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Private Servers: RO's Agent Smith
They're everywhere now—and amazingly, there are many who are
unaware of it. When they do hear of it, the usual response
is "WOW! A free RO server! I wanna join!"
Sadly, though, these "free RO servers"—or the more common
name, "private servers"—are contributing to RO's decline.
The RO private server community is filled with self-righteous
people; they believe that they are fighting a jihad of sorts
against Gravity KR (Gravity of Korea), and many intend to
"free the people" by spamvertizing their private servers
everywhere they can. In my discussions with some of them,
many see themselves akin to Neo, the freedom fighting hacker
from the Matrix.
In truth, the private servers and their advocates more akin
to the main villain of the Matrix series, Agent Smith—
a self-replicating virus that threatens to destroy everything.
And like the Matrix, if these Agent Smiths manage to topple
Neo, they'll destroy themselves in the process.
That's the funny thing—many private server advocates
profess their love for Ragnarok Online, yet their actions
are bringing the game closer to its demise.
Now, before you privateers out there come after me with
a heavy ax to grind, I ask that you at least read through
the rest of this article. Then you can send all the flame
mail you want.
I'm going to cover some myths about private servers and
the official servers (iRO specifically). However, there
are other servers that share in iRO's plight, so the information
is largely of general use.
Busting the Legal Myth
One of the biggest misconceptions people have about these
"free RO servers" is that they're perfectly legal. They're
not. The exact nature of the illegality depends on what
type of server it is:
If the server is using a copy of Gravity KR's AEGIS server
engine to run an RO server, it's illegal. Quite plain and
simple, it's pirating a copy of the company's software.
(Note: Gravity KR developed AEGIS. It's their own creation
—or rather, was the creation of Gravity KR's founders.)
If the server is running an RO server simulator, it's
still illegal one of the reasons for that is because
the server is using intellectual property of Gravity KR
and Myung-Jin Lee. The same principles are what go into
the illegality of emulated video games.
Think of it this way—you've created a program and it
has its own unique concepts/artwork/etc., and you start
selling it. Someone comes along and, although not using
any of your code, makes a program exactly identical to yours,
using all your artwork and concepts, then proceeds to distribute
it for free. See the problem? Even if the other program
is not a copy of your code, it's still using other things
of yours. (More on this later.)
So, the bottom line is—yes, private servers are
illegal. However, for many, that's not a persuading reason
not to play on them. I'm pretty sure quite a few
of the pserv advocates reading this are going "Do I look
like I give a crap?" As they read along.
I have to admit, I tend to place legal issues on a lower
priority when it comes to whether or not I support a company;
I am more concerned, personally, with the ethics and morals
a company displays.
For example, I am not sympathetic to the RIAA and
its signatory companies over the p2p issue (in fact, I want
to see them get trust-busted). My reasoning for that, aside
from the way they're dealing with it, is their constant
manipulation of government legislature to try and take more
rights from the artists they supposedly represent—they
also do this with customers. I am also not sympathetic to
Microsoft or members of the TCPA, due to Palladium. Look
that up when you have the time. It'll scare you.
Gravity KR, on the other hand, has my sympathy and open
support due to what I've learned.
So, let's continue on—
Private Servers Kill RO
Yes, believe it or not, if you play on a private server and
you're not playing on an official server, you're contributing
to RO's demise. Despite the rhetoric the private server
community likes to flash around (many private servers pride
themselves as being "the future of RO" ... yeah, right),
they are in fact shooting themselves in the foot.
Economists have a saying: "There is no such thing as
a free lunch." In other words, you might get something
for free, but someone else is paying for it. If you were
treated to a free lunch, then someone else had to pay your
way—or, if you stole food from a certain restaurant, then
that's money out of the restaurant's pocket. The restaurant's
managers bought the ingredients and pay chefs to prepare
it, but if no one actually buys the food, it hurts
their business—they're losing money. If more and more
people steal the food, then that restaurant will eventually
have no money to continue, and will have to close down.
