Vague Patch Notes: A love letter to the people going above and beyond in the MMO genre

Always the level.

Let’s just lead off with a very simple statement. Hey there, teams out there working on MMOs and doing more than you need to? We see you, and you’re awesome. You deserve kudos, and we notice you out here.

The fact of the matter is that MMOs in general are not an insanely high-profit venture most of the time, and most of the people working on these games love them. I consider that to be largely self-evident. Some of them love not too wisely or love only narrow segments of the population, while others are more effective at embracing the whole community, but a love of what you’re doing is kind of expected when you’re choosing to work here of all places.

But that doesn’t mean that nobody does more than is necessary. So today, I want to give some love to the people who are going above and beyond to support the MMORPG genre, teams and individuals who are not just doing the work but are putting in extra time and being kind of heroic along the way. Heck, sometimes very heroic.


Major teams keeping up more quality than you’d expect

We’ve talked a lot about the Big Five, we’ve talked about the Next-Biggest Five, but really we all accept that there are a fair number of titles that sit in what I like to think of as a comfortable midspace. These are not games that have lit the world on fire but they also seem to be at no risk of shutting down. They operate, they get players, they do things, and all is well and good.

And yet there are teams, both in the midspace and in the Big Five, that consistently seem to do far more than is necessary… or even just occasionally. This doesn’t mean that these teams are flawless or never make mistakes; it means that you come to expect a high degree of quality from the team working on the game, attention to details and little parts that a lot of other studios would miss.

This is, in many ways, the least heroic part of this list. These are people who have careers and health insurance and stability and all of that. They are clearly secure. And yet it’s hard to hear about a composer working through cancer or Bungie consistently doing good without being impressed, not to mention even little things like games having animations where you wouldn’t expect them or little flourishes and touches to add vibrancy to zones and areas. There are people who consistently want to do more than is absolutely necessary to make the game fun, and that’s awesome.

Do you hear what I hear?

Older maintenance teams keeping the games going

Final Fantasy XI‘s development kits, at this point, bring to mind horrible steampunk monstrosities that hiss and bellow and blow smoke into the air, ancient and barely functional things. Guild Wars was put into maintenance long ago and in no way employs staff to do anything more than ensure the servers don’t break. Fallen Earth is literally not monetized and was taken offline due to serious issues.

Yet FFXI has a better update cadence than many games not in maintenance mode. GW1 has gotten upgrades and improvements despite its status. Fallen Earth is online and playable completely free for the fans who loved it.

It’s important to note that these games are still operations that employ people. These are developers who have a career and all the benefits that entails. But the fact of the matter is that “maintenance mode” implies that the main job of these developers is to fix something if it breaks and otherwise keep the hamsters running in their wheels. That’s all. You don’t need to do more, nothing more is necessarily expected.

And yet a lot of these teams do in fact do more. Will we ever get that full remake of FE that lives up to the game’s potential? We don’t know, but it’s back online now for players to enjoy and explore regardless, and that is frankly just plain awesome. That is more than needed to be done, and it’s worth offering praise to people who are going above and beyond for these maintenance games.

People would still love these titles (and others) even if they never got any upgrades or improvements along the way… yet passes are still made and effort is still added. That is, frankly, kind of heroic and wonderful.

waugh? okay

Rogue server teams keeping games alive

And then we have the people who are in this purely for the love of the game.

I can go play City of Heroes right now. No, it’s not on the official servers, but I can go play it. There are some big community-managed servers that keep things consistent, offer new powersets and archetypes, add new costume pieces, and so forth. This is amazing. It’s a whole bunch of work being done purely because the people doing all that work love CoH so much that they aren’t willing to let it die, and so you still have a place to go and play the game after all.

It’s not alone in that regard, either. There are rogue servers out there for several games that have shut down, run by people who are in this purely because they love the games and want them to be accessible and fun for everyone. Even if these people were being paid a salary and given benefits, they are fundamentally doing work that could be obviated in a minute by a company deciding it didn’t like the rogue server.

Here are people who love a game so much that they decided that even the game shutting down wasn’t enough to stop it, who went out of the way to build servers that work that people can log into from around the world. They even have then put in time to finish unfinished features and add new stuff – areas, abilities, mechanics, whatever – so that people can enjoy not only the version of the game preserved in amber but something that at least approaches the sort of quality and content found during the game’s official lifespan. Some of them are even doing all of this at great personal risk to themselves.

This isn’t people who are doing more than is required of their jobs. This isn’t putting in more attention than needed or keeping things going when you could just coast. This is downright building something new and improved on an old foundation because darn it, this means something to you, and it is worth your free time and effort to make more of this be a thing.

I have been a part of fandoms where it looked like fanfic and fan initiatives were the only way there would ever be new content regarding this thing we all loved. And that kind of sucks, but it’s also kind of amazing seeing fans decide that this thing is worth preserving and sharing with everyone. And when it comes to operating a full MMO without the budget or backing of a major company, that’s downright amazing.

The fact that it has happened multiple times is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

So here’s to you. You folks aren’t rock stars, but you should be. You are part of the pantheon of people who see what is required from you and decide to do more. Not because you must, but because you want to.

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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