Massively Overthinking: Which MMORPGs should stay away from legacy servers?

Legacy, vanilla, classic, progression – call them what you like, but alternative server rulesets, particularly of the nostalgia-driven kind, are all the rage in 2018. Just since the dawn of the new year, we’ve gotten a new server type for Age of Conan, with RIFT’s on the way – not to mention World of Warcraft’s looming in our future. And those are just the new ones! Games like RuneScape, EverQuest II, and Ultima Online already run similar servers.

That said, does every MMORPG need one? Aren’t some MMORPGs already in pretty good shape without needing a spin-off for nostalgia’s sake? Is it in every MMO’s best interests to prioritize, on some level, the very older ideas it intentionally left behind? That’s the question I’ve posed to the writers this week: Are there any MMORPGs that should stay far, far away from legacy servers, and if so, why?

ANGRY LIZERT

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’m all for alternative rule sets: PvP, RP, progression… but legacy is still a bit of a head scratcher to me. The reason I don’t really play emulators is because Asheron’s Call (both) spoiled me. An MMO that doesn’t update doesn’t seem worthy of my time.

There’s an audience for them it seems, but it feels like it’s something only older AAA MMOs can get away with. After all, AC wasn’t making enough to even live in maintenance mode. I could see TERA maybe getting away with it, since I really loved the game a few months after launch, having both game supported player elections and RP hotspots on even non-RP servers which (at least the former) got ditched for… I don’t even remember. Although, I don’t know if the game makes enough for that to be viable, and I must admit, I wouldn’t pay to play on that server either.

Maybe it’s the flu talking, but I feel like with all the mediocre games we get these days, we should let the past die a little. Yes, if you’re a AAA studio with money to burn, give people what they want, but for the most part, why not innovate? If you’re going to take something from the past, put a twist on it. Move forward. Nostalgia can be a cage, and we’re in a genre that really needs to grow.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I realize I’m the one who picked this question, but I’m having a hard time answering it. I love the idea of games having multiple versions out there that are playable, different server types, different eras and whatnot. As MMORPGs continue to age, I’d always rather see that than no servers at all.

What concerns me in answering is that not all such server are equal. Some of them, like Age of Conan’s, are clearly intended to give existing players something fun to play with – like a minigame. Others, like WoW’s, seem more designed to recapture older players (or emulator players). And while I like the idea of it, on some level it bothers me because it’s a snapshot of something that the genre – and the players, and the studio – voted to move on from for a reason. Not always, of course. There will always be NGEs that make this an imperfect rule!

But most games never had an NGE, just a gradual shift. So maybe the right answer here is anything that hasn’t changed significantly, where the basic gameplay is roughly the same as its original, or where modes would be a waste of resources, or where the storyline just wouldn’t make sense, or where a single-server environment is sort of the core conceit of the game. Guild Wars 2 fights don’t really look all that different from 2012’s. Trove would be better off with alternate modes than new servers. “Fresh start” servers on sandboxes are a ticking time bomb. Good luck reconciling Secret World with alternate timelines. EVE Online needs its bodies in its core shard. And so on.

oliphant

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I don’t see anyone making the case that EVERY online RPG needs a legacy server, nor does it make sense for such a server to fit in all games. Like many MMO features, this is situational and depends on the game. But where I see it fitting in quite well is in any game that meets most of the following criteria:

1. An MMO that has been out for a while (at least five years) and has experienced significant content growth, especially with expansions or expansion-level updates.
2. A highwater mark in the past in which the game saw high interest, high activity, and strong community focus
3. An era that part of the community concurs was the “best” or at least better than the current game
4. An MMO that has always incentivized rolling up new characters with a wide array of classes, builds, or leveling experiences

There are plenty of games that don’t hit any of these marks and probably should avoid legacy servers. Smaller populations, for instance, won’t be able to sustain a divided community and could halve the game to death. A legacy server that only goes back two years won’t provide enough of that nostalgia hit or fundamental difference to justify its existence. And if the community generally loves the game where it’s at, then trying to tempt them away to an earlier and less-desirable period might end in indifference or even backlash.

Specific examples? I don’t see Final Fantasy XIV meeting great success with a legacy server (A Realm Reborn legacy, not Original Flavor FFXIV, that is). Pretty much any PvP title that needs to keep as many players together — EVE Online, for instance — shouldn’t even entertain such thoughts. And games like WildStar or Secret World just haven’t had enough additions to scale things back to a different era — it’s all the same era, as far as I’m concerned.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I don’t think newer games need legacy servers, but any title that has been around the block for a decade or more has likely changed a great deal over the years. Some change and evolution over time is expected, and given enough time the changes can be pretty big. In that case, having the chance to play the version of the game you fell in love with way back when is certainly alluring!

