101: Blowing Up Galaxies

"As WoW barreled toward 5 million subscribers, SOE launched SWG's Publish 25. The NGE replaced the combat system with a shooter-style twitch game, reduced the value of crafting and entertaining, and collapsed 34 professions into nine classes. Jedi Knight powers, once obtained only after torturous grinding, were now widely available. Creature Handlers and Bio-Engineers, previously stunted by the CU, vanished.
"The launch, like the original game's, went horribly: awful bugs, broken quests, lag. But these paled beside the main problem. For an unexpectedly huge number of players, the issue - the overriding issue that has burned in their heart down to, lo, this day and hour - was betrayal."
Allen Varney explores the tragedy of the NGE.

Blowing Up Galaxies

MMORG fans continue to think in terms of 'community' instead of 'money'. Oh, when will they learn that these online games are all about making money, and not about giving people a virtual substitute for their unfulfilling real lives. If the players REALLY want to make a statement, then they should cancel their monthly subscriptions and tell the publisher exactly why they are doing it, and that they won't return unless certain changes are made or certain changes are un-made. If the bottom fiscal line is more money for the game publisher, then the concept of player 'betrayal' is pretty moot. Money talks, while sheddding tears over a virual animal is just pathetic.

When will publishers and developers realize that MMORPG fans don't think in terms of money is a better question to ask. In fact, it could be said that MMORPG fans don't care about the money. After all, this sense of betrayal felt by many SWG players wasn't brought about by SOE announcing an increase in subscription fees. Even SL "players" get outraged at changes.

However, simply dismissing MMORPG fans as just playing to substitute their unfulfilled real lives is completely missing the mark. Is building a model train somehow substituting for a life ambition gone unfulfilled? How about cultivating rose bushes? Hardly. Yet, we don't criticize those who choose to augment, not substitute, their lives with a hobby that takes real effort, knowledge and skill. Further, we don't dismiss the lamenting lady, who lost years of work tending those rose bushes to a hail storm, as "pathetic".

Qualifying someone's pastime passion based on whether or not it resides solely on a hard drive should be the moot point.

soe and Lucas arts will go down in history as the worst game companies ever. they should be paying darwin royalties.

I wrote about this more on my blog, but it's pretty sad to see The Escapist stoop to such a piece of hyperbolic nonsense, without at least attempting to add something to the discourse.

This happened in late 2005, it's not noteworthy anymore, unless you are going to reveal a new detail or fact.

Syntheticist:
I wrote about this more on my blog, but it's pretty sad to see The Escapist stoop to such a piece of hyperbolic nonsense, without at least attempting to add something to the discourse.

This happened in late 2005, it's not noteworthy anymore, unless you are going to reveal a new detail or fact.

Yeah, we never talk about old games or events that people who possibly hadn't heard about before could stand to learn from.

Syntheticist:
This happened in late 2005, it's not noteworthy anymore, unless you are going to reveal a new detail or fact.

Just because something happened in the past doesn't mean it's old news. In fact, in a situation like this, it is only with hindsight that anyone can figure out what the update really meant. How could someone report in 2005 that "In May 2006, MMOGChart estimated 170,000 subscribers," or that "However, in February 2007, while announcing Thomas Blair would replace Kai Steinmann as SWG's Lead Designer, SWG Creative Director Chris Cao offered a muted concession"?

The article didn't discuss the fact that the changes were made, or even predictions of what those changes would mean; it discussed the ramifications of those changes using what actually happened and not just predictions. I don't see how assessing the aftermath of an event--as opposed to complaining about it or making negative predictions based on it--qualifies as either "old news" or a "whine."

It was also strange to read that other blog your blog linked to, that stated:

"For example, the article claims that SOE has not apologized. But John Smedley has gone on record with saying it was an error several times now."

considering this article ends with:

"'We do not plan on making any major changes to Vanguard,' Smedley wrote in a forum post. 'We aren't mandating any big changes to the game. We've learned a thing or two with our experiences with the NGE and don't plan on repeating mistakes from the past.'"

Did that other blogger just not read to the end of the article, or something?

SWG wasn’t a game. It was a pastime.

Is baseball still the most popular sport?

Nope, football’s TV ratings are higher.

However, baseball draws more fans per season (the longest season of any sport with the most games) than any other sport.

Football teams with pack in 70,000 fans a game… For 16 games. Baseball teams will pack in 25,000 fans a game… For 162 games…

Baseball is a far more complex game than football. It requires lots of specialized skills. It sometimes is slow. It sometimes resembles a chess match more than a contact sport. To master the act of hitting a baseball is probably the most difficult feat in all of sport, to the tune that someone who fails to do it 70% of the time is a Hall of Famer. It’s the only sport where the DEFENSE holds the ball. It’s the most balanced sport, in that both teams have the same number of chances to go on offense.

What if one day, to compete with football’s ratings, baseball changed the game drastically overnight, removing long loved roles and replacing gameplay with “fast action basebally and iconic” rules. Such as there being only one strike, so that an at bat is resolved within a couple pitches. Or in replacing the ball with a beach ball so that it’s way easier to hit?

The focus group, after all, said that people wanted to see more hits and more action.