When someone plays exclusively on private servers, that
person is not compensating Gravity KR for the work and money
they sunk into making RO. Think about it. The folks
at Gravity KR spent and continue to spend tons of
money to develop RO—money for the computer programs,
money to pay employees, money to pay for utilities (you
know, power, water, etc.), money to upkeep the servers they
run (kRO). That's why games like Ragnarok Online are not
one-time payments—the process of managing and developing
an MMORPG is a constant strain on the pocketbook.
Now, one might look at this and ask "What about people outside
of Korea who play private servers? Wouldn't it just be hurting
LUG (Philippines), Gravity LLC (International), or whatever?"
No, it wouldn't be just hurting them. To understand why,
a little history lesson has to be given:
Gravity KR's Relationship with the Hosting Companies
reason many former iRO players are now pirate server advocates
is because they were turned off by what they saw to be mismanagement.
There were fiascoes like this which
hurt iRO very badly, as more and more people left for private
servers. However, I'll discuss iRO's "mismanagement" in
Way back in the beginning of Ragnarok Online's history,
Gravity KR was originally an independent company, and it
had direct control over all servers. This is originally
how Gravity KR intended to run things—that was, until
they tried to go from beta to pay to play with kRO.
kRO first went pay to play around the start of iRO's first
beta-2 period—you know, the one that abruptly closed
down for vague reasons. However, when pay to play for kRO
was announced, there was a group of non-Korean hackers who
were furious when they found out they were unable to play
on kRO any longer, and that a server was being made for
their own country. Since they could no longer play on kRO,
they would let no one play at all. These hackers violated
Gravity KR's systems and wreaked havoc—destroying nearly
everything. Development files, server software, everything.
Gravity KR went, in an instant, from being successful to
on the verge of collapsing. They cannibalized iRO and used
its resources to keep kRO going—this is why iRO suddenly
shut down and was not back for most of 2002. During the
period of iRO's nonexistence, Gravity KR was in serious
trouble. The hacker attack forced Gravity KR's people to
rebuild things from scratch, having lost much of their dev
files. They were close to filing for bankruptcy.
Samsung offered to buy Gravity KR out and bail them out,
which Gravity KR graciously accepted. However, the manager
posted to oversee Gravity KR began forcing the new subsidiary
to make RO according to his own image. Gravity KR's original
staff wouldn't stand for it, and many—including the founder
and most of the original talent—quit in protest. Samsung
eventually replaced the manager with someone who gave Gravity
KR free reign, but the damage from both the manager and
the hacker attacks had been done.
Because Gravity KR no longer had the resources to personally
run its servers, it came up with an alternate plan—set
up or hire independent companies in other countries that
would run the servers. These hosting companies would compensate
Gravity KR by paying for a copy of AEGIS, as well as server
upgrades—the episodes: things like Juno, Amatsu, and
the other additions Gravity KR's dev team made over time.
These upgrades (and AEGIS itself) have a big price tag.
A second option exists for the larger servers—Instead
of buying the upgrades on their own terms, they can fork
over a percentage of their income and in turn get updates
automatically and without any extra cost, since they're
already handing in a percentage of their income. This is
available only to the servers with a large enough player
base to generate any kind of meaningful income, such as
As you can see, Gravity KR is indirectly getting paid from
players abroad through the money received by the hosting
companies. When a player goes to play exclusively on a private
server, he is indeed indirectly hurting Gravity KR, and
not just the hosting company.
This is what Gravity LLC is—an independent company that runs
iRO in the United States. This fact is something many people
may not be aware of, since both companies are usually called
"Gravity," and thus gives the misconception that the two
companies are the same thing—that Gravity LLC is Gravity
KR, and that Gravity KR has personal responsibility over
iRO. They do not.
So, we've established that Gravity LLC (which I will refer
to as iRO from now on) is not the same company as Gravity
KR. Many former iRO users no longer play RO at all, or play
on private servers, because of what they believe to be incompetency
on iRO's part—things such as the slowness with which
iRO updates, the hacker attacks, and iRO's secretiveness.