That said, how about a The Secret World legacy server. Oh wait, we have one…ish. Perhaps any game that makes a drastic change would likely be a good candidate for legacy servers, since what you have currently is not what you started with. Now, if you ask whether or not such servers would be financially viable, that’s a totally different question.

Tina Lauro Pollock (@purpletinabeans): I think Guild Wars 2 is one of those titles that will never need legacy servers because ArenaNet has designed the game in a way that largely keeps the bulk of content relevant (we’ll let dungeons and season one slide as big ol’ blips, shall we?), and aside from in the highest-end meta scenarios, it maintains the basic feasibility of all professions. Sure, you might have high-achieving WvW groups who shun certain professions and raid setups that are a headache without bringing along certain builds, but for the bulk of players’ needs, playing your chosen character the way you want to is viable. There’s not much need, aside from the need to revisit old builds or specific content, for legacy servers in my mind, and GW2 is a brilliant example of how MMOs can largely prevent the need at the roots.

Patron Archebius: As someone who never played World of Warcraft, I can’t really speak to the fascination with playing “vanilla” WoW. Obviously there’s a big chunk of the community that’s interested in the concept, but I doubt that anyone playing it at the time thought, “I hope that this MMO never changes or evolves or adds new content! This is perfect!”

Or maybe they did. I wasn’t there. Comment below if that was your desire.

I think it makes sense to do a progression server if you have a segment of the MMO population that never got a chance to play through your game, and would like to experience all the content with other players, instead of trying to jump into a five, ten year-old MMO and suffering through empty zone after empty zone while they struggle to catch up with the rest of the playerbase. There are a couple of MMOs that I would consider doing that for – a vanilla start, a compressed expansion cycle, letting people relive the games development, all seem like appealing ideas to me. Too often, older MMOs allow/force players to skip content to get caught up, and that feels too much like starting at the end of a novel for me.

I don’t think it makes as much sense to do a plain “vanilla” server. Ultimately, MMOs are supposed to grow and change, and players get bored with old content and crave new content. We’ll see what happens when the world’s most successful MMO launches its take, but I suspect it will have a pretty large initial population that rapidly dies off.

I also don’t think that sandboxes should try to do legacy servers. Sandboxes, by their nature, iterate on their core design, and rarely completely overhaul it. Players don’t typically “miss” content; they may have to grind to get on a roughly even playing field with older players, but everyone is still engaging in the same game. Content isn’t as gated or split apart. I can’t imagine EVE trying to create a legacy server, and I have extreme doubts that it would be successful.

Your turn!

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46 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: Which MMORPGs should stay away from legacy servers?"

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Patrick Dougherty

XIV is a strange case that makes it uniquely suited for this kind of thing, as XIV 1.0 was literally a completely different game.

kjempff
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kjempff

If people want Legacy servers and can pay for it, I don’t see why not. Personally I am not interested in Legacy servers defined as static servers, but progression servers on the other hand are interesting because of the constant change.
The wish for Legacy servers appear because the developers ruined the game (or at least changed its core values). In that light I think it would be more fitting for a third party to run Legacy servers.

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Kristian Leitzen

If they ever did an original Everquest, with the old UI (not the current monstrosity) and not all the extra leveling options and crazy stuff. Just the game like it was on launch day, I’d sub for a least a few months.

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kjempff

eqemucoughlaterdotcoughorg .. takproject has an old old (crap) client, other projects uses various newer clients but you could still consider it old .. and then there is the “original old” ui mod too.

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Crowe

To answer “Which MMORPGs should stay away from legacy servers” my answer would be: if the development and support staff the company currently has isn’t able to keep up with the current/live game then bringing on a legacy server is going spread the dev/support even thinner which doesn’t bode well for either the live game or the legacy version.

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qweazdak

All of them should stay away from legacy servers. If there is ever a need to have a legacy server, then you must be updating the game in the wrong content or the wrong way.

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Deuter

Give me a SWTOR legacy server and I’d keep pvping for a while longer. At this point, SWTOR is merely a placerholder game for me until CU releases. To be back at the start of SWTOR, even with Battlemaster bags, would be totally worth it. Slideshow/shitshow Ilum? I’d still be all about it. Ranked 8’s pvp? Yes – PLEASE! Huttball popping more than anything else becuase of the imp/pub population imbalance – PLEASE! Loves me some classic Huttball.

