Massively Overthinking: Why aren’t you playing the MMO most like your favorite sunsetted game?

    
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This week’s Massively Overthinking question comes to us from reader Smuggler-in-a-YT.

Star Wars Galaxies had its problems, but the sense of community, purpose, and story (through its Star Wars IP) created this amazing space. If SWTOR ain’t it, what MMO is closest in spirit and/or function to the SWG that was? And why aren’t more people playing it? I’m interested in this answer because over the past 18 months I’ve gone through just about every AAA MMO and been disappointed. And yet, games like SWG just keep people coming back.”

Not all of our writers played SWG, so I think we should open this question up to be a bit more broad. Lots of fan-favorite games have closed down over the years, from City of Heroes and Vanguard to Marvel Heroes and Tabula Rasa. Most of those players probably went on to something else, but I suspect few of them ever found something similar enough to feel that hole’s been filled. So today’s question is two-fold: What MMO is most like your favorite sunsetted MMO, and why aren’t you in it?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): No surprise, Asheron’s Call stole my heart – 1 and 2. While I know 1 has an emulator, I haven’t gone back because I play games to meet new people, and these days, I prefer to meet people in person. Now, that doesn’t mean I avoid traditional MMOs, but I do gravitate towards games people can talk about, and a game that’s fallen out of the public eye is hard to discuss with potential new friends.

That doesn’t mean the games or communities are completely irrelevant. I still bring up some of AC’s events, dungeons that interact with each other, and my experience with a very forgetful guy who alternated between helping me “home” and asking me why I was following him, and people can appreciate that. I just feel I got everything I can from the game’s and need to play someplace new to make new memories.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): This question would’ve had a pretty different answer from me had it been posed a year ago; prior to last summer, I’d have simply said there wasn’t really anything out there even close to Star Wars Galaxies, so there’s nothing to play to recapture it all in one game. I had to play several games to get the same feel in pieces and slices and bits, and mostly I had given up. But the emulators have come such a staggeringly long way, and now I’m contenting myself over there. Modern studios don’t want my money? Well, OK then!

The City of Heroes emulator, however, isn’t quite in the same position, striving as it does to avoid legal wrath, and my answer here might be more helpful. There’s nothing like City of Heroes for me because City of Heroes wasn’t first and foremost a superhero game to me. Superheroes aren’t really a thing I fangirl over to begin with; my attraction to the game was more for its extreme customization and gameplay freedom rather than for the specific setting. The existing superhero MMOs are fine games but not really at all like CoH; I’d actually argue classic Guild Wars is most like CoH than any other game, which is no surprise given its pedigree and timeline, but I’ve played that to death as well, and it’s in maintenance mode.

I do think that on some level I’ve felt content to just wait for the Next Right Game to come along sometimes than keep chasing second- or third-best and feeling repeatedly disappointed. The fact that SWGL has obsessed me so much (seven months in and I can hardly pull myself away from it!) is comforting in a way because it proved to me I’m not over MMORPGs and that it wasn’t just about nostalgia.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): Whew, am I glad this question didn’t narrow its focus to SWG because I missed that boat completely and am only now starting to find some enjoyment in the sandbox MMO. On point: My chosen sunsetted game is City of Heroes, and boy howdy are there a few games that miss the mark so hard they may as well be set in Tolkien fantasy. The first two that immediately spring to mind are Champions Online and DC Universe Online. At the brass tacks level, yea, they’re MMOs set in a superheroic world where you can create your own comic book character, but there’s just something lost in translation when stacked up against CoX. DCUO just feels like it leans on the strength of its IP too hard to really create any sort of interesting world, and Champions Online just feels like a smash-and-grab rush job instead of a passion project.

What’s missing the most from those games when compared to CoX, however, is the community. The sense that the people in the game are really engaged and want you to join them. There’s still lots of people who would rather boot up a graphical chatbox of the old City of Heroes instead of play your fully featured superhero MMO. That’s sayin’ something. There are other issues with DCUO and CO, too, but those are the most immediately apparent to me.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I may be the iconoclast or the odd one out, but the reality is that I’m not looking for something to fill the spot left by sunsetted game that mattered to me. Obviously I didn’t play Star Wars Galaxies (and still have no interest in it), but I did play City of Heroes. And it’s really easy to point to games that are like it in various ways, but the thing is that I’m not looking for a game to fill the niche it left behind. I’m not looking for a game at all. I’m looking to enjoy myself and feel like my time is being rewarded. So, for example: Champions Online. Similar? Yes, very much so! It has a number of things that are similar to CoH. But I’m not playing it because the systems aren’t what made CoH fun for me alone. No, a lot of it was the atmosphere, the people, and the time in my life when I played it.

