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Nov 21, 2005

Comments

101.

Oh, they were definitely overconfident.

I don't think so. They were rightfully confident but the game jusrt didn't "click".

The hopes were well put. The results not.

102.

Well, my wife and I would fall under the blog definition of "devotee to a virtual world". We both enjoyed the more mundane elements of SWG that the freedom and abillity to customize our play experience SWG gave us. Since the NGE, I have never seen her so disappointed in something we did for entertainment and fun.

My wife and I have played practically every MMO in the last 10 years, and we always stayed with SWG, despite the problems it has historically had. Not because we are Star Wars fanatics, or fanbois...but because we loved this virtual world sandbox.

The NGE stripped this away after 2 years live. Jeff Hickmans Austin Conference blog made a very valid point..."Players come to our game because of what we put in there. We come out, we make a system change to our games--and what does it do? It alienates our players,”

This is whats occurring with SWG now. This is a bold and radical change SOE/LA is attempting with a 2yr Live game. Its pitfall, in my opinion and I agree with Timothy Burke on this, is the poor implementation of it.

This is no longer the game that so many subscribers purchased...its completely different in every aspect. This is not only a radical change...but never before attempted in a live MMO.

I agree the game needed some changes. Any persistant virtual world needs changes to keep them persistant and interesting after all. However so many radical changes to fundamental game aspects, such as the user interface on top of combat changes and the marginalization and elimination of professions, nullifying 2 years time investments of its subscribers is a "gamble" at best...and is nothing more than slamming a door in the current subscribers faces. Doing this change so quickly and in a poorly implemented manner, full of bugs and in some aspects unplayable is what will be its downfall. Not to mention the public relations fiasco this has spawned.

If this gamble fails...what effect does it have on the question of whether or not "changes can be made on a live game"? Can this NGE scenario even be considered a test case for such a question? Surely not, only due to the poor implementation of this change. If it fails, will it be due to the changes themselves? Or due to the fact that it was pushed live with so many bugs, aggravating UI, and with a seemingly disregard to its current subscribers?

The SWG galaxy was my and my wife's sandbox. We made sandcastles there to entertain ourselves and we felt we got value for our entertainment dollars. Now, our sandcastles have not been merely stepepd on by SOE/LA....but our sandbox was tipped over. How long does a game have to be "in live" before a player can safely have a sense of ownership in that game? and what happens to the virtual world when that sense of pride and ownership is marginallzed? Pulling the plug on the game would have been more humane imo.

I enjoyed the original blog and the following discussion. It summarizes much of what my wife and I discussed this past week. These changes to SWG are both interesting and frightful at the same time. I'm curious as to how it will turn out...though we will be watching from the sidelines ...cause we didn't buy a ticket for this ride (canceled accounts of course) Now I'm trying to get my wife to decorate my cottage in DAOC...but she says it just isn't the same (/wink Scott)

103.

(Just in case there are any left still reading this who like me didn't get the reference to this item's title right off, it refers to an order that "declared the Jedi enemies of the Republic and called for their immediate elimination." Here's a link to its entry (!) in Wikipedia. The key line, said by Palpatine in Episode III (missed perhaps while you were thinking about a good movie) is "Commander Cody, the time has come. Execute Order 66."

There's no word on Wikipedia how the Emperor reacted to the uproar that ensued on message boards across the galaxy after this order became public knowledge.)

104.

Monetizing Meaning

Any entertainment franchise trades on meaning – the connection between their franchise property and the lives of their customers. When the property enables personal involvement, or where that involvement arises spontaneously, the meaning of the property to the customer is heightened. We see this connection between customer commitment and meaning in a variety of areas: sports, movies and video games. People don’t have to like the property for it to be meaningful.

Entertainment is elective – the customers choose to give themselves to it. So beyond the meaning that comes from the involvement, there is the emotional commitment that comes from applying a scarce resource – free time – to the endeavor. In the heart of the customer there is an emotional connection between their definition of self and the franchise.

In our current ethos we can not own people. We can’t keep them from leaving us no matter how involved we are with them. But if they become a part of our lives we feel betrayed when they leave. If the breakup is severe enough, we never have anything to do with them again. If the breakup is pathological, we try do damage them or ourselves.

We see similar patterns with sports, movies and video games. And the dark side of successfully forming a community is that the community carries human emotional weight as well as more straight forward “entertainment” value. The customer didn’t just have fun leveling – he sat around and bragged about it with his friends, got their help doing it, and decorated his in-game house with the spoils. The achievement had meaning at multiple levels.

So in a perverted sort of way SWG/LA has succeeded in creating meaning for its current customers while – if our analysis so far is correct – failing to meet it’s corporate profitability goals with the franchise.

Could they have done better if they had been guided by a $/meaning metric -- if they had maximized the creation of meaning and then priced each “unit” of meaning as high as possible? What might those units have looked like?

One way to measure meaning: ask. Each player, at login, answers the question “how important is SWG to you? 1=not very, 5=can’t live without it.” Take that and multiply it by the number of hours that person plays in some time period and you have the “meaning metric”.

Another way to measure meaning: observation. If meaning comes from interaction what are the measures of interaction? Count the number of other players contacted per time period, the number of hours played per time period and the number of optional items accumulated per time period. Weight the numbers and get a meaning metric.

With those metrics see if you are increasing meaning for your players or decreasing it. Compare what players do to the level of meaning the game has for them. Classify the demographics of players to meaning broken out by player activity patterns. Tune your game on that basis. Tie your pricing to meaning – you may be able to charge much more for game that are very meaningful and thus support a smaller population profitably.

105.

One of the things that I have found fascinating during the past several months of playing this game is the economy of the game itself. Not just the economy within the game itself (although my "play" sessions have come to involve this more and more) but also the economy that surrounds the game.
From credit resellers to galaxy (server) trade forums and even cross galaxy (server) credit and service trades, I have become more and more interested in how this economy functions and both reflects and deviates from real life economies.
And while this "NGE" has already had a huge and interesting impact on this player created economy, it is the "meta-"economic impact that I have found to be most interesting.
In particular, it has been interesting to watch as a company that is so involved in creating a social product has completely ignored or missed the deep seated social conditioning of its customer base.
I am of course referring the social conditioning of consumers whom are a part of the American style capitalist culture.
Members of that culture (and I would venture to say that most if not all of the people reading this are members of that culture, however willing) have been deeply conditioned to "know", beyond a shadow of a doubt, that "more is better."
In order for American style capitalism to succeed, the vast majority of its participants *must* believe this, at the deepest and programmed level. Quality holds some level of importance to us, but it already counts for significantly less than it might once have, and the modern pervasive marketing machine consistently convinces the consumer that quality is worth less and less.
So, back to what this has to do with SOE and the NGE. Basically, the introduction of the NGE was at the very least marketed as an attempt to increase "the quality of the gaming experience" at the cost of the "overwhelming" quantity that had previously existed.
This has caused a great ruckus which most anthropologists would have easily foreseen. In our culture, quantity *always* holds precedence over quality. This is perhaps particularly true when that quality has not yet proven to be visible, while the decrease in quantity has been incredibly visible.
This, I suspect, is the true failure of the NGE.

106.

Matt -

I definitely will agree with your position in as much as it is relevant in the majority of situations where MMO's alienate consumers. However, I don't think your conclusion is logical in this case. NGE is NOT SWG and doesn't even carry over most of the same items.

Droves and droves of veterans are leaving SWG permananently - giving away everything they own, deleting any lot structures, disbanding guilds and uninstalling the game. When you are talking about players who had sizeable assets (equiv 1000+ gold in WOW) this step is usually fairly permanent. I know hundreds of players who have come back to equipped characters, but very few who have ever returned to a stripped one. The difference is the NGE.

If you incinerate a favorite Widget of mine with a flamethrower I will care about this very much, and I will no doubt loudly protest your action in whatever medium I can. However, You can't simply project that I will then I buy a completely different Gadget from you just because you put the sticker "Widget" on it. My passion was strictly for the original widget. My "characters" in NGE bore absolutely no resemblence to my characters in original SWG.

107.

I've been holding onto my SWG accounts (4) hoping something would change to convince me to play again. The opposite has occurred with this change. What attracted me were, as with many here, the virtual world aspects (especially what appeared to be a very interesting economic/crafting system that was mostly driven by players, and the meaningfulness of entertainers). I watched those erode. This most recent change makes it clear they are gone. Two accounts cancelled. The other two are Station Access accounts since I am playing EQ2 (and was an EQ player prior to SWG) and the process of trying to remove SWG and revert to EQ2 only is not mechanically intuitive (I can't even change my billing information obviously using the site!). I may try to one-at-a-time cancel Station Access and remain registered for EQ2 only as a statement of displeasure to SOE. I expect doing so will result in temporary difficulties with my EQ2 accounts, based on experiences of others in dealing with similar shifts.

EQ2 isn't terribly satisfying, but so far it satisfies sufficiently to keep me playing. This whole situation has made me seriously consider aiming to leave SOE-run games permanently. I tinker in WoW (I think I might prefer the combat there to EQ2), but the crafting systems there are (to me) seriously flawed and underdeveloped. EQ2 is slightly better. But if SWG is any indication, I cannot count on EQ2's shifts extending to gutting the crafting too. Already the great work put in by serious crafters is being depreciated by patches to make the process easier, crafting levels easier to achieve, and resources once rare and precious almost common. Smacks of a trend: hardcore gamers need not apply; dilettantes only.

I have brought along a small community (of 3). I do feel responsible to them, so I won't willy-nilly move. I will probably begin investigating other options again. I won't say I will never play another SOE game. I am too interested in developments in game systems to think I could resist. I will, however, factor it my experiences with EQ/SWG/EQ2 in deciding how much time I am willing to commit to living in a new game (hopefully a virtual world again).

I do feel sweeping changes to ongoing games IS a betrayal of me as customer. I prefer the general model of EQ/EQ2 to trying to make a shift of the degree SWG has. Small incremental change is fine in principle, but if the realization comes one day that the game at point J is not at all what it was at point A, and I cannot say that it is substantially equivalent in fun (ever if the type of fun has shifted), I must leave.

I recognise that SOE has every legal right to make these sorts of changes. However, I think an argument can be made without expending much perspiration that it is unethical to do so in the manner in which SOE has.

This piled atop the recent rootkit revelations about Sony have resulted in placing it on the "buy with caution" list. Where I have any option, I will go to their competition for products. I will also press those who depend on me for advice to do likewise. It's purely caution. We HAVE now been fooled more than once.

I think I'll look into the smaller games again...

108.

I wont say much, but they did a horrible thing with the NGE. I have personally feeled wronged. They perposlly waited till 2 days after the expansion to let the info be released. Its not as much in the change(but it is) as in their secrecy around it. We had found the "Starter Kit" on game sites, and was repeatedly told (Before Nov 3) that it was a false listing and will be deleted, when in fact it was just an early warning.
And with not that many people cancliong, Ive seen friends with 2,3, 5 and even two people with 10!!! paying accounts quit, including myself. They took a great game, ruined it once, got it going better again, and then dropped a nuke inside it.
After what they have done, I will never buy another SOE product again. They dont care about their customers, only their next profit mark.

109.

Mike Sellers wrote: "this discussion is quick and easy: players own nothing inside a game (yes, SL aside, but there are other issues there)."

According to this viewpoint, the veteran players of SWG lost nothing when the items attached to their account were deleted because they can still access the game. Essentially a subscription to an MMO is like the subscription you pay to your ISP for Internet access. The concept of a virtual world implies much more than the ability to connect to the game server and start over with each new connection, with nothing persisted from the last. I think it is rather smug to imply otherwise.

For those who emphasize that players merely pay for a connection to an MMO, how do you respond to concepts like Sony's Station Exchange? http://stationexchange.station.sony.com/

SOE states that players buy and sell the right to use in game assets such as coins, items and characters. This means that the player owns the right to use the in game assets connected to their paid subscription, not simply the right to connect to the game.

Sony states that the exchange is a service to allow players to securely participate in the secondary market of virtual assets and they charge a transaction fee. The buyer pays money to Sony, Sony pays money to the seller, less the transaction fee. If Sony was to delete said item as they did with many things in NGE, there could be legal ramifications because the buyer purchased the right to use that item from Sony.

Depending on the success of the Station Exchange, which is affected by transaction fee price point and a certain degree of consumer confidence, other companies may follow. Whether others adopt this strategy or not, I believe it is a precedent that acknowledges that players own the right to their virtual assets as long as they subscribe. That right has been bought and sold on eBay for years.

110.

Wow, you folk sure use a lot of words, eh? ;)

I'll come clean here, I'm one of those 'outsiders', not an industry professional or (currently) somebody with an academic interest in virtual worlds. Just a gamer, a customer and a fan.

I came to SWG way back when I was looking at the development of interpersonal relationships in the online community in general and got sort of 'stuck' with the game.

So am going to put my neck on the line here and say that I think the NGE had great potential but that the way it was implemented created such a huge groundswell of, first, confusion then frustration leading into aggression that it has, almost inevetably led to a crystalisation of many gamers frustrations at 'all the things that are wrong with SWG' into a motivation for them to finally get out of the comfort zone and go do something else.

On the Bria server, one of the heavier loaded, I maintained a list of around 250 jedi who my character occasionally offered various services to. Out of that 250, on a typical weekday, I'd expect to see 60 to 100 online.

On the day that NGE went Live it wasn't a great surprise to see maybe 200 of them appear online for at least a little while. Come on, we were ALL curious to see what was inthe new package.

Since then? Most I've seen at one time is ten.

Another profession group that i was interested in has gone from the game entirely and a growing number of the players who were rangers are, after giving the NGE a chance, making their final farewells and heading off to other games.

What is interesting is that many of them are saying that the NGE changes in themselves were not 'terrible' but it's the 'sudden' implementation, the launching (yet again) of seriously undertested code and a shocking attitude from the red names that has finally made them take the decision to go.

From an academic PoV this is fascinating, but as a SWG gamer it's awful.

To make a change like this, when from previous experience they must have known there would be a negative reaction, it would have served SOE better had they gone out of their way to win over as many hearts and minds first, convince the player base that change was necessary and that this change would be good... Instead they chose the approach of issuing a diktat and retreating to the "Like it or Lump It" bunker.

111.