Who cares if that 25,000 fans per ballpark, per game, 162 times a year the day after the “New Game Experience” is released falls to 2,000, they will soon be drawing 70,000 a game and higher TV ratings than ever, right?

What if, a couple years later, that attendance had fallen to less than 1,000 a game and the leage was contemplating team consolidation... It was no longer even ON TV, in fact the league was near death.

Fact of the matter is, SOE has the NGE "scarlett letter" emblazened on them. They have ZERO chance of erasing it without at least an apology to the NGE victims and a restoration of pre NGE at least as an alternative server.

The NGE and it's sociopathic and disasterous ruination of 250,000 people's pastime will NEVER be forgotten.

wildcat84:
Fact of the matter is, SOE has the NGE "scarlett letter" emblazened on them. They have ZERO chance of erasing it without at least an apology to the NGE victims and a restoration of pre NGE at least as an alternative server.

The NGE and it's sociopathic and disasterous ruination of 250,000 people's pastime will NEVER be forgotten.

First off, good sports analogy. That made a lot of sense. I'd like the address the latter part of your post.

SOE is sporting a big "scarlett" (sic) letter over the NGE, but they've also taken the lesson they learned to heart. All it takes to see this is a brief visit to the forums, where SWG veterans will see a level of developer involvement with the community that far exceeds anything in the past.

In fact, in my experience, I haven't seen anything like this in any other MMO. Granted, some might call it rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but they're definitely moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately for those players who still feel betrayed, that direction is forward, not back. There won't ever be pre-NGE servers. To borrow a phrase from Aerosmith, the past is gone. So are the people who handled the change in what can only be described as a "disasterous " (sic) fashion.

Many veterans who left the game have said their biggest problem when it came to the NGE was the lack of communication from the development team, and the fact that the existing playerbase was not consulted at any stage of the project. In other words, being left out of the loop hurt some players more than the "ruination" you describe.

Perhaps the NGE would have been a better idea for SWG 2, which could have also been set in a different time period where the Jedi were more prevalent. It might have worked better that way. We'll never know.

What we do know is, quite a few old players are returning, willing to give SWG - and,by extension, SOE - another chance. They're usually a bit skittish and understandably slow to trust, but they're willing to give it a shot.

When these returning players ask me what SWG is like now, I tell them, the NGE was a bad time, but that time has passed. The current development team is forging ahead, making the game better, giving back some things that were taken away and adding new things to enhance the game, along with making serious attempts to make crafters and entertainers viable again.

I tell them I feel confident that there will never be another massive mistake like the mishandling of the NGE (which has been admitted and apologies have been offered), and, I always add, I'm having a lot of fun playing again.

So, will the NGE ever be forgotten? Most likely not. Forgiven? Possibly. At least some are willing to consider it.

(For the record, I have played SWG since beta, liked the NGE system when I first saw it, like the game even more now and have two accounts with characters on four different servers. I am also the site manager for SWG WarCry, a position I've held since 2002.)

This article was actually a fairly good summation of the disastrous screwup that was SWG from pre-launch to post NGE. It even hammered on what was truly the most important lesson to be learned from the whole sordid tale, and that was NOT "don't change the game after launch", important though that lesson is. By far the most important lesson, and one which is all too often ignored or even denied by developers, is "don't release buggy, incomplete crap". Sony and SWG are the prize poster children for this lesson, and game developers refuse to learn this lesson at their peril.

But Allen, your lead-off analogy was really poorly chosen. "... players dramatically confirmed Mulligan’s lesson, much as the Hindenburg conveyed an important message about hydrogen" is hogwash. The Hindenburg conveyed NO important truth about Hydrogen. The correct lesson to learn from the Hindenburg (other than the gullibility of the public regarding psuedo-scientific explanations) is "don't paint your metal-framed fabric-coated static charge-collecting airship with rocket fuel". That pretty silvery coating they used to make the airship reflective (and thus absorb less heat from the sun) was an aluminum powder compound which was nearly identical to the propellant we use today in the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters. :)

Did the escapist that had an interview with Hayden Blackman about SWG a few years ago?

Not that I can find. The site archives only turn up one mention of him, in this essay.

You might be thinking of Allen Varney's interview with Raph Koster, which touches on Star Wars: Galaxies.

I thought the article was well written and an accurate representation of the nightmare SOE put its subscribers through. At the end of the day those who, like myself, had been in game since Beta enjoyed the challenge that building a character offered. The diversity that the 250 point character template offered made it a challenge and required careful consideration in order to build a strong character template. I was a Master Swordsman/ Master Doctor that was a nearly invincible combination of capabilities. It was an epic accomplishment to unlock the force side of your character and build him up through the Jedi ranks. Aside from the treasured reward of unlocking the force in your character, being able to have a multifaceted character of your own design was what most veterans miss the most. I have been in and out of game at nearly every phase of the game and I can only say this, I truely do miss the original game. I still occasionally play the new versions as they are released, I do however find them lacking. In my humble opinion, the game was "Dumbed Down" to cater to newer subscribers who saw what countless hours of gameplay resulted in, getting served by a player who had the best template, the best armor, the best weapons and the most skill that only long hours behind the keyboard could accomplish. Crying "Mommy I want that now" SOE tried to, and I quote, "make it easier to integrate new subscribers into what we felt was a combat system that was too complicated for most first time MMORPG players to assimiliate". Hello??? Is this thing on??? That is what makes a truely great MMO interesting and challenging. Kudos to Saberhawk for his undying dedication to look to the bright side of all that has taken place, I for one AM one of those who does mistrust SOE and still feels betrayed at being sold out, and having all my efforts (and subscriber fees) wiped away on the basis of greed. Opinions being like---well you know, there is mine.

