As players line up for SWTOR early access like tovarisches waiting for toilet paper, tonight marked as grand a farewell as could be arranged for an altogether more fearless and ambitious game set in the same universe. Star Wars Galaxies, whose chief liability was that it was saddled with the tiresome Star Wars IP, is no more.
Bioware’s $300 million behemoth will be off to a roaring start, of that there is no doubt. Perhaps it will have better endurance than I expect, based on how far I got in the beta. My inclination, today, is to be negative about it, but I’m trying to look on the bright side. What that bright side boils down to is that Bioware is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise since The Empire Strikes Back. They have done their best both to produce an experience as high in quality as possible, and to conform to the market expectations mandated by their enormous budget. It’s a title that could take no chances, and does not. SWTOR is by no means a bad game, but that it exists as it does is a sad commentary on the state of MMO design. Eight years ago Star Wars’ place in the MMO space lie with a game too revolutionary for its own good, so innovative that the Lucas goons had to put a boot on its neck to force it to conform. That effort did not entirely succeed, and even to its last day it was a game far richer in possibilities than SWTOR will ever be.
Somewhere, lurking in the depths of the bleak ocean that is MMO development, there is somebody working on something that learns the lessons – good and bad – taught by Star Wars Galaxies. Someday we’ll have the game that does for MMOs what Skyrim does for single-player RPGs. But that day is not today. Today is SWTOR’s day, and as players warm to it, especially players who remember what SWG was and what it could have been, the thing to remember is that every cent they give it it is another cent worth of validation in the echo chamber that surrounds George Lucas that what was done to SWG, the stifling of innovation in favor of conformity and derivation, was the right thing to do.