Letting Players Set Up Servers When MMOs Close

We’re entering an era of MMO closures as the industry transitions and finds its footing once again.  With those closures comes a lot of heartache.  SOE’s recent announcement that Vanguard, Free Realms, and more, would be closing likely sent thousands of people into disarray.  Despite the fact that the games didn’t make financial sense for the company, I’m sure plenty of people still loved them and would play them today.

EverQuest Online Adventure
EverQuest Online Adventures

Several MMO closures over the years have hurt more than others.  SWG closing, despite being ruined years and years ago, was hard to watch.  Vanguard still holds a place in my memory.  EverQuest Online Adventures, though I didn’t play, meant a ton to Graev — he still considers it his favorite MMO (I think?).

I wish developers would release server code, source files, whatever — I’m not technical enough to use the right words — when they plan to close a game.  I know there are legal issues with certain IPs, etc., etc., but in a perfect situation where it made sense, I think it would be an awesome gesture for a company like SOE to say, “We know you loved EQOA so much that we want to make these files available for someone to recreate the adventure.” People would do it!

SWG Wookie
My Wookie

I look at all the current options like SWG Emu (thousands on nightly) and Project 1999 (peaking at almost 1300 nightly) and I know there’s still a demand small enough for people to do something about it.  Again I don’t know the legality surrounding such a thing, but what if the company handed it out with the agreement that you can’t make money on it, etc?  I’m the type of person who believes strongly in companies making nice gestures like this.  You’ll get the people who say things like, “They want those players to move on and buy their new products.”  Let’s be real. The people who would play EQOA, SWG, and Vanguard aren’t the type of people who are going to buy your new products anyway — OR — they are the type who will buy everything and it’s a moot point.

The idea of playing on a player-run server isn’t perfect.  I lamented early last year about this very subject.  Given the wrong administration, a player-run server is trash.  Cheating, favoritism, etc., can ruin them but if the files were available I think people could easily find more options than jus the one person who managed to get it working.

Thoughts?  Am I alone in my desire to see EQOA or Vanguard surface with player-driven servers at least operating under the blessing of SOE?

  • Ultima Online free server really did bring back the nostalgia. Even ran into remnants of my old community and we had a blast. Also DAOC has a decent player run server last i remember, not sure its still running.

    I also find player run servers can be some of the best run. They normally can respond to balancing community desires a little bit better than corporate servers.

  • God I miss City of Heroes. But that was a game that hid numbers, and most match was done on the server side. After 6 years or so, some people are halfway to recreating how the game was close after launch. But with every player/server interaction having it’s math on the server side, I just don’t think I’ll ever see the day.

  • Some companies have done it. The full code for Ryzom is open source, for example, and that MMO is still running (it’s good, too).

    I don’t think the problem generally lies in worry about the competition such servers would provide. As you say, the people playing on them probably would never be playing the official game. Maybe that would be a concern for Subscription games, with private servers allowing people to avoid the cost, but in the days of F2P that’s not a concern for many companies.

    I would guess the two main issues are concern about damage to the brand and security issues. If you are still running Everquest games commercially, for example, you don’t want to open yourself up to bad news stories about terrible things happening on Everquest servers you don’t control. Customers and potential customers may not differentiate between a scandal occurring on a Private EQ server and the brand itself.

    As for security, I imagine there would be potential risks in allowing people full access to game code even of closed MMOs in that there might be information within that would be pertinent to those other MMOs the company might still be running. Even if there was little practical risk, corporate lawyers would no doubt prefer that companies erred on the side of caution.

    Still, obviously, I agree with you that it would be better for us if it could be done. If it does happen, I would imagine it will be smaller producers rather than the corporates who do it, though.

    What I would like to see, and I think it would be much more reasonable to expect, is some form of personal closedown archival process whereby players receive some offline record of their characters. Vanguard, for example, launched with an excellent automated character “blog” that took a screenshot every time you discovered a new location or gained a level and formatted it into an online journal. When VG closes we should all get our own copy of that.

    There also used to be an unauthorized 3rd party program for Everquest called ZoneViewer that allowed you to open EQ offline and travel around the world. We all still retain the zone files for every MMO on our hard drives. Again we could be given private access to those.

    There are many possibilities for MMOs and virtual worlds to live on in some form after the official servers close and I would think that some could even be supplied by the rights-holders commercially at a profit. I know I’d buy a “ZoneViewer” for Vanguard.

  • Releasing source code becomes difficult or impossible when you have a shared code base running platform-wide features across multiple games that are still live in market. For example, authentication, billing, security, hack prevention. SOE are a smart company that doesn’t reinvent the wheel on these things every time they release a game. There are a lot of shared resources between their titles, making it very risky to release entire game codebases out into the wild for people to dissect.

