Working As Intended: MMOs that wish they were Star Wars Galaxies

    
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“My friends and I would skin someone alive for an SWG 2,” an old Star Wars Galaxies player recently wrote on Reddit, and that sentiment is… gruesome, yes, but also widely shared by gamers who remember that particular golden age of MMOs. It’s not that the game was perfect – it most definitely wasn’t – but the combination of devotion to what it got right and post-mortems on what it didn’t have inspired many MMOs to adopt its features and invoke its name when making their pitch to the next generation.

As the headline of this edition of Working As Intended implies, I’m going to run down a list of MMOs that wish they were Star Wars Galaxies – in one way or another.

Crowfall

It’s no surprise that Crowfall makes this list, as its original design lead, Thomas “Blixtev” Blair, was a prominent Star Wars Galaxies developer; its co-founder, Gordon Walton, quit his job at SOE over the NGE; and of course Star Wars Galaxies’ Raph “Holocron” Koster himself consulted on Crowfall’s economy. Long before Crowfall’s launch, decline, and sale to a new company last summer, the game’s crafting design screamed SWG. In fact, Blair literally compared Crowfall’s mass-production factory systems to SWG’s. Of course, the launched game was focused more on kingdom PvP, but the economy – had it ever seen enough players to make it thrive – was very much inspired by the Koster-esque sandbox.

Divergence Online

You might not even remember Divergence Online, so let me refresh your memory: It was an MMO from indie studio Stained Glass Llama that hit early access in 2016, and it wanted to be SWG so badly that it literally billed itself as “SWG 2.0,” an “MMORPG that began as the spiritual successor to Pre-CU Star Wars Galaxies but has since grown into its own living, breathing universe.” It occupied a strange drama-filled zone in the MMO genre in that period, racking up over $50,000 in crowdfunds and seemingly bragging about using SWG assets as placeholders, but in the end, the game’s incomplete state and developer hijinks brought development to a halt. We dubbed it abandoned in 2020, and it was taken off Steam earlier this month.

Galaxies of Eden

First announced just about a year ago, Galaxies of Eden hasn’t openly declared that it’s aping Star Wars Galaxies, but it’s exceedingly obvious anyway, given everything from its vintage sci-fi visual aesthetics to its emphasis on social sandbox play. As we noted at the time, it’s got all the tropes: housing, vendors, character customization, a player-run economy, and a skill list filled with archetypes like Combat Medic, Surveying, and Dancers. It was meant to hit alpha earlier this year, but that’s been delayed to later in 2022, so we haven’t seen it in action for a final verdict. Consider this one to keep an eye on.

EverQuest II

No, I’m not trolling you. Yes, I know EverQuest II is a fantasy MMORPG. But if you ask me, EverQuest II has way more in common with Star Wars Galaxies than it does with its elder EverQuest sibling, and that makes sense to me as they’re much closer in age. In fact, if you played SWG post-NGE, you know that SOE frequently used SWG as something of a test-bed for ideas that later made their way into EQII, from the standalone card game to the storyteller system. If you can overlook the puddin’-faced characters and dated lore, it really is one of the better sandparks out there, with crafting and housing that still rivals the best in the genre – just like SWG.

Camelot Unchained

Mark Jacobs’ RvR MMORPG Camelot Unchained has been the locus for quite a bit of drama over the last few years, which you can read all about in every single one of our articles on the game (here’s the most recent). The relevant bit for this particular column is the fact that the game, at least as pitched years ago, was intended to have a completely player-run economy, as there weren’t going to be mobs or loot drops. Everything was meant to be crafted by players, including by pure crafter characters, pretty close to SWG. Indeed, in an early interview I did with City State, the studio drew parallels to SWG’s crafting systems, crafting stations, manufacturing, resource qualities, work orders, decay, and economy. Of course, that design plan was years ago, and the game’s been sitting in beta one for four years now, so it’s not entirely clear what the launch economy will actually look like.

The Repopulation

No list of SWG-inspired MMOs would be complete without The Repopulation, an MMO Kickstarted by gamers way back in 2012. It was originally pitched by developer Above & Beyond as an open-world, economy-driven sci-fi sandbox with a clear visual and design bend toward Star Wars Galaxies, which had at the time only just sunsetted. It made it to a messy early access in 2014 that was derailed by a contract dispute with Idea Fabrik, the company that owned Hero Engine. By 2017, Idea Fabrik had acquired The Repopulation outright, and though we’ll probably never get the whole story, it was obviously far from an amicable split. Unfortunately, Idea Fabrik really hasn’t done much of significance with the game in the ensuing five years, meaning the SWG spiritual successor MMO gamers funded way back when has now been malingering in early access for eight years. Don’t count on ever seeing this one launch.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

OK, now I am trolling you a little bit. SWTOR mostly just wishes MMO players would stop reminding it how great SWG was. And who could blame it? The industry rumormill maintains the narrative that EA was so intimidated by what was in 2011 a relatively small but still potent sandbox that it pulled strings to hasten SWG’s sunset and eliminate the competition just months before SWTOR’s launch. Whether or not that’s true, it needn’t have bothered, as there’s almost nothing in SWTOR from SWG except the “Star Wars” IP anyway, so direct comparisons are pointless. SWTOR was the most on-rails AAA MMO ever designed at its launch – the polar opposite of SWG. It may as well have been wearing a giant sign that said I’M NOT JEALOUS, WHO NEEDS SANDBOX FEATURES ANYWAY. It most definitely secretly wishes it were SWG.

Fractured

Or perhaps I should say Fractured Online now, as Dynamight Studios altered its game’s name when Gamigo took over publishing. As a third-person isometric-ish sandbox with plenty of fantasy trappings, Fractured might on its surface seem to have much more in common with Ultima Online than Star Wars Galaxies, but we’ve compared it more than once to SWG, largely because of its player city systems. As originally planned, its player-run town design description could literally be lifted straight from Galaxies, down to citizenship, elections, and maintenance. That piece I’ve just linked was three years ago, and I’m happy to report the game is still in active development; indeed, its player city mechanics have continued expanding to include siege warfare – something SWG’s towns never quite had.

Playable Worlds

This last full entry here doesn’t even technically have a name yet, but it’s Raph Koster’s next big thing under his studio Playable Worlds. He announced it in 2019 as a brand-new sandbox MMORPG “built atop a modern, re-usable, scalable platform” for other future games in his metaverse, and he’s raised almost $40M (that we know of) to pull it off. In fact, he’s apparently “reasonably far along” on the game, though it’s still a few years away. Concept art thus far makes it look like a fantasy world, not a sci-fi world, but given Koster’s long treatises on social gameplay and MMO economics, I’d say it’s a safe bet that many of the ideas he deployed in Star Wars Galaxies will resurface here.

Honorable mentions

If I don’t mention Elite Dangerous, Star Citizen, and Dual Universe here, there will be riots, but in all honesty, they weren’t the first MMORPGs that leaped to my mind when putting together this column, in spite of features like Star Citizen’s atmospheric flight or Dual Universe’s player cities. It’s not that SWG didn’t offer plenty for space tourists; it was just quite literally an afterthought (in the Jump to Lightspeed expansion) compared to this trio. All the big space MMOs have plenty in common, but I’m just not as convinced of the origins of their aspirations. And hey, say what you will about Star Citizen, but at least it didn’t rip off SWG’s interface and dare Disney to sue it!

The MMORPG genre might be “working as intended,” but it can be so much more. Join Massively Overpowered Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce in her Working As Intended column for editorials about and meanderings through MMO design, ancient history, and wishful thinking. Armchair not included.
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