Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

12 November, 2005

If I were in charge of SWG…
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:00 PM

Let me engage in a bit of “let’s pretend” a moment. Let’s say that something terrible on a biblical scale happened and it were up to me to re-work SWG. Okay, not likely, but we’re pretending here. What would I do?

Now, let me say that this isn’t to disparage the developers actually tasked with the job. I have the luxury of it not being my ass and professional reputation on the line in this change. I can spout insane gibberish on my blog and I won’t lose my employer millions of dollars if things fail. I’m also not clued into the details of the restrictions. Likely my idea wouldn’t work because of some detail of the agreement between the two companies or other detail in the realities of the game. Also, I don’t currently play SWG, so I have nothing invested into the game on the player side, either.

So, why am I writing this? Well, because I have an opinion and this is my blog. ;) Well, also because I wanted to show a bit about what goes into design considerations on this level. I could talk about some similar stuff we did for Meridian 59, but most people would not understand since few people know the game as it is today. SWG is a bit higher profile, so it makes a good example.

Now, let’s be brutally honest here: SWG is a relative failure. It has respectable numbers for a pre-WoW game, but it’s Star Wars! If any game should have been a million-seller in North America, it should have been SWG. Hell, the most recent three movies did amazingly well and most people claim not to like them. I won’t get into reasons here, but let’s accept that SWG should have done better and that it’s my job to do something about it. I’m sure this is the sentiment of the people controlling the pursestrings for SWG. So, our goal is to get people excited about playing (and of course, paying for) a Star Wars online game.

First of all, let’s take a look at the most popular and critically acclaimed Star Wars themed games out there. The titles that leap to mind are: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter (XvT), a space flight sim; Jedi Knight (JK), an FPS with lightsabers; and Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), a Bioware RPG. There are other popular games out there, but I think these are perhaps the three biggest and the ones that deserve most of our attention.

These three games are diverse in gaming genre: a flight sim, an FPS, and an RPG; hard to get a more diverse set of games on that regard. So, we can draw from this that fans of these games aren’t hooked into a particular gaming genre. None of these games are strongly tied to any particular movie, either. In fact, KotOR’s setting is far removed from any of the existing movies. So, I think the lesson here is that people don’t really want to replay the movies. They want to be part of the world, more specifically: part of the action. They want to fly in spaceships dogfighting their enemies. They want to be a Jedi having Jedi adventures. They want smart-talking assassin droids calling them “meatbags”.

In my opinion, this is one important area where SWG originally failed. The goal of the game as I understand it was to let you play the movies. Of course, not everyone could be Luke Skywalker (or Han Solo, etc.). Worse, not everyone could be the archetypes of the characters; Jedi were supposed to be exceedingly rare, and Smugglers really didn’t have a place in the gameplay mechanics established. So, people had to settle for the more mundane tasks of making weapons and dancing in cantinas.

To be fair, though, I think the SWG developers are learning from these games. the “Jump to Lightspeed” expansion tried to capture the glory of XvT from most accounts I’ve heard. And the current revamp of the system seems to take cues from the Jedi Knight games with their fast action and more interesting combat. So, I can’t really claim this is all my original idea.

Now, keep in mind that a lot of people enjoy SWG as it currently stands. Last I heard there were about 200,000 subscribers, which as I said is respectable for a pre-WoW online game. They like the game as it is, and changing it radically can lead to problems. I have first-hand experience with this: we’ve changed M59 to try to be more friendly to new players. The old game used to be brutal, and newbies would rarely survive their first day in M59, let alone the first week. So, we did things to make combat a bit easier on newbies and to restrict PvP in slight ways; you can still murder whomever you want once they lose their guardian angel, but there are more meaningful consequences now. Also, we changed it so that an experienced character can’t just one-shot a newbie. Although these changes were necessary to keep the game balanced in the long run, many players were quite vocal in their dislike for these changes.

So, looking at the three games above it becomes apparent that we should divorce ourselves from the movies, yet remain true to the Star Wars universe. On the other hand, radically changing the game could upset the 200,000 players we already have. So, what’s the solution?

If it were me, I would create a new game. Take a cute from KotOR and set the game in a time away from the movies. Focus on the bits of the Star Wars universe that are exciting and interesting: Jedi, Wookiees, Tatooine, etc. Now, we don’t want to make the game from scratch, but we should take what we already have from SWG. Take the SWG server and client, and all the technology that goes along with that; a lot of time and money went into developing that, and it makes little sense to throw it away. You can re-use a lot of the art, perhaps with small modifications to some of it to fit in the new setting. One of the beautiful things about Star Wars is that the technology has been fairly static for a long time. Ship designs might change (so the ship models will have to be re-done), but a building on Tatooine is recognizable today as it was a few thousand years ago, according to KotOR.