This, I think, is the most crucial point, and why some of us hammer (in admittedly negative and invective-filled terms) on implementation as the keystone issue.

MMOG (or virtual) communities are emergent systems in many respects: the initial condition of any given interaction with them quickly hardens into a crystalline complexity that shapes all future interactions. I continue to think that a live management team that was resolutely honest and that spent the time necessary to implement important changes (not just technical time, but social time) would reap some important benefits. Not just in revenue, but in lower general levels of anxiety and aggression. Surely that alone is worth it, given what Scott and others have said about the psychological toll of being on the receiving end of player fury. Think of it as a corporate wellness program, if nothing else.

112.

Timothy: I continue to think that a live management team that was resolutely honest and that spent the time necessary to implement important changes (not just technical time, but social time) would reap some important benefits.

You may well be right. This seems to be the case with some of the smaller but popular games -- e.g., Puzzle Pirates. Unfortunately no one has yet figured out how to make this scale to hundreds of thousands of players.

The 'social time' issue is especially thorny: if the dev team spends time with the players, a sense of entitlement on the part of the players quickly grows (which almost inevitably curdles: "you guys never listen to us anymore! Why didn't you use my kewl idea!?") accompanied by a sense of rock-star celebrity on the part of the devs that's never good for actual development.

Keeping up a sense of contact between the devs and the players without ultimately harming the relationship (and the game) is as yet an unsolved problem in large-scale games.

113.
Keeping up a sense of contact between the devs and the players without ultimately harming the relationship (and the game) is as yet an unsolved problem in large-scale games.
Yet the sheer suddenness of the NGE seems to bely any attempt at even trying, in a rather extreme sense. They have had to have been working on this for months, even if they assumed a critical mass of post-patch subscription-holding Alpha testers. This sort of wonton breech of player trust really calls into question their business ethics. It's a conspirators cornucopia too, making folks wonder if there's a secret separate Sith-like live team that worked on this (in the Far East or the Subcontinent, since that'd fit with their worldview) while the current obvious live team was just a wall of apologists. Given their usual practice at carefully-measured statements, I wouldn't be surprised if some at SOE were as surprised as the players themselves.
"declared the Jedi enemies of the Republic and called for their immediate elimination."
It's even deeper than that :) The results of Order 66 are based on the "installation" of that code at the time the Clones were first created, presumably encoded sometime in the 10 year period prior to Obi-Wan discovering they were "ordered" by "Sifo Dious".

Which just gets conspirators heads spinning! Imagine the Order for the NGE going out to some s00per s3kret Area 51 lab about a year ago, only to have it executed mere weeks ago, all while the Republic (pick a team) went on blithely trying to figure out what the current players wanted.

In any case, this single event rivals the EA/Counselor program issues in UO from so long ago. Some marketers think people talking about their products is always a good thing. There are wrong ways to raise awareness though.

I have no idea how many people will truly quit, nor who'll come after them. I would like to hear from folks who actually hit the 'Delete' button on their Character screens though.

114.

Here's what I am curious about. The SWG team has been screwing the game up since launch. Everything about their development process has always seemed broken to me. Then you have EQ2, which started out pretty screwy, but with a heap of WoWifications they've managed to make the game pretty fun again.

So... Has the SOE side of the team just not been up to snuff? Or has the relationship between the SOE team and LA team been about as healthy as the relationship they now have with their subscribers?

The conspiracy theory I came up with almost two years ago was that SOE was trying to run SWG into the ground so they could just get out of business with Lucasarts. It doesn't make any financial sense, but that is the feeling I was getting watching the game fall apart under the weight of Jedi. Perhaps the reason I was feeling that was because SOE and LA teams were infighting.

It just seems that Sony is able to deal with their Everquest community in a much healthier way. Perhaps it's because they have to. There isn't a promised goldmine of 15,000,000 hardcore EQ fans just waiting to buy the game. However, there are at least that many Star Wars geeks in the world.

...

Someone put it best earlier: "This is like watching a train wreck in slow motion"


115.

>>>>
SOE better had they gone out of their way to win over as many hearts and minds first
>>>>

I cant shake the feeling that Sony and Lucasarts follow another famous political/military quote from the 70ies .. "Grab em by the balls ... their hearts and minds will follow".

Have fun

Erillion

116.

I've been reading for hours now, and first I need to say "wow... while I do not agree with some of you and my immediate instinct is to lash out and feel insulted by some of the sentiments expressed here, these comments have been made in all seriousness and with great thought. Thank you for sharing."

I'm reading all of this as an ex-subscriber of SW:G (a point of reference for anyone who cares) and a veteran of the MMORPG gaming community. I have also been a service professional in ISP and online support for over a decade, though I am no developer. I think these are all important points to remember while reading my comments, as they may cast some light on why I feel the way I do and why I say what I'm going to say.

I very much view this last half year of SOE's handling of the SW:G community in the same light that I'd view an abusive real life relationship. The lion's share of this game's hardcore veteran community have formed very deep and very real emotional ties not only with others playing the game, but to the game and the world within the game as well. SOE's customer facing employees have been on the verge of brutal in their dealings with these people. Yet many have stayed, or worse yet managed to leave, then returned, knowing that nothing had changed on that front, even if the game itself had been drasticly changed. So in a very real sense, the hardcore subscribers ARE in the throes of a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. It doesn't speak well for the emotional health of the subscribers, but it also speaks negative volumes about this company's lack of commitment to its customers.

I am one of the lucky ones. I was not a player for over a year and I had not made such a deep emotional investment in the game that I could not come to my senses and look at it from a rational point of view and cancel. Erillion can attest to the fact that the game as it stood before the CURB was engaging enough to subsume my normal good sense and I DID come back for more abuse. He can also bear out that I was not at all satisfied with the alterations to gameplay that the CURB introduced without fixing the glaring problems the pre-CURB game had. However, when the new NGE was introduced, I could see the writing on the wall. It only took one session under the new system to convince me that I couldn't continue to pay for a product I no longer enjoyed and never signed up for. The fact that the new combat system was actually physically uncomfortable for me isn't really relevant (I am one of the motion-sick, and to make it worse, the new play made my mouse-hand HURT after only a few minutes play), but should still be considered, as I'm NOT physically impaired. The reason this should even be mentioned is that these complaints were introduced to the development team in test and ignored, as many real problems have apparently always been ignored. This makes one question why they bother to involve the playing public in testing at all. It also begs the question of why they bother even paying lipservice to their self-created test process. If you look at it from a consumer's point of view, you'll see that a consistant discrepancy between what a company states is policy and actual company practice is rarely if ever good for the company in question, as it erodes that company's credibility in the marketplace.

Personally, I don't believe that an MMO devteam should hand over the reins of creative control to its playerbase. That way lies ruin, because most of us can't agree on anything and we all have different wants, needs and goals, most of which are not constructive to the game as a living and growing structure. You can't please everyone all of the time and you HAVE to accept that. However, if you are going to do more than vaguely insinuate that a playerbase's input has some effect on the direction a game is going to grow, you need to live up to that to a certain extent, in a rational and controlled fashion. SOE has never done this with SW:G.

The flight pattern of this game's development appears, from the outside, to be a long, gruelling exercise in over-reaction on the part of both the game producers and the playing community. There seems very little of any rational, educated forward planning to it at all. There seems to be even less of honest effort at quality control. It simply looks like a virtual pinball game to be honest, with changes being introduced monthly in response to poor reception of the last mistake without much thought to what ramifications any of these changes and reactions will have on the game OR its players. This is no way to run an MMO OR a business. It's certainly not what I expected from a corporate giant like Sony.

I understand that many of you seek to look at this as a learning experience on both what effects making large changes to a longstanding live MMO will have AND the commercial viability of more involved, more complex and deep virtual worlds... but I fear all this example will show is the effects of poor planning and worse customer relations on the market in general and a single MMO in particular.

I've seen games come and go, and I've watched communities evolve and migrate over the years, starting with UO and I find the phenomena fascinating for many reasons. I have never seen ANYTHING like SW:G in all my time gaming. It is both the absolute best and absolute worst I have ever experienced. I've never looked at a game company with as much honest puzzlement and disgust as I now look at SOE -- both as a consumer/gamer and as a professional who has had to deal with the customer as part of my daily duties. Yet I have never seen a game that had so much untapped potential and sheer addictive power as the classic iteration of SW:G -- bugs, flaws, poor management and all. The entire thing is perplexing.

But in the long run, you can only batter your partner for so long before she either leaves you and tells everyone she knows what you've done -- or she dies. Either way, if SOE continues on its current path, the end result will be identicle to that of the longterm abusive relationship. The company will find itself alone, having lost its existing customers and hoping that a new customerbase that hasn't ever heard about their handling of the game moves into the neighborhood to replace the one it destroyed.

The bottom line isn't pie charts and powerpoint presentations, it's the simple equation of customer satisfaction = profit. And SOE shows not even a basic understanding of how to maintain customer satisfaction with a no-lose goldmine franchise. The rest has no relevance whatsoever if you're really interested in drawing any conclusions or lessons on the future of MMOs from Star Wars: Galaxies.

117.


Timothy: I continue to think that a live management team that was resolutely honest and that spent the time necessary to implement important changes (not just technical time, but social time) would reap some important benefits.

Mike: Unfortunately no one has yet figured out how to make this scale to hundreds of thousands of players.

Except that community management is not a problem unique to virtual worlds. It's just that a higher percentage of MMOG customers participate in public online discussions than they do for most products in the rest of the world. It's a key problem in CRM and e-Marketing right now, as well as a key extension of the role of PR.

People in this discussion seem to have made the mistake of thinking that live team communication is about having developers talk to players directly. It's not. Community management is about trying to ensure that players *don't* need to talk to developers directly, but that nonetheless information flows appropriately in both directions, and players feel satisfied and listened to, and the game improves as a result of customer input. There will be times when this does involve some degree of direct communication, particularly between key live team leadership and influential players, but this should be limited as well as focused.

There is a vast body of business practice around handling one's customers. Internet communities have introduced some new complications to manage, certainly, but they are not some impossible hairball, and a considerable number of companies do excellent jobs at managing theirs. The fact that most MMOGs don't do a good job of handling their communities should be viewed as a failure of their management teams, and not as an inherently unsolvable problem.

118.

>>>
It doesn't speak well for the emotional health of the subscribers
>>>

You have to understand this. People that left SWG and came back ... did so because of the community, NOT because the game improved. They came back DESPITE the buggy game.

That was also the reason IMHO why the Combat Upgrade did not have such a large impact on subscriber numbers - people left and came back, because they missed their friends. But with the NGE its different - now people are burning the bridges behind them (read : character deletion, not only subscription cancellation). They wont come back THIS time. Because THIS time, most of their friends left too. There is less reason/motivation to come back.

Have fun

Erillion

119.

I see SGW as a two headed giant where the two heads can't agree on which direction to go and thus goes no where fast. On one side we have SoE with their Massive Online Experience and on the other we have Lucasarts with full control over the lisence. This fight has been going on ever since Raph Koster initial design was turned upside down and inside out before the initial release. The Trials of Obi-wan vs NGE is just the lastest round of communication breakdown.

I think their original plan was for SoE to do the initial development and slowly transfer the live team over to Lucasarts. It is quite possible that they are currently in an inbetween state where SoE has one live team that developed Trials of Obi-wan while Lucasarts has a second live team that worked on NGE. Both sides are oblivious of the fact that the other side is near completion of their project thus resulting in the current mess where Trials of Obi-wan gets clobbered a day after launch.

I find it interesting that most of the blame is put on SoEs shoulders and not Lucasarts. And yet the producers notes where NGE is announced comes Julio Torres a producer from Lucasarts that has a long line of Lucasarts titles on his CV.

120.

I think there's something to what Zygwen is saying about the conflicts caused by two large project teams in two companies causing so much confusion. I also think that people DO tend to hold LA blameless and pummel SOE more often than not, which IS unfair, as it took both companies to ruin a good thing through their inability to communicate and coordinate.

However, the fault for much of the playerbase animosity DOES lie on SOE's doorstep, as that is the company running most of the interaction between the game team and the playing customer base. A lot of the problem lies in perceptions and expectations. The customer base is accustomed to recieving some attention, if not satisfaction from an online game provider, not only in the form of ingame customer support, but on forums and via email.

Other game companies, such as FunCom (producer of Anarchy Online) handle this in a satisfactory manner, and while they often fail to resolve the customer's actual problems, their customer facing employees and volunteers DO respond and give the customer the sense that they ARE listening and sincerely desire to rectify a given problem, even if they are unable to do so -- which is enough to mollify the customer and leaves him feeling satisfied or at the very least not hostile.

SOE lacks this quality of customer relations to the point that in an industry where poor customer service is the norm, and thereby accepted by the average customer, they have a bad, bad reputation for it, even among those who have never played one of their titles. Nowhere is this reputation more pronounced than in the SW:G title. I walked into the game with low expectations and was frankly surprised at how much they lived up to their bad rep. I honestly didn't believe that a company with such poor communications and relations skills faced towards their consumer base could survive long enough to have as many longrunning, successful titles as SOE currently owns.

Granted, the Star Wars franchise IS a very difficult one to break in terms of what a customer is willing to put up with (bugs, playbility, customer service, etc), but it sometimes seems as if the company IS trying to test how far they can go in terms of lack of quality in its programming and lack of satisfactory customer support. This is actually slightly alarming when you understand that other game companies ARE watching and that should SOE recover from the mess they are currently experiencing and the SW:G NGE title actually succeed and bounce back where the prior versions had failed, other companies will conclude that they can reduce or do away with both customer service and quality control. In an industry that trades in virtual property, which is inherently ephemoral, this would be very bad news for the consumer, as the game is not about fun to the producers, it's about money. Doing away with proper development practices, letting test cycles become quick and dirty, and cutting back on customer service is cheaper than the more desirable (from a customer's standpoint) current standards.

