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?


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.


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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