The Daily Grind: Should there be an MMO ‘caretaker’ company for unwanted titles?

    
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A couple of weeks ago, I watched through the entirety of Vanguard’s Jeff Butler’s three-hour interview concerning MMO projects that he worked on and the genre in general. One part stood out to me, when the two gentlemen were speaking about a strong desire to see a company or companies become caretakers of MMORPGs that parent studios are no longer interested in running.

“I am a big proponent of games never sunsetting. At a minimum, there should be a subsidiary company that takes everybody’s MMOs and keeps them going,” Butler said.

What do you think about that? How would such a company function, in your view? Should studios create these maintenance mode subsidiaries or sell the MMO off to another company that will keep the lights on?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!
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Zyngor

If there were a company that housed such honorable nobility as LEGO Minifigures Online, RaiderZ, and Hello Kitty Online, then sign me up, buttercup!

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

I like the idea of keeping games around that maybe not everyone liked, but someone else down the road may find fun, but I know ‘ownership’ issues would crop up. And any attempt to ‘modify’ them/make them ‘up-to-date’ would make them not the original game.

It’s similar to the whole platforms like Steam/GoG selling you things…what happens when they go under…and you lose access to all of the games you paid for, because the platform itself that provided you access to them is gone and so there’s no way to acquire it now. It’s one reason I’m not a fan of companies whole movement to ‘you don’t own this’ and refusing to sell you a physical product containing said software.

They want to claim they ‘own’ it ‘forever’/at least until they sell it, and that you don’t ‘own’ your portion of it that you paid for.

This is all ridiculous nowadays. Imagine all the lawsuits when Steam/GoG eventually goes under and those people lose access to their thousands of games…(Every company eventually meets it’s downfall, because something better comes along…and siphons enough business off that they can’t keep the lights on…)

Speaking of old games, I saw GoG is doing a Star Trek sale, and has a few of the games I found amazingly fun back when..(Star Trek Starfleet Command III, and Star Trek Armada 1 and 2.). I miss being able to play as Borg. Haven’t loaded em up in ages. Also, can’t figure out how to make Sacred work (I’ve tried every single operating system my computer will let it run as, it just won’t function at all…so maybe there is a benefit to some of this next gen fixing old games and bringing them forward/back to life…)

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Narficus

> Broadsword Games has entered the chat

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MesaSage

This sounds like an idea that would come from a PM or Marketing guy. Devs and Ops know that turning over the “server” to some third party ops/devs is not going to go very well. I’m trying to think of a good analogy but can’t come up with one that matches the wrongness of this idea. The game (any game) was hard enough to run when it had a full-time, dedicated team with some history of the code/ops and it’s particular frailties.

To give it to someone else to run takes time in itself (if they would put up with the quirks in the first place) and then what are you going to do when the inevitable bugs rear their head from OS and driver updates? Who’s going to dev/test/implement the updates? And there will be updates. There’s nobody dedicated to it, nobody with the history and nobody who’s intimate enough to fix things in a real-time environment.

The first time it goes wonky in the live environment everyone involved will feel the stings of regret. Now, multiply that by 10 or 20 or 50 or whatever number of games this company is supposed to keep running. For how many players? Some thousands? Where’s the opportunity in that? Subscription? ahahahahahaha. Advertisers won’t be interested. Perhaps you can wrangle a store – but then you need a store for every game. The hurdles are so high that I can’t fathom anyone with experience in this genre ever seriously consider something like this. The only hope is that somebody is an internal champion and gets the thing revived, or some of the devs/test spin themselves off to take it over, though I can’t imagine why.

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Bruno Brito

This sounds like an idea that would come from a PM or Marketing guy. Devs and Ops know that turning over the “server” to some third party ops/devs is not going to go very well.

Uh…what?

– Neocron is ran by a community team.

– WoW has p-servers that are in a better state than Classic.

– Ragnarok Online p-servers are literally the main way of playing RO, because of how bad Warpportal is with monetization and upkeeping of the game.

– Project 99 and SWG: Legends are two rogue servers that are extremely well done and kept by non-corporate people.

There are several instances of games being well-taken care of by community, EVEN if they’re sketchy. This is not an “idea” at all, it happens all the time.

Can we stop pretending that companies are somehow more trustworthy just because they give us the illusion of professionalism?

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MesaSage

You are talking about one-offs run by individual groups of people with a passion for a specific game. Vastly different from artificially creating an entity as a repository for cast off games. Has nothing to do with trust and a non-reactionary reading of my post would reveal nothing disparaging the abilities of third parties. It’s just a fact of running what is the most complicated of online products. The companies are precisely the problem. You need their help at some level to continue and if there’s no link relationship the product has a short life timer.

