of the key features advertised on their store pages being notably absent. This of course earned him a considerably poor reputation, and caused would-be players to be rightfully wary of any game he was affiliated with.

0 to 612

Around the time Wild West Online surfaced back in early 2017, some were quick to point out the similarities its' gameplay and appearance shared with Titov's previous games. This, one Redditor surmised, was due to the fact that WWO was being built on the Nightshade Engine - a product of Titov's latest business venture, Free Reign Entertainment. The company behind Wild West Online was a studio by the name of 612 Games consisting of a handful of folks that had allegedly worked on other high-profile projects within the industry. However, very little information existed about the studio, its' formation, or who was funding it. This revelation soon set the internet ablaze with speculation that Wild West Online would be yet another scam orchestrated by Titov, once again to be created by a subsidiary designed to mask the fact that he was behind it. In a desperate effort to salvage their reputation, the game's devs stepped in to try and put out the fire and set the record straight.

Wild West Online Devs explaining why it looked like the game was being made by Titov

In their official statement, 612 Games claimed that the studio was simply licensing the Nightshade Engine from Titov, but that his involvement was limited to that arrangement. This may have flown in most cases without inciting further suspicion. After all, studios license pre-made engines for their games all the time - just look at Unreal Engine as an example. However, those who were not at all convinced were quick to point out that the Nightshade Engine was actually terrible and was known for being simply awful to build on. For a long time, the question of why 612 Games chose Nightshade over so many better engines remained unanswered.

During this time, there were several instances where Titov's handprints seemed all over Wild West Online, however all of them were deemed circumstantial and wouldn't give way to a definitive conclusion. In any case, and stop me if you've heard this one before - the game would be released largely broken and missing key features that had been previously advertised as being part of its' core mechanics. It was a critical and commercial failure that would lead to 612 Game's "closure".

A New Frontier

With Wild West Online's player base in free fall and its' ongoing development canceled, things were really starting to look bad for the western-themed MMO. That is, until Sergey Titov's Free Reign Entertainment swooped in to save the ailing game from a timely death. That's right, the man that Wild West Online's developers worked so hard to distance themselves from and ensure players was not in the picture suddenly became the entire picture. A coincidence? I think not.

A "new" development team was promptly brought in to take the reins of Wild West Online, and Free Reign's first order of business was to make the game profitable. The decision was made to scrap the game's original premise of being an open-world, mostly realistic cowboy simulator and instead split the game into two parts: a survival PVP base-builder called "New Frontier" that includes monsters, steampunk machines, and giant mech spiders. Then of course, since it was 2018, a Battle Royale mode called "Magnificent 5".

mech spider from wild wild west

1999's Wild Wild West called, they want their giant mech spider back

Mind you, this is from late 2018, but a representative for the game whom could have very well been a child had this to say about the new faces of Wild West Online:

From this new client you will have access to two games effectively from one launcher – Frontier and Magnificent 5. Frontier is an wild west themed survival/exploration/PVP game. You will explore world ( yes full game an the North will be available ), build your own housing and settlements, craft items, hunt animals, etc. This is basically evolution of the WWO as you know it. It’ll be much more focused on building and crafting than WWO though. Magnificent 5 is our ‘obligatory’ take on Battle Royale :). It’s based on work Free Reign Entertainment have made with it’s Chinese partners. up to 20 team of 5 players each are fighting in a dynamic world, build fortifications, trying to get best loot and artifacts. Monetization of the game is VERY SIMILAR to Fortnite, with Season Passes that opens challenges and access to cosmetic items.
What's Dead Should Stay Dead

As of this writing, New Frontier is available to download from Wild West Online's new website and is slated to be released on Steam as a "Free To Play" game this month. As for the Magnificent 5 battle royale mode, it is apparently still in the "testing" phase and it's unclear when or if it will be available for suckers - I mean players - to download.

So with that, Wild West Online continues to live on and I'm assuming swindle dollars out of players unaware of its' murky history. Neither its website or Steam listing attempts to hide the fact that it is being published by Free Reign Entertainment, which again is literally that one guy's company who has about a decade worth of experience conning people.

It is indeed a funny world we live in.

(Thanks to Kotaku UK and Massively Overpowered for the sources)