What about gameplay? Well, the current revamp of SWG seems to be focusing on a class/level based system. It worked well for KotOR, so there’s no reason to avoid it here. It may seem derivative, but it’s what the audience for online games obviously enjoys. So, bring in classes and levels and focus the game around that. The great thing is that once you divorce the game from specific movies, you have a lot more freedom. One of the coolest things about KotOR is that they were able to create new locations and have original bits of history in the game. They were also able to explore some interesting areas of the Star Wars universe, explaining the origin of the Sandpeople on Tatooine, for example.

Of course, this new game won’t be free, or even necessarily very cheap. You need developers and artists to create the new bits for the game. This is likely in addition to the original SWG team, because you want to keep that game alive and vibrant. You also have a lot of issues with having two very similar games like this: potential consumer confusion, rivalries between the games to get more developer attention and support, etc.

So, here’s my list of some of the Pros and Cons of my suggestion to build a second game:

Pros:

  • Gives a true galaxy of adventure in the Star Wars universe.
  • Allows for plenty of Jedi without breaking the setting.
  • Allows for more freedom to develop the game by the developers.
  • Keeps the existing game (and revenue stream) going without upsetting the core users of the original SWG.

Cons:

  • Will cost additional resources (time and money) to create the new game.
  • Requires additional employees for a new development and live team.
  • Potential consumer confusion between the two games. Which does grandma buy for her grandson for Christmas?
  • Rivalry between the games: if one game gets something cool the other game will feel “left out” if they don’t get it, too, even if it’s not appropriate.

Again, let me reiterate that my goal here isn’t to second-guess the developers pouring their hearts into the new revamp. I wish them every success and know how hard it can be to do something like what they are doing. As I said above, I’m sure there’s probably some restriction on what they could or couldn’t do which would make my suggestion invalid. But, I thought a glimpse at how high-level decisions are made would be interesting to some of the people reading my blog.

There’s my thoughts. What are yours?


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35 Comments »

  1. In my experience: Forking the code, like you’re suggesting, is an ENORMOUS pain.

    The market confusion will likely consume most of your marketing team’s remaining sanity points, turning them into gibbering idiots in straight jackets: SWG#1 and SWG#2 being sold at the same time and on the same shelf is not a good idea.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 12 November, 2005 @ 3:09 PM

  2. True, but to be fair any change like this is likely to be an enormous pain. I’ve changed a few of the basic systems in M59 and it took a long while before I was able to root out all the lingering bugs caused by incompatibilities. I can just imagine the pain that ripping nearly everything out and putting new systems back in will cause. However, I think that forking the code (or, keeping the same basics and writing new gameplay) would be a bit less work overall. Given my experiences, at least.

    On the marketing side, I think the smart thing to do would be to phase out marketing and box sales of the original SWG. Let’s face it, those sales are done and it’s time to milk the cash cow. Focus your efforts on the new game, put only those boxes in stores, and let word of mouth carry the original game. I know it sound heartless, but is it really any more cruel than gutting the game those 200k at have at the very least grown to enjoy?

    But, let’s agree on one thing: there are absolutely no easy answers here. There’s pros and cons all over the place. It’s a question of which will do the best given the constraints you have in development. Never an easy call, and always unlikely to be universally popular. I’m merely presenting my opinion here.

    More thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 November, 2005 @ 5:36 PM

  3. As a (potentially soon to be former) player of SWG, I’ve probably got too much of a stake in how it turns out, but the problems highlighted with forking the code seem to be generally commercial rather than technical. Now, I’m not a commercial person by trade but it seems that you can solve those problems.

    Once you’ve decided to fork the code (and take the general hits that implies) you market it as SWG:Clone Wars – and set it in the era of the first three films.
    Bang- loads of Jedi, excuse for new combat mechanics, and technically it’s not SWG2.

    Offer a free client download to all existing players, offer subscription to both games to players of the new and players of the old for an extra $5 (and the ability to cancel either existing sub tom play just one). With a good new design and new patches to the old game, you should get a slow steady migration to the new game, with extra revenue, but if not you’re probably not much worse off.

    You’ve got mostly the same systems, so if Granny buys the wrong box – you can just switch when you register – no skin off your wallet.

    If one game is markedly better than the other then, the other will naturally fade away, but with potentially less bad publicity.

    But then, maybe I’m missing something.

    Comment by Idlethought — 12 November, 2005 @ 5:39 PM

  4. Actually, that’s an interesting thought, Idlethought. Just put both games in the same box and let people pick which one they want at signup. If they truly do re-use most of the art and technology, then there should be a lot of overlap leading to not much extra being put on the CD. You might still get some confusion at signup, but that’s easier to solve.

    It would solve a lot of the marketing and sales issues, plus encourage the developers to consider client improvements equally for both games.