I know how jaded and cynical this sounds, but I am also very practical. I can and do see both sides of the deal. It's a very delicate balance, much like crafting the games themselves. It distresses me and disappoints me to a certain extent to see the direction of the discussion here, as it leads me to believe that many in game development are not in touch with the actual gaming communities, though it on further consideration isn't all that surprising, as it's a very human thing to forget it isn't "all about me". We all have a tendency to overinflate our sense of importance and relevance, and while game developers ARE an integral part of the equation (there would BE no games without you) and while development on SW:G IS a critial part of the issues that are causing such a stir among gaming circles, you are NOT the instrumental point of failure here. That lies very firmly in the laps of this division's management, customer service and marketing teams. Think about it. SW:G's subscribers are among the most tolerant and resilient of MMO communities. They have endured YEARS of a game that has frankly never progressed beyond open beta quality at its highest points and has seen times where large portions of the game shouldn't have even been in closed beta -- and they have beyond all reason stuck with the title, learning to love it (faults and all) where other titles would have folded quickly. What is actually injuring this game so badly is SOE's inability to keep faith with their customers and provide any form of stability. I cannot and have not placed the fault for this with its developers, though it is and can be very tempting to do so.

Now, about deep and sophisticated virtual worlds... there IS a market for this, I can assure you. There is a breed of gamer that craves far more than a simple kill-and-loot MMO, and SW:G was a leap forward from the traditional monty haul D&D knockoff that proliferates the market. Games like the Sims can't attract and keep this breed, because we aren't satisfied with simple Sims-based games -- we crave a hybrid game like SW:G that (no longer) gives elements of the action-adventure, PvP and social interaction/roleplay support. I don't believe that this is too big a bite for a game producer to pull off, though SW:G's initial approach certainly was, given SOE's resources and technology at the time of initial game release.

121.

Before SWG came out I eagerly awaited the release date. I decided to wait a month or two for the first reviews to start coming in. They were horrible. Sure, a lot of websites and magazines said it was a great game, but players were saying it was awful. I waited for the free trail to try it myself. The player reviews were correct. I didn't enjoy it one bit. I've always kept up on SWG news, because I kept hoping that SOE would get at least one game right since their early EQ days. Looks like they are still trying to get back to their former glory of being "Top Dog".
I have an idea for SOE. Perhaps they need to listen to their subscribers, instead of guessing what "would-be" subscribers want. They are always second-guessing themselves, which is witnessed in 2 combat upgrades from SWG and 1 from EQ2.
This gamer is very dubious of SOE. I'm probably not the only one. They used to be the leader of MMOs mesmerizing us with their talent of creativity. What has happened? Is it greed? Are they just trying to be "WoW jr."? I don't know, but I hope things get shaken up a bit over there.

122.

I think that a vital point to the MMOG community is being missed. The SWG players leaving are not just posting actively on the SWG forums. The players are migrating into other communities and , in a classic "word of mouth" way, actively and very vocally passing on their fealings.

The upshot of this is that , not just the existing player base, but many other communities are getting involved in bad player feedback and bad press for SOE/LA. Many other communities have active threads on the SWG/NGE issues.

If I was SOE/LA I would be more afraid of this. It is this and its long term effect , if any , on brands that interests me.

The world a virtual village indeed.

123.

So disappointing. I loved SWG and its potential. Because of SOE's utter failure with SWG, I have cancelled my SWG and EQII accounts. I will not buy another SOE product ever again.

And I am teetering on never buying another LA game again...but, KOTOR and KOTOR2 was so damn fun.

124.

There are several issues on which I would like to comment.

First - I realize that professional courtesy is very important in any industry. As a teacher, I almost alway refuse to make comments to my students about my peers. However, I do not tolerate fools and will be harshly critical of incompetent teachers when they are indeed guilty. I find it shocking that Heather and Mike are willing to be so kindly disposed towards SOE and its development team, especially to the point of criticizing Tim for being upfront and honest in his assessment. You would have to agree that the following points are true about SOE and they are deserving of any criticism being heaped upon them.

1. SWG was pushed to live incomplete to meet a marketing deadline. Beta feedback was ignored, one example being the experience point problem of being too low yet it was changed several weeks into live when so many players maxed out in many of the professions.

2. Since that point, many updates have also been pushed to live without sufficient testing. These updates were mostly directed toward game play issues and failed to address many existing bugs and often created new bugs, some of which went months without fixes.

3. The release of the NGE contravened a great deal of existing information and statements released by the SOE Dev team on the forums, making a mockery of the existance of the entire information process provided by SOE on its SWG forums.

Second - The professionals seem to believe that communication between the players and the development team is something to be avoided at all costs since it would only keep the development team from completing its job. Once again, as a teacher I might find it convenient to not have to listen to suggestions from parents, I do not have that luxury. However, I do not dance to whatever tune the parent wish me to.

In plain terms, communication between the Development team and the customer base, facilitated by a community relations team, does not mean the players are calling the shots. Sometimes the communication from the Dev Team regarding suggestions can be "No" with an explanation as to why.

My overall complaint with SOE is the lack of honesty and communication with the customer base. I am reminded of the accounting practices of Enron and World Com. If these changes were necessary to prevent the plug from being pulled, then simply say so.

125.

I think that since SOE was basically in this hole with SWG, Lucasarts kinda stepped in and might've told em to get their act together or we'll shut down the game kinda thing and thats prolly when SOE released this NGE bullshT.

126.

Doing away with proper development practices, letting test cycles become quick and dirty, and cutting back on customer service is cheaper than the more desirable (from a customer's standpoint) current standards.

Ultimately, MMOGs are a business. Like all companies, MMOG operators have to choose how they spend their money and their time, and determine how they can best deliver value to their customers.

Today, MMOGs customers are fairly tolerant of downtime and poor customer service. This is at least partly because no one has come into the market hitting a home run in terms of gameplay *and* nailing the operational aspects. (WoW still clearly has stability issues and poor out-of-game customer service, for instance.)

Stability is to the operator's advantage as much as it is to a customer's, though. The more stable your environment, the less you'll spend on operations as well as customer service.

127.

I think that LA/SOE are guilty of analyzing its own player demographics rather than a broader analysis of the player market as a whole. I think they may have based their decisions on misselecting a target group.

In essence I think they took a game with massive potential - and the biggest provenance of any MMORPG out there (with the possible exception of LOTRO, still to come) - and slowly, through poor design, multiple changes and lack of content, whittled the playerbase down to only those people who were willing to play the game despite those faults. They then seemingly selected a subset of those players, males 18-25 (and deliberately excluded female players it is reported), and based their redesign on feedback from that subset - which quite frankly I find is seldom all that articulate and often not that capable of analyzing why they like something. In short I think they channeled their analysis based on a very small, and inarticulate segment of the MMORPG population, and the result is the new approach.

Now, it may prove to be a valid and successful approach but it has been poorly executed and is poorly supported, and moreover has alienated many of the previously loyal population by the manner of its sudden promulgation. No warning was given, insufficient testing was conducted - and it was obvious that whatever the results of the testing it was going live the way it was - and the new game eliminated the efforts of the current playerbase almost completely while failing to address that. Moreover it changed the nature of the game from a "roleplaying game" where character stats and skills mattered to a twitch style FPS where those figures are essentially irellevant, and worst of all, did so in a manner that is not perceived as an improvement. These radical shifts in the philosophy of the game have probably done more to alienate the current playerbase than any other factors.

Again, this may not matter from the business point of view, but the reputation gained by this sudden perceived betrayal of their customers will not earn them any favors with regards to word of mouth advertising and opinions. I think word of mouth recommendations carry considerable weight with most gamers, and moreover the tendancy is to go join one's friends (real or virtual) in whatever game they are playing.

My personal perception - and thus entirely subjective I admit - is the game has suffered a massive drop in population. I am the mayor of High Plains - a town on Tatooine on the Tarquinas server. Prior to the NGE I had roughly 70 citizens about 40 or so of whom relatively active with a core of about 15 or so who were regularly logged in. I was doing between 100k and 800k in sales a day as a fulltime crafter. Post NGE I have an active population in my township of about 10 with a core population of about 5 who are regularly logged in. Often I am the only person on. My town of High Plains is often credited with being the "most active town on Tatooine" - I have been told so by many people. Traveling to Mos Eisley in peak hours can generate a population of about 30 players or so - since this is the starter town and used to be extremely crowded at almost all hours - this bodes poorly. The Mining Outpost on Dantooine is almost dead, and this was formerly the hub of higher level players with usually 20-30 people present at any given time. Now perhaps the current population are all hidden away on Mustafar, but my citizens report Mustafar is pretty dead too.

Evidently churning 95% of their playerbase is not a concern.

128.

SWG's problems are simple: Poor quality. From the beginning. I'm sure some of you can tell me -- and I learned about some early beta shenanigans that were new to me here -- a lot about the development, the ideas behind it, their general workability or problems, whatever.

It doesn't matter, really. SWG was implemented in a half-assed manner, run in a half-assed manner, and supported in a half-assed manner.

If it hadn't been Star Wars, it would have died long ago.

My personal belief is that what kept it -- above and beyond the license -- alive had a lot to do with some good design ideas that, even implemented in a half-assed way then nerfed to hell by half-assed patches made it worth staying there.

But that's just an opinion. Perhaps it's just the license.

SWG was my first MMORPG. My wife's first, and one of my friend's first. Since I quit (after the orginal CU, over the fact that solo and small group play wasn't worth the time investment), I've tried CoH, WoW, and EVE-online -- do you know what all of those games have that SWG lacks?

Quality. Even the poor ideas are implemented well. I laugh when people bitch about lag and bugs -- they don't have a clue how good they have it.

You want to know how bad the quality of Galaxies is? Their in game bug reporting tool hangs frequently. That's how damn bad it is. You can't even REPORT the bugs. (Not to mention that the bug reporting interface, including "gameplay mechanic affected" are pre-JtL and thus massively useless).

To me, that's got to be a management problem at SOE -- or a deliberate attempt to kill the game by SOE. I won't play another SOE game, because their QA problems in Galaxies were so widespread that I have no doubt it's a company-wide problem.

129.

Does anyone remember any other article generating 129 comments? :) This certainly isn't to say this is of any higher or lower quality than the rest of course, since topics here span every level of gaming from those who just play to those who make them. It just seems interesting that this one has generated so much conversation, from a high number of first-timers too.

Does SWG just inspire so much emotion in people far beyond other games? Is it its status as a "veteran" title (not so much by age but rather who developed it)? Is it just one of those experiences that everyone "almost" loved if... they... just... fixed... one... more... thing?

I ask because I'm always interested in exploring the difference between those games that compel such emotional attachment and those which most just walk away from when done. The former statement could have been applied to any of the early-day MMOGs (those titles that followed the establishment of the term). Nowadays there's so many though, and such a vast difference between the ends of the spectrum (as in, GW and SL share the same genre), that I imagine the whole Retention vs Continued-Influx debate is of even greater importance now than ever.

I've long felt it was folly to expect players to play a single game forever. Most just do not. This is even more true of today, given the sheer volume of options for entertainment both in the genre and with those games just close enough to be considered a part of it (by virtue of appealing to similar preferences).

130.

Speaking for myself: I loved it because it was more flexible than I had expected. I was a TKM/Merchant/Architect who supported himself by selling paintings to anyone through my vendor, meat to doctors, milk to chefs, and hide and bone to armorsmiths.

I had a house to make my own -- frankly, I don't think you can underestimate how much player housing actually gave that game, even with the HIGHLY limited ability to decorate (what I would have given to be able to, say, cross swords instead of being forced to leave them vertical). Having a home, decorating it to fit your tastes, that gave Galaxies a permanence -- a virtual world feeling -- that I have yet to find anywhere else. I had a home there. I had a wall decorated with guns and swords I had found, a living room decorated with crystals and loot. Paintings on my walls -- paintings I had earned, paintings I had made, paintings I had found. I had rugs, couches I made myself, suits of armor that had been beaten bloody with me inside them.

I had a home. It's not something I can say about any other MMORPG.

I had a business -- maybe a niche one, maybe I made more money selling creature resources or flying in space -- but I had a business. I had vendors, a tent, and customers.

I had flexibility. I could craft AND fight AND explore -- and my crafting meant more than WoW, since I had a bloody business.

But really, to me -- it was the home, with the business and flexibility a distance (but still important) second. It was my house, in my city, filled with my stuff, that I could show off.

Galaxies gave me more permanence than any other game I've played, because I had a home.

Where their problems? Damn skippy. Did they even need the CU to fix them, or god forbid, the NGE? No. What it needed was quality.

Outside of the godawful QA, I can trace down a few important issues in Galaxies:

1) A failure -- from late beta on -- to implement the original design. Interdepence among classes fostered a community -- important in a virtual world.
2) Koster's weakness with combat design -- a handful of changes would have severely reduced the biggest problem with pre-CU combat (defense stackers). Stacking defenses in a single tree of a profession begged for stacking. There were several ways around this (from moving the defense skills to the four 4th tier boxes to reducing the number of stackable skills. I prefer the first).
3) Rushed development. This problem was THE biggest and plagued them from beginning to the end. I never put faith in SWG's "balancing" of professions when severl professions never worked as intended to begin with. "Balance" comes once the combat mechanisms -- and skills -- work as intended.
4) Failure of imagination: This was the biggest problem with this sort of virtual world. It appears no one ever sat down and asked: "Okay, assuming the best resources, best skills possible, best food -- what's the BEST rifle a weaponsmith can make? The best doctor buff a BE can craft? The best buff a doctor can apply?". Without knowing what the endgame equipment and stats would be, you can't balance the endgame or PvP.
5) Lack of content: It IS a virtual world. The themeparks are nice (the ones that worked) but at the very least the player mission system should have been implemented. Players made do with the forums (those that knew about them), but how much better would it have been for an Armorsmith to simply create a mission for 10,000 units of the current Tatooine Avian bone at 30 credits per unit? If the players are going to be providing the content, then they need tools to do it -- player missions would be a good spot to start.
6) The Jedi system -- boneheaded from start to finish. People blame them for everything, but the real issues were their alpha class status (if you're going to make them a heroic class, offer OTHER heroic classes), their extra slot (which made sense with permadeath), the forced PvP nature (I'm against forced PvP as a rule, but it can work -- the BH system was a bad example of it), but most of all the grind. The grind destroyed a lot of the community.
7) The in-game macro system -- it wasn't designed to prevent AFK play. If you want some abilities repeatable, make them toggles. Recursive macros were a bad idea, and another solution should have been found.

The game was at odds with itself. It was designed to create a virtual world -- a community -- but there weren't enough tools to sustain it, and too many mechanisms were placed (with little thought behind them) in the game that broke apart the community.

