Here at MassivelyOP, we have a complicated relationship with rogue servers for MMOs. We have some pretty firm rules about when covering them is totally fine and when it’s a bad idea, and we’ve covered some of the more popular ones in depth in Choose My Adventure and elsewhere. Rogue servers are kind of awesome! And they’re also potentially kind of horrible, and we never really talk about them as a concept in a whole lot of depth beyond just… acknowledging that they can be both.
So in part one of this series, we’ll break down the many ways in which rogue servers can be a net positive and the ways in which they can be negatives, which is interesting especially because the two sides of things are largely separate from one another. It’s not that their positives are all potential negatives, it’s just… well, you’ll see.
So what’s the good and what’s the bad? Let’s start with the good.
Rogue servers keep games alive after sunsets
This is the first, and some would argue the most important, aspect of rogue servers in the larger MMO landscape. Do you miss Star Wars Galaxies? That’s all right because there are rogue servers out there to keep the game alive. Still have adventures luring you back to City of Heroes? You don’t have to keep those adventures solely in the back of your mind because rogue servers exist for the game. Want a chance to revisit the fields of Warhammer Online? Oh, you’d best believe there’s a rogue server for that!
Now, there is obviously a downside of this, insofar as you are almost assured to have lost your original character from before the sunset even when a rogue server is already there and ready to go. This can sting a little, depending on the game; if you had a lot of high-end raid gear in WildStar when the game shut down, you might be a little miffed when you fire up the in-development rogue server and have to start back from zero.
At the same time, this is a core element of rogue servers and something that they offer that is otherwise not available. While a lot of games do manage to get quiet, long-term maintenance modes, some just go away forever. And if you’re not done with the game in question even if the company behind the game is done paying for servers, this is a chance to keep playing after you would have to say goodbye.
Rogue servers offer a chance to see otherwise cut content
Every video game has cut content. Every single one. The designers behind any given game have reasons for cutting any piece of content that doesn’t make it out for public consumption, but the point remains that this stuff is still there and buried. Heck, with MMOs sometimes it’s even more frustrating than that: It might be content that was in the game at one point but got removed as time marched on and/or as the developers decided it didn’t mesh with the direction the game was taking.
Fortunately, rogue servers offer players a chance to see what some of that content is like. Maybe the people behind the rogue server don’t have the same balance concerns of the the original design team. Maybe this content that would otherwise be difficult or outright impossible to monetize has managed to find itself a new home in the new design paradigm. Maybe the designer just also wants to see what this otherwise unavailable content would be like. Whatever the case, it’s a peek behind the scenes at an interpretation of what this could have been.
A minor behavioral note: Do not take selfies of your character in this otherwise cut content and send those selfies to the original design team with the caption, “This could be us but you playin’.” It’s just a really bad idea.
Rogue servers can offer unique community experiences
The thing about rogue servers is that they are, for a variety of reasons, inherently lower-rent ventures. You are just going to wind up with fewer people on any given rogue server than you would on a server of a successful MMO. You might wind up with a comparable population to what you see on your average Elyon server, though. Zing!
As a result, there can be some unique community engineering and contact being done with rogue servers that are much more difficult in a bigger game. The staff behind Final Fantasy XIV can try its hardest, but there’s no real good way to personally connect with what is at a bare minimum upwards of a million players, much less shuffle things around for specific RP events with that player volume. When your playerbase is a couple hundred or even a couple thousand people, you can do a lot more that would otherwise be prohibited by scale.
Rogue servers can provide alternative design routes for games
Let’s take a step back to that hypothetical WildStar rogue server. It’s very possible that when that happens, the majority of the playerbase will agree that the game’s relentless raid-focused endgame and the whole “hardcore!” nonsense was an active detriment to the game as a whole. But what can be done about it?
Well… it’s a rogue server. So the answer is any damn thing the people running the server want.
If they want to provide a totally different design arc for the game? They can. Different models for clearing content? Doable. It’s how you can get variants on servers like SWG rogue servers that never hit the major stumbling blocks of the NGE but still add in tons of the content that post-dates the NGE. Or servers that take the post-NGE game and roll elements of that back to provide a very different overall experience. If you’re running the game and can find people willing to learn the coding with you, you can change the game into a whole different experience.
This is like catnip for people who are already familiar with your game, naturally. It’s the sort of thing that makes your mind literally dance with all the possibilities of what could be changed. Sure, the earliest rogue servers are almost certainly going to be straight recreations of the game, because this stuff is complicated and figuring out how to change things can be a big lift. (And sometimes your game isn’t of interest to enough people to support multiple rogue servers.) But the possibility is there for creating a lot of very different bespoke versions of the game with all sorts of dials and options twisted around.
Obviously, there are other smaller-scale positives that you can think of, but these are the big ones that jump immediately out to me as being big benefits to rogue servers. In fact, they probably make rogue servers sound like a cavalcade of fun, huh? Well… stay tuned next week. There’s a dark side, too.