Sunday, June 26, 2011

Star Wars Galaxies shutdown, thoughts on a troubled past

The writing is on the wall: Lucas Arts must close the Star Wars Galaxies (SWG) chapter of Star Wars MMOs. SWG is a black eye for the MMO community as a whole; wonderfully envisioned yet poorly managed by SOE and hamstrung by Lucas Arts. SWG will be shutdown as of Dec 15th, 2011. Anyone thinking this wasn’t inevitable hasn’t taken a look back on the history of Star Wars gaming. This is Lucasfilm’s (now Lucas Arts) calling card: out with the old and in with the new.

Let’s step back in time to 2001. Decipher, a card game company, has been running the Star Wars Customizable Card Game (SW:CCG) for the past six years. They are competing directly with the behemoth that is Magic: The Gathering (MtG). SW:CCG is consistently considered the second place card game on the market behind MtG. On occasion, SW:CCG is even outselling MtG. The future is bright with new Star Wars prequel movies in the theatres and a SW:CCG expansion pack sitting with the printers. Then suddenly word hits that Lucasfilm is looking to pull the plug on SW:CCG. After several negotiations, the Star Wars license is pulled from Decipher and the SW:CCG grinds to halt.

Many people not familiar with this story may assume that there was a valid reason for Lucasfilms (this is pre Lucas Arts days) to pull the license. It certainly couldn’t be because the game flopped: it was, after all, competing alongside MtG. While no solid answer was ever given for the whole debacle, it didn’t take long for the card gaming community to figure out the true motivations. Lucasfilms had gone and recruited Wizards of the Coast and MtG developer Richard Garfield to create a new Star Wars trading card game (SW:TCG). It was clear that Lucasfilms did not want a Star Wars game playing second fiddle and who better to fix that than the people behind the number one game!  Too bad for Lucasfilm, because the SW:TCG flopped and closed within a couple years.

Looking back to SWG and we can see the same pattern emerge. A new MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SW:TOR), is right around the corner and SWG is not even second fiddle in the MMO market. On top of not even being competitive in the market, SWG is a laughing stock ever since the disaster known as the New Game Experience (NGE). Lucas Arts wants all focus on SW:ToR and SWG’s license was up in 2012. SWG had to be closed.

To be honest though, I am simply amazed how long SWG remained alive. I was actually talking about SWG’s demise in 2006 and my post from March of that year is eerily relevant to the current events.

“I am not an expert on licensing, but I couldn't imagine Lucas Arts letting the Star Wars name be dragged through the mud by the national media much longer. Lucas Arts was a driving force behind the changes to make the game more "Star Warsy" and I doubt they are pleased with the results. So I will blame both SOE and Lucas Arts for the current state of the game. “
And then:

“What I do know is that a new Star Wars MMORPG would generate a ton of buzz. First of all there is SWG that has a few years under its belt that has taught us a lot about what the gaming and Star Wars communities want out of a game. We know that space flight and combat, action inspired game play, and Star Warsy"ness" are all required. We know there isn't people lining up to be Moisture Farmers. We also know there is plenty of wannabe Jedi in the galaxy.”
SW:ToR is exactly that: space flight and combat, action inspired game play, and Star Warsy"ness". Unfortunately back then I didn’t realize I was going to be on the other side of the fence, completely put off by what SW:ToR is shaping up to be.

The Star Wars fan inside of me died a little researching and writing this post. I truly wanted SWG to succeed and still hold it within my top MMOs of all time simply on wasted potential. I also want SW:ToR to surprise me and be a new dawn for Star Wars MMOs. Sadly, with Star Wars it doesn’t appear we can have two separate properties exist in the same market and we're forced to accept whichever one Lucas Arts determines to be the best.

*I apologize for the acronym soup.
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