Through it all was the bad QA -- no one seemed to think changes through thoroughly. Take the CL added with the CU. From everything I saw in the CU beta, it was added to make converting mobs easier. (No longer unique entities, they were a CL number with a random skin). Level-based ideas got shoved into a skills-based game. That broke the skills system. Mastering a profession made you CL 54. If you wanted to master another (Make yourself a Master Rifleman/Master Pistoleer) you were hosed -- your were only certed for low-end pistols, but had to kill level 50+ mobs. So they removed certifications from skills and made them levelbased -- which then broke what little balance they had, as you could use virtually ANY weapon with any special, rather than those you had the skills for....

Why? It was done in haste. Everything in the damn game was done in haste.

131.

>>Does SWG just inspire so much emotion in people far beyond other games? Is it its status as a "veteran" title (not so much by age but rather who developed it)? Is it just one of those experiences that everyone "almost" loved if... they... just... fixed... one... more... thing?<<

i can only speak for myself although there are others like me on private and public forums. and it is alot simpler than the suggestions you propose. but i have not played SWG and do not have any really desire to play it. i have not played any game that requires a subscription fee to play. something about paying an upkeep to play a game bothers me. but i digress, and that is just a personal preference. so whilst you should all take what i say with a pinch of salt, it is interesting that this question gets posed now, as i have been following the debacle with some interest for many months. i have a rough idea of the SWG timeline in which major build revisions were implemented and what upgrades caused the biggest public outcry. this information is typically provided by SWG players and former players on our community forum or linked offsite from other forums or the SWG forums.

for what reasons do people like me take an interest? mostly for the comedy and because crowds always develop around the scene of a car crash. yes, it is pretty direct response but I do not really have any desire to sugar-coat it.

a number of questions doing the rounds are: how is it that SWG has managed to attract enough negative publicity to make it (in)famous outside of it's user base? will this negative publicity influence the buying power of prospective consumers that have not even played any SOE games yet? will this negative publicity impede SOE's attempt to acquire future film licenses and franchises etc? will this negative publicity tarnish SOE's name within the industry?

from the firing of SWG's community relations officer to the consistent level of criticism levelled at the handling of each publish 'upgrade' to the whole sale removal of parts of the original game mechanic to the level of animosity of certain SWG players who feel they are paying SOE a subscription fee to alpha test their game. there is enough drama generated from players and enough bad reviews on amazon.com to warrant a google search for 'SWG, NGE, LA and SOE' to see what all the fuss is about.

and then there are the swg forums. red name 'brenlo' has repeatedly been quoted as contradicting himself with regards to issues such as a possible console launch for SWG, thus generating more controversy.

red name 'smedley' having posted a whopping 2 posts in his entire time working on SWG, somehow manages to generate a sum total of approximately fifteen hundred replies (and growing every day), over half of which are insults to himself or to his family and fellow employees.

and then there is redname 'blackguard,' responsible for quite possibly the most inadvertently hilarious quote in recent times: 'blackguard isnt afraid to make lemonade.' thanks to the follow up reply: 'SOE isnt afraid to make lemon games,' this complete undermining of the authority of forum moderators and game developers without consequence has been doing backflips in a number of comedy based forums.

and then there are the various player testaments and screenshots - a hilarious one of a wookie in jedi robes where the wookie head, hand and foot models had simply been stuck onto a smaller, human jedi torso model. others showing how various model limbs appearing to be disconnected in smoky environments. the stories of game wrecking bugs. that pie chart of posting activity in profession specific sections of the SWG forums, showing an alarming 75% of all posts belonging in the jedi sub forum. with the remaining professions making up the 25% minority.

to date, the SWG saga is an ongoing botch up with enough clown currency to attract the interest of complete MMO laymen like me.

what emerges is, as mentioned by Zygwen above, a picture of company involvement where its left hand does not know what its right hand is doing. and now a crowd around this fiasco has begun to develop.

regardless of all of this speculation, i can safely say that SWG is by far the best game i have never played. considering i have put zero dollars into it, i have inadvertently derived many hours of entertainment, 'ooohs' and 'aaaahs' as a result of this ongoing abortive mess. it is just a shame that it is not actually a show and real people with real feelings (not the least of which are the 70 strong live team tasked with cleaning up) are getting disheartened by this response.

either way, some of you may want to read some gaming forums to see a worrying trend in thread topics that mock the marketing and executive decisions made by SOE's live team with regards to SWG. you can even find comedic references to SWG in forums that are not computer game specific.

i appreciate that this is a very bleak, very cynical and in some ways depressing response, especially for the developers. having not played the game I feel an analysis of academic rigorousness is pointless . but certain employees of SOE or LA seem to be consistently oblivious to the kind of circus this game is becoming. attempts at denial or minimising the scale of this public backlash is counter productive. i can only see this game and the reputation of its developer declining as long as it continues to provide this level of support. it would take a monumental effort to overturn all of this - practically building a new game from scratch or reverting to an earlier, functional build. but this would undermine much of the work that has gone into the project since then as well as discrediting SOE and LA even further. More than likely it will also provide enormous strain on the current development team and will not prove to be profitable in the meantime. contrary to what some may say, it is possible to box yourself into a corner where there is no feasible means of escape.

i wish all the developers every success in their future endeavours but if there has ever been a good time to start handing out resumes - i would suggest that *now* is that time.

132.

My comments on this are best summarized by a post I made back in early May following the Combat Upgrade. Here it is as originally posted:

Mr. Smedley - First, thank you for taking the time to communicate to us in the forums last night. Many are saying such communications are late, and I would agree with them, but late is still better than never.

I know you are a busy man and getting hundreds of emails. I'll include an executive summary of my message so that you can determine if you wish to read further.

Executive Summary: Your company has misjudged the demographics and interests of your target audience. Recommend conducting a 100% contact poll with some very specific questions.

I turn 40 in less than a week, next month I retire from the Navy with almost 21 years of service. I have two kids in high school. Why do I tell you this? Because I represent a significant segment of your target audience.

From playing in the game, and from the forums, I know that there are MANY others in my same demographic. I attended the SWG Fan Breakfast at Celebrations III. I took my entire family to both Celebrations II and Celebrations III because we are die-hard Star Wars fans. Lodging alone cost close to $1000 both times we went.

See - money is not an issue for me, or for many others in my similiar situation. Especially not when we're only talking about $15 to $45 (I had three accounts) per month.

Your recent changes alienated a very large number, if not significant majority, of customers in my demographic group. Many of us are business professionals or managers and realize this is not the way to treat an established customer base.

Furthermore, we played SWG for some key reasons: amazing supply/demand implications of the player driven economic model, very complex and intricate crafting system and, frankly, because it WAS Star Wars.
The game was also (notice the past tense) very immersive. When I was playing SWG I WAS my character. I was on Tatooine, in the player city I started as a community in July 2003 and have been Mayor of until just a few weeks ago. The introduction of colorful fancy icons and level numbers next to creatures have drastically reduced immersiveness.

The fact that a Creature of Level X does more damage against X-10 and less damage against X+10 flies in the face of common sense. The fact that the same creature does less damage to me just because I am grouped with someone of a higher level is even more ridiculous.

Recommendation: Do a 100% contact with all of your subscribers. I know you have the capability of doing it because you did when you sent that trumped up email with the positive spin about the pending CU.
In your 100% contact message, determine the demographics of your customer base. Include some very specific messages about the controversial aspects of the Combat Upgrade and ask us "up or down" or "1 to 5" - whatever will quantify the feedback you need.

That's the only way to find out what we really want (and don't want) and it will silence those that call the posters on this 25 page thread a "vocal minority."

133.

Damage control continues, with an Open Letter to the SWG Community from John Smedley. Highlights:

"We're not sitting in our offices thinking of ways to upset our paying customers.. we're trying to bring Star Wars Galaxies to a broader audience to make sure that it's viable for the long haul."

Why not fix what was broken in the existing game? Per Smedley, the game was too big and complex. "Many design decisions made early on in the game's creation were boxing the team in to the point that we were never going to be able to really make this game rise to the level it needs to as both a great experience AND as a business. We have consistently kept the SWG team as one of the largest teams within SOE (around 70 people). Even with a team that size getting new content done along with maintaining the live game, along with developing new systems for SWG just proved to be tougher than it should have been."

Focus group data: Game was too complicated, combat too dull, game insufficiently Star Warsy. Had to simplify professions and revamp combat.

Couldn't do this without upsetting players, i.e. Creature Handlers. Creature handling will be back "in the near future" once implications are worked out, though not as a separate profession.

The "business end of things": "EverQuest is will be 7 years old on March 16th. We HAVE to think that long-term. With the game the way it was we knew we would never be able to attract enough people to really keep SWG viable as a business.... So what we're doing here is obviously risky.. we're betting that we can make this game a whole lot more fun to our existing userbase AND make it appealing enough so that we can grow that userbase in a major way. Right now I think it's fair to say we have work to do on both ends."

Smedley kicks off another focus thread asking for prioritized feedback on issues. Top dev priorities at the moment are (1) bugs, (2) skills to differentiate professions, (3) "Working on making crafting a much more important part of the NGE," (4) "cool new content," especially Galactic Civil War.

Comprehensive denial (again, but the meme won't die) that SWG is moving to consoles. Repeats that SOE doesn't have the resources to support pre-NGE (or pre-the previous Combat Upgrade) servers.

-----

This is the clearest statement SOE has made yet that the NGE is SOE/LucasArts' attempt to "save" the game for the long term -- and the tone of the letter suggests to me that they realize the depth of their player PR problem. Of course, recognizing is not fixing....

134.

Mr Smedley:

I'm going to offer a very dispassionate analysis from my point of view, as I haven't played in a couple weeks. I honestly do not believe that your company can do anything at all to bring me back to this game.

I am someone who had 4 accounts, active since February 2004. I have spent over $1100.00 on your product. I realize that's probably what you spend for lunch and a manacure, but realize I am not a CEO. I work very hard for my money.

I am a 49 year old player, believe it or not, and a very ardent one at that. I spent 4-6 hours per day playing actively up until the Combat Upgrade.

The Combat Upgrade, in my opinion as a gamer, was poorly implemented, riddled in bugs, and slowed the game to a crawl compared to pre-CU. I think an honest analysis is that your Development staff was not good enough to work on the code written by the original team. Patch after patch failed, proving they probably understood the core EQ code (or wherever you got these people from) but could not match the talent of the original team.

Bungle after bungle, as they struggled adding onto the original core programming, often destroying large chunks of the working game. Linear thinking by this team is what created the 'zoned' planets, seen prior in EQ but not at all appealing to SWG and its player base. What sense is there in multiple free-roaming planets, and then an add-on bound by invisible barriers? No continuity.

The Mustafar expansion held promise for a great many, myself included, because I was a full-templated Jedi. But we all know it was a schill game, don't we? You can't spin it. It was a thirty dollar dirty trick played on people who have funded the game for two years or more. I truly do not believe that nothing was known of the impending changes in the game. Too hard to believe, we are not idiots afterall.

You personally have stated that what is now on the live servers was put in place to be able to balance the classes, which you stated could not be done with the vastly immersive previous system. I guess we define things differently. I do not consider making six professions the exact same thing as balance. The best a 70 person team could do is use the same exact icon art so that the specials would all look the same? You can't be serious.

The trader, entertainer, and Jedi classes are destroyed. Why would a two year elder full-templated Jedi continue to play in this system? After all my money and personal time, I am no longer a complete template. Not that it would matter since I couldn't survive anyway. I was a red-headed stepchild from the very beginning.

The first thing you did was destroy the player economy in its entirety. I personally believe that you set forth to end the credit farming, afk play and ebaying that had been occuring for quite some time. But it rubberbanded by destroying what a significant portion of the playerbase loved.

Your developers have been, and probably still do, play World of Warcraft. There was no need to copy it, you will not get their subscribers. This is Star Wars, WoW is fantasy. An entirely different genre. What you should have copied, rather than destroy the economy, was the abilities within WoW to craft as a combatant, and buy and sell items via player email.

The FRS left seven months ago, and with it the purposeful immersion for elder, veteran Jedi for a system where outsiders could not intervene. An endgame outside the GCW, just what (as a matter of fact) the playerbase had been asking for. Never to be seen again.

You have a live game that is appealing until around level 15. Shortly after leaving the nicely-done tutorial, a player is immediately immersed in a kettle of hot water. The horrific repetitious immersion into a back and forth quest system on the ground, riddled in serious problems. A lot of the waypoints are vacant, leaving the player confused as to what to do next. Many more are camped, because your team has not done anything for people levels thirty and up to keep them interested, keep them leveling, or keep them playing. If this work seriously took 9 months, then 18 more months should have been spent, 9 each on levels 30-60 and 61-90.

I cannot understand what market analysis convinced you that a shooter placed over a virtual world setting would ever be anything other than what it is. A huge mess. This game was an immersive, imaginative, creative place. Now it is a very shoddy, poorly-implemented washed out clone of an FPS. It doesn't do either of the styles justice, the FPS does not work well with the VW components. Pick one and be done with it.

The reason I cancelled all of my accounts is that I never ever liked playing games like this. I wanted the old game, the creative, thinking game, interacting with people, creating my place. Not spending 10 minutes a day shooting everything that moves for absolutely no purpose whatsoever.

Customer Service - my God, sir, do you need help here. You should seriously consider outside consulting, and dismiss everyone connected with your service debacle. CSRs who mock players. Canned responses and closed tickets. No communication to the playerbase. Forum moderators brought in from your other online games to delete, lock and ban players. Discontinuance of your customer chat. All of these things are why you are losing your battle trying to keep this change positive. People are so angry. You wouldn't let them vent it even here, where they pay you for the right. How do you expect to stop them from everything you know is true, on every gaming site they can find.

The refund of the ToOW was in my opinion, something you did for a positive PR effect. I find it disingenuous, mainly because of the difficulty you created to get an actual refund. This was a 'cut the losses and put out a good PR spin' move, aimed at duping the players that you cared about them.

It is very obvious, sir, that you do not care about any of the people that have kept this game alive. You do not care about the handicapped, they should be swept away. You reap what you sow, and when you're an old man and this great country discards you, think back to what your handicapped players must have felt when you swept the thing that put a smile on their faces under the rug.