  • Interestingly enough, though, emulated SOE games like SWG and the original EQ are among, if not the best, ones out there.

  • With EQ Mac’s closure, my new found den of nostalgia is the Emerald Dream vanilla WoW server. Technically WoW is still operating, but honestly what Blizzard currently offers has the depth of a facebook game and the WoW I loved might as well have been shut down as have the games you listed.

    Never getting to try EQOA will always be my biggest MMO regret.

  • I don’t think they could release the code as is. It would probably need to be reviewed by Legal/Security to make sure there’s no bites related to another current project still running. Gotta be careful with what you expose to reverse engineering. Then, there’s the Intellectual Proprety aspect. What people will do that code ? Could it hurt the company ? Could it raise some bad press ? Whose fault it is if something really bad happen ? The fan-team running the nostalgia server or the original company for not fixing an issue that known to them ? Overall, I believe releasing the code would be much effort and headaches in return of no benefit except karma points.

  • “Interestingly enough, though, emulated SOE games like SWG and the original EQ are among, if not the best, ones out there.”

    idk if this was said in response to Cuppycake, but I believe that the code for the SWG emu is all reverse engineered without any original source code from SOE.

    I still don’t understand how such a thing can be legal in the days where King trademarks the words “candy” and “saga”, but they insist it is.

  • My understanding is that because the game is no longer available in its existing state (or at all anymore) they can provide a service for connectivity without infringing on any rights, as long as they do not promote the pirating of the software. Again, I have no idea if that’s true but if SOE or Lucas could or wanted to protect their IP they most likely would have by now.

  • I thought about and wrote a post about this exact same thing when glitch closed down. You have some amazingly dedicated players that would take on the cost immediately.
    If the don’t want to give it away, or let people run it for free why not rent the rights for a month. They then get a little income as well as a lot of goodwill.

  • I wonder if a private emu server might actually end up achieving the MMO ideal that we so frequently try to envision on this blog? Something that can actually establish and monitor decent community standards; what “decent” means will certainly vary and may be difficult to globally define, but like Justice Potter Stewart’s ruling on pornography I bet we all would know it if we saw it.

    A game that isn’t shiney new and isn’t intrinsically designed to maximize revenue, as opposed to be the best player conceived version of the game, might just be the object of our desire.

    While griefers have always been around, I think these days the idea of breaking a game for the fun of it is rampant with the influx of the FPS minded PvP gamers as illustrated, at least in my mind, by every FFA KOS sandbox “community” out there.

    I will be curious how EQN/EQNL will play out, with idealist gamers thinking that this is going their dream creating game, while already packs (or as otherwise known as, guilds) of griefers are likely planning how best to urban blight the immediate adjacent areas if only for the fun of pissing them off; one claim is busy crafting unicorns, rainbows, and giant gingerbread houses, while next door they are making used condoms, piles of dog shit, and giant penises.

  • I wonder if a game actually ever could run itself as a player run server game. Sell a basic MMO and run it but also have a feature for player run servers. They could sell stuff like hosting, tool updates, new server code.

  • I sincerely wish companies would do this. More often than not it seems that the people who know best, about how a game SHOULD be, are the ones are actually play it and envision how to make it better. I don’t know about the rest of you, but there are many a time I play MMO’s/Games and wish I could do something to make it better. EMU servers seem to be just that.

    I have to agree a little with Nuke about Tabula Rasa, though. I wish I could play that game again a little, was quite fun. Someday, maybe (probably not), the perfect MMO will come out. 😛

  • Meridian 59 went open source when it shut down. I thought that was pretty cool. And Glitch made its assets open source also. I really can’t see a downside to a company doing this. You could sell the IP when you go bankrupt or shut the game down but still make the original content open source with no legal hassles.

  • It makes very little sense for a company to give away propriety software, so when an MMO shuts down, it’s most likely never going to see the light of day again. Odds are the game (client, server and source) is saved on a hard drive and locked away collecting dust or even worse yet completely deleted. I don’t know why people think it’s ok for a company to give away the source code when it’s obviously going to contain propriety elements within it. What you should be asking from a company that shuts down an MMO game, to atleast have the closed-sourced server-sided software that comes with the client-sided software that you already downloaded. That way you’d be able to set-up your own private player-based server (using LAN or an actual Server PC) and can indefinitely host your own games forever. The only draw back is that the game would not be update-able, but only contain the last updated version at the time of it’s closure, which is better than not being able to ever play the game again. Atleast this way a company can give the dead game away, but not sacrifice any potential private information about it’s business. All an MMO really is, is a 2-part application software, the client software which players obviously can download for free, and the server software which we as players never get access too. It would be nice if companies gave away the closed-source server-sided part of a dead MMO, I don’t see any problems with that, but I think you’d be asking for too much for the open source code of it as well.