Like an old Sith Emperor, Star Wars Galaxies (and my urge to play it) seems impossible to kill. Nearly ten years after SOE and LucasArts pulled the plug on the game, the players have taken it upon themselves to not only bring it back to life but make it better than ever.
The Star Wars Galaxies emulation scene has been thriving even since before the game was shuttered. Back in 2005 players began the arduous process of rebuilding the game as it was before a major revamp alienated most of the 250,000-strong playerbase. For most of the subsequent years, that project – SWGEmu – had been the most popular player-operated server. Following its emergence in 2016 however, SWG Legends, a rogue server which more closely emulates the game nearer to its final official iteration, has grown rapidly both in terms of player numbers, and new content.
Over the years I’ve always kept a close eye on what was happening on these servers, and occasionally I had dropped onto one or two to just wander around my old stomping grounds. For numerous reasons however I had never fully invested myself in any of the characters which I had made on these servers. I first started playing Star Wars Galaxies in 2005 – after the CU and NGE updates which did so much to divide the playerbase. Therefore when I tried to play SWGEmu I always found it difficult to adjust. In theory, this version of the game appeals to me greatly. It’s more immersive in its attempt at recreating the Star Wars universe as it was during the timeframe that the game is supposed to be set (between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back), and it encourages emergent gameplay rather than being quest driven. It’s also woefully dated.
As I’ve discovered in my time on SWG Legends thus far, that version of the game is lacking many of today’s standard MMO quality-of-life features too, but compared to SWGEmu those that are there make a considerable difference. Again, this is something which in theory would make me sway towards SWGEmu rather than away from it. Things like quick travel and group finder tools are major immersion breakers in MMOs and generally serve to give players less reason to slow down and interact with each other. The truth of the matter is however that once you get used to having them it’s very hard to go back to a game which makes you spend fifteen minutes of your playtime slogging halfway back across a map that you only just spent fifteen minutes getting to. It’s nice to have these features there and it goes a long way to ensuring that each time you play you feel like you can make some progress, even if you only have a short amount of time to spare. My attitude of late is that it’s really up to the players to take it upon themselves to make an MMORPG a social thing, and the onus therefore should not be entirely on the developers to funnel all players into that style of gameplay at the expense of those who wish to experience the game from a more solo or casual perspective.
The main reason why I had always been so reluctant to fully immerse myself in a rogue server however was the ever-looming prospect of a swift and painful server closure. This is something that can happen for one of two reasons. Firstly there is the possibility that the individual(s) running the server is forced to close it. This could be due to personal reasons, lack of donations or players, or a breakdown in communications among team members. Secondly, being an unofficial usage of an existing IP the owners of said IP may choose to take legal action. So far such a thing has been largely avoided across all rogue servers, not just for SWG, but also for other shuttered games such as City of Heroes and Warhammer Online. Even private servers for still operating MMOs have been either embraced by the official games publishers (as in the case of Everquest‘s Project 1999) or have had a blind eye turned towards them. Generally, players would rather play on an official server than a player-operated one, so the amount of lost revenue is not significant enough to warrant taking legal measures which run the risk of generating negative goodwill towards the game in both the media and among the playerbase.
In Star Wars Galaxies‘ case however, I’ve always felt a little uneasy about participating in their rogue servers due to the existence of The Old Republic. Lest we forget that Star Wars Galaxies was, at the time of its shutdown announcement in 2011, not only in about the most stable, bug-free state it had been in since launch but was also maintaining a steady, perhaps even growing, playerbase. As such, it came as something of a shock when LucasArts announced that the game would be sunsetting at the end of that year. With an announced closure date that tailed the launch of their new Bioware-developed MMORPG Star Wars: The Old Republic by only five days, it was obvious that the only reason LucasArts had chosen to close SWG was so that their new game faced no direct competition from another game in the franchise.
