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The Soapbox: Be here now

Eliot Lefebvre

Disclaimer: The Soapbox column is entirely the opinion of this week's writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Massively as a whole. If you're afraid of opinions other than your own, you might want to skip this column.

Games die. It's an unpleasant reality but a reality just the same, with the highest-profile death on the horizon being Star Wars Galaxies. Business decisions get made, and unfortunately, sometimes those decisions boil down to "this game is no longer worth the money to keep it running." If you're lucky, the announcement comes with a great deal of time for you to wrap up what you've always wanted to do in the game; if you're unlucky, you might have a couple of weeks before the servers go dark.

So what do you do as a player? How do you cope with the fact that the game is shutting down? There are a lot of approaches, but I think it's unfortunate that most of the reactions seem to center around some last-ditch effort to save the game from oblivion. It's entirely missing the point to try and pull the game back from the brink of death, and it does a disservice to both the game and the players when you spend your last days desperately fighting a foregone conclusion.

I've expressed sentiments along these lines before, but it's the sort of thing that needs to said, because somehow we've gotten the idea in our heads that we can save a dead game with a large enough campaign. Heck, it's not just games -- Firefly, Family Guy, and Arrested Development all aired their final episodes and went dark. Similarly, games like All Points Bulletin and Hellgate: London have come back, but it's been after the games shut down and were bought at bargain-basement prices by new studios. And there is a very good reason for all of this: efforts to "save" the show are based around the fans, the fans who are already paying money for the game, watching the show, buying the products, etc.

If the entire playerbase spoke with one voice to say that Star Wars Galaxies shouldn't be allowed to die, then the result would be... the same as it already is. The playerbase of Star Wars Galaxies is already paying for the game. That isn't the problem. The problem is that that group of people is too small to sustain the numbers needed. It's a noble effort, but preaching to the converted is never a good strategy.

And it's hard. It's hard to look at a game that you love and think that it might go away, something that I know from personal experience. The three main games in my play rotation -- City of Heroes, Final Fantasy XI, and Final Fantasy XIV -- are all games in which I have to face the reality on a regular basis. CoH and FFXI are older games, with the latter on aging technology that's showing serious limitations. FFXIV is one of my favorite games ever, but it did not have anything approaching a successful launch, and even though it's an in-house operation, there's always the question of whether or not things will turn around. I don't talk about dying games as if I'm unaware that some of my lifetime favorites could be on the chopping block next.

But protesting is a fruitless exercise. It ensures that your last memory of a game will be an effort to turn back the tide, a heroic failure at best and a regular failure at worst. When you're talking about a game that you've really invested yourself in, both you and the game deserve something better.

My recommendation is to do what the development team usually does in these situations -- pull out the stops. Go all-out with stuff that you wouldn't normally touch. Make the last few months something to remember.

Into roleplaying? Do the stories you could never do before. Let yourself have events where characters die permanently, where long-standing issues get resolved, where you can bring all of your threads to a satisfying conclusion. Take your pictures and point to them later with the knowledge that you wrapped things up just the way you always wanted, that you had a character who started at the beginning and came to a definite conclusion.

PvP? Challenge yourself. Don't play it safe; don't keep fighting battles that you're fairly certain you can win. Start picking fights that you think you'll lose. Start going out in a blaze of glory, trying experiments with builds and approaches that were always in your mind but never quite saw the light of day. PvE? Head for the fight you could never win and figure out how to take it down. Search for those quests and achievements far off the beaten path so you can say in the end that you did manage to complete them.

Take some extra time with your chosen games. The other games you're playing are still going to be there. Heck, if you have the opportunity, go ahead and take a day or two off to really sink into the game the way you haven't done since launch. (You've done it and we all know it. It's fine.) Find the corners of the game world that you're going to miss when they're gone and try to engrave them in your memory as best you can. Revel in the experience.

That's what every MMO is, in the end -- an experience. No MMO will truly last forever, not even Ultima Online, which is still chugging away. Generally, we don't know when our experiences will end, but the fact that we know our favorite MMO is going away tends to prompt a sort of panicked behavior. It's that sense that there has to be more to experience, that it can't go away now.

And in some ways, you're right. There is more to see. And the time to see it and have those experiences is right now, while it's still here, before it goes away. Instead of fighting to make sure it doesn't go away, fight to see everything you can. Turn that effort to deriving the most you can for as long as possible.

How do you enjoy a game that you know is on its way out? The same way you know, vaguely, you should have always been enjoying it: by diving in with both eyes open.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively writers every Tuesday as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews. Think we're spot on -- or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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