Vague Patch Notes: The negatives of MMORPG rogue servers

Not pictured.

Last week, we began a discussion about the ups and downs of rogue servers in the MMO space, by which I actually mean we talked exclusively about the positives because I found out after I started writing that this was big enough to split into two columns. (Yes, that happens more often than I might like to admit.) But let’s be realistic, those were some pretty big upsides. There were lots of reasons to be excited about rogue servers in there, from exploring new design directions to new content to even just getting to keep playing a beloved game when you would otherwise have to wave goodbye.

All of that is good stuff. But rogue servers are not an unalloyed good, as you would probably guess from the name of this part of the series. There’s a lot of good stuff that they can bring to the community as a whole and the wider network of games we have available, and there’s also a lot of bad things they can bring as well. So let’s round out this two-part series by taking a look at some of the bad things to consider when talking about rogue servers.


Rogue servers can be run by pretty awful or entitled people

Once the tools necessary to have a rogue server operate are out in the world, there’s no way to put a lid back on that. People are going to download and share them; that’s just inevitable. And while there are a lot of people who will use that as an invitation to try new things or go in different directions or even just recreate things that are otherwise lost, there is no certainty whatsoever that the people who decided to do this are going to be people you want to be around or be in charge of things.

Or, to put it in more direct terms: The group of veteran roleplayers who want to make a game into an inclusive hub for everyone to enjoy are not in any way more likely to be in charge than a bunch of 4chan trolls angry that they don’t get to gatekeep people any longer.

You’re going to see this a lot with games where rogue servers are operating while the official servers are still very much alive. Some people are going to want to make the game into something very different from what it is on live versions, and other people are going to see this as a chance to indulge in their own revisionist fanfic about a past version that they’re “entitled” to because they bought access to the game and they owe you. (And sometimes the official developers indulge in their own revisionist fanfic, hey-o.)

Put it another way, rogue servers are, in some ways, a bigger version of a guild. And not every guild is necessarily run by nice people.

My ability to remember where I've been and where we are going makes me dangerous.

Rogue servers can be intensely cliquish and insular

What, you didn’t think the comparisons to a guild stopped there, did you? Well, they don’t.

I mentioned before that one of the bright points about rogue servers is the fact that these servers can frequently have an interesting and different social dynamic compared to the community for a larger and more established MMO, and that’s entirely true. However, that also works the other way just as well. You can very much find yourself trying to break into a group with accepted social mores that are not communicated to new players.

Actually, scratch that; you will almost certainly be trying to break into a group with accepted social mores that are not communicated to new players, but if you’re lucky that’s not actually a problem. If you’re unlucky, that’s going to be a dealbreaker because the smaller population is going to react much more harshly to you breaking those expectations and there aren’t enough people around for it to wash out.

To be clear, what I’m talking about with breaking mores isn’t stuff like “being a harassing bully,” but “the accepted server etiquette for joining or leaving parties.” But I think that’s also something that bears examination.


Rogue servers do not have the obligations of major titles

On occasion while playing World of Warcraft, I have encountered a serious bug. The process of dealing with this has always been simple: I send in a problem ticket via the in-game help system. A GM gets back in touch with me in no more than 30 minutes, usually far less than that, asks me for any additional information, and fixes the problem. It’s utterly painless. I know that if I log in and, say, one of my Death Knights is somehow missing Runecarving, fixing it will be easy and painless even if I’m playing at 11 p.m. on a weekend.

This is not true for many rogue servers. Most rogue servers do not have a fleet of GMs sitting and waiting to solve problems 24/7 because… well, that costs money and most of these are small indie operations in the first place. Most GMs are going to be volunteers. And that’s understandable, but it still means that you can run into a game-breaking bug and then just have to wait until a GM handles it… which might be a while.

And that’s assuming that the GMs are on your side in the first place. Remember how I said that there’s no way of being certain that the rogue server in question is being run by nice people? That extends to policies. There is no way of being certain that your report of harassment will not be met by a reply to toughen up or insistence that the other player didn’t say anything that bad.

In an official server? There are logs, there are people reviewing the logs, there’s a system for appeals. On a rogue server? You basically have to hope that the people who run the game are on your side, and that’s not assured.


Rogue servers are not very stable

Servers are expensive, y’all. Games like Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy XIV and WoW don’t spend no $3.50 a month on keeping those servers up and running for all their players. (It’s probably at least $10. Maybe more.)

Obviously, rogue servers have ways of paying for servers and keeping them running when they are public products, often running fundraising drives for server costs to keep things going. But they’re also just not running on the resources available to large corporations when it comes to scaling up and keeping the servers on. Crashes, instability, and problems are just going to be more likely, helped by the fact that more often than not the code is all reverse-engineered from something that was already likely held together by chewing gum and twist-ties.

And that’s without addressing the elephant in the room: Rogue servers are rogue. They are not ever assured of safety.

The moment a rogue server becomes public knowledge, it is fighting a two-pronged battle of avoiding the ire of the people who actually own the license while also trying to get the attention of people who want to play. Lots of factors come into play here, including how litigious the owners of the property feel and how much a given rogue server infringes on products the owners are actually selling. And those things can change pretty easily.

None of this is to say that rogue servers are inherently bad; I wrote a whole column on all the positives about them just last week, after all. The point is just that it’s complicated. And it’s important to consider both sides of these things before you start hunting down or playing on rogue servers, whatever game in question you’re seeking out.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.
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