Daily Archives: July 18, 2011

Considering Star Wars Galaxies Emulation? Better Grab a Disk!

As part of the discussion of the player reaction to the shutting down of Star Wars Galaxies, Bhagpuss brought up the fact that there were a couple of SWG emulation projects going on, and that this might allow people to continue to experience SWG after the December 15th shut down of the game.  They are, if you are interested:

They were once the same project, but branched over some sort of “tastes great/less filling”  argument.  Both continue along the line of emulating Pre-NGE SWG, which was what got them started in the first place.  That there will soon be no Post-NGE SWG has not changed that.

Emulation seems to live in a gray area in the world of MMOs.  Following certain guidelines, they are not really “pirate” servers engaging in outright theft of a game.  On the other hand, they do encroach on the work of others, so to say they are merely “private” servers does not cover things as well.  Occasionally somebody throws around the term “fair use,” but apparently only to show they don’t know what the hell the term means in any sort of legal sense and are generally engaged in something closer to “wishful thinking.”

This picture might actually constitute fair use

Still, where there is a will, there is a way… or at least a few people willing to give it a shot.

An MMO emulation project usually consists of somebody reverse engineering their own version of the server side software of an MMO.  When the server side emulation of the game is ready, the players then use the client from the original game to connect.  This is done by altering the client so that it connects to the emulation rather than the original game login server.

Such server emulators are available for Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and as we have discussed here before, EverQuest.

There are, of course, legal issues involved here.  And while nobody can ever really predict who will sue whom for what here in the US, the urban legend level consensus seems to be that if can avoid the following, you and your emulation project will be safe:

  1. Don’t Charge – If you set up an emulation of an online game and you charge people money to use the game then you are clearly attempting to profit from somebody elses work, as in the case of Scapegaming, which brought in 3 million dollars in revenue from their private WoW server.
  2. Don’t Use Source Code – Game companies do not make a habit of handing out their source code, but leaks do happen from time to time.  Taking advantage of such a leak can tee you up for a lawsuit.
  3. Don’t Violate DMCA – Ah, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, everybody’s favorite piece of legislation.  Circumventing security or encryption can get you in trouble here.  This was the other part of the Scapegaming case, the part that drove the award against them to $88 million.
  4. Don’t Distribute the Client – This is the part of the game that the end users needs to connect to your emulator, but it is also where all the copyrighted and trademarked material resides.

Following the above four rules will probably grant you about the same legal shielding that arguing that you don’t have to pay US income taxes because the statute behind it is flawed or the whole thing is an illicit conspiracy; which is to say, none at all.  Blizzard and Nexon, for example, quite actively go after any emulations of their game, though at least in the case of Blizzard I couldn’t tell you how you would do that without tripping over alleged rule #3.

But for some, life seems okay.  The EverQuest emulation community for example seems to have quite a few options, with everything from “real” 1999 style servers to happy solo-friendly romps through Norrath to new original content on top of the game, and Sony lawyers haven’t shut them down.

And, as an end user, as a player, these issues do not really come into play directly, except in the broader sense of there being a private emulation of your game of choice being available to you.  The companies in question are unlikely to spend time going after individual users when their goals can be accomplished by shutting down a server.

Except for one detail; the game client.

The game client is the one thing you need as an end user to be able to participate on these servers.

From what I have seen, a lot of the trouble of being able to play on these servers is getting the right version of the client.  EverQuest emulation, for example, seems to have a couple of very specific starting points, all of them older distributions of the game.

And for the Star Wars Galaxies emulators I listed way back at the start of this post, they will require a fresh, unpatched install from the original game disks.  No expansions, no compilations, no trial versions, no starter kit, no complete edition, no total experience, just the original distribution.

That original disk is a pretty rare bird already.  And you can bet if anybody tries to distribute copies of it LucasArts will jump on them right away.

So if you think SWG emulation is in your future, I hope you have that disk.

And if you don’t play on playing but have that disk sitting on a shelf somewhere, it might have some value on eBay at some point in the future.

Are you planning to play?  Or planning to sell?

Is anybody else planning to emulate the game?

And will LucasArts jump on these guys as soon as SWG is closed?