I apologize to the players that love the new game, and encourage you to keep playing. I hope it is everything you have wanted it to be, I truly do. I mean no disrespect to anyone. I have not posted on this, other than this post. This game just isn't for me.

Regards.

135.

Personally I think they offered refunds of TOOW in order to avoid a legal precedent being established.

Clearly there was enough evidence for them to have lost on a "deceptive business practices" class action lawsuit. That loss would have been, as far as I know, the first of its kind in the MMO gaming industry.

So, to save legal costs, possible punitive damages and to avoid establishing a precedent, they preemptively offered refunds.

136.

Something that Erillion mentioned above, and is coming up with some frequency in the response threads to Smedley, is the impact of the revisions on disabled players. As a twitch game, Star Wars Galaxies is now literally out of reach for a certain number of players for whom dice-rolled combat was manageable and sufficiently entertaining. This has also hit the gaming press.

In preparation for the previous Combat Upgrade, SWG introduced "snappier movement" which provoked some complaints of motion sickness from players. (I never experienced it myself; it may have affected people who used WASD keyboard controls for movement more.) The developers attempted to mitigate the problem. I would have thought that this experience would have heightened developers' awareness of the physical impact changes to the user interface or graphics engine might have on players. If so, SOE has not clearly acknowledged it yet, even almost two weeks after the change hit Live. (See Smedley's response to a player's inquiry two posts above this link.)

I'm not aware of anyone who complained that Planetside or, well, Doom 3 were inaccessible to some disabled players -- you know the interface's limitations (or your own, depending on your point of view) going in. But in this case SOE/LA have taken conscious steps to change the entire interface for the game, which has had a side effect of erecting barriers to participation in a virtual world. Seems to counter a lot of old idealism over the potential of virtual worlds to overcome physical (and geographical, and...) limitations to provide accessible, unbounded social spaces.

Frankly, if Star Wars Galaxies were a juicier target, I would be expecting SOE/LA to be pressured by disabled rights organizations. I hope SOE/LA is able to find some way to compensate disabled SWG players for the loss of their playing experience. A comped 6-month subscription to EverQuest 2 may not be much for a player who only wanted to play SWG, but there might be other affected players who would benefit.

137.

Just speculating on SOE's reasons but these articles

http://www.statesman.com/business/content/business/stories/10/28sony.html

And

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_zdcgw/is_200512/ai_n15717830

lead me to think that this change to SWG is to help them move to this new model in the future. The model involves offering the basic game for free and charging for specific items of content (quests, weapons, etc.).

138.

I have found a gem on one of the forums that shows some of the inherent flaws of targetting, movement and choosing specials in the current SWG NGE build. This may also explain why some people get motion sick in SWG since the new patch. What do you think ?

-quote--------------------------------------------
The so called NGE (New Game enhancements) are far from enhancements. My first issue with the new game is that all weapons will kill the same creature in exactly the same amount of time. So all pistols will kill a combat level xx creature is the same time. The only difference is rifle seems to be a second or two slower then pistol and carbon. Also, all armour will protect you more or less the same amount of time before you lose all your health. This has been tested and re-tested many times.

My second issue is with the combat system. How can increasing physical moves and necessitating removing the eye from the screen continuously improve the game? On the contrary, this increase inefficiency and increases frustration with the game.

It used to be that to chat one would start typing then press enter -return. Now, one must press enter then type then enter again. To execute a special one used to only need to use the mouse and click on the special move icon on the toolbar on the screen. Now, one must use the keyboard to press the corresponding key to place the special in the active box, then click the mouse right button to execute the special then wait to see if the special has been executed as half of the time it dose not fire! Also keep in mind that you need to use one of your hands to do this which means you come to a screeching halt or lose the target as you no longer have lock-on-target like before.

Movement used to be fast and easy and dose not require a pause in the game. Before by simply pressing and holding the right mouse button -second mouse button- the character moves and one would simply guide the movement with the keyboard. Now the keyboard must be used to initiate movement and guide at the same time -which would be ok if we also didn't need to change specials with the same hand on the same keyboard! So in combat now I have to actually lift my hand off of the forward movement key so I can change the special, meanwhile my target is moving around, so I lose my target. Consider the eyes. Before everything was on the screen. Now I have to stop moving in the middle of combat, take my eye away from the screen and move it to the keyboard, then press the key to change the special, then look at the screen again and hope my target is still on it, then move the cursor again to target the attacker and start moving again to get in range, then press the mouse right button and wait to see if it executes.

It seems they have gone to great lengths to get rid of target-lock. It is obvious that they see the success of WoW and other games that do not have Target-Lock and they tested it and feed back is that the consumer prefers non lock targeting. Well, then copy WoW! They have made a hybrid system that is non efficient and exhausting to use. Game play is much slower in the aggregate, and it is not fun period.


-unquote------------------------------------------

Sorry to not be able to quote the original poster - this information was not available.

A few words about the effect of weapons/armor ... it is the impression of a large part of the community that weapon and armor quality are irrelevant (this has been numerically tested by some people, but not yet in a large scale study as it has been done in the past - lack of motivation or "why bother" is the reason for that). No matter what STATS are mentioned in the item description, they seem to do damage or protect at the same rate.

This is obviously the death sentence for the Trader class, as it is now completely irrelevant if a crafter (Trader/munitions = Master Weaponsmith) with skill, good tools and excellent resources sells an exceptional weapon. His fellow trader from another branch (Trader /Engineer , has some weaponsmith skills) that is only partially familiar with crafting weapons, does use the most crappy resources and does not experiment for better stats sells an incredibly BAD weapon .. and it kills an enemy as fast as the exceptional weapon. And the customer thinks .. " HEY ! Why buying anything at all. I use this looted crappy weapon and it kills the enemy at the same rate as any UBER weapon I can buy !".

Now THAT is what I call a serious design flaw that usually does not even reach closed beta testing.

Have fun

Novarider

139.

If MMOG players realized in their gut that they have no right to expect persistence, that their characters, abilities, items can be wiped away without warning or compensation at any time, then I sincerely doubt that subscription based MMOGs would have much of an audience. SOE has done us all a disservice, in this regard. Yes, it's an unwritten social contract, in contradiction to the EULA, and yet it is what allows MMOGs to exist.

I used to play a game called Infantry, designed by Jeff Petersen of Harmless Games. SOE bought out the title and managed it into the ground. Basically the same disregard for community relations that appears to plague its other endeavours. When I left Infantry, I vowed to shun all SOE products. I'm a huge Stars Wars fan, but I avoided SWG, because it was managed by SOE.

I'm just one person, and Infantry was a small game. But the bad word-of-mouth from SWG might create a much more lasting impression in the gaming community.

===

As for the idea of a twitch-based combat interface existing for a virtual world, I see no problem with it theoretically. In fact, I find the concept fascinating.

But managing gaming communities is like farming crops; you don't burn down your fields just because you like what's in the current seed catalogue.

140.

The comment from an earlier poster about the direction that Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) may take reminded me of something.

In his Designing Virtual Worlds, Richard observed that Turbine's reaction to some player complaints about Asheron's Call 2 was to make some functions much simpler with no fictional justification. For example, instead of continuing to require players to expend some effort to change money from one denomination to another, developers simply added code to allow players to convert money to gold in their backpacks.

Some such changes might be justifiable on an "it's just not fun to do" basis. But what happens when you simplify a lot of game actions this way?

Now, Turbine has revealed that the skills system for LOTRO will consist of seven playable classes. Most of the seven classes appear to be direct analogs to AD&D classes (fighter, ranger, thief, bard, cleric/druid) with nods to EQ-like conventions ("tanking" and "aggro" in particular). In effect, it looks like LOTRO's skills system has been designed to be very simple and quite conventional.

From my perspective, these approaches make a game world much less interesting. In particular, "dumbing down" a skills system drastically reduces the breadth of options available to players. If you don't like doing the few things the developers allow you to do, you're stuck; there's little opportunity for creative interaction with the game world.

But from a developer's perspective, a simple system is a lot easier to balance, and is less prone to players devising "creative" (i.e., untested) applications of skills that confer some excessive advantage on early adopters. Theoretically, a simple skills system should insure a better game for all players.

Which brings us back to SWG and the replacement of some 34 professions with 9 classes. According to Jon Smedley, the players whom SOE heard from demanded simplicity. The NGE was imposed on SWG despite the radical changes it made to gameplay because SOE now believes that a complex skills system is too hard to maintain and enhance, and that MMOGs won't attract more/new players unless gameplay is very easy for players to understand.

So who's right?

Are Jon Smedley and Turbine correct in thinking that player actions must be tightly constrained, even at the expense of other goals such as immersiveness and "realism" and breadth and depth of action, if relatively large numbers of players are to be attracted and retained?

Do most developers agree with this ordering of goals? Do MMOGs need to be simplified to the point of becoming passive entertainment forms like TV if they are to achieve TV's market numbers? Will such products still be MMOGs?

Are "deep" worlds merely a niche market?

--Bart

141.

First of all, thank you, Terra Nova. This is the most intelligent discussion of SWG's NGE that I've seen yet. The SWG forums have degenerated into an absolute flamefest whenever a dev is unfortunate enough to show his or her head.

I ran across one post that looks like a pretty balanced and fair assessment of SWG as it now stands-I thought I'd share it with all of you:

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday I had the opportunity to sit down and play SWG for more than just a couple of hours at a time. In doing so I decided that after the weekend was over I would post my experiences with the NGE here. Now before I get too far into this post, I think it's worth mentioning that I have been playing SWG since launch. I have purchased the SWG Collectors Edition, JTL, RoTW, SWG Total Experience (for the BARC Speeder), and ToOW (I'm debating whether or not to buy the starter kit for the insta-shuttle). I have ONE account that I have been using since launch, but that account has four characters on different serves. I have been through Publish 9, the Combat Upgrade, the NGE, and all the hotfixes and updates in-between. I am not new to this game and I am also not new to the problems that have plagued SWG since its launch.

That having been said - here's my take on the NGE.


I don't play on Test Centre and I don't normally read or post on the forums, so it was purely circumstance that I happened to find out about the NGE. Unfortunately, as I learned later, I wasn't the only person to be taken by surprise when the NGE was announced. It really bothered my that such a sweeping revamp to the game was coming so soon after a major expansion was released (and for the record I do not agree with the way that the release of the NGE was handled). After I read the announcement I spent a few days combing the forums for information about the NGE and doing my best to prepare myself for the changes.

Having survived Publish 9 and the CU I was skeptical about the changes because I knew from previous experiences that these sorts of changes never went well. However, I was also optimistic. I actually liked the IDEA of consolidating the professions. While having 32 professions to pick and choose from certainly gave people the flexibility to create their own unique character it was also a nightmare. In my experience I didn't see see the rich variety of characters that were possible, I saw people making the same "über" template every time. If one profession was nerfed then it was all about recalculating your skill tree for the next "über" combination that would "pwn". If it wasn't the über template someone was after it was all about the hologrind; grinding through every profession not to play that profession but only to get a Jedi.

So what happened when the NGE went live?

Previous experience tells me to be cautious when SWG changes significantly; so I logged in with an ALT that I didn't really care about. When I logged in and did the forced respec I found out that I didn't get my profession rewards. I also found out that there was no intent to provide thes items to veteran players. That's when all hell broke loose. In the end, a hotfix is published, 2 extra respecs are given along with the profession items. Between my initial log in and the hotfix I decided to create a new character so that I could adjust to the new UI and get a look at the new missions and voice over quests.

There was some lag, there were some sound issues, but all said and done it was pretty fun. When the hotfix went live I logged in with my primary toon, respec'd and went out into the world and discovered that the NGE has it's good, bad, and ugly...


The GOOD:
For all the problems and all the negative response the NGE is getting - I'm having fun. The new quests are great and I am really enjoying a combat system that requires someone be at the keyboard insteard of using /afk combat macros or just spamming specials. I've also seen a lot of new people on my server and RP is picking up in certain areas as well.

The BAD:
Bugs. Bugs. Lag. Bugs. This, unfortunately, goes with the territory. The biggest of these issues for me at the moment - No XP given for quests on Kashyyyk, Unable to continue the Legacy Quests because Borvo's missions are bugged, lag on Mustafar.

The UGLY:
User Interface. Graphically I don't have a problem with it. However, I have mobility issues in my hands and while I'm adjusting, the new keymap it is difficult. The ability to remap the entire keyset is vitally important as is having more flexibility with the UI layout. I can only hope that this is being addressed.


I completely understand how the NGE has upset people. While I don't go so far as saying it's an entirely different game it is certainly an entirely new way of playing it, that not everyone will enjoy. Some people will like the changes and some people won't. Your game experience may change. All of us have to be prepared for that. In my case, I like what's been done so far and will stick around to see where it goes. The most important thing for me is that I'm having fun and so long as I'm having fun it's worth my $15 a month. Maybe it's just that the NGE is more to my liking because of my playing style, the types of games I enjoy, and the amount of time I have to spend playing SWG, but I like it. Hopefully, SOE and LucasArts will continue to improve on the NGE. What it all comes down to is choice and personal satisfaction.

If you're new to SWG then please try to ignore all the vitriol and negative sentiment that's been expressed in this forum and elsewhere on the net and try to judge SWG and the NGE by it's own merit. Maybe it's for you and maybe it isn't - just try not to be swayed by the people that have taken this change personally and now have a vendetta against SOE and LucasArts and take what's said here (including this very post) with a large grain of salt. To all the vets I'd say the same thing... but at the end of the day there may be no way to keep you playing. If that's the case then there is no more powerful way to show your displeasure with SOE and LucasArts than to cancel your subscription(s). While I'm not in that situation (yet) I respect the fact that there are a great many people who are unhappy and angry about the NGE, and I can understand why you're upset. However, it is just a GAME.

I know this post is going to be flamed to no end... and that's fine. I expect that. However, my opinion doesn't immediately become invalidated just because I don't agree with the majority. The most disappointing thing about all of this is how selfish and disrespectful some members of this community have demonstrated themselves to be by simply dismissing anyone who likes the NGE as either stupid, misinformed, inexperienced, ignorant, a n00b, or an employee of SOE or LucasArts.


-Xeros

142.

I have no problem with your post -xeros, of course you are going to personally give all the vets you so disparage their money back ?

143.

First of all, thank you all for what is possibly the most eloquent and informative discussion of the implementation of the NGE and of its possible repercussions.

