July 7, 2011

The Closing of SWG

Here's a topic I am late on but is still being discussed as it has been announced; The closing of Star Wars Galaxies. This is undoubtedly going to be a sore spot for many people, no matter the side of the fence you actually inhabit. There are some who think this is a dick move on the part of Sony/Lucas Arts and there are those who say that is about time. I am indifferent and this actually marks the fifth major MMO title that has closed its doors since the entire MMO boom started back in 1997 with Ultima Online.

I can't say exactly how I feel about the closing, because I really never had anything invested in the game. It didn't interest me in the slightest and I honestly can't say that it would have ever interested me, but I know to the fans who still loved the game, this is a devastating blow. But, I guess to me that the writing was on the wall when it was announced that Lucas Arts had no interest in pursuing third party development support for their Star Wars game license titles after the release of The Force Unleashed 2 and stating that BioWare would be the last to develop a third party title.

As I said earlier, SWG is not the first major MMO title to be closing down, the first was actually Earth and Beyond which closed its doors before it could really have a chance to take off. And having seen that, I can understand those fans who are upset over the closing of SWG. That game was a gem in the world of MMOs that was trying to do something different, though caught in the trappings of traditional MMO tripe. In fact, it was the first MMO with an actual fully customizable avatar even if primitive by the standards that games like City of Heroes and Champions Online have set forth.

If Earth and Beyond were brought back today, I doubt many would play it. The game is exceptionally dated, graphically, by today's standards and the travelling system can feel tedious. But gems often have their flaws, no matter how perfect, and I doubt an investor would even try to put money towards the game to update it graphically, even if someone took that kind of interest in it.

The second major title to get axed is a game that's been basically forgotten these days known as Shadowbane. This game was suppose to be a UO killer, back when UO was the big kid on the block with 250,000 subscriptions. It was a mess, since beta. The game had many delays, went through at least three publishers that I recall, and used a very outdated point and click system of playing. I never liked it, but I know there were fans, but even on a graphical level, the game was exceptionally dated by the time it launched and all the big plans that the dev team planned never found fruit. Ironically, the development team (Wolf Pack I believe) closed shop two years before the actual game closed down, which had been made free to play with frequent world wipes, resulting in a game that I doubt many would stick around with just on the sound of that alone. The numbers must of reflected how I felt, because the doors finally closed with a letter that didn't do it justice.

The third major title to actually be closed down was The Matrix Online which is another title Sony Online Entertainment ran after acquiring the rights from Warner Bros. Interactive so they could secure a deal to create DC Universe Online. Of course, part of that deal was to keep MXO running for a period of time, because even to the outside observer, it was obvious that MXO was hemorrhaging what few subscriptions it had left. I loved the game, but the major problem with it was complete lack of content. There were only like a couple dozen mission types and they all generally went to a building where you would fight a bunch of dudes to get a Magoffin and that was pretty much it. There were a few dungeons, but unlike the rest of the game, you were never told about these until it was too late. And how I mean too late is once you passed a certain level, you could never, ever enter said dungeons again.

The game world was quite expansive though riddled with bugs. They evidently were going for a sandbox feel for the game, unfortunately, they forgot a lot of the elements that are required to make a sandbox work. One of the craziest things they did was to make the individual clothing the armor for your characters, which makes no relative sense in the grand scheme of things. Style is everything in the Matrix, and yet the set up pretty much negated said style. However, if Sony would of actually pursued developing the title further instead of just using it as a springboard for their DCUO deal, things might have improved for the game, and we wouldn't of gotten that crap known as DCUO.

The fourth title to be cancelled is actually Tabula Rasa. The stink over this one was legendary since the games eccentric creator (another word for absolute lunatic) must of been trying to design this game from space, considering how distant he was from what players actually want to what he delivered. The stories and firsthand accounts from people inside NCSoft are legendary now on actually what went on, and it still astounds me to this day that Garriot was able to, yet again, con another big name company for more money. The game was awful, let's put it that way. There was no content in it in the beginning and from everything I was told there was even less at the endgame. It tried to merge FPS and RPG and failed miserably. The GUI was just unintuitive and there was absolutely no friendliness what so ever to teaming and socializing. In short, it's like how DCUO is now, but without the big name behind it to help keep it floating.

But that brings us full circle to SWG. I've only had the ability to play trials of SWG. I've never really gotten into the game, but unfortunately, SWG reminded me of Anarchy Online every time I played, and it just never felt right that I was holding a blaster but left at the mercy of auto fire to do the combat for me. I know the sordid history that CU and NGE brought about major changes no one like, of course NGE was a forced change by Lucas Arts, but Sony still takes the heat for it. But that is the nature of that beast.

What really got me thinking about all this was a statement made by a BioWare representative a few months ago and basically how LA and Sony have now put egg on his face for making that statement. A couple of months ago, a thread popped up like all the other numerous threads. This one asking that BioWare make The Old Republic more like SWG, ie more sandbox and less theme park. One of the BioWare reps responded to this and said along the lines of, "There is already a title that fulfills your desires, and as we do not wish to copy that game that option is still left open to you and will be for the foreseeable future after TOR launches." But now, that statement no longer holds true and I am sure people are going to start bringing it up as defense against making TOR a pure theme park game and instead aiming to try and get more sandbox elements installed.

I do not envy the position that person is in at this point, because that statement will probably haunt him for some time. Hopefully not as bad as other things that have haunted other developers in the past, one very notorious situation coming to mind, but the fact that making that statement and then the announcement of SWG closing down basically puts him in a bind.

However, that being said, I do know how people are feeling over the closing of SWG if it was their favorite title. I know people put a lot of love into an MMO, and sandbox titles get even more love than your theme park games. It is sad to see them close down and disappear off the market like they do. I do feel we need a new sandbox title on the market. And not something as extreme as EVE Online. However, the investment in time and money to make a sandbox work on an MMO scale probably isn't worth it to investors. MMOs are complicated beasts, and sandbox titles are even more complex than that.

Sandbox titles also suffer because they just aren't as popular as theme parks since theme parks offer instant gratification while a sandbox actually requires a bit of an investment. And this is the part where I know the SWG fans are stinging, because their investment just went up in smoke, disappearing into the digital ether as if it never existed to begin with.

When TOR launches and it proves successful, I am fully expecting EA to deliver it's papers to the UO and WAR development teams and player bases as well. Though UO probably has an insignificant cost, it's returns have also been less than stellar, and who knows about WAR. In the end, it's a wait and see, but there are still more casualties on the MMO front to come.

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