But, is it really incompetence?
Consider the nature of the host company's relationship with
Gravity KR. In order to receive updated content for their
servers, the host company must pay a hefty sum to Gravity
KR in order to get the content. Ideally the money to upkeep
the RO servers would come from the players—people paying
to play RO.
As one would expect, servers with a larger player base
can afford to pay for updates the moment they are made for
release (or in the alternate payment plan, the larger
servers get them automatically for a percentage of their
income). Smaller servers will take far longer to update,
because they have to accumulate the funds to do so. This
is why small servers like iRO are slow about updates, and
why big servers like jRO are not. iRO has only a few
thousand people compared to the tens of thousands
who play on jRO. jRO's company has enough money to easily
pay for content upgrades, and enough of a surplus to sell
merchandise, get more servers, and the like.
The money for iRO simply is not there—most of it is being
spent on paying employees, paying for the upkeep of the
servers, paying for office space, web hosting, utilities.
During the surprising rush iRO made to upgrade to Juno,
people I know who have contact with iRO told me that they
were just breaking even.
To put it bluntly, the private servers that seem to be "so
efficient in updating" are that way because they're pirating
the content. They are literally not paying for thousands
of dollars (or would that be won?)
in RO server content files and upgrades. Now do you see
why even emulated RO servers are stealing?
Myths about iRO and the Vicious Cycle
we've addressed iRO's slowness, something that many former
iRO players use as an excuse to play on the "much more competently
ran private servers." This misconception—which iRO doesn't
actively try to fight—causes many to leave iRO for a
private server. This means even less money is paid
to iRO, which means they will update even slower.
This in turn irritates more people, who in not realizing
why this is happening, quit iRO or go to a private server
and join the chorus of people going "iro suxorz ;p"
See a pattern? This vicious cycle was (and likely still
is) bringing iRO to its knees.
There are other factors, too—such as the hacker attack
back in the summer of 2003. You might remember that I commented
on the incident, and wound up quitting RO for a while
(mainly due to the fact that I simply couldn't find the
time to play) over it. For those that don't know about the
hacking incident ...
Back in June 2003 a few script kiddy lamers took advantage
of a then-recently announced Microsoft security hole, and
an error from installing iRO's copy of AEGIS. They managed
to get into people's accounts, starting with the GM's, and
wreaked havoc—especially when iRO's staff tried to stop
them. In response to the iRO staff's attemps to stop them,
the kiddies released a list of every iRO user's account
name and password. What followed was an orgy of griefers
getting on people's accounts and taking everything their
They then claimed to have everyone's billing information,
and went around on the major iRO communities announcing
this, causing even more havoc. This is what caused
many people to stop playing on iRO and go to a private server.
In reality however, (and I learned this months after the
fact), the hackers were lying—they were bluffing,
exaggerating what they had found to scare users and cause
them to quit iRO. Obviously, they were quite successful.
There have been other incidents too, which have also helped
to give me a very negative view of the private server community
in general. Soon after Juno was implemented on iRO Sakray,
private server hackers DDoSed the iRO servers, causing major
lag, in an attempt to keep the iRO staff busy. Their real
goal was to find a security hole in Sakray with which to
pirate the Juno server content files—the DDoS was a distraction..
They failed, although this incident annoyed many who did
not know what was going on, and wound up blaming it on iRO's
supposed incompetence—and most likely it annoyed some
to the point of heading off for a private server, which
is undoubtedly what the private server hackers were hoping
to accomplish as a secondary goal.
As you can see, iRO's staff aren't as incompetent as many
are led to believe—instead they are largely the victim
of their own user base and private server advocates. Yet
rather than being open about what's going on, iRO often
attempts to cover things up whenever something bad happens.
Why is that? Largely, this is a practice in many companies
—in my business classes, we are taught to use positive
language and to communicate bad news without being blunt
about it, or to avoid saying what bad things are going on
(e.g., instead of making a notice saying that a certain
entrance to a building is not available, you'd ideally tell
people what other entrance they can use instead). The intent
is to prevent customers from panicking or becoming distrusting
of the company—ironically for iRO, it's backfiring.