    Comment by Psychochild — 12 November, 2005 @ 7:27 PM

  5. I don’t think you can fool the players like that.

    I see branching the game as something negative and damaging for both the community and the quality of the development. One of the main, real flaws of SWG is that it was unfinished. The regular “overhaul” didn’t help to really streamline and polish things. This is why the players think the game is still in beta.

    I don’t see them having too many resources to the point of being able to support even more “attempts” at doing it right. In fact SWG suffered an high churn rate of developers, starting from Raph. This didn’t help the game. There’s a lack of commitment.

    Plus both the art and content were severely lacking. No, I really don’t see them having the resources to branch even more.

    And MMO sequels are dumb.

    Comment by Abalieno — 13 November, 2005 @ 4:17 AM

  6. How many successful MMO sequels have there been? But I agree that the current setting is wrong for what they want players to experience (and apparently what players want to experience). They should move it to an era where Jedi are plentiful instead of trying to leave it between ANH and ESB.

    As for the switch to class/level… I think it is a cop out. One of the great things about the current system was the flexibility. It was just too complicated. The skill system could have been streamlined with chucking it completely. The new c/l system doesn’t allow for any differentiation… all Level 80 Smugglers are the same, all Level 80 Jedi are the same.

    Comment by Oz — 13 November, 2005 @ 7:06 AM

  7. How many successful MMO sequels have there been?

    EQ2 has been fairly (although not wildly) successful. Not quite reaching the peak numbers of the original and overshadowed by the much more successful WoW, EQ2 has still done well for itself.

    It is interesting to note that EQ2 went through some major changes a little while ago as well. I wonder if that showed a significant increase in subscriptions and SOE is using that as justification for the current SWG revamp? Something to think about.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 November, 2005 @ 11:58 AM

  8. How many successful MMO sequels have there been?

    Lineage 2.

    –matt

    Comment by Matt Mihaly — 13 November, 2005 @ 4:16 PM

  9. Come now, Matt. That’s Korean. Ask anybody, Korean games don’t count! ;) Or, did someone decide that they do? I never get these memos until it’s too late!

    Comment by Psychochild — 13 November, 2005 @ 4:59 PM

  10. Hm…The big StarWars game success is Starwars: Battlefront and its sequel. So I guess the revamped SWG has a chance.

    But.

    I don’t like SW in general. I like KOTOR (felt 2 was weak), so don’t look to see ME playing it.

    Comment by Andrew Crystall — 15 November, 2005 @ 6:30 AM

  11. I think the way Cryptic’s done City of Villains is a pretty good solution. Both games use the same engine and share many resources. One subscription gives access to both games. There’s huge PvE games on both sides of the centralized PvP area. When they add features like artwork or an engine update or a powers nerf to one game, both games benefit or suffer together. It’s arguably more of an expansion than a separate game, but you don’t need one to play the other.

    I don’t know how much of SWG’s core would be reusable in this sense, but this latest update is a patch, not a complete rewrite, so theoretically much of the old functionality might still be applicable. I don’t know if there’s room in the Star Wars universe for time travel, but playing the same character 30 years apart in both games might be pretty interesting for some people.

    Comment by Rob Drimmie — 15 November, 2005 @ 8:55 AM

  12. Well, if this NGE has done one thing right, it has at least stirred up the MMO uber-community! (Uber as in “overarching,” not uber as in “l33tzor.”)

    What would I have done? Something quite similar to the NGE, actually. Nine classes, but I would have tossed “Trader” and “Entertainer,” and put in “Tamer” (picture of the beast tamer from Jabba’s palace) and “Scout” (picture of Wicket). Then, I would have followed WoW’s example, and allowed any class to pick a number of “secondary skills,” which would come from any of the crafting or entertaining professions.

    Oh, and I would have kept item decay in there. I like item decay. I like dealing with it as an adventurer. I like buying bullets for my gun, and worrying when I’m low on ammunition. I like having to get my armor repaired. I like being low on food and starving to death. But out of a billion gamers in the world, I think I’m the only one who grooves on that kinda thing.

    Comment by Slyfeind — 16 November, 2005 @ 10:01 AM

  13. I thought the same thing after playing KOTOR. How hard could it be to design a MMO to play like KOTOR does? The main problem being KOTOR was a linear game as opposed to the open-endness of a MMO.

    But it really does boil down to the basics of gameplay:

    User Interface – Keep it simple stupid, other wise known as K.I.S.S.

    Class system – Keep the stat geeks happy, but dont overdue. IMHO this is one of the hardest things to make “perfect”. You cant have a oversimplified class system (ala EQ2) people lose interest too fast, and you lose the replayability factor. If you make it too complicated, well then you run into the problems that SW:G is trying to correct now.

