I'm going to admit it: I missed the "golden age" of Star Wars Galaxies. I had my reasons, and I stick by a few of them, but it does put me in an interesting position as one of the few people that gave the game a whirl without the pre-CU bias. It's been described as if it were the perfect MMO, and yet, it had 1 year over World of Warcraft and spent some time without the NGE as a competitor of Blizz's baby. When I beta'ed WoW, the other game I frequently saw compared to the baby behemoth was Everquest. Yes, I recall SWG coming up once or twice, but only that WoW was more polished in beta than SWG was in release. I should also mention that, at this point, I wasn't feeling WoW and had no intent of buying it. To this day, I only play WoW to spend time with people I know. If someone had said something awesome about SWG, I would have hopped over immediately.
With that in mind, know that when I finally hit SWG, I really wanted it to do well. After my initial impressions of the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was... underwhelmed to say the least. Much like WoW, I'm mainly going to hit it to play with friends, though it sounds like a fun single player game as well (and that's how even friends are looking at it). I knew there was already a Star Wars MMO out, and it sounded vastly different from what was coming out. I did a little homework on it, and was very curious about it. Intricate crafting? Player housing and towns? Customizable space ships? Non-combat classes? This, I had to see!
I jumped in with 2 characters, a trader and a bounty hunter. Combat was pretty standard, and not really anything to write home about, except for when you reached space. No auto-targeting or dodging was great, and the customization options, while a bit daunting, were still enjoyable given that, much like with the rest of the crafting system, getting a "perfect" item was relative and, after a certain point, didn't make a huge difference, unlike many of today's crafting systems where you simply get the materials, click, and make the same item 100 times to skill up.
Ah, the crafting! I'm still in love with it, and helped update one of the SWG crafting sites that helped players track resources. I'm an explorer at heart, and I've always loved resource gathering, so SWG's system suited me perfectly. No other game had resources quite as interesting as SWG's, and I doubt we'll see anything like it again.
The game reminded me of Horizons/Istaria on steroids. Character customization was far better, and I had felt that Horizon's body shaping options alone helped it more than other MMOs in which facial customization meant little to nothing when everyone ran around with a helmet. The housing structure wasn't as customizable, interior decorating and community placement were much freer. Dancing to give buffs and, *gasp* level up helped keep the "dying" cities alive. I could research resource locations, spawn density, and quality. I could tinker with crafting for quite awhile. Housing customization was fun, and it was cool to explore other towns and see what folks did: Museums, bars, malls, pet shops, research facilities. I could kill creatures for "collections" and get some fun or useful items. I could build fairly simple quests and try other people's (more on this later). OO, and I could get a bit of my trading card game fix from a game within the game that sometimes also gave items.
But I couldn't really run dungeons. The economy felt so out of my hands, and people tended to give me nub items because I honestly couldn't afford any "real" items and people weren't crafting the things I needed unless I could get the materials myself and find someone who was online to make them. The pvp wasn't very active and felt restrictive except for my bounty hunter, the only character who felt like he was sort of in the Star Wars Universe for combat.
The biggest problem for me was the community. Despite all the features and options the game had compared to... pretty much any other MMO I've played, the game wasn't attracting new players. I played for 4 months and only briefly met another player, and all they wanted to do was quests to get more powerful items, like oh so many theme park players. The players still in game were generally hoarding resources and money. They were "done" with the game and had little to no motivation to do old content with a new player. You'd think that pvp would be more active, but it seemed a lot like WoW's pvp, in that winning or losing seemed to mainly effect your ability to get items (also some transportation). Space combat could have been more interesting, like in Darkfall or what I understand of EVE, but because space items still seemed to have some sort of decay, players didn't want to risk their items... despite the fact that they seemed to have a huge abundance of supplies.
Still, the game had a lot of people who were friendly enough. Communities had lasted for ages, and I had talked to a few dancers who said they'd go, play other games, and come back to play with their friends, much as I tend to play World of Warcraft. They threw parties once in awhile, but you could feel the cliqu-ishness of things. The game was far from dead, just stagnated. I tried to convince some friends to come try it out, but the game's reputation (and graphics for some of my picky friends -_-) kept most away. Since the game needed active players trying to get items, resources, etc, the economy and events also stagnated. As much as it saddened me, I could see the game's potential was limited by its past. The crew left to keep the ship afloat tried their best to improve the game, and I liked a lot of the improvements they were making to the game, but without players, it couldn't do much more than keep people from jumping ship.
I left SWG after 4 months. It was a short and fairly fun run until the inevitable realization of the game's future hit me. When SOE was hit, I remembered how many "guilds" I looked at didn't have any sort of out of game communication. People depended on the game being up, thinking it'd just always be there. While there was still a lot of "gold sellers," I knew that, if something happened to SOE, SWG would probably be one of the first casualities. I'm not surprised about what happened, but greatly saddened that a game with so many features and long term players would be written off by many as a "failed model" of MMOs. As others have said, the angry SWG fans holding grudges for years may be the biggest enemy of modern sandbox games. Sony did make a gross error when they betrayed so many of their customers, but repeatedly bashing what was probably the most accessible sandbox game has not helped the genre. SWG's death, like the death of other sandbox MMOs, will only further solidify the idea among game makers that it is not a profitable game to create.
Sandboxes as an idea are starting to pop up more often now, but its the players that decide what will do well and what won't. I may not play any pay to play sandboxes atm, but I still refer players to them to help encourage people to try the genre, especially if the game's any good. Just because we're done with it or got burnt, doesn't mean others won't appreciate them. I think that, by sharing the positive aspects, sandboxers can get themeparkers into the genre and make them also look forward to games with more interesting gameplay than the standard hamster wheels that have taken control of most of the market.