Sentiments I’ve had since the first day I discovered this concept, so here’s my little rant regarding the dilemma. I’ll use Ultima as my case subject given I’ve had the most experience with this gave in both aspects.
Official servers always, always have the key element that makes any MMO worth playing- the player base thus a solid community. Thousands of players across all of the servers making the whole experience proper. Abiding by the standard character building system with others to share the joys and the burdens of it makes it totally worth it in the end. Numerous new ways to gain money and character growth are always at your fingertips. The whole world feels as it should- alive. Building a capital is slow, but very fun and challenging since you depend on the community as well as the rule set. The biggest disadvantage? Being forced to go with the update flow. Having to adhere to new expansions and amendments that Ultimately (haha) end up ruining the perfect, original feel that the game offered.
And then we have the budget/liberated free servers where the hosts have complete freedom over the rules of the experience. Everything that was unavailable officially can now be used to everyone’s hearts’ content. So the main problem? Oftentimes its the sheer lack of the community size. Free servers tend to be rather empty since the slashed number of players is just as equally dispersed throughout the lands. And the real low blow are servers that still adhere to the slow character building rules. No longer can you expect much help with anything nor anyone to share those mundane moments with.
So my sentiments really go as follows: if you have a huge community, slow individual progress keeps everything flowing smoothly as it should. When the community lacks numbers, something really needs to compensate and make the mundane factors easier or non-existent since character and capital growth is but a small portion of the whole game experience.
The official servers had what was always called a test server- a realm to test new game elements on the highest high of gameplay. Typically that entailed command-based character growth and nearly instant access to most of the game’s features. When a private server with a small community lacks such a leeway, it completely kills the whole experience. My very last thoughts are regarding the conceptual stability- private servers can come and go at any given time, so all of the invested time could be erased in a mere moment whereas official server would be somewhat liable and likely to make it up to the player.