Even if LucasArts decided to pull the plug on active development for SWG, the game could have quite happily ticked along making money for years in maintenance mode. Players had been suspecting that such a day was coming anyway as the developer’s cut live event support in 2008 and added in new mechanics such as the ‘Storyteller’ and ‘Chronicle Master’ systems which gave players the reigns to create their own quests and events. As with pretty much every decision that LucasArts had a hand in when it came to SWG, this final decision to shutter the game had a negative effect. For many players this obviously profit-driven decision left a sour taste in their mouths, and rather than simply transferring their monthly subscription dollars from Galaxies to The Old Republic, they took their custom elsewhere.
I was one such player (and I know of many others) who had planned on trying SWTOR out at launch, with the intention of running concurrent subscriptions for both games. Instead, rather than doubling their revenue from me they lost their existing revenue and gained nothing in return. The point of the matter is that LucasArts were willing to do anything to ensure that SWTOR was the only Star Wars MMORPG on the market, and this made me weary that one day they would force the rogue servers to pull their plugs.
Fast-forward the better part of a decade and the landscape is a little different. SWTOR was never the goliath that its publishers thought it would be (the SWG debacle had something to do with its disappointing launch, but so too did endgame content issues). The Star Wars franchise has been brought out by Disney, under whom SWTOR has become something of a pariah, being the only ongoing piece of media in the franchise which doesn’t belong within their new canon. Similarly, Sony Online Entertainment – the developers of SWG – have been through numerous buy-outs of their own. What this means is that almost everybody connected to SWTOR and SWG both on the development and publishing side has now moved on to pastures green, and the attitude towards how to handle a few rogue servers for a dated game whose appeal extends towards a total of a few thousand players a month is likely very different to what they would have been back at the start of the 2010s. I’ve since been an on-off subscriber to SWTOR for around five years, and I now appreciate and enjoy the game for what it is – a mostly single-player, story-focused experience which is highly polished, and basically the exact opposite of what SWG ever was. Therefore, in 2020, I’m back where I was a decade ago, wanting to play both games at the same time.
I’ve been torn between which server to invest my time and several have caught my attention, primary amongst them being the Empire in Flames and Sunrunner II servers, which run off the SWGEmu codebase but have, over the past few years, implemented an obscene amount of new content including new planets, player species, and questlines. By comparison, SWG Legends has had quite significantly less new stuff added to it, but all that is about to change as their much anticipated ‘The City in the Clouds’ patch is due to launch early in 2021. Judging from the amount of time and hype that the SWG Legends team has been putting into this patch, players are expecting polished content that is generally on par with a full-blown expansion. Solid details are generally thin on the ground, but it seems likely that Bespin will be more than simply a few new kilometres of digital space to aimlessly run around in.
This is one reason why I’ve chosen to check the server out, but another one is the community which I’ve seen growing around the game. Oftentimes player-run servers fall foul of being insular and even downright hostile affairs, with developers being too ingrained in their own communities to see that things have turned toxic. That’s fine for those small communities who are happy there, and it’s by no means a universal thing, but it is a matter of indisputable fact that it does happen. SWG Legends (along with the two servers I noted above, SWGEmu, and I’m sure many others) has been conducting itself in a far more professional manner, however, and because of that they’ve grown and grown in player numbers. Outside of the game, SWG Legends Project Admin RoarAsh has been doing a fantastic job of fostering a positive community across social media, Bree and the team at MassivelyOP have been covering the game on the site now for some years as if it were any other official MMORPG, and Napyet and others have been creating fantastic video content about the game over on YouTube. It’s been increasingly apparent that SWG Legends is the real deal – a genuine resurrection of the game I loved.
It seems like a great place to start for this new blog, where I plan on charting the stories and habits of the players and characters within these virtual spaces. I’m looking forward to seeing how players are living within this player-run MMORPG, and from my own point of view, I’m excited about revisiting my old hangouts and checking out what’s new. I’ve got several personal goals in mind for my time in SWG Legends, but I’ve got no idea how much time I’ll spend there and therefore how many entries this column will consist of (or how regular new entries will be). I’ve already made some progress during my first ten hours in the game however and I’ll be posting about the experience so far in the next few days.
If you have any suggestions for places and people that I should check out in SWG Legends then please drop a comment down below or on any of the MMO Folklorist social pages.