I have a question. In reading the various posts, people refer to a small segment of the player base that was used in focus groups to come up with the NGE. When I read Mr. Smedley’s letter, however, I came away with the impression that veteran players were not included at all. In fact, I believed that the focus groups that were used to come up with the NGE were specifically intended to be people that had not played the game. Presumably, this was done so that SOE knew what to do to attract a new player base.

Is this the impression the rest of you have gotten?

144.

My account with SWG lapsed yesterday, ending a tumultuous relationship that began with its broken launch on day one.

What can be expected in the future of persistent worlds if they are not persistent? How can you as a game developer hope to attract people to your world if they know you might decide on a whim to change it tomorrow? I’ve seen posts in this thread as well as on the SWG forums citing a “ends justify the means” approach as being necessary to ensure the game survived, but if that is the case, then the whole concept of virtual worlds falls apart. If you as a developer can’t promise your existing customers that the game/world they love will be there tomorrow, how can you expect to convince the new players you are trying to entice?

To the people who like the NGE as players, I’m not upset you like the game, I’m upset they took my game away so you can have yours. I liked that SWG attracted women and older players who weren’t all out to prove their mettle by beating me in combat. I enjoyed the fact that the world was deeper than running around and shooting things, and that I could spend a evening sitting in a cantina just talking to others who shared my appreciation.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever play another MMOG, and that should be a concern to all of you who make a living creating these worlds.

145.

Hey, i haven't been able to post this anywhere on their forums as I cannot log into them (figures...). Can someone just raise the question for me?

Why not make pre-CU open source? Let the community work on it...the community process has proved itself many times over and it seems to me that it would make the most sense for a MMORPG.

alas...i can only dream :(

146.

Nothing relating to Star Wars will be open source anytime soon. George Lucas has his hands on all the creative rights and has mastered the art of merchandising and licensing. He does not give anything away for free PERIOD.

Have fun

Erillion

147.

The irony of this is that many of the veterans who are now vehemently anti-SOE, including myself, would have been the first ones lining up to pre-order the NGE if it had been called SWG 2.0 and released as a seperate product. I played planetside for a year, love FPS games and have led several strong clans on multiple FPS ladders.

By trying to mash a completely new game overtop of the one I had been playing for two and a half years, however, SOE majorly screwed the veterans. Despite what SOE claims, veterans have almost nothing to show for their efforts - just rampant credit inflation, once premium weapons and armor that now have the same attributes as everything else, meaningless skill enhancing attachments, etc.

148.

Bart,

>>Now, Turbine has revealed that the skills system for LOTRO will consist of seven playable classes. Most of the seven classes appear to be direct analogs to AD&D classes (fighter, ranger, thief, bard, cleric/druid) with nods to EQ-like conventions ("tanking" and "aggro" in particular). In effect, it looks like LOTRO's skills system has been designed to be very simple and quite conventional.<<

Direct analog? no, unless you consider "classes with recognizable roles" to be equivalent ot "AD&D classes", and while the goal was to be conventional, that does not mean it's "dumbed down".

Of course, what one means when they say "simple skills" varies from person to person - for one it would be sheer number of skills, for another it would be the complexity of the skills themselves, for another it would be the complexity of the interrelations of skills amongst classes, for still others it would be a number of choices of skills, so it's wise to clarify what you're talking about when complaining that skills are too "simple."

149.

I realize I'm late to the party.

But some tidbits I know (don't ask -- a little birdy told me):
-- SWG was down to around 100k subs from what I've heard. I've hard indications that they didn't think they could last a a year. (It would be very interesting to know what subs were at before the "CU" almost a year ago).
-- This change had been in development for over a year and a half.
-- It went in suddenly because it took that long for LA to finally greenlight it. It was released to test literally within weeks of said "greenlight".
-- In the meanwhile, not knowing if LA would even "ok" the changes, they continued to maintain the prior game.
-- A lot of this was based on "focus groups". They implemented a very early version of this, threw it at a focus group for laughs, and found that they got into it much more readily.

Some commentary:
I think they finally realized how much their combat game sucked. It really, really did. Unfortunately they didn't realize that their economy worked pretty well (despite having major imbalances of its own) or they just didn't care. Either way, they chose not to maintain it.

I think they read too much into their focus groups. Their focus groups told them that the existing combat game sucked. Their numbers told them that they needed more subs. But I think they latched onto the first change that got even mildly enthusiastic reactions and knee-jerked. Their biggest problem, and the primary reason that WoW hit a million subs and not them, is presenting a polished, complete product that does what it is supposed to do. And this new release of the game does nothing to help this. If anything it hurts their image greatly. And past performance of their development team indicates to me that polish is years off or just plain impossible -- years they apparently don't have. They haven't succeeded, not just because they didn't have fun combat, but because they never fully implemented any of their features, never dealt with core bugs, and never really succeeded at any specific thing.

I also know that the SWG dev team has gone through several incarnations and I can extrapolate that they have frequently had their hand forced to implement changes before they were ready or to prioritize expansions and other new content over polish.

In short: I lay the blaim at management for misunderstanding their product and its failures. If they had focused their goals a bit more and tried to create a polished product before release (sacrificing whatever was needed to do so) I think they might have made the bucks they were after. I would also argue that design folk like Raph just worked too hard to try and hammer a square SWG peg into a round VW hole. I just don't think that the Star Wars galaxy fits well in a VW context. It is far better suited to the action of Battlefront. I actually agree (from an objective stance, not as a player -- I prefer VW'y games) with the direction of the NGE. I just think they needed to have gone in that direction pre-release and with a better core vision. If they had reskinned Planetscape to be a Star Wars game I think they could have had a hit.

On a broader scope, I would agree that this says little about the ability to greatly alter a virtual world midstream. At least little that isn't known. Players hate change. This is obvious and was obvious when I was coding DIKU in high school. But a change of this scope IS heavily dependent on the content and quality of the change. Anecdotally, of the hardcore players that I knew who still played SWG, most were positive about the NGE until they played it. Even knowing that they would lose a lot or most of their assets. It could have been that the change would have been too great even if the NGE had been a quality product. I wouldn't argue against that. But we won't know that simply because the NGE is itself of such poor quality (which I take to be an objective statement, purely based on the extent to which it fails to implement its specification).

150.

TheMadHatter>>But some tidbits I know (don't ask -- a little birdy told me):
-- SWG was down to around 100k subs from what I've heard. I've hard indications that they didn't think they could last a a year. (It would be very interesting to know what subs were at before the "CU" almost a year ago).

Entirely plausible, and possibly reflected in Smedley's recent "open letter."

-- This change had been in development for over a year and a half.

If so, this explains the long-delayed "smuggler revamp" and other postponed content additions and bugfixes. Also the relatively simplistic "Rage of the Wookies" and "Trials of Obi-Wan" expansions. RotW in particular was highly directed, complete with invisible walls, which suggested to me rushed development.

On the other hand, it kind of contradicts a recently-deleted November post on Lead Game Play Designer Jeff Freeman's blog. This excerpt from Google's cache:

Freeman>>So a few months ago The Man comes along and says "What can we do to make
this the most fun game it can possibly be?"

It was the lead designer who holed-up in his office for a few days and
then said, "Hey, come look at this."

There's no way we can do that.

There's no way we should do that.

Man that's fun.

The Man will never let us get away with doing that.

We can't do it.

We shouldn't do it.

Oh man that is fun.

When an executive producer sees something that is impossible to do, but
which is too fun /not/ to do, he makes a noise like "Hoooooooooph".

My job was to be the guy to say, "Yes we can do that." I had to say this
about forty times a day for two months. Lead Designer said it too, of
course, but no one believed /him/, because he's /crazy/. Obviously.

151.

Yeah, I read Freeman's blog a while back. I don't think it really contradicted what I hae heard elsewhere.

From what I understand/extrapolate the NGE gameplay was initially a side project. Possibly to be used in battlegrounds, for example, as a side-game or expansion. And then they threw it at some focus testers on a lark and it tested a lot better than what they had for the CU, etc. I was under the impression it had been worked on for over a year and a half but I could be wrong.

152.

P.S. Oops, I typo'ed Planetside as Planetscape. Quite funny that. I guess I wanted to inject some "Torment" into my comments.

153.

I read that post on Freeman's blog too. Glad to know the game 100k subscribers payed for was taken out because Jeff thought this was "Cool".

154.

I think there's been enough information and rational speculation in this thread to make a personal potshot like that one against Freeman unwarranted. It does seem clear, from Smedley's own statements, that SWG needed serious help. A redesign of this magnitude would not be driven by one designer's whim.

155.

Did you read the post on Jeff's blog Chip Guy? The one where he says this happened because he was the executive director and made the decision?

My comment wasn't a made up figment of my imagination, it was his own words.

156.

Read a little closer. Read the bits where Freeman talks about his many bosses, the lead designer, the creative directory, the execs and producer types. This wasn't Freeman's decision although he obviously had a large role in selling it to the producer/execs.

What I see happen all too often in situations like this is:

Developer: "Hey, boss, look at this prototype, it's cool, we can do this, isn't it great!"
Manager: "Uhhhh....."

One Month Later:
Boss: "Hey, you know that thing you showed me. The investors like it. It's going live. Yesterday."
Developer: "Uhhhh....".

It's easy to go all Dilbertesque I suppose. But it does happen far too often in my experience.

As interesting as the question as I find the question:
"can a major, massive W get away with completely changing its feature set 2 1/2 years after releasing?", I find the following question much more interesting:

"How much does the massive infrastructure required by a AAA online RPG and the investment/management required to obtain licenses, market the game to consumers and get it on shelves, actively interfere with the process of designing and implementing said games?"

Have there been many discussions of such issues on this site?

157.

TheMadHatter,

That thought has occurred to me, as well. On the surface, one would imagine that a AAA production of a Star Wars themed MMOG could not fail.

But then you think of SOE, and its community management record. Add to that LA in the background, trying to have its creative say. Mr. Lucas may be brilliant, but might not be the easiest person to please regarding his Star Wars IP.

WOW probably has an easier time of it, since Blizzard already owned the Warcraft IP.

LOTRO will be easier too, since J.R.R. Tolkien has passed on, and will not be battling the MMO dev team for creative control. Any holding company for Tolkien's IP assets will likely be a far more silent partner.

In retrospect, SWG might have had a better chance, had LA done the project in-house, and contracted whatever help they needed to guide them in the ways of community management and MMOG architecture.

158.

To follow up on TheMadHatter and blackrazor’s comments – perhaps we should watch the development of the Star Trek MMOG to see if it follows a similar arc. Does anyone know if there are parallels in the corporate / IP relationships that would make the comparison useful?

159.

Heather, thanks for the comment. I'll try to explain myself, but it's going to take me into the world of strong opinion. Designers, please get your baseball bats ready. ;-)

...

Part of what I was getting at (a little too obliquely, as usual) was this: Has virtual world design truly reached the point where character growth systems are set in stone? Is innovation in this area already dead and designers must all copy each other now?

As I read it (and Raph or someone else is free to correct me if I'm wrong), SWG's designers realized that the Star Wars license itself guaranteed that lots of people would check the game out. That gave them the freedom to try something new -- a mix-and-match skill system -- instead of implementing yet another class system that merely copies AD&D archetypes.

For that matter, not having one of the Three Big Licenses hasn't stopped other developers from creating innovative character growth systems. EVE Online's skills system, to pick one example, does away with classes entirely -- you pick up the skills you want. While EVE's no WoW, it's done well for itself just through word of mouth. Its open-ended skills system has helped it, not hurt it.

So why is SWG going backwards, converting its interesting skill system to a class system? Why is LOTRO going with a "simple" (as in a small number of traditional classes tailored for now-familiar combat roles) system when it has one of the major licenses?

A hugely popular licenses is a license to innovate! But instead of trying something original (because their license gives them the freedom to do so), the designers of these games are creating worlds whose core systems are trending toward conformity and cramped simplicity. It's as though they have come to view potential subscribers as incapable of comprehending anything more complicated than a plastic spoon.

Is this the future of MMOGs?

I cannot bring myself to believe that designers of major commercial MMOGs have somehow all become completely and utterly bereft of creative ideas where character development is concerned. So I'm forced to wonder instead whether designs are being dictated by suits (rather than being constructed by designers) out of a belief that only mind-numbingly simple systems will pull in the subscribers.

And that's just a bit depressing to me.

(Actually, what's really frightening is that, based on what SOE has done with SWG and what Turbine appears to be doing with LOTRO, I must pin my hopes for an intelligent virtual world on the last of the Big Three licenses: Star Trek Online. Gulp!)

--Bart

160.

Franek, it looks like we've both had the same thought.

Be very afraid!

--Bart

161.

Has virtual world design truly reached the point where character growth systems are set in stone? Is innovation in this area already dead and designers must all copy each other now?

No. Emphatically no. But: getting funding (investor, publisher, whatever) to develop anything that has not been done and is not part of a ready-made license is maddeningly difficult. This despite the fact that licensed MMOs have a less than stellar record -- consider the success of MMOs made from three of the most valuable licenses for the online demographic: Star Wars, The Sims, and The Matrix. We'll see what happens with Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, but I don't hold out a lot of hope, frankly.

Let me also suggest that talking about innovation and "character development systems" in the same breath is hardly suggesting something daring. Innovation in MMOGs is not just about new hybrids between class and skill-based systems! Unfortunately, as both designers and players, we seem to be becoming increasingly inbred in the breadth of our thinking about the MMO space.

A hugely popular licenses is a license to innovate!

Sadly, I disagree: a hugely popular license is a license to play it safe, to not screw up, and most of all to not violate the well-honed expectations of everyone who loves the licensed property dearly. Innovation comes on the borders, in games without a license, not in those that depend on known quantities for their attractiveness.

So I'm forced to wonder instead whether designs are being dictated by suits (rather than being constructed by designers) out of a belief that only mind-numbingly simple systems will pull in the subscribers.

And that's just a bit depressing to me.

For years I've joked about making T-shirts that say on the front: "I Make Games..." and on the back say "...but I'm not bitter!" Maybe now you see why.

If you're an indie you don't have suits hanging over you, just the spectre of not making payroll at some point, or not making a milestone per a contract, and seeing all your dreams and work grind to a halt. If you're in a BigGameCo, you know you're going to get paid, but every single idea is filtered through layers of management who rarely add to the creative process, and you still risk seeing all your dreams and hard work come to nothing. It's Scylla or Charybdis, your choice.

