We’ve all heard the saying ‘nothing lasts forever’ and that’s especially true in the case of game servers. Over time, once costs for running the server are significantly higher than the profit being made, a game with online modes will shut down. A good example is Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast. The sales for both the game and console plummeted as soon as the Playstation 2 was announced because people were more willing to wait for the PS2 than play the dreamcast. Private servers didn’t really show up after this because the dreamcast wasn’t that important, but instead began appearing later when the Xbox, Gamecube and PC versions of the game were shut down.
One reason that these servers took so long is because Sega didn’t make their server software available to the public. I’m sure I’m not the only one that was kind of angry at this but thankfully, as is often the case, people found a work around to this. When the sequel came out, Phantasy Star Universe’s servers were shut down for ps2, pc and xbox 360 and again, Sega hasn’t released anything to help out the fans. At least one thing that Sega did right with Phantasy Star Online was allow players to transport characters between online and offline. This meant that after the game shut down, I was able to carry over my characters to offline and if I still had my dreamcast, I could have reintegrated them back online through a private server.
Although Phantasy Star Online 2 was released in asia about june last year there have been no announcments for release outside of asia. This makes the need for private servers even important for the remaining fan base and it is also important for developers to understand how important it is for fans to get access to the software needed to do this to make things easier and faster.
Moving away from basically all generation 2 Phantasty Star games, I’m sure many people will remember also Star Wars Galaxies. It was a great game that lasted a full 8 years before getting shut down. I remember my friend’s who’d paid for the game and played a lot of it felt really let down, just like I was when Sega shut down Dreamcast’s online features back in 2007. Within the past few years private servers for Galaxies have become more common, in fact many of them are simply necessary for the original game to work at all. As a kid I managed to get several hours in at friends houses since I didn’t have the free time or money. It was an awesome game, but as with phantasy star, it simply wasn’t making enough money to keep the game going.
One key thing that developers can do to help is teach teams for private servers how the game was written, which may be as simple as giving the code for the game or giving tutorials on creating patches for stopping hacking if needed, especially in phantasy star. From what I remember the game usually had a few people hacking the game because Sega didn’t create a way to prevent people from using cheats in single player and then exploiting it in multiplayer.
Long story short, games are supposed to be about freedom so instead of shutting these servers down, developers could really be rewarding the fans by giving them the tools needed to keep these fantastic, virtual worlds alive.
Doug Bilham is a contributor and member of the Big Head Mode community.