    Content Flow – How well is your game design to churn out new content? Asheron’s Call to date is the best game to do this with. The game engine design was simple but effective, which meant they could keep the monthly updates flowing with new content because the pipeline for new content was so easy to implement.

    Lore – without a good story, or back drop what is your players motivation for playing? What are the goals of the game, and generally where there is lore there is content. In my mind content is king. If you build they will come, this has always held true in my experience. I think this ties in with my above topic, but you have to give the players their motivation. I think WoW does this job generally well, although they have rushed some lore as incomplete or unfinished in some cases.

    The rest of the game should fall into place if you have the top four set in stone and on solid footing. Tweaking the game should never be feared, and in most cases is necessary, but never give into the mob. And by mob I mean forums. You should listen to your playerbase, but never give into the whine of the week crowd.

    In the case of having to make major changes or major tweaks in order to “Recover” your subscription base, I am a firm beleiver in “once the ship is broken, there is no fixing it”, and I think the reasoning behind this is generally the problem is one of the above four I have mentioned, and to “Revision it” means they will have to do a complete overhaul of the game engine and game design itself, which is expensive. Might as well scrap it and start from scratch. That is what I think they ought to do with SW:G anyways, the potential for a runaway success is there, it just hasnt happened yet.

    Imagine if Blizzard designed a Star Wars MMO?

    But I am just a gamer, wth do I know.

    Comment by Dis — 16 November, 2005 @ 1:46 PM

  14. Nice post Brian, its a shame you arent in charge.

    Plus a quick update on how bad things are going for the NGE, the revamp where the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive” (copyright SOE):

    1) A poll on the official boards (is the NGE good / bad) is currently running 1087=bad , 61=good.
    2) gamespot.com from upwards of 500 reader reviews has a similar ratio (85% thing NGE is bad). Its score averages 2.8 / 10.
    3) The stratics.com poll is currently 2962=bad, 559=good.

    Also, an SOE employee has admitted to trying to rig the stratics vote, leading to possibly the funniest thread currently going on the official boards:

    http://forums.station.sony.com/swg/board/message?board.id=swggpdiscussion&message.id=25107&view=by_date_ascending&page=1

    Comment by Anon2 — 17 November, 2005 @ 2:16 PM

  15. Anon2: Not to be an apologist for other developers, but polls like that rarely tell anything. As I’ve said before, a good rule of thumb is that 25% of people will love a change, 25% will hate it, and 50% won’t care. When a self-selecting poll like this comes around, you’ll get the 25% of the people that hate the change motivating themselves to vote against the change. The 25% that like the change will not do anything; you already did what they like. The 50% won’t care and won’t vote.

    Even then, the big votes at the Stratics.com poll cited only account for about 1.5% of the total game population assuming a subscription level of 200,000 people. Even if SWG has dropped down to 50,000 subscribers before the change, we’re talking about 6% of the people not liking the change. This is no where near a “majority” in all honesty.

    Some thoughts from the dev side of things. As much as people might hate the changes, the developers still do have to consider the opinions of the other 94-98.5% of the subscribing population. It may be that most of them hate it, too, but you can’t use a poll like that to show.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 17 November, 2005 @ 9:40 PM

  16. I take your point Brian, but I do think polls like this are important when you get a general trend over numerous polls/reviews. I mean the negative trend is almost everywhere with the polls and reviews at ebgames/gamespot/amazon etc.

    Anyway I do agree with your point, I suppose the only ‘poll’ that really matters is the number of paying accounts SWG gets in the coming months. :)

    Comment by Anon2 — 18 November, 2005 @ 3:01 AM

  17. In response to your above post, do you honestly think SW:G as a whole can survive a 10-20% drop in subscription considering how much money is being spent on the redevelopment of this game, on top of the money spent to launch the game?

    Remember we are talking about a Star Wars Franchise game. Call me crazy, but SW:G with 150k to 200k subscriber base seems like a colossal failure. It would be like Episode I pulling in just 100 million dollars in theatre revenue, which for any other movie is a success, but for Star Wars would be a big dissappointment.

    I am still boggled that they havent tried to develop a new SW MMO (one that would learn from the mistakes of the past) and try to cash in on a franchise that still has the potential to exceed WoW numbers.

    Comment by Dis — 18 November, 2005 @ 7:49 AM

  18. I dont think we we see a large-scale SWG2 for a long time.

    It all comes down to money. World of Warcraft, according to numerous articles, cost somewhere in the region of $40-50 million to produce (some believe the figure is even higher). To put this in perspective, Lucasarts revenues for the year 2004 *total* were only $100 million. SWG, according to Raph Koster, had a budget in the region of $10 million and was done on the cheap.

    To create “WOW with Star Wars graphics” would cost $50 million minimum and take 4 years to produce. Lucasarts just doesnt have the cash to take such a risk. These NGE for the original game have cost absolute peanuts by comparison and *may* provide a big bump in subs (maybe the subscription revenue covered the development cost completely, who knows?) We will know in less than a year if the gamble of ‘fixing’ the original game has payed off.