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Jack Pipsam

Anything under 5 years old?

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Alex Willis

Trick question: all MMOs should be single-shard, full stop. If you want to play a unique iteration of a game, go for single-player games or sandbox server games like ARK, which are purpose-built for alternate rulesets and mods. (I satisfy all my “bespoke” interests this way — almost as a rule, I only play single player games that can be modded.)

Polyanna
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Polyanna

None of them.

The lesson that all MMO designers should take from all of the classic server experiences of games that have done it is that it’s good game design and a strong feeling of community that makes an MMO last over the long haul, not endless clueless iteration on one failed concept after another or frantic dumps of uninspired copy and paste content.

I’m talking here about MMOs that actually aim to be massive, multiplayer, social and group play focused games; not the massively single player RPGs or Diablo-style solo / duo loot grinders or looter shooters or battle royale arenas or base building survival murder sims or any of the other variations on small team competitive play that don’t involve actual virtual worlds or any real semblance of role playing by anyone.

If you’re trying to build an actual virtual world that people can live and play in every day, then what matters is that you get the fundamental design of the gameplay loop for lots of different sorts of players right from the start, or very early on, and then keep it right, forever. If you get it right, that basic underlying architecture of the game and what people do in it every day doesn’t need to change, ever. More often than not, “fixing” it, when it’s not broke, means you’re just going to screw it up, and you will take huge losses while trying to fix your fixes, which likely never will be recovered.

This is the entire reason that “classic” RuneScape is more popular now than the improved version that was developed over the years; the basic design was more right than what came after, and the “improved” design broke the game for a lot of people who were great fans of the original. It doesn’t matter how many content dumps or graphic overhauls you pile on a broken game; broken game is broken game and always will be. Destroying the gameplay loop for large segments of your players will drive them away, and most won’t return.

The lesson here is, if you want your virtual world to last, then before you worry about what comes next, you need to worry about what comes first, and that has to be a fundamentally well crafted and rewarding gameplay loop for ALL of the Bartle archetypes and their variants, along with strong, easy to use tools for community building and management, and lots of built in opportunities for regular, recurrent, rewarding, cooperative, and friendly social interactions, among players who may have widely varying ways of spending time in the game.

Also, if you want to add new modes of gameplay to entice new players, you better think long and hard about how you’re going to preserve the old modes that the players you already have are there for. Maybe those different modes can be integrated into a single cohesive world, and maybe they can’t.

If they can’t, then maybe supporting obsolescence should be part of your game design from the start; smoothly integrating different iterations of the game world side by side, all running at the same time, forever, so that players can choose the one they like best and stick with it, rather than being driven out of the game when the old world they liked goes away and the new one that has nothing to offer them is the only option.

This is also the reason that brand new games with loads of whizzy features and shiny graphics “great ideas” can utterly flop, if they start out with fundamentally broken gameplay and don’t fix it in a hell of a hurry. There are a handful of games that have managed to come back from disastrously broken launches, like FFXIV, ESO, and, at least for a time, SWTOR. WildStar, on the other hand, launched broken and never got fixed, and we all know how that ended up.

Fixing a fundamentally broken game is a hard job, hugely expensive, and disruptive as hell to any player base you do have the longer you let the game run on in a broken state. It’s not the sort of thing that many developers will have the resources or the experience to pull off, so, if you want to have a good chance at getting it right, better build it right from the start, because it’s very unlikely you’ll get a do over.

At the same time, if you DO get it right from the start, better fight like hell to keep it that way, or face the consequences if you don’t.

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Alex Malone

I agree with everything you say: MMO designers need to go back to the drawing board and take a good hard look at what it takes to make a good MMORPG that holds peoples attentions long term. I think the fundamental issue is that a lot of designers have come from the single player world, as have a lot of the players, so they’re trying to use design paradigms from single player RPGs in a massively multiplayer environment, but that just doesn’t work.

That said, until MMO designers get their act together, I think legacy servers are fine. If new games aren’t serving the market then why not reboot older (better) versions of games?

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Godiva

I would love to play a legacy version of ArcheAge: the pre-1.0, “Alpha”, non p2w version that originally launched in Korea as a Subscription game. The version Jake Song originally envisioned for his product before it got turned into a f2p mess.

At the same time I now know that even if Trion Worlds managed to launch a legacy version of ArcheAge they would still find a way to mess it up. So while a part of me is hoping to see this happen, my Brain hopes it never does. At some point you have to let a game die to make space for something new.