And that’s a key thing, I think; so long as you’re looking for the closest match to what you had, you’re going to be kind of disappointed because you’re looking for something to fill a hole where things were lost. My personal preference is to let that loss be where it is and put effort into building something new, to finding new loves and moving forward. I couldn’t tell you what game is most like City of Heroes and what serves as the “best” home to replace it, not just because we all have different things that made the game appeal to us, but because I don’t want to replace it in the first place. That’s gone, and I miss it, but it’s still a part of my history, and now I can search for new things.

It's clear now.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): The most obvious and instant answer that comes to mind is Champions Online, as it seems like the perfect grounds to immigrate from the now-defunct City of Heroes. You had the same studio create both games, both of which covered the same genre. Yet as much as I really do miss the solid superhero gameplay of City of Heroes, Champs failed to be sticky for me. While I really love the visuals, character creation options, and freedom in character customization, the combat system and gameplay never felt right to me. Too spammy, too floaty, and not quite as on-the-dot as CoH was. Plus, with Champs receiving so little developer attention, there’s no great incentive to stick around in a has-been game when there are will-be titles on the horizon.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Um, that’s the whole darn problem! No game even comes close to the spirit or function of SWG, hence no one can possibly be playing it! Nothing is even tangentially an approximation. Trust me, I have tried, I have been in just about everything. I used to have hopes at one point, but now I know that just like the awesomeness of ’80s music, the magic that was SWG just cannot be recaptured. Vanguard was making a decent attempt, and look where that got it. This is a hole that I am convinced will never be filled. And that being much sadness. If I am someday proven wrong, I’ll be glad of that. Until then, I challenge games to aspire to use as many of those amazing features as possible in something else, and maybe — just maybe — magic can happen one more time.

Your turn!

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Vaeris
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Vaeris

The modern MMO developers honestly don’t want to make “worlds” where encompass more than combat/PvP. They don’t want to make detailed creation systems, only instant gratification “smash this!!11!!” systems. As MJ said there isn’t a game like SWG out there nor in production and I tend to agree with her there won’t be in our lifetimes again. It takes developers that understand and embrace the intoxicant that is letting players build/craft/make just about everything AND allowing them to do it with a breadth of options.

What I really wonder is why the few folks who know how to make such a game and have the “political capital” to do it, don’t. Specifically Koster. I can only assume he just doesn’t want to make deatiled MMOs like that anymore. With the amount of love still shown for SWG from the gaming community one would think if a new attempt was made taking the systems from under SWG’s hood and putting a new skin on it would generate an insanely loyal customer base.

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Anstalt

First, the MMO industry is small. Compared to other genres of games, we simply have very little choice.

So, the answer to the primary question – why aren’t we playing MMOs that are basically the same as our sunsetted favourites? – is because there aren’t MMOs close enough to our favourites.

There is no successor to SWG. There aren’t any games which share similar philosophies and mechanics, but even if they were, without the Star Wars IP it wouldn’t attract the same crowd and thus the community wouldn’t be as good and thus it wouldn’t fulfil the same need.

Beyond that, modern MMOs just suck! The trend for the last 10 years has been reduction in player numbers (to the point where a lot of games classed as an MMO arent actually an MMO), simplification of mechanics (so that we get bored very quickly and quit) and wasting tons of money on story content (which doesnt work in a multiplayer setting and is shit for longevity).

Until the market trends change and they start making good games again, we won’t be able to play games that make us feel the same as the old ones did.

However, I hold faith that the time will come when development improves. We’re pretty much at rock bottom right now: all the big devs have pulled out, hardly any new MMOs are being built, and old MMOs are continuing to dwindle and shutdown.

My prediction is the next five years will be ruled by the indie MMO as there are a lot in development and many have interesting mechanics. Player numbers still wont be great, the industry will still suck, but at least the mechanics will improve. In 5 years time, once some mechanics have been tested and proven to work, the big devs will return and give us AAA versions of what the indie devs were trying to do.

So, I think 2025 will be the first year we get a good AAA MMO release

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Ha, thanks for taking up the question. Didn’t expect that!

Seems like most of the responses fall into two categories: looking for community, and you can’t go back again.

So I agree with both of those, and it’s interesting to me because I think the first is something that people continually strive for (connectedness), and the second because I think the power of nostalgia is phenomenal (and the suggestion seems to be doomed to disappoint).