    Comment by Anon2 — 18 November, 2005 @ 10:42 AM

  19. As I understand it, the $10M cost for SWG did include borrowing some technology from other projects. So, if the SWG project were done on its own it would have been more expensive.

    But, you are right: they can’t really afford to do “WoW with Star Wars graphics.” On the other hand, I don’t think they really have to.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 18 November, 2005 @ 8:35 PM

  20. I’m currently an SWG player but not a “vet” having only been playing for just over a year. Firstly, I don’t think it’s necessary to move the game out of the OT movie timeframe. The only reason you may want to is to appease both the canonical purists and everybody who wants to be a jedi. Secondly, the NGE: my view on this is that if you’re going to make sweeping changes of the type that have been made, then you need to implement them properly.

    The new combat engine could, potentially, be a fantastic step in the right direction but it’s only half the story at the moment. It takes elements of twitch based game play and makes a pseudo FPS. But it’s been implemented to such a sub Wolfenstein 3D level that it makes the game unplayable. While they’ve admitted that it will take 6 months to fully implement. At the moment it looks like there’s going to be a game with unplayable content for 6 months until it’s all fixed. This won’t just alienate the existing player base but it will also spread such bad word of mouth around anyone who joins up to try this new system, that I reckon it will have an adverse affect on the future of the game.

    Then there’s the class system. Amputating over 20 classes to make way for just 9 is a good idea if it’s going to free up development time from spending month after month balancing the ridiculous number of classes they had. However, they’ve made the progression system far too elementary and basic. There’s no variation, no uniqueness and no individuality. In WoW, because of the way you buy training and learn professions, it’s possible for two level 15 warlocks to be different. Even in KOTOR, the class and abilities can vary depending on what you put your points in. One of the appeals of most RPGs, from what I can tell, is the ability to customise the skills and,well, abilities of your character in any way you see fit. The NGE doesn’t offer anything more than the Clone Wars. One level 40 commando is identical to the next in all but the way they look and the stats of the weapon and armour they’re equipped with. This removes any sense of individuality, any idea of being able to make a mark on the world an, in my opinion, will detract from any long term appeal that such a game might have, star wars license or no.

    It’ll take much more than a timeline setting to save SWG as it currently stands.

    Comment by Stalker — 20 November, 2005 @ 5:33 PM

  21. I’ve been playing SWG off and on since launch. Was great until you got to the game breaking part of having to be buffed to even manage to breath with out dying. Then cam the CU, which made the game a lot more fun for me, and I finally got back to working on Jedi. Now of course, NGE, in which case I didn’t have to bother with finishing the village. While I like the core of the NGE, I have several complaints. Nothing that’s going to keep me from playing (at least after they fix the most bald headed glaringly obvious problems.)

    1. It’s not finished. While I understand and realize that nothing in the MMORPG will ever be finished or even nearly close to being ready for release, when you don’t finish IMPORTANT parts of the game (i.e. Jedi having virtually 0 defencive capabilities while everyone else is loaded and commando heavy weapons disabled)it’s just annoying to the players. A lot of the trolls have quit or threatened to quit just because of the unfinished issues let alone the core changes.

    2. A lot of the abilities, especially Jedi, are quite lame. That 2 legged dog that walks on it’s hind legs is less gimpy. Jedi are missing signature attacks from the movies, yes they get force lightening, force choke, and saber throw. But they don’t have force push, Force Run is just a different version of Burst Run, and blocking saber bolts require the use of a 2 minute timer skill that lasts for 30 seconds. Which doesn’t make much sence when every other game and movie it’s innate. I personally am all for Jedi having no or minimal armor on their robes, but massive defencive skills, which is more in line with the movies and other games anyway. Plus I don’t really want to wear robes anyway, supposedly they’re going to release the Robe Armor code on clothing, at least if they feel it’s “flexible” enough, or something like that. But besides Jedi, I don’t know every gimpy skills of course, I’ve only played Jedi and Commando since NGE, but I hear Officers get a gimpy skill called Resupply that gives you low level food, drink, and stims. It should scale if you ask me, and I haven’t heard that it does. Yes it should be lower quality than the player made stuff, but it should at least be useful, which I hear it really isn’t. I could be wrong.

    3. I do have issue with the removal of a number of classes and the skill tree. I don’t feel there are enough skills in the game to choose from, I personally would have left some type of skill tree in the game, even if it was removed. I think everyone should be able to go down different paths of the same class if they choose. In a game like this, even when trying to make Iconic classes from the movies, that people should still have a choice. One of the things I liked about SWG was the ammount of develpmental control given, most games I’ve played don’t offer a fraction of that. Yeah, there’s WoW’s use of the Diabloesque Skill Tree, but I really don’t like the classes or the game to begin with.

