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The Sci-Fi MMO: The Present

Editorial By William Murphy on February 24, 2010

Last week we took a look at some of the major past players in the Science Fiction MMO landscape. While many fantasy-themed games have risen to prominence in the industry, for the most part Science Fiction settings haven't quite caught on as widely. Some of our community theorized that this could be in part due to the fact that Science Fiction doesn't lend itself as easily as Fantasy to these types of games. Whatever the reason for Sci-Fi's slow growth in the MMO space, it doesn't seem to be preventing developers from tackling the setting and trying to make their mark. This week we take a brief look at the landscape of Sci-Fi MMOs as it stands now, with several new releases making a debut this year and other classics holding strong amid the onslaught of "new & shiny".

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EVE Online is an anomaly. It's a game that continues to grow and thrive each year though it was once just a blip on the radar. Certainly the longest running success story in Science Fiction MMOs, what is it that makes EVE so strong so many years after its launch? Some have even gone as far to call it a cure for the MMO industry based on CCP's design decisions.

Where most developers seem to shy away from risks, CCP tends to embrace them and goes the extra mile to try something new with each expansion to their game. CCP is even planning on releasing a massively multiplayer online shooter for the Xbox 360 called Dust 541 which will interface with the EVE servers and allow both games to shape one another's gameplay. It's an extremely ambitious goal, and one that will only serve to further cement CCP's place at the forefront of the industry's top development studios should they pull it off. Sadly, not all games have proven to be as bold when it comes to new ideas.

Star Wars Galaxies began as a virtual recreation of life in George Lucas' beloved space opera, but recent times have not been so kind to what should have been one of the biggest success stories in the industry. First there was the NGE, met with backlash so massive it's still used years later as the perfect example of what not to do to your game after launch. Then as if that wasn't enough, LucasArts decided to begin shopping around for another developer to take a second shot at making an online Star Wars offering, and BioWare is currently developing said MMO which is set to release in 2011 (as if anyone reading this didn't know that already).

So where does that leave SWG? Truth be told, while it's nothing like it once was, the game is still motoring along and releasing updates with the Galactic Civil War taking the stage in the most recent addition. Still, it's difficult to predict just what will become of the once regaled game when The Old Republic launches. But then again, no one would have expected SWG to be alive and kicking this long after the NGE debacle. Perhaps the Star Wars brand is strong enough to keep fans of the setting coming back, or just maybe... the game is actually fun for some folks despite the drastic changes it has seen over the years.

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Planetside is another title that has proven fun for a core base over its long life, despite never gaining mainstream success. One of the first MMOs to blend the first-person shooter mechanics with persistent world conflict, Planetside is probably best noted for being far ahead of its time. Players banded together to fight over ten different territories, taking on roles like medic, engineer, and even combat vehicle crewman or the stealthy infiltrator in battles that involved hundreds against hundreds.

Decidedly more "massive" than the recently released Global Agenda, Planetside is still going today with a fanatical fan base and is remembered by many for its large-scale combat that probably helped pave the way for IPs like Battlefield and Call of Duty in terms of sheer breadth of scope for multi-player first-person shooters. It was one of the first online offerings to allow players direct control over the game-world, and many are still clinging to hope that SOE will one day craft a successor. I daresay it would probably even find a bigger audience in today's shooter-heavy atmosphere.

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