Star Wars Galaxies, a game I was the creative director on, is shutting down. It’s happening in mid-December. You can read an interview with John Smedley about it on Massively. The short form, though, is that the contract with LucasArts is up.
I am sure there are plenty of people who are prepared to mourn; I went through my own emotional arc of moving on years and years ago at this point, so I am not going to dwell on it.
Instead, I’ll note that sandbox, worldy MMOs do not seem to have gone away despite the economic currents that run against them. It’s too big a dream, I suspect, and games like Arche Age, which isn’t out yet, Wurm which is, and of course EVE, show that there is a passionate audience for the sort of experience that lets you step into a more fully realized world and live there.
Some will say that SWG was a failure. They’ll cite the NGE, of course, and they’ll point out that it fared poorly against the juggernaut of WoW, despite the power of the license. My postmortem would be much like Smedley’s:
Here’s what I would have done differently. I would have made sure the ground and space games were launched all at once. I would have given the game another year to develop and really polish it quite a bit. I think we created one of the most unique and amazing games ever created in the MMO space. It is the sandbox game. Nothing else even comes close to what we did there. I would have really taken our time and polished combat right so we never had to do the NGE.
In the end, the game was quite profitable, it ran for eight years, and it entertained a few million people. I’ve been told it had a qualitatively different and more powerful community than other games, by objective metrics. It was built with some rickety tech — and some that won awards and led to patents (1, 2, 3). It was more casual and more broad appeal than what the license could even handle, in some ways, and many individual features that SWG had today power entire blockbuster giant companies in the social game space (hey look, farming where you come back the next day… where have I seen that before…?). And it gave us features that continue to amaze people who don’t realize what can be done: real economies complete with supply chains and wholesalers and shopkeepers, that amazing pet system, the moods and chat bubbles (anyone remember what chat in 3d MMOs looked like before SWG?), player cities, vehicles, spaceflight…
And dancing. Which everyone made fun of. But as far as I am concerned, it may have been the biggest and best contribution, the one that spawned a jillion YouTube videos and may well be the lasting influence the game leaves behind, an imprint on all the games since: a brief moment where you can stop saving the world or killing rats and realize the real scope and potential of the medium.
In the end, SWG may have been more potential and promise than fulfilled expectation. But I’d rather work on something with great potential than on fulfilling a promise of mediocrity. There’s a reason people are passionate about it all these years later. I’m proud to have worked on it.