    I really wish I was able to do something about things like this, but there’s not much you can do. Even if I managed to some how get myself hired as an independant design consultant, who knows if anyone would actually listen.

    Comment by Ceryk — 21 November, 2005 @ 2:26 PM

  22. I noticed, belatedly, that someone was mentioning polls and such. My experience with message boards and polls is that the average player is usually not the one who posts or polls unless it’s in game. I could be totally wrong, but my general disdain of message boards and polls comes from the fact that most of what I see are from the trolls and hatemongers. Seriously, if it quite the game, cancelled your account, and claim to have moved on, go away. Stop posting hate messages and annoying garbage and making it hard for people to find legitmate information. From what I’ve seen, there’s usually only around 10% useful information/legatmite posts, 25% other stuff (polls, petitions, reasonable rants, blah blah), and 75% trollish garbage. I have trouble taking any post seriously that has not been run in game. The problem with those of course, is that you’ll never see the results >( I don’t think the only way we’ll know if people think NGE is good or bad is if the game goes under or stays floating with descent subscriber numbers.

    Comment by Ceryk — 21 November, 2005 @ 2:40 PM

  23. Not to be an apologist for other developers, but polls like that rarely tell anything. As I’ve said before, a good rule of thumb is that 25% of people will love a change, 25% will hate it, and 50% won’t care. When a self-selecting poll like this comes around, you’ll get the 25% of the people that hate the change motivating themselves to vote against the change. The 25% that like the change will not do anything; you already did what they like. The 50% won’t care and won’t vote.

    This seems counterintuitive to me. If this were true, such polls would invariably show that most are against any change. Unless my memory of gaming site polls over the years is completely messed up, that is not the case. I seem to recall positive poll results for MMOG changes in the past. And mixed results as well.

    I can certainly understand the desire of developers to believe this, however.

    Comment by Dellaster — 25 November, 2005 @ 12:45 AM

  24. I was curious about the accuracy of my memory so I took a look at the IGN Camelot Vault polls. It appears that my memory is not messed up at all. Try this poll:

    http://camelotvault.ign.com/?dir=sympoll&dispid=2

    DAoC’s New Frontiers was quite controversial, with many vocal detractors on the forums. Yet the poll came out 520 to 365, “Love it” vs “Hate it”. An impossible result if the above quote about polls were correct. This isn’t an isolated positive or mixed poll either — check some of the others on the linked URL.

    Comment by Dellaster — 25 November, 2005 @ 1:28 AM

  25. Not quite, Dellaster. First, you’re assuming that every poll you’ve seen, including the one you cite, is legit. Polls often have terrible security. Even tracking by IP is not an answer these days since people on cable modems or dialup can get a new IP in a matter of minutes. Even without this sort of trickery, many people that play online games have access to multiple computers. I can easily cast 5 votes for any poll I want without doing anything more than going to 3 different rooms in my house. Those 5 votes are enough to skew the poll you cite by .3%. Two more friends with setups like mine could affect the poll by a whole percent, and imagine what a savvy guild of 50 or so people could do.

    Beyond this, as I said, these are usually self-selecting polls which are notoriously inaccurate for measuring what people really think. These types of polls depend on the motivation of the people to answer the questions. I don’t play DAoC anymore, but perhaps New Frontiers gave Albion a lot of new powers, and the more populated Albion realms are out to protect their new powers. (Albion was the most popular realm back when I played in the, er, dark ages?) So, these people would have the motivation to go vote on a poll. Finally, I will also point out that the poll only had 1,352 votes, which is likely less than 1% of the people playing DAoC at the time of the voting; this isn’t really a representative sample of the game and therefore not necessarily an accurate reflection of the whole audience’s attitudes about the change.

    Of course, this isn’t a rule carved in stone; as I said in the part you quoted, this is a “rule of thumb” which gives you an idea of how things will often work, but not in every single time. It does occasionally happen that the developers and the players agree on some point.

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 November, 2005 @ 1:59 AM

  26. While I agree that these polls can be “tricked”, that works for both sides of any issue. It tends to balance out. As for sample size … if I’m not mistaken, TV shows are cancelled based on a smaller percentage surveyed than in this particular poll.

    That said, I do believe as you do that the results of such polls are often skewed towards the naysayers and the angry. This doesn’t make them useless, however. If you take that into account you can get a useful “feel” for the popularity of something. That New Frontiers poll, for example, suggests to me that it was very popular, taking into account that the naysayers surely flocked to the poll (look at the numbers who said they cancelled because of it — a strong, angry reaction).