But I'm not, you know, bitter. ;-)

162.

This last turn in the discussion is worth its own thread at some point.

One of the consistent points I've made about SWG from its troubled beginnings until now is that the license has been far less of an asset than it might appear to an outsider. That's partly because of the obviously intricate and complicated relationship between SOE and LA, which I don't think has been a development asset. But more it's because it means that the very players you draw due to the license come with a much stronger set of expectations about the experience they're going to have, whether it's a deep "virtual world" experience or a relatively fast-paced Planetside-style persistent shooter. I'm on record as saying that I don't think Raph and the other SWG developers involved at the outset of the project took that aspect of things seriously enough, that they thought they could just drag over some of the design ideas for UO2.

This does have implications for Lord of the Rings Online, which I know full well that the developers at Turbine are aware of, since it's been a dominant issue on their official forums since those forums first became available. My personal sense, just looking from the outside in, is that they're running some fairly considerable risk of disappointing some of their potential audience in that regard. But deliver a polished product, and perhaps it won't really matter that much: that seems to be the consistent view on SWG, that the gambles taken with design (at the outset and now) can't hold up in the absence of a polished product.

163.

Look at the record of film Tie-ins throughout the gaming industry.
A very poor track record.
A license that is going to attract an audience, in itself, is going to cost serious money. This means that the bean counters almost inevitably become involved almost immediately throughout the design and even concept process.
The normal design process should be 1.imagination - 2.concept - 3.implementation - 4.prooving.
The money men would normally come into the equation between steps 2 & 3.
Forgive me if I am wrong but my impression is that , with games involving licences, that somewhere between 1& 2 is more like it.
This involvement also has issues later on the chain as the 4th step.
If you dont let the designer start the process properly how can you expect a happy ending?

Just my opinion

164.

A bit of credit where credit's due: in the last few days there's been a small flurry of developer messages listing bugfix priorities and projections for patches, content upgrades and profession tweaks.

165.

Everything they have posted about in the last few days makes it abundantly clear they didn't think this out and are now in a pure reactive mode. The post how they have some great things planned for the crafters, but it needs to get approved first before they can post about it. I'm sorry, but if it hasn't been approved yet, why the hell was this pushed on the live servers?

All they keep asking is to be patient with them as they add things over the next 6 months that should have been complete before this went live. To give them any credit at this point is to ignore what they have done to their paying customers.

166.

So we've boiled it down to the simple:

"SOE delivered a shoddy product and it wasn't received the way they hoped. Instead of taking from this the lesson of "Quality matters", they consistently made poorly-thought out changes of -- once again -- poor quality, and moaned when no one liked them."

Quality matters. If you're going to take risks, try something new, quality matters even more.

SOE never learned that. They got lucky with EQ. As the only kid on the block, people tolerated shoddy work. With SWG, people tolerated it still because of the license.

Still, there's one thing I'm wondering --- with all these developers, designers, and others working on Galaxies, was there no one asking the question: "How will these changes affect existing game play? How will they fit into the overall game design? What impact might they have? What is the need for this change?"

You don't need to be a genius to know those are important questions.

Watching SWG's publishes and fixes, I get the unshakeable impression of a team that would identify the problem -- in a limited fashion -- then throw the first fix they came up with at it.

There didn't appear to be any thought involved -- especially not thought involved in how changes would affect game play and game mechanics.

I also found their priority list to be strangely out of whack. Prioritizing changes, improvements, bug fixes, and additions is basic software engineering -- but I think the SWG staff ordered things by throwing darts at a list.

There was a brief period -- maybe 6 months -- where a significant number of changes were made that DID seem to have thought behind them. Developers seemed to be prioritizing bug fixes on a rational basis, and changes seemed to be designed to make the game both more coherent and more playable. I don't recall the names associated with that period, but do recall they left abruptly around December of last year -- right around the time the original Combat Revamp design was radically altered. These were the folks responsible for shorterning wait times on shuttles and starports, some large changes to GCW (removal of TEFs, addition of PvE and PvP bases and planetary control) and a few other things.

I always suspected they bailed on what they saw to be massively flawed changes, or because those changes were being shoved in over their objections.

167.

To shorten myself: The SWG development motto seemed to be "Change is the same thing as progress" and "Any fix is a good fix" and "Game design? What's that?".

168.

great info all, I'm looking at buying a account off ebay is it a god idea? I'm not sure about the account details but it has over 200 million credits and the toon its a elder Merchant. how have the changes effected accounts? these are some of his stuff, can i still use all these items? Should i buy the account?? thanx for the help i need it quick

Vehicles

Barc Speeder x3
Numerous Swoops

Ships

Luxury Yacht
Bellulab Ship Deeds (General Grievous' Starfighter)
2 Arc Ship Deeds (Jedi Starfighter Ship)


Houses

Underground Bunker (Tatooine near Mos Eisley)
Large House (Tatooine near Mos Eisley)
Generic Guild Hall (Tatooine near Mos Eisley)


Other Items

Lava Flea Mount
Character Respec Devices on both characters
All blender machines
All paintings and posters including anniversary items
Rare complete armor sets including Bounty Hunter, RIS Armor, and 20 sets of Katarn Armor
All of the miniature items in the game
All of the holograms in the game

169.

Bert,

First of all, what are you looking for from the game?

If you like fighting and FPS type games, then perhaps this might appeal to you, but be warned, the game has a lot of bugs right now and the devs are looking at 6 months or so to get them and all the missing things like collision detection back in the game.

If you are looking to be more social, perhaps a entertainer or crafter, than honestly, this game is probably something you should stay away from.

Spend some time reading the SWG forums, listen to what the devs say, listen to what the players say, then decide if you think it is worthwhile.

170.

"There didn't appear to be any thought involved -- especially not thought involved in how changes would affect game play and game mechanics."

I agree.

And I think this is a good indicator when management becomes too involved with the process of designing and implementing the game itself. Management cares primarily about milestones. How can we get from A to B. And in my experience (I make games and though my own job is usually good fun, I do get quite bitter at times), quality is often the first thing to go. A good management team, producer, etc., will know when they need to trust the judgement of the people making their product. A poor management team, or a desperate one, will just reach out and grab whatever solutions sound good, or will sell the idea of the game.

Going back to licenses: utilization of licenses and the dumbing down of accompanying games is one thing I don't blame the big production companies and MMO developers for. They are just doing what sells well. If anyone needs to be educated it is consumers. And posting on blogs isn't going to change their attitudes much. That's really just a matter of waiting and hoping the audience matures.

And I don't think a big license game is the place to push innovation. The license is already constraining you and forcing you to put a lot of energy in things (Jedi, hobbits, whatever), that players identify with but probably aren't conducive to fun gameplay. Licenses are purchased because of their marking power, a power I don't think will be challenged anytime soon. But good games are created from ideas first. Licenses start the process backwards and just get in the way, even if the resulting, less interesting games, sell well.

Star Wars *can* be used for interesting games (see KotOR). But not an experiment in virtual worlds. For a mainstream game targetting a million+ subs, SOE should have gone vanilla as possible, handed out lightsabers and stormtrooper armor and let people go nuts. Maybe throw in a few slightly innovate PvP ideas. I wouldn't have played it but the more I play MMO's the more I think that whatever I really enjoy is probably doomed to be at best a niche product.

171.

I know about the bugs and i'm willing to give it a try. I like fighing i guess that why im looking at getting it now. i just don't wanna spend 5 months building my toon up. So is it worth it to buy a account of ebay? I'm looking at getting one tonight so plese tell me what i should do as far as wht kind of account to buy. the one i'm looking at has 350 million credits plus 500 mill worth of stuff but the toon isn't vary good. Isn't it worth buying the account under $200? Couldn't i sell the credits on ebay? i think 50 million gos for 40 or 50 bucks so i could make my money back in a hour,right? is it worth it? guru's please help me out. I know im jumping on a sinking ship but at this point i don't care so what should i look for in a account?

172.

TheMadHatter: Actually, what Galaxies SHOULD have done was accept that 250k was their peak, that they were appealing to the virtual world folks, and spun off developers to handle it and looked for their money elsewhere.

Sure, they weren't making as much as they wanted. But with a fraction of the effort they placed into the CU and the NGE, they could have polished what they had, added tools to allow players to create more content, and hired a guy or two to do some official content and then just let the game be.

They could have kept 200k or subscribers until they turned out the lights, and been free to develop SWG2 or whatever else they wanted without pissing off existant customers.

It was stupid. I won't play SOE games anymore -- I can't trust their developers, I can't trust their management, and I'm not going to waste my money on them ever again. I'm not the only one -- they did some serious damage to their rep in a business where word of mouth can make or break you.

173.

Bert,

Why don't you go buy the starter kit for 20 bucks, give the game a month and then decide if you think it will be worth 200 bucks? Credits don't really matter anymore as you can loot weapons/armor that are better than anything you would buy.

174.

I don't have the time to build up my toon. so a elder jedi doesn't mean much anymore?

175.

Bert,

Jedi are the weakest combat profession in the game at the moment. On top of that, they can be kited easily and it is hard to keep your cursor on a target running around at close range.

If jedi is your goal, play KOTOR and save your money.

176.

keebler, help me out. i could use all the help i can get. i could care less about being a jedi, i just want the best toon i'm not a sheep i'm a leader.I'll be whatever will be the most well rounded. any and all tips please. tell me what you think i should do

177.

Bert,

You sound just like the type of player SOE is looking for with the NGE. I personally wouldn't spend 2 cents on the game, but it sounds like you are itching to get into the action, so buy the account, do your conversion to medic or bh which seem to be the FOTM and have at it.

Oh, I also hope the character you buy is on Bria server at it is the only one which isn't dead yet.

178.

so you think there is no hope for the future of SWG? how is the space battles?
could you tell me the good things about the game? hows the fighhting?

179.

Bert: Download the free trial. Try it. Make sure you get PAST the space station -- the newbie space station is highly unrepresentative of the game as a whole.

Sadly.

As for the Elder Jedi: All you get for that is the ability to turn into a blue glowy. Hardly worth 200 bucks.

180.

is there still a market for selling credits on ebay?

181.
so you think there is no hope for the future of SWG? how is the space battles? could you tell me the good things about the game? hows the fighhting?

Um, the character generator is nice? But if you're buying a character, that's not really a plus.

Not really. About the only remaining plus is player housing, but currently you can't even decorate it because of the asinine design of the NGE -- you can't click on ANYTHING and lock it. Not your furniture, not an enemy, not the bank, not a terminal. Makes doing anything an exercise in frustration.

Go download the free trial. Don't play Jedi -- they suck right now. Stick with ranged weapons on anything else. And for god's sake, have an ergonomic keyboard and mouse setup. There's a lot of damn clicking.

Seriously -- try the free trial. Make sure you make it OUT of the station and get some experience with the actual game. (The rest of the game is NOTHING like the station). Bear in mind the game won't be any more playable for about six months (it's a FPS without collision detection. Do you realize how ludicrous that is?), at which point the servers will be shut off.

The servers are empty. It's an MMORPG where, on the busiest servers at peak time, you [i]might[/i] find someplace with 5 or 6 people. If you have the ToOW expansion, leastwise.

182.

thanx mort! i'll try the trial although i only lets you join the light servers so there might be 10 people online but i'll still get a feel.

183.

For anyone still following along on this thread, check out the questions and answers published by the SWG developers at their forum yesterday.

Mostly it's a lesson in the numbers of ways you can say, "That's an important issue and we're working on it" with variations on "That's a really big issue", which I take to be a code phrase for "We're not fixing that problem any time in the forseeable future".

I defy anyone to read through that and tell me that this is a reasonable professional way to go about making a huge change to an existing MMOG. It doesn't matter whether the basic thrust of the NGE is good or bad: you don't push such a change to live with these kinds of absolutely fundamental technical and design questions deferred to some hazy unknown future.

184.

...you don't push such a change to live with these kinds of absolutely fundamental technical and design questions deferred to some hazy unknown future.

Unless you're SOE.

185.

Ok i played the trial but i can't make it out of the station without a real account. why can't i leave the station? i spoke to Fett but i get a pop-up that tells me to join. not a vary good 14 day trial.

186.

Like I said earlier Bert, go buy the Starter Kit for 20 bucks and give it a go. Trust me, there will be plenty of old accounts for sale for a long time.

187.

ok...but what do i look for in a account,also how does the dec.1 update change things? atleast they are trying to make things better right? there is hope

188.

> It doesn't matter whether the basic thrust of the NGE is good or bad: you don't push such a change to live with these kinds of absolutely fundamental technical and design questions deferred to some hazy unknown future.

I find all this very puzzling as well.

You'd think it was clear that launches and major content changes need to be both mostly bug-free and reasonably complete. And you'd think that the NGE counted as a "major content change."

So to learn that there are still significant changes that they know they want to do but 1) haven't implemented and 2) don't have a clear timetable for implementing... well.

If someone can help me understand how there could be good business decision-making behind all this, I'd appreciate that. Because the logic behind how SWG has been changed since it launched escapes me.

--Bart

189.
Ok i played the trial but i can't make it out of the station without a real account. why can't i leave the station? i spoke to Fett but i get a pop-up that tells me to join. not a vary good 14 day trial.
Probably because the station is utterly unlike the rest of the game, and they don't want you to find that out until you give them money.

I realize all businesses are out to make money, but SOE's business model is closer to "Scam" than "Service".

ok...but what do i look for in a account,also how does the dec.1 update change things? atleast they are trying to make things better right? there is hope
HAHAHAHAHAHA.

It doesn't change things at all. The core game is still utterly broken. Look, I'm level with you -- they'll turn off the lights by March if they don't undo this fiasco. It's unplayable unless you're such a hardcore fanboy that you'll plunk down 15 a month to chat with friends.

The game is dead. The NGE killed it.

The latest update? It's like putting an air freshener on a six-week old corpse.

190.
If someone can help me understand how there could be good business decision-making behind all this, I'd appreciate that. Because the logic behind how SWG has been changed since it launched escapes me.

There is no logic. SWG has a number of problems:

1) Developer churn. Few devs or designers ever stays long enough to actually understand the current system. As such, new changes tend to break portions of the existing game.

