It seems that an increasingly popular trend in today’s gaming industry is to release video games which require the player to be always connected to the Internet. This measure is taken as a means to combat piracy, but often, it only ends up hurting the legit consumer. Take Grand Theft Auto V, or the PC version, at least. Rockstar’s restrictive DRM doesn’t allow players to play offline for more than a day without online verification, which is similar to the system Microsoft originally wanted the Xbox One to release with.
Sure, this might be effective in combating piracy in some cases, or preventing hackers from creating hacked items in the offline mode before heading into online (which is what Diablo III wanted to prevent, and exactly what happened in its offline-enabled console version). However, what happens when an online-only game stops being profitable enough to be kept alive? Is there a life after server shutdown? What old games are still being kept alive?
That depends solely on the game’s community: some are forgotten and completely lost to the realm of memories, while some are resurrected and even get new community-made updates. Let’s go over some cases:
Some fan-favorite games often close their servers due to problems with the companies that publish or develop the game. Thus, even though a large player base is still there, it is let down by the sad circumstances of server closure. So what else to do than try to resurrect the game with private servers or offline patches? Or perhaps the game was slowly dying and news of its closure brought back the nostalgia in old players.
The latter is the case of Star Wars Galaxies, which was a popular MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe. The game was shut down in 2011 with a fantastic galaxy-ending event, as its successor, Star Wars: The Old Republic, was releasing 5 days later. Its absence was so bitter for the fans, that they united in order to bring SWGEmu to life.
What is SWGEmu? Standing for “Star Wars Galaxies Emulator”, it is a private server run by fans on which fans owning an original copy of the game can still play their beloved title.
Other games which have been closed due to certain circumstances (such as the popular GameSpy closure in 2014) have been resurrected by their own developers. One such game is the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved, which ran on GameSpy servers up until the shutdown. Once the servers were shut down, a Bungie employee updated the game’s servers to continue running, keeping it alive.
Some games which are destined for closure are never even shut down. This also includes older games which people would assume to be dead. For example, did you know that Diablo II’s online mode is still alive after all these years? Blizzard reduced the server capacity to reduce costs (as the remaining player base is small enough), and it still has new seasons for the game, just as with Diablo III!
This other example isn’t a game, but rather an entire game service: Microsoft’s horrid Games for Windows Live was meant for closure a few years ago after it completely tanked in popularity, but the service is still online today, and all games are playable online, as long as you actually find someone playing. (Halo 2 Vista seems to be the sad exception, as something has happened to the server browser)
Other times, it’s the community which keeps the game alive through piracy: look at all the World of Warcraft private servers for all the expansion packs and all the versions! Or, look at what happened to Kojima’s PT demo, which was taken off the PlayStation Store and is now only available on “illegal” sites.
Bottom line, piracy can do some good things for the industry too, and it seems that in their attempts to stop it, developers and publishers are putting ticking time bombs on their games, which “explode” upon server shutdown.