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Rndomuser

Here’s the thing: just because some MMO has sunsetted – it doesn’t mean it will never be used again. The company which owns the rights to the game and the lore may want to develop a new game based on that at some time in future or may want to sell those rights to other company who may want to develop new game based on that. And allowing someone else to run the sunsetted MMO before that happens may have negative consequences – for example the company may allow some random person to run the MMO while the company has no use for it, that person may add something to the game or modify it in some way or allow players in game to behave in some way which may cause unwanted controversy and diminish the value of the game’s IP, or it may cause people to get burned out and tired of this game’s setting and lore while playing on that person’s server and those people will be unlikely to try a new MMORPG based on same setting and lore when the original company which holds the rights to it may release it.

Even disregarding that – there is already a tool to preserve the gameplay of old games. It is called “YouTube”. Or any kind of video hosting. Running old MMOs is still expensive, especially if players won’t pay you anything or if there won’t be enough players to cover those costs, and using videos allows people to see the gameplay for cheaper price. Especially since videos allow people to see what they may never see, such as huge battle with 1000’s of players, something that person will never experience if he/she will try to log into old game at some gaming museum. Same goes for some famous in-game events which were possible because of some gameplay bug which people exploited in specific build of the game and which was not possible to recreate at later time due to gameplay changes.

TL;DR: Videos are a better tool to preserve gameplay and game history for future generations and many companies will not abandon the rights to their IP anyway or allow someone else to use those even for non-profit purpose. So no, there shouldn’t be any caretaking company for old multiplayer games.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Videos are a terrible method of preserving gameplay, because they aren’t interactive. That’s like saying “We don’t need to protect endangered species, someone took a picture.”

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Rndomuser

That’s like saying “We don’t need to protect endangered species, someone took a picture.”

That’s a pretty stupid comparison – comparing a unique living being, which may go extinct without ability to ever re-create such species (using current technology), with a lifeless piece of code which can be re-created by anyone in any engine at any time to provide same experience as the original code provided (in terms of playing experience).

Videos are a terrible method of preserving gameplay

And you also completely failed to read everything I wrote, such as videos being able to actually demonstrate people the historic events in the game, something that the “caretakers” of the game can not recreate (due to specific constraints like number of players or specific build of the game needed out of 100’s possible build versions of the game or specific people behaving in a very specific way), which makes videos indisputably superior method of preserving and demonstrating the parts of gameplay which would matter to majority of people who never played specific game. A vast majority of people will NEVER care to spend more than few minutes logging into old MMO preserved by some “caretaker” on private server, they will most likely spend few minutes at character creation screen then few minutes in game and then log off in disgust, especially when trying out early 2000’s game in something like year 2030, however they will highly likely spend much longer time on watching a VIDEO which may demonstrate all the recorded famous events which occurred in that game during its lifespan, with a proper narration, including major battles with 1000’s of players or famous exploits which were possible in specific build of the game which were quickly patched out by developers, or famous in-game “social engineering” events or dramas.

I can’t believe I have to actually explain such simple things.

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Bruno Brito

I can’t believe I have to actually explain such simple things.

Are you saying that we should record an entire videography of WoW, in all the ways it can be played, because people “wouldn’t be assed to log into the game”?

Uh…what? That’s unrealistic ( imagine the thousands of hours of recording all kinds of gameplay for research purposes instead of having a client and a server ready with low upkeep costs ).

Your entire argument rides on “people are lazy, so we’ll do the overcomplicated task of making this humongous billion-hours documentary that isn’t even able to actively scratch the minutia that having the client itself does. A game doesn’t need to be played by everyone to have existed, and you think that the validity of said game being in a museum of sorts is because people might not play it?

And if there is a game, people will play it. That’s how it is. P99 gets 2k logins everyday, so does SWG:Legends. Both games basically deceased.

And just to give you an extent of how video-evidence is not enough to grasp the issues that a client may have ( without even considering that the videos can be taken away, have issues, be too spread out over the internet, or being only on youtube which isn’t concerned to being a accurate curation library, it’s a business, etc etc ), here’s a interesting example:

There is a issue in the vanilla wow community that is basically Holy Resistance. Because Holy was a school of magic before, there are issues with how Holy spells should and would affect the target/be resisted. It’s the subject of heated debate for years now, because video-evidence of it either doesn’t exist, or it’s insuficient to grasp how the mechanic works. Which means that right now, most Vanilla servers have Holy spells working in a specific way, but that way might not be correct and we have no way to know.

It’s really not rocket science that having an entire library of videos is completely unviable instead of just having the game itself. Video-evidence is COMPLEMENTARY of the experience, and it’s important, but it’s not how you keep a game curated.