2) Piss-poor QA: If SOE has a quality control team, they're keeping it a secret. They'll throw patches on test for a few days, then release them live -- with known and often gamebreaking bugs.

3) Group mentality: SWG's developers have absolutely no real contact with the community. There's the appearance of contact, but design changes indicate that "What would the current players enjoy" is NEVER an issue with design. Design choices seem to come solely from marketing or developers, with no consideration for impact on the current game or it's current players.

Personally? I think SOE wants out. I think they've wanted out since January 05 at the latest. I'm guessing their contract with LucasArts is very specific, and thus they're sandbagging their own game to get out of it. The NGE seems to be a large-scale test of an upcoming design. No sane developer would graft an FPS-style game ontop of SWG's engine -- SWG has ALWAYS had a huge lag problem. Their DB design and systems were never up to snuff, and if they ever attempted to optimize their netcode or server code, they hid it really well.

It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but I understand it's not that uncommon. SOE and LA are partners in this. Neither can pull the plug until certain contractual obligations are met, even if the game isn't worth the money to one side or the other. SOE wouldn't be the first company to half-ass something in order to get out from under a contract they felt was burdensome.

191.

wow! so your saying its not worth playing? i understand that the new system suck in compairsion to the old but come on, saying its broke? ill give it a try...if things get back on track you all will look extreamly retarded. about as retarded as i look for getting into SWG now. ill take mt chances. bye the way, THANK YOU for all the help! actually you guys didn't help unless you want me to hate SOE. i didn't play for 3 years, so i don't care

192.

"2) Piss-poor QA: If SOE has a quality control team, they're keeping it a secret. They'll throw patches on test for a few days, then release them live -- with known and often gamebreaking bugs."

A common misconception. Players often blame QA when bugs get into an MMO. Usually QA knows about the bugs, had known about the bugs for some time, and for whatever reason, they were never fixed. I spoke with several of the SWG QA people online and met one once. They were all conscientious people and they definitely did exist. They just don't have any power over what happens with the game once they submit their bug reports.

QA is not the problem. It rarely is. The problem is acting on feedback from QA and prioritizing time to fix the problems that arise. The SWG team was clearly lacking here and frequently patched significant, well-known problems to the liver servers.

193.

Forgot to put a name on the above post.

194.

I am happy to find a well thought out NGE discussion. Here's my $.02. Well it's a long post, so more like $2.00.

I've been a Star Wars fan all of my life (aside for years 1-2 as I was born in '75) and consider myself a hobbiest gamer. I wrote for a video game mag for a while in my teens, but mostly I have been a casual player. Started with Dark Castle on my Mac Plus back in 4th grade and never stopped.

I'd never played a MMORPG prior to SWG. And as I type now I've only tried two in my life. The major reason is that I've never been a fan of the orc/dragon/dungeon/thief mythos. Didn't play D&D and the whole fantasy genre has always left me cold.

Despite misgivings, I tried SWG as I love the source material. It was buggy at launch -SHOCKER. Will never forget taking a day off of work to try it at launch only to find I was unable to login.

But as time progressed it calmed down and I settled in to a good play experience. Then a game called City of Heroes came out and I did a 2 month stint on there with my SWG account on hold. I liked the new game, the ability to create my own super hero (I was a roleplayer in High School, playing Heroes Unlimited, TMNT and Ninjas & Superspies) and the graphics. It was like a shiny new car.

However, I found the missions too repetitive so I went back to SWG. Played a bit longer, mastered a few professions and enjoyed the experience better than before. However interest eventually disapated and it went back on hold.

Late last year my girlfriend (who thank the Lord loves SW as well) decided that she wanted to try SWG.

We started with fresh characters on a new server and set out. I liked it better this go around - new content, new weapons, new challenges. I bought "Jump to Lightspeed" and found that as starship combat went, it seemed pretty good (for a MMORPG at least!). Then one day my gaming life changed.

I was in space and had just been ambushed by some TIES (I'm rebel, sue me). A player saw this and repaired my ship. He then offered to give me some new guns for my XWing as he had some higher level ones that he no longer needed. We landed and that day he introduced me to guilds.

I'd just taken my first step into a larger world.

We were welcomed into the guild with open arms and suddenly we went from soloing or the two of us hunting to full group grinding and large scale quests. More importantly, we met people that became friends. We'd look forward to seeing everyone online. Our guildchat was constantly flowing and it became a much more rewarding experience.

As they say - a friend is someone who will bail you out of jail, but your best friend is the one sitting next to you saying "that was f***ing awesome". Instead of hunts with random strangers, the team concept was lightyears ahead.

So on and off for almost two years, my SWG experience had finally hit its high point. When Rage came out, 3/4 of the Guild was there the first day hunting. It finally felt like a community - a family. We all felt pride watching the noob recruits work their ass off to become leaders as we had. One Ace pilot became a dozen. The guild was growing by leaps and bounds and our player city was a hell of a lot of fun.

Then Trials came out and we all watched a bit skeptical. A bunch of us were in the process of working through "The Village" so a Jedi-themed expansion caught our eye. After a week on there, we found that there was a bit for everyone on there.

I was disappointed with TOOW and most guildies I knew were too. Then literally 2 days after I claimed my ADK vet reward, the announcement came.

-My armor, custom crafted with high level AAs.
-My prized trando rifle, custom crafted with crazy high krayt tissues and adk'd.
-My life of hunting Jedis for extra cash

Gone.

My progress towards Jedi (one phase away) was rendered moot, as were the MILLIONS of Force Sensitive XP I was saving up to finally become a Jedi.

The biggest mistake the pro-NGE lobbiests made on the SWG boards early on was the "everyone hates change" argument. I was livid - mostly because I bought an expansion (Trials of ObiWan) that I could play as advertised for TWO WEEKS only. That was deceptive at best and fraud at worse.

I tried the NGE and hated it. Yes, the new player space station concept was nice, and it felt more Star Wars-ish, but once I made it back to the SWG universe I knew and loved, it was unplayable. I'm not the first to say this - but if I want a SW FPS, I play BF2. If I want a ton of Jedi, I play KOTR2. If I wanted to be a part of the SW universe, I played SWG.

I cancelled my account and asked for my Trials refund.

However what happened next was my point (I know this is long winded, but I'm venting). I was made aware by a guildie of a two week free trial for City of Heroes. I figured what the hell and picked up a disc each for my girlfriend and I.

I was again impressed with the robust options available for character design (lookswise) and again dismayed at the lack of options. That's another reason SWG was popular.

I wasn't just a bounty hunter. I was a rifleman and marksman as well. My friends were combat medic/carbineers, doctor/pistoleers, armorsmith/commandos, dancer/creature handlers. The hybrid system meant that although we all looked more alike than in COH, we more than made up for that in ability and spirit.

So anyway, I'm planning to stick with City of Heroes this time, and the reason is simple - most of my guild cancelled their SWG accounts and came to COH. So I still hunt with the same friends I've been hunting with for over a year.

Sure, we all look different and have different abilities, but Trentus still makes the same corny jokes, Micah' still makes the crazy sex references and Silurian is the cool quiet warrior.

We all feel a ton of loss over walking away from characters we invested YEARS in. But for now, COH is a capable rebound.

And the devs for COH and COV seem to "get" that idea with the implementation of Supergroups, bases, etc.

As for how many people are left in SWG, I know all but 3 people on my close to 60 person friends list have cancelled. I hear horror stories from COH guildies who still dabble in SWG.

Hell it's still SW so I'm sure there's SOME redeeming quality - but at $15/mo. I'm not sticking around to look for it.

Thanks for letting me vent - now quick closing comments.

1) The popular conspiracy theory that SWG had the NGE implemented to be PS3 compatible seems like a good one. Microsoft has the Marvel license and Sony needs a proven franchise to combat that with.

2) I consider the differences between pre and post NGE to be a lot like music. Sure Radiohead's music is more cerebral and complex than Nickelback's, but "the masses" prefer cockrock. Instant gratification. So yes, I wager SOE will lose or have lost many of their brainier players (who at least in my guild tended to be more inclined to crafting), but all the junior high kids who just like to run around and blow sh*t up can still slay Tuskens with a lightsaber so they're pleased.

The marketing seems much more tailored to youth now. Lower price, "wow cool!" commercials, etc.

3) I can't believe that if SOE had made a one time popup appear at login allowing ALL current user to vote "yay or nay" on the changes that anywhere CLOSE to a majority would have voted "yay".

4) I believe another reason to implement the NGE was to cut down on AFK spammers and credit farmers.

195.
QA is not the problem. It rarely is. The problem is acting on feedback from QA and prioritizing time to fix the problems that arise. The SWG team was clearly lacking here and frequently patched significant, well-known problems to the liver servers.
I used a bit of shorthand. I've said -- in this thread, I think -- that SOE's QA problems are almost certainly managerial.

They know the bugs exist. But for some reason, they don't fix them. Even simple "quick and easy" bugs. (When the CU went live, one known bug was that Scout experience capped below the level needed for novice Creature Handler. You couldn't become a novice creature handler until they changed the cap -- took them weeks. That wasn't some convoluted piece of code. That was a simple DB value, but it took them weeks to change it).

I also have some harsh words for their software engineering processes -- assuming they even have them. I've seen constant reintroduction of already fixed bugs. Now, some of them might not be the same bug (the every-publish CTD bugs, for one) but some of them were.

Frankly, their development process was awful. Someone with a single SE class under their belt could have designed a more robust development process.

In fact, I'm sure they had a more robust development process -- however, it was obvious that management or marketing was shortcircuiting it.

Bret: As for your music comparison -- the NGE won't attract new players. Why? It's crap. Anyone who picks it up isn't going to stay -- who wants to play a FPS without collision detection, to name one flaw?

SWG is at least six months away from being ready for release. They've poisoned their market.

Hell, thinking that a two year old game with a bad reputation even HAD a potential "untapped market" was idiotic. MMORPG growth is fairly well established. SOE should have been focusing on giving their existing user base what they wanted, rather than constantly breaking the game to attract "new players" who wouldn't have showed up for even quality work -- much less the crap that SOE churns out.

Smart designers would have accepted that the game was appealing to virtual world people (potentially the stablest players you can ask for) and worked from there.

Koster was right about one thing -- having a home does give you an anchor in the game. I'm not a huge fan of the Sims, but I spent a lot of time in the game looking for decorations or loot for my house. My friend had a great GCW exhibit, and I know of several museums that were just amazing.

196.
4) I believe another reason to implement the NGE was to cut down on AFK spammers and credit farmers.
I can assure you that SWG wasn't popular enough to support a decent credit farming business, and in any case there were MANY ways to fix both AFK play and credit farming that didn't require a poorly written makeover that alienated the vast bulk of the user base.

Removing recusrive macros, and switching some skills to "toggled", for instance.

197.

If SOE/LA belives that WoW demonstrated that "non-gamers" and "casual gamers" are a viable source of market expansion (perhaps even capable of sustaining a market on their own), then I'm not sure why they should necessarily care about their rep amongst regular gamers and the usual playerbase of MMORPGs. I tend to think that the contact amongst these two segments of the market is relatively minimal, so the poisoning of one well might not lead to the contamination of the other.

198.
If SOE/LA belives that WoW demonstrated that "non-gamers" and "casual gamers" are a viable source of market expansion (perhaps even capable of sustaining a market on their own), then I'm not sure why they should necessarily care about their rep amongst regular gamers and the usual playerbase of MMORPGs. I tend to think that the contact amongst these two segments of the market is relatively minimal, so the poisoning of one well might not lead to the contamination of the other.
From what I've seen WoW didn't capture "non-gamers" and "casual gamers" so much as it grabbed gamers who were not normally MMORPG gamers.

They tried out World of Warcraft on the strength of Blizzard's other -- non-MMORPG -- titles.

And even if SOE is trying to read "non-gamers" and "casual gamers", offering up a steaming pile of pre-beta crap is NOT the way to get them. If anything, non-gamers and casual gamers are going to be MUCH more sensitive to bugs in a MMORPG game.

Making the jump to shelling out 15 bucks a month for a game you already own is a big step for the casual gamers or non-gamers.

SOE gamers are used to being mistreated. Non-gamers tend to have standards and believe in actually getting what they're paying for.

If SOE/LA believes the NGE will bring in more gamers, I seriously want some of their drugs. It's got to be the best stuff on the planet. LA is known for putting out some seriously poor titles on the Star Wars license, and the NGE is right up there in the top ten crappiest Star Wars games of all time.

I wouldn't plunk down 10 bucks for the experience, much less pay 15 bucks a month to be abused in that fashion.

LA and SOE were a match made in heaven -- SOE had a history of less-than-stellar quality and poor customer service, but coasted on EQ's "only kid on the block" status. LA has a history of shoving crap out the door to meet deadlines, whether it's ready or not, and trading more on the license than quality, appeal, or playability.

What do you get when you combine a company with bad customer service and poor quality with a company that believes the name is more important than the content? Star Wars Galaxies.

I hate to praise Koster too highly -- for each insight he offers into MMORPG design, he tends to have a corresponding blindspot -- his virtual world design for SWG (what got implemented, leastwise) was compelling enough to make up for a lot of the lazy SOE practices and LA's "get it out the door, ready or not" philosophy.

Too bad they spent the last year ridding themselves of it.

There will be no influx of new players. SWG is dead. If they haven't merged servers by March, and haven't shut down by June, I'll eat my hat. (Unless they roll it back. Unlikely, but who knows. It might last a whole six months longer if they do).

199.

Getting funding (investor, publisher, whatever) to develop anything that has not been done and is not part of a ready-made license is maddeningly difficult.

This is because it's enormously difficult for gaming companies to convince investors, in particular (i.e., when the game is largely concept and not much else), that they're going to be able to deliver the game, on schedule, within budget, and manage to get enough customers to make it profitable and keep it that way.

MMOG start-ups, in particular, really *need* the business side of the equation -- the service delivery portion, as well as the production and project management expertise. Great game ideas are not enough.

200.

Great game ideas are not enough.

Not hardly enough. But even when you have an idea, design, demo, business plan, a talented experienced team, an understanding of the market, technology, and service required -- getting funding for something that is not what has been done before is still maddeningly difficult.

This isn't just about games. 'Twas always thus. I'm just barely idealistic enough to hope that maybe sometime it'll change, that's all.

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