Historically, iRO has also been secretive with contact information.
They have their reasons, however counterproductive it is
—there have been incidents were staff of online games
have been beaten or killed by angry players. iRO's staff
is trying to avoid receiving threats on their life, and
so in a way, their secrecy is justifiable.
In addition, this explains the problems iRO is having with
euRO and the new Austrailian/Oceania server, oRO. Because
iRO's own userbase—which supposedly consists of those
parts of the world without their own server—is so small,
it stubbornly contests creation of new official servers
and fights to keep what userbase it can. One has to remember
that with the current setup, all the hosting companies are
For those who may have been furious over misleading
information about euRO—The official euRO server was made
in secret, without iRO knowing, so that iRO's staff could
not protest (in fact, Gravity KR was lying to iRO's
staff to keep them in the dark about euRO's creation). From
the negotiations euRO had with Gravity KR, only a handful
were allowed to transfer, which made players from countries
like France—which were not allowed to transfer to euRO
—furious. Yet the creation of euRO was a total loss for
iRO—no reimbursement for the divided up user base.
iRO gets like this because it has very little money to work
with, and stands to lose more as private servers feverishly
try to advertise themselves (For example, one persistent
private server lamer attempted to advertise on the RW boards.
When he was banned, he got the AIM name of every registered
member and began IMing them, "spreading the gospel about
how RO should be free :) " ... I have also heard that private
server advocates will go as far as to advertise at anime
conventions, and even abuse iRO's free trial period to
PM people about their server ... ) and as the international
user base is carved up.
I've discussed, the current setup of Ragnarok Online means
that even if you don't live in Korea and pay to play on
Gravity KR's servers directly, you will still hurt Gravity
KR if you don't pay to play on an official server.
Private server advocates, as said earlier, like to think
they're the future of RO—that they're the freedom fighters.
However, as they continue to grow and leech people off of
the official RO networks, they continue to hurt the company
and the people that made Ragnarok Online.
When those hackers trashed Gravity KR's networks back in
2002, they managed to starve players of many things Gravity
KR hoped to do. Because of them and the people who keep
trying to push private servers, we've lost things such as:
* People being able to buy apartments/houses in cities and
* No loading time between maps
* Larger maps (double the size they are now)
* Satellite cities for every town (E.G., Izlude and Archer
Village-like towns for Geffen, Morroc, Juno, Alberta, Comodo,
and Al De Baran)
* The Mercenary system
* An actual PVP system (the one we have now is a hack job
by the new dev team—originally, there was going to be
a sophisticated arena at Izlude where server-wide tournaments
could be held, as well as a multitude of other ideas, including
private duel arenas)
* The original class system (the original class advancement
system was: Novice -> First level class -> Second
level class -> Third level class)
* Additional class branches (Did you know they wanted to
make a Ranger for Swordsmen, and a Sorcerer for Mages? We
won't be seeing those now ... thank you very much, private
Check out all the stuff we could have had if people didn't
keep trying to sink Gravity KR, and kept trying to make
RO free. All those private server advocates who go around
advertising at expos, and on official servers, are contributing
to this—as they continue their crusade, Gravity KR will
have to forgo other ideas and places they hoped to make,
and we will continue to lose out.
While I don't hate everyone who plays on a private server
(many of my friends do, even though I disagree with it),
I do have a very negative view of the community in
general, specifically of those who are actively trying to
bring Gravity KR down while chanting "we will win teh
war ^^;;;; gravity suxorz lool" or some such. This
is largely because of (as I said) their self-righteousness,
their pervasiveness (advertising anywhere they possibly
can), and because of how low they'll go to get what they
want (such as the RW forums getting trolled by a bunch of
pserv lamers, and the DDoSing of the main servers in an
attempt to steal the Juno files).
So, I suppose the private server community is right—they
are the future of RO, if they keep this up. It won't
be a good future, either..
Think about that the next time you go find a private server
to play on, will ya?
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