But if the parenthetical is true, then you wouldn’t have sustained communities in SWGL or the COH part duex efforts, or even the WOW emulators and Classic, right? So does community overcome nostalgia? Or does nostalgia supplement or enhance the community, when and where it exists.

Thanks for all the thoughts, really appreciated all the comments!

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Fenrir Wolf

One only has so much energy, this is why Christmas and all the family shenanigans is appreciably only once a year. Though I do admit I’d prefer it if the good will and kindness to homeless folks stuck around the year long. Not so much the ceaseless socialising and screaming children, you understand.

I don’t think that we have energy banks capable of playing any title all the time as if it were going away tomorrow. As such, calm downtime is appreciated. In fact, I’ve oft quietly avoided the sunset of some of those titles I’ve thought most fondly of. It’s too much stress.

Anxiety, yes?

I think the one I miss the most at this point surprises me the most — Free Realms. It had a certain charm. So much today feels a need to be unreasonably edgy, dark, depressing, and angsty as if this were somehow clever. I mean, I suppose that if you live in an entirely delusional world of shallow ecstasy as some seem to, that might appear novel. Others, unfortunately, must succumb to reality.

It’s why I have interesting feelings about Guild Wars 2. I tire so of the players who’re unable to tell fiction from reality and believe that being a charr-loathing zealot of some fictional god actually means something in the greater scheme of things. And believe me, I wish they were being ironic, I truly wish they were just roleplaying.

The game, however, is pleasingly upbeat, this time focusing on killing a human god. I must admit a little schadenfreude as it might shut the aforementioned up for a time. I’d like that.

Still, GW2 is a little too… I don’t know. It doesn’t quite satisfy me as something to be enjoyed over a longer period. The writing isn’t there, sadly, and the focus upon the humans for the most part only makes the zealots even more grating.

Once again, happy to kill a human god.

I never thought anything would overtake my dislike of asura egomania.

Where was I?

Ah. Not many titles for me to be interested in, today, regardless. It seems that the storied MMO is no longer du jour. The zeitgeist has moved on to somewhere far more extroverted, to places I would fear to tread.

I play games as I have energy for them, anyway. But I couldn’t play games in that obsessive way some do if they’re about to be lost to the sands of time. I just haven’t the energy. I don’t know whether it’s age, introversion, or autism at work but there’s simply not enough there to stimulate me enough.

I still enjoy them, though.

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styopa

“…I do think that on some level I’ve felt content to just wait for the Next Right Game to come along sometimes than keep chasing second- or third-best and feeling repeatedly disappointed….”

MMO-summation comment of the year so far, Bree. Thanks.

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Schmidt.Capela

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”Heraclitus

Basically, for the most part it’s just not the same. Not only is whichever new game or emulator I could play different from the original, the community also isn’t the same and my own preferences will likely have shifted. You just can’t recapture the moment, so when it comes to MMOs I find it better to just use my old experiences to guide me towards new experiences I might enjoy, even if they are different.

For offline games, on the other hand, it does work, because the “river” is the same. I can play a 30 years old game and still feel much of the same enjoyment I had back then — and in some cases even more, because now I can find communities that formed around that same interest in old games, which weren’t available for me back then. It’s a big part of the reason my Steam account has over a thousand games, and my GOG account has half thousand games; I get lots of older games on the cheap because I legitimately enjoy (re)playing them.

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rafael12104

Coolio. I don’t have to respond to this discussion because you wrapped it all up exactly right.
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kjempff
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kjempff

Or you could see it as a new experience with an old game, instead of an attempt to recapture the moment. That is the common misconception about people who play old games or emulators, most of us are not there for nostalgia or reliving the moments, we are there because the games are high quality and most new games are not.
We step in the same river twice, and it is not the same river and we are not the same, so it is a new experience.
Of course there are some who try to recapture the past, and they fade out real fast and go use words like “nostalgia” on forums, thinking everyone else played for the same reasons as they did.

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Zeph

Like Bree, I’m a refugee in Star Wars Galaxies: Legends. I have very little interest in any of the big modern games beyond aesthetic fluff and lore nerdery.

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maydrock .

Seems like the emulator stigma has died off a bit from a year or two ago. Use to be like Uncle Joe’s issue that no one in the family wanted to discuss.

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Oleg Chebeneev

I do. TESO in some ways is similar to Vanguard. I miss diplomacy tho

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Armsbend

I avoid games made by bad developers – so none of my games get sunsetted before their time.