Tag Archives: LucasArts

SWTOR – Two Years After EA Louse

You remember EA Louse, right?

He was the guy who wrote the tell-all post about the failure of Warhammer Online?  If not, well, you missed it.  At least in its original habitat.  The blog was shut down for violating terms of service, though you can read the original post here. (Or here at the Web Archive, with all the comments still there.)

More is the pity, since it had something approaching the most especially self destructive comment sections… nearly 1,500 comments long… that I have ever seen.  It even had some great throw backs to past events.

The main focus of the post was why Warhammer Online failed and it included the usual aspects you find in most of these stories; unrealistic goals, out of touch and lying management, a dramatically over optimistic public spokesperson, and bad marketing.  The only likely suspect to be exonerated was Mark Jacobs, who was described as being too heads down trying to fix things, though that sounds like a leadership sin as well.

None of that was very controversial by the time EA Louse posted it.  Warhammer Online was a year old and had come and gone as far as the mainstream MMO market was concerned.  If that had been the sole focus of the post, it would not have seen so many comments.

But EA Louse took some time out from his Warhammer Online reminiscences to go after BioWare and Star Wars: The Old Republic, a product which had at that point been in the public eye for more than two years, and was still about a year from being launched.

Rehashing the past is easy, predicting the future though….

Anyway, thanks to the magic of the internet, I still have his original post. (And all of the comments. RSS feed local save for the win!)  And this is what EA Louse had to say about SWTOR:

And Bioware? Don’t make me laugh. They’ve spent more money making the Old Republic than James Cameron spent on Avatar. Shit you not. More than $300 million! Can you believe that?

And you know what they’re most proud of? This is the kicker. They are most proud of the sound. No seriously. Something like a 20Gig installation, and most of it is voiceover work. That’s the best they have. The rest of the game is a joke. EA knows it and so does George Lucas, they’re panicking, and so most of Mythic has already been cannibalized to work in Austin on it because they can’t keep pushing back launch.

Old Republic will be one of the greatest failures in the history of MMOs from EA. Probably at the level of the Sims Online. We all know it too…

This, of course, drove the BioWare/SWTOR fanboys absolutely insane.  This was the fire that fed the comments section, as a lot of people were (and remain) very emotionally invested in SWTOR.  They called bullshit, grabbed torches and pitchforks, and created an epic comment thread of bile and hate.

That is all history.  But here we are, about 10 months after SWTOR launched.

Yes, it did not make the clearly hubristic numbers initially set out as subscription number goals, and the subscription numbers they did get started dropping after the first quarter.  Then after only a few months and some layoffs, EA was claiming that SWTOR was not an important title to their lineup as people seemed to think.  Which, along with the whole conversion to free to play, starts to sound like things have, at a minimum, have not gone as planned.  And then key players at BioWare started jumping ship.

But it isn’t dead yet.  And they are talking about regular updates.

Still, that is a lot of money spent.  And you can just bet that LucasArts gets their cut every month, which no doubt is part of the overhead that made the 500K subscriber mark the line in the sand for profitability. (Then again, SWG remained viable while never hitting the 500K mark, and SOE was always adding to the game.  So does SWTOR face more overhead or simply more greed?)

So here we are, two years after that post.  Has EA Louse and his view of SWTOR been vindicated by history?

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?

Star Wars Galaxies to Close in December

As noted over at Massively, where they have an exclusive interview with John Smedley of SOE, Star Wars Galaxies is slated to be “sunsetted” (read “shut down”) on December 15th of this year.

In the interview, Smed gives the reasoning:

The decision to shut down SWG is first and foremost a business decision mutually agreed upon between SOE and LucasArts. LucasArts has a new game coming out, and the contract would be running out in 2012 anyway, so we feel like it’s the right time for the game to end.

And here we see an issue inherent in working with a popular intellectual property for an MMO.

Vanguard, which SOE own outright, may run for years yet, so long as it makes just enough money to justify its existence.  But there is always overhead from the owner of an IP, like there was with The Matrix Online.  And so that closed, no doubt in part because Warner Brothers was owed money every month for the use of the IP.

And Star Wars is a valuable IP owned by Lucas and guarded jealously.  Any licensed Star Wars product that is not a sterling success reflects badly on the IP, and SWG has had its share of troubles. (Rooted mostly in requirements laid down by Lucas after the fact, or so goes the tale of the NGE.)

And so the contract with SOE is coming to an end conveniently at about the time EA and BioWare should be close to launching Star Wars: The Old Republic.

As I said in a past prediction:

We will find out in 2009 is that LucasArts is only willing to sanction a single Star Wars based MMO running at any given time.  SOE has known this all along and this is part of why they did not bother going to LucasArts with their Station Cash idea.

Seeing that BioWare is set to launch a Star Wars: The Old Republic… well… some day… the sense that time is running out will grip Star Wars Galaxies.  There will be a resurgence of subscriptions as a wave of nostalgia washes over the old hands while along with an equal surge of tourist who want to see the game before it goes away.

This enthusiasm will not last as long as SWG remains on the scene, thanks to BioWare’s creeping pace, and Galaxies will go quietly into the night a few months before SWTOR launches.

And while I was not right on all the details, including the date when we would find out, the central truth remains:  Lucas will only sanction a single Star Wars MMO in the traditional EverQuest, 3D virtual world, monthly subscription sense.  SWG is clearly out because SW:TOR is coming online.

(And no, Clone Wars Adventures does not count, it is clearly a different sort of gaming, lacking that whole virtual world aspect for a start.)

So let the rush to nostalgia begin!

You have less than 6 months to go before Star Wars Galaxies is no more.

See the sites.  Take your screen shots.  Get ready to say “Good-bye.”

Maybe I’ll hold an SWG “Farewell Screen Shot” contest rather than another such contest for EVE Online.

But what would I give as a prize?  A SWTOR game card?

Raph Koster, who was on the team that created SWG, has his own thoughts on the end of SWG.

Star Wars: This Time With Feeling!

So, yes, the much anticipated Knights of the Old Republic Online has been announce, though the name will actually be:

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Fears that it would be a spin-off of the Clone Wars animated series have proven false.

And, to paraphrase an episode of the Flintstone’s, “What’s their angle?”

From the FAQ:

How does Star Wars: The Old Republic differ from other MMO titles?

Star Wars: The Old Republic will be similar to other MMOs but with several key innovations. Traditionally MMOs are built on three pillars; Exploration, Combat, and Progression. We at BioWare and LucasArts believe there is a fourth pillar: Story. Our mission is to create the best story-driven games in the world. We believe that the compelling, interactive storylines in Star Wars: The Old Republic are a significant innovation to MMOs and will offer an entertainment experience unlike any other.

Raph, how could you have missed that angle the first time around, Jedi-poet-designer that you are?

Certainly BioWare is good with story.

LucasArts… well, it isn’t like they personally directed Star Wars episodes I-III.

(And, as an aside, those of you who decry the betrayal that was episodes I-III, how can you sleep at night giving episode VI a pass?  Episodes I-III don’t grate on me because I’ve felt betrayed for 25 years by Star Wars: The Muppet Movie.  Jar-Jar and midi-chlorians were nothing when I knew the Ewok army was going to defeat the Empire in the end.)

So, interesting times are coming.  When they are coming… well, no release date has been announced.

But we have a title now!