    Anyway, back to my original point. If 25% hate a change and vote in polls, 50% don’t care and don’t vote, and 25% like a change and don’t vote … who’s voting in the polls, no matter how skewed? Only the haters. But this, admittedly, self-selecting poll I linked has the “lovers” ahead of the “haters”. Therefore I think that rule of thumb has some problems.

    Comment by Dellaster — 25 November, 2005 @ 6:34 AM

  27. Sometimes the “lovers” come out in force if they think things will be threatened. Players want what they think is best for their individual characters, and usually that’s no change at all. But, if there is a change that benefits the players and they think that could be taken away, they’ll be motivated to vote. Again, as I’ve said multiple times before, it’s about motivation; who feels strongly enough to vote on the poll?

    Anyway, that rule of thumb is what I’ve noticed after a several years of observation. You’re free to use it or not as you see fit.

    Have fun,

    Comment by Psychochild — 25 November, 2005 @ 12:17 PM

  28. Well the proof of the level of dessent is in the eating … I was a vet player of SWG and personally didn’t like the change and cancelled my account.

    As others have said, not so much because of the change in the combat system, but more because all the stuff I’d strived to achieve was wiped out. Anyway more to the point, I posted a little snippet on the forum, then cancelled.

    I did go back a couple of weeks later just to see whether the exodus was just that or a small trickle… My character is on Bria, I went to Coronet … 1 person in the entire city, not one person in the cantina and only 3 people in Mos Eisley …. and this at about 6:00pm … these areas used to be heaving …. even at unsocial hours, so it would appear that people are indeed leaving in droves not just a vocal few.

    my 2cr xx

    Comment by JOss — 29 November, 2005 @ 12:19 PM

  29. I agree the timeline choice was not conducive to the sort of game that could have been more successful. Obviously though, they chose this period to feature the known actors, since this game started development around the time the new characters not only were introduced, but began getting killed off (Qui-Gon, Mace, Padmé, etc.).

    However, I don’t agree post-RoTJ would have been best. For two reasons:

    1. While SWG was designed to tie into canon (movies), it’s absolutely an Expanded Universe experience. In fleshing out the galaxy at that moment in time, they had to dig far deeper and broader than what was defined in 9 hours of movies. That it was all approved by Lucasarts makes it pretty much as much a part of canon as the movies. The problem with post-RoTJ is that this period (from just after to 30 years beyond) is more defined than even the period during SWG. A quick look at the official Timeline tells this story. SOE/LA would have had to address all of that, no matter what period after Jedi they chose (from the Bounty Hunter series to the resurrected Emperor up on through the resolution of the conflict with the Yuuzhan Vong and the re-emergence of Zenoma Sekot… and yes, I’ve read most of them, geek that I am).
    2. You said it yourself: the galaxy was returning to a short period of peace (that it took about 10 years notwithstanding). That’s a wonderful backdrop for SimBeru. It’s not a great one for the Star Wars experience people wanted enough to compel the NGE.

    The one thing I disagree with with all of these reviews though is the long-standing belief that Jedi needed to be rare. They didn’t. They are all part of the academy Luke later builds, so were alive at this time. This is an important distinction in my mind because they weren’t all gone.

    They were just in hiding.

    They could have made Jedi a playable class, but they would have needed to launch with them basically being welcome almost nowhere (because of Imps, because of towns afraid of Imps, etc.). They would have been something of an “Advanced” class, but I personally guarantee with all of the problems they’d have had in a well-designed virtual world, after the first month there’d be just about as many Jedi actively playing as SOE/LA originally envisioned there being.

    Now it’s a mess that doesn’t tie in any way to the Lore, a short-term band-aid to a longstanding problem. But at least people get to play them now without sadistic hologrinds nor crazy long quest chains, so I guess that’s something of a win.

    Otherwise, every review I’ve read of SWG in the last 30 months is basically the same. And most of it I’ve said myself :) That’s the main reason I’m holding off on writing one now. There’s so much knee-jerk stuff going around now because of the fiasco that was the announcement of the NGE that people are mostly focused on hating SOE for that alone. They’re forgeting there’s an actual game to play, and that there’s some pretty interesting parts to see.

    Comment by Darniaq — 7 December, 2005 @ 2:54 PM

  30. I agree with you, Darniaq. One of my good friends can quote chapter and verse for the post-RotJ stuff, and there’s a lot of it out there. Some of the books are actually very well written, so it’ll be more than the hardest of the hard-core out there that have read them. So, you almost run into the same problem as setting the game during the movies, in that there’s a lot of stuff you still have to work around, even though the Jedi thing is taken care of. (I disagree with your Jedi solution, Darniaq, because that would just cause people to complain that Jedi are too hard to play and that SOE doesn’t listen when they don’t make it easier. You know I’m right. ;)

    The KotOR games sold amazingly well, so I think that people are willing to play a quality Star Wars game in an unfamiliar time period. I think the “people want to play the movies” though is not accurate at all.

