Massively Overthinking: Paying for MMORPG emulators, legal or otherwise


MassivelyOp reader Bryan recently wrote to us with a fun question about emulators, a topic that will simply never die as long as MMORPGs do.

“I recently viewed some comments claiming that official era servers wouldn’t acquire much of the player base from private servers, due the benefit of private servers typically being free to play. After thinking about it though, I actually know many people who have donated money or purchased cash shop items on private servers. And I have been in guilds that paid for guild website hosting and guild voice chat hosting for their private server guild. Free stuff is always nice, of course, but it seems as though while the benefit of free to play private servers is there, there’s still a decent amount of people willing to pay out of their pockets for them. I am wondering, how many MOP readers have donated or would be willing to spend real money on a private server?”

So let’s tackle the emulator question in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Have you ever played on an emulator? Under what circumstances? Which ones are you OK with, and which ones do you stay far away from? Are you OK with emulators raising money, and for what purpose? And have you ever donated money to or spent money on an MMO emulator?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I’ve only played on emulators for dead games except once in high school for a friend that couldn’t afford to play Ragnarok Online. I’ve never spent money on them, and probably would only do it to keep the servers online. While I understand some people may want to turn that into their day job, at that point, I feel they should be using their experience and expertise to enter the field.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ve a soft spot for emulators for dead MMOs, I admit it, and have played SWGemu probably more than any other, followed by City of Heroes’ Paragon Chat (though it’s not really a full emu). I did time in Ultima Online’s emulators long ago, when EA made clear it wouldn’t prosecute them and encouraged modders in its other games to charge money for mods (boy was that ever another era entirely).

That said, I don’t think I’ve ever donated money to one, and I feel a bit guilty about that on reflection. It’s something I should rectify the next time I return to SWGemu for sure. And I’d certainly chip in for a full-fledged CoH emulator too. I’ve bought and donated for plenty of mods in other games – yes, I am that weirdo who uses the “coffee tip jar button” and buys the “thank you” sideloading app – so these types of games shouldn’t really be different for me. Maybe the shadowy nature of them, and their potential to vanish overnight, has made that seem a thing I should avoid, but SWGemu has been around almost as long as the real game was, so I am silly to doubt it.

But then again, I can see why other people would be suspicious, and that’s because if you’ve paid any attention to the emulator communities, from UO to WoW, you know that some of them are much worse than merely shady, and you know you’re not just donating to keep the server up and the admin filled with caffeine. I mean, it’s a few bucks, so big deal, but I get why people stay far, far away.

Sort of?

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): See, I’m… not an outlier, but I’m not exactly the target audience here, either. I wouldn’t spend money on a fan-run private server or emulator, but I also wouldn’t play one in the first place, making the question somewhat moot. I supposed if we’re talking about stuff like MADE’s emulation, that technically qualifies? That’s currently a hypothetical, though.

Regardless, I don’t tend to support them when they come up and don’t generally care for them much. I think emulators for defunct MMOs are at least justifiable, if not something I personally support, and I do approve of the existence of private server versions of games as fun projects for individuals to screw around with. But I’m not really a fan in the first place, and when the fan-run server is basically just filling the same role as a “classic” server in theory (rarely in practice), I tend to lose any interest right quick. Emulation of MMOs is something that I prefer for archival and reference purposes more than anything, and an appeal to remembered nostalgia fails that test.

Then again, I also have little interest in playing on classic-era servers run by the official companies, either! So I’m the wrong person to ask.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): As far as emulators, the only one I have played is Star Wars Galaxies, and that has been only a handful of times. But you better believe I’d be playing on the real thing if it were still here! I’ve never donated money though; I don’t really have the funds and I don’t play enough to try and justify the expense. It boggles my mind that there are emulators out there of a live game that also run a cash shop! Instead of paying the people who put the time into creating and developing the game, people are paying other individuals who are profiting off property that isn’t theirs. Yeah, that bothers me.

I, however, originally took this question to mean more private servers, in which case yes, yes I have spent money on them. In fact, I have three I currently pay for (two ARK and one Conan Exiles) and I am debating running more (like ECO). Other players help defray the cost by donations through my Patreon, but I still cover the bulk of it. I do it now, and I would do it again. I actually find I am preferring the private server route to combined worlds, except for a true MMORPG. Even then, I might very much like having one of those grand worlds as a private, invite only server to live on with friends and build a strong — if smaller — community. As a guild leader, I have also paid for or helped pay for website hosting many times as well as even voice servers. So, yes, I would pay to have a better experience, such as private servers for games, guild websites, and the like.

Your turn!

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