Star Wars Galaxies is Shutting Down and it's Sony's Fault
Star Wars Galaxies is shutting down. Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts are sunsetting the long-suffering game on December 15th, 2011. There are more details, but you can find them all over the net. I just want to point a few things we should learn from its existence before it vanishes into the ether as another of a long line of “remember that one janky MMO?” geek conversations.
As anyone who listens to the podcast knows, I used to play Star Wars Galaxies during the first couple years of its run. I even beta tested it for like a minute. It wasn’t launch-ready one day one. It wasn’t ready 6 months after. If you take a hard look at it now, 8 years later, it still isn’t considered launch-ready. After 3 major overhauls of the game, the major player base had all but abandoned this turkey. Many systems never worked right (combat, questing), and some were tossed aside altogether (battlegrounds). The path to becoming a Jedi was opened to everyone, brutally axe-murdering any sense of accomplishment or uniqueness.
If there was one thing SWG did right, it was the sandbox element that let creative players craft the story. No game since has ever gotten anywhere close to the level that SWG did it. No game since has even bothered to try, and I don’t see one in sight. As mayor of Valshara (a player-created city on the long-defunct Valcyn server), I got to experience the very best the game had to offer. I was bored with the combat system, disgusted with the CURB (Combat Upgrade/Revamp/Balance) and revolted by the NGE (New Game Enhancements). Don’t even get me started on the Hologrind. (The Hologrind was the old ways of unlocking the Force Sensitive Character Slot which involved grinding several professions. The first fourcharacter professions were revealed via a Holocron and the rest were determined through trial and error, which led to many people dancing for hours on end in bars. This method of reaching Jedi was replaced with a quest-based system with Publish 10. And, as of the NGE, Jedi is now a starting career/profession.)
We built a great city by the lake, each street and neighborhood planned out meticulously. We had a guild that was 200 strong. We built an imperial Guild Network and held regular meetings. We had a large and active role-playing community, with fun player-driven events. We had the SWG player events team running named characters for our events before anyone else. We had a real community, despite the broken nature of the combat game.
If you can make a living, breathing community of players despite a failed game system, that tells me that the sandbox aspect of the game was amazing, and made up for the game’s shortfalls. Almost.
See, they kept screwing with the established game in an effort to dumb it down for the unwashed masses. In doing so they drove the hardcores away, and what they were left with was empty servers and a smoking ruin of a game. Even the designers and producers that are no longer with SWG have said how badly run it was. The mistakes made in the management of SWG were colossal and spread across every department.
And now John Smedley has the unmitigated gall to say in an interview with massively.com (read it here) that they’re not shutting down because of dwindling player population. If the player population was what it was before the disastrous NGE, there’s no way it would shut down now.
He goes on to say, “There are going to be a lot of fans that are going to say, hey can’t you give us the source code, or can’t we run a server, and the answer is going to be, I’m sorry — we have to decline that. It’s just not possible.” As evidenced by other people running private (albeit unauthorized) MMO servers, this is proven to be a lie. There are already plenty of private, SWG pre-NGE servers out there. It IS possible; it’s just not allowed by the legion of blood-sucking entertainment lawyers that suckle at George Lucas’ flanneled teat.
Well fuck you, Sony, for taking what could have been a great thing and shitting all over it. I’ve never forgiven this slight to the gamer community and I won’t forget it. If it happened once under the current leadership, it can happen again VERY easily. I was never so glad as the day I heard the new Star Wars MMO was not in their hands.
So what can take away from this chapter in MMO gaming? The people need sandboxes. Building cities is cool. Give people the tools and they’ll make good stories. The community can, upon occasion, brew up good stuff. Oh, and SOE = Fail.
Barry Robb is the webmaster/producer/co-co-host of a certain pop culture webshow. He used to play Pash Aylor, Prefect of the Imperial Guild Network, Guild Leader of the VE/VH and Veltares-Aylor Heavy Industries, all-around Imperial tyrant and mayor of Valshara, Naboo on the Valcyn server. Now he complains and sighs loudly when he reminisces.