    My further thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 7 December, 2005 @ 5:32 PM

  31. I’m sure lots of people have seen this already, but figured it’d be nice to have a link handy.

    A New York Times article about the changes. It’s not terribly positive, and discusses a lot of the alienation issues I said was important. I guess it’s even more important than I figured if it got NYT coverage. Of course, perhaps any coverage is good coverage. ;)

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 December, 2005 @ 9:44 PM

  32. I’d like to take a bit different perspective on SWG. This article focuses on the decisions made over last 6-12 months and their result, which is NGE and I would rather like to take a look at SWG over its 2.5 years of existence (and of course the development time).
    After playing SWG for almost its entire life span (I started in August 2003 and quit last month, when NGE changed SWG to the point it no longer is fun for me), I believe many of the issues are a result of lack of defined strategy for the game and frequent changes to the plans.
    As I see it, SWG was created to be a different game then previous SOE products. Probably based on Raph Koster’s “Theory of fun”, SWG was designed to have a huge possibility space, giving unique flexibility and freedom to the players. This seems to be true for the development phase and some time after launch.
    The base systems were designed to be complex, intricate, free-form to the extent never seen before. Granted, there were issues due to the scope (eg. the systems were not properly modelled in min-max enviroment, leading to unexpected results like 100% resist armor, melee skill mods stacking, doctor buffs power, etc) but it truly was probably the most advanced game engine around.
    The strategy was kept for a while and JtL was continuation of this idea – it built a complex engine for the space – again vast and intricate.
    In my opinion, base SWG + JtL was a foundation upon which an unmatched possibility space could be built. These laid the foundations for serious “vertical” growth of the game.

    However at this moment a few things happened:
    - issues with the balance in the base game started to be really problematic (the players and the game matured and the system was slowly understood by gamers)
    - WoW came and started a new era, being a simple product, properly made, having just enough content and just enough balance between simplicity and complexity combined with marketing aspects, to attract a huge player base, showing what numbers a successful game can reach
    - alpha classs problems, lack of “content” whines and hologrind were the main keywords for this time in SWG

    At this stage, the decision was made to abandon the original strategy and try go grab approach that worked for WoW and hopefully increase the subscriber base. So the CU was born.
    It still didnt work as well as it was hoped for and pretty much this was the point the original article relates to – the decision what to do next.

    Now a few words about audience. MMO market is growing and slowly it develops to the point it gets fragmented, MMO players differentiate and niches start to evolve. WoW proved this market is huge and is an example of well done mass MMO.
    SWG on the other hand attracted different crowd – firstly SW fans and secondly people who read about the unparalleled freedom and complexity (like me). SW fans might survive the NGE, but people who came for the traits of the SWG engine were basically kicked thru the door with NGE.

    Im a not saying NGE might not turn ok at the end, despite all the problems from purely bussiness perspective and issues caused by trying to use the engine in ways it was never designed, coupled with myriad of conversion issues, quirks and glitches.

    But… If the original strategy was continued and upon the foundations of SWG and JTL a new type of the game was built, bringing another layers of complexity and player interaction, like a meaningful Galactic Civil War (which players asked for since launch), tactical aspects of combat and maybe even strategic layer, we would have today a completely different SWG – a game that realized its true potential, not went thru a revamp after revamp, practically being a testing ground for various ideas.
    Would it bring subsribers on the scale compared to WoW ? Probably not, but it would be a revolutionary and unique product for experienced MMO players (so with potential of growing subsciber base, after they experience the basics offered by WoW and other mass MMOs) not to mention a product complementary to SOE’s EQ2 therefore attracting different type of gamers and not making those two titles compete for customers.

    PS. I didn’t mention “content” anywhere, because Im not really fan of the idea, even though it does appeal to many (if not majority) of MMO players – it did not change much in the context of my writing and it’s a matter for a different discussion.

    Comment by Xeovar — 13 December, 2005 @ 7:56 AM

  33. A followup almost three years later: Bioware announces KotOR Online.

    To quote Stephen Colbert: “Nailed it.”

    Comment by Psychochild — 9 February, 2009 @ 6:21 PM

  34. I was kidnapped by the Overlord

    [...] Suddenly, EQ2 wasn't quite so glamorous. (The same thing happened to SWG; after WoW their numbers were disappointing given the strength of the Star Wars franchise.) The perception was that WoW "won" and EQ2 "lost". [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 5 January, 2012 @ 12:30 AM

  35. End of an Era: A farewell to SWG

    [...]Meanwhile, for more opinions, perspectives and rants about these changes, have a look at the following sites: Terra Nova Iconochron Zombie Pirate Ninja Monkey Utopian Hell Psychochild [...]

    Pingback by Get the girl, Kill the baddies — 31 January, 2013 @ 4:20 AM

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