In brief: One of the longest running massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) has shut down after a nearly three decade run, but a return appears imminent after a buyer came to the rescue at the 11th hour.
The Realm Online is so old, in fact, that it was referred to as a graphical MUD when it launched in 1996. MUD stands for multi-user dungeon, and was common nomenclature for such genres before massively multiplayer and the like propagated. The Realm Online was originally overseen by Sierra On-Line but has had numerous owners over the years including Codemasters and Rat Labs.
The game predates others like it that built large followings including Ultima Online (September 1997) and EverQuest (March 1999). Without its influence, we likely would not have MMOs like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV.
In a Facebook post published June 21, The Realm Online IP holder Norseman Games said it was unable to come to terms with current developer and operator Realm Worlds. As such, the game's server would be taken offline effective June 30 although a "legacy server" called Despothes' Grove would be migrated to their cloud infrastructure and remain operational going forward.
A follow-up post on June 29 (one day before the scheduled shutdown) revealed that The Realm Online had been acquired by an unnamed entity. More information arrived on July 10 in the form of an FAQ over on the game's official website.
The new owner, Virtual World Holding Company, LLC, said the game will require payment to play when it relaunches. The team said it is working tirelessly to release the game client and open the server to the public, but they are taking a conservative approach to release to ensure a smooth rollout. Right now, their primary focus is getting the core game up and running.
The latest update – a post from the game's new lead designer – was published on July 11 but makes no mention of when The Realm Online might return.