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Anstalt

I actually suggested this very thing ages ago when the first video game museums were just starting up. So, yes, I think this is a good idea.

The way I think it would work best is if these old / niche / unsupported MMOs were taken on by a netflix-style company. Gamers pay a single subscription fee and gain access to all the games, then profits are shared out based on playtime. If there isn’t a company to pay profits to, then my hope would be that this new company would be able to buy the game’s license before the original holder went bust.

In this way, the umbrella company can focus almost purely on infrastructure, keeping the old games running on old tech or whatever. They wouldn’t have to worry about content until they were making enough money to commission their own games.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

The licensing issues alone would see this never happen. I have no idea how it would work for MMOs. I know that there are a couple of really great games that *could* be on GoG.com and either never will be, or will never have their DLC because at that point it was still a thing to let a third party company make DLC for a game. And now the license for the DLC expired, or the company that made it got bought out/collapsed/was eaten by another company and the rights to the DLC are in some kind of legal hell that no one cares enough to straighten out.

And that’s not even touching on the fact that various companies don’t always act in logical, grown-up ways, because sometimes the person running them is a sociopath who is perfectly willing to do things out of spite as long as it doesn’t impact profits much. I can’t see Activision and Ubisoft and EA being willing to let even their old and forgotten titles share the same retirement home, and that’s before we get to any of the bazillion titles from indie devs or just smaller companies. Some of the indie devs in particular have enough ego to power a small country if there was a way to convert it directly into energy.

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Barnoc N'Draak

The library of Congress copyright office has shown significant willingness to carve out exemptions for non-profit/academic preservation of abandonware.

If it were a museum it could totally happen.

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

“Here, we have a historic recreation of the MMO called CITY OF HEROES. This was the trailblazers for all the superhero MMOs to follow there after. As you can see we have hundreds of players in the game–controlled by AIs–going through tutorials, taskforces and even recreatiing the seminal Atlas Park 33 tribute. As part of the tour you can play as a new character or a pre-rolled character.”

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Jon Wax

man this is a wall of complicated mess:

between the copyright holder, the publishers, the employees, whatever current iteration the company is in and whatever current ip that is even tangentially related to the whatever software you guys want to be made available…

then you factor in the variable behavior of the community and how any of its negative behavior could spill over to the current company and its current product, even if that’s the remotest of chances…

then the costs of maintaining it all?

i dunno man. id love to see tabula rasa up and running again but it’d probably cost twice as much as initial retail.

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

What if you have a decade after the MMO closes if there no updates it goes public domain?

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Companies already squat on IPs just so competitors can’t have them. This would just slightly increase the expense of doing that… but some of them would still totally do that. We also live in a world where Disney has fought off public domain laws (and gotten them outright rewritten in its favor) several times to keep old Mickey Mouse cartoons out of public domain. The companies that would rather hoard the IP until the heat death of the universe will do the bare minimum to make sure no one else can touch their stuff, even when it’s stuff they don’t want, won’t use, and don’t care about beyond “Mine, mine, you can’t have!”

*Edit* What I’m (badly) trying to say is we need to find a solution where the profit incentive to the companies holding the IP is greater than if they do nothing (which they can already do for free, or close to it.) For the system to work there needs to be a way to caretaker the games that doesn’t strip the company of their IP ownership, because companies that aren’t actually dead will fight *that* kind of thing just for spite.

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

So, the flip side would be the game would be still open. It’s like when comic publishers would release comics featuring characters to keep the trademark.

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Jon Wax

Not if the mouse owns it

And the mouse owns everything

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

The key would be the mouse would have to have an open game to keep the trademark.

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Utakata

We have active Emu servers of several dead games on the go currently. So it is pretty obvious then that the overhead can be managed with a degree of success without resources running out.

Thus with maintaining it covered, we have the intellectual property issues that remain. So it would be presumed that the caretaker’s hosts would negotiate out some sorta deal with the respective game’s proprietors to make this work. So it’s not out of the realm of possibilities if all parties are in agreement to such.

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Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

Yeah, still can’t understand why hold on to a MMO if you’re not keeping it open and not selling it.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Ken from Chicago

There’s already an online archive for arcade video games, why not MMOs?

But, as I was recently reminded, the Devil’s in the details:
— Is the archive located in the same region as the company who made the game?
— Do you need copies in multiple countries?
— Who pays to keep the game running and is it at full capacity or a limited number of simultaneous players?
— Is there a time limit before a company losies the right to block an archive?
— What if the maker or rights holder simply wants the game to vanish and be forgotten?

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Bruno Brito

Better idea: Release the code for people to make p-servers.