Syntheticist:
I wrote about this more on my blog, but it's pretty sad to see The Escapist stoop to such a piece of hyperbolic nonsense, without at least attempting to add something to the discourse.

This happened in late 2005, it's not noteworthy anymore, unless you are going to reveal a new detail or fact.

Yeesh, Syntheticist, you read your own agenda into my Escapist article so thoroughly that you missed its point entirely. The emotion you attribute to me was actually found entirely in the quotations from aggrieved players; I have no agenda, as I stated at the start of the article. (By the way, "hyperbole" means "exaggeration or overstatement." There is no emotional connotation to the word.)

"Going for broke and trying again" wasn't a brave move. It was arrogant and foolish, the very faults you attribute to the fan base.

That you can so wilfully misread the NGE's lesson after all this time shows it's no dead horse.

the problem i had with the NGE was that I was a creature handler. where is the creature handler now? gone. one can claim the beast mastery system is a better form of creature handler. I would disagree. as a creature handler, i did not have to put dna samples in a blender and cross my fingers.

the game was my first online experience. true, upon the first actual screen, i was clueless, and had absolutely no idea what to do. the thing the game did offer was options. that is something the standard game now is lacking. sure, i had a few characters in wow, but once you choose a class, that is it. i think i got spoiled by swg's freedom.

have i tried swg in its current form? yes. i even tried it with an open mind. i just found it so boring.

Beebo Oprek:
Kudos to Sabrehawk for his undying dedication to look to the bright side of all that has taken place, I for one AM one of those who does mistrust SOE and still feels betrayed at being sold out, and having all my efforts (and subscriber fees) wiped away on the basis of greed. Opinions being like---well you know, there is mine.

Are you calling me an optimist (not that there's anything wrong with that)? :o)

alomo:
the problem i had with the NGE was that I was a creature handler. where is the creature handler now? gone. one can claim the beast mastery system is a better form of creature handler. I would disagree. as a creature handler, i did not have to put dna samples in a blender and cross my fingers.

No one said you HAD to take the bioengineer side of the tree. I had limited experience as a Creature Handler, mainly taking it up early on to get my own mount (Silver, a big, ornery dewback who, back in the day, was a good combat mount, able to carry me to the battle and then fight at my side, along with Raja, the Greater Sludge Panther I got from a friend).

I can't say Beast Master is better than CH or Bioengineer, but it is a good replacement, I think.

alomo:
the game was my first online experience. true, upon the first actual screen, i was clueless, and had absolutely no idea what to do. the thing the game did offer was options. that is something the standard game now is lacking. sure, i had a few characters in wow, but once you choose a class, that is it. i think i got spoiled by swg's freedom.

have i tried swg in its current form? yes. i even tried it with an open mind. i just found it so boring.

Well, good for you. I wish more people would try the new game before they started talking. It would make for much better conversations.

I can definitely see your point about getting spoiled by SWG's initial design. I still miss the complexity of my first MMO, Asheron's Call. Now that was a skill development system. :o)

Dark Side of game design was the NGE. Master Dancer and Master Image Designer had I grinded to. pwn3d I was. Pwn3d...

Allen Varney:

Yeesh, Syntheticist, you read your own agenda into my Escapist article so thoroughly that you missed its point entirely. The emotion you attribute to me was actually found entirely in the quotations from aggrieved players; I have no agenda, as I stated at the start of the article.

Ohhhhhh. Apologies. The formatting didn't make it obvious, and I missed the quote attributions. You're right.

Apologies once again.

Archon:
Dark Side of game design was the NGE. Master Dancer and Master Image Designer had I grinded to. pwn3d I was. Pwn3d...

Wow ... those are quite possibly the last things I would have expected you to master.

On the plus side, the new entertainer profession is pretty cool, especially with the new buffs and the expertise skills that can alow you to take different career paths, like my combat-oriented musician ... his axe is actually an axe.

Sabrehawk:
Not that I can find. The site archives only turn up one mention of him, in this essay.

Damn, I'm sure I read an article where Hayden Blackman was defending himself against rabid gamers...

I'm interested because he's the producer of our game, and, well, if I say much more I could put my job at risk...

*sigh*

FunkyJ:
Damn, I'm sure I read an article where Hayden Blackman was defending himself against rabid gamers...

I'm interested because he's the producer of our game, and, well, if I say much more I could put my job at risk...

*sigh*

Dude ... Haden. HADEN. :o)

I think I remember the interview you're talking about, but I have no idea where it ran.

Great article, although I disagree with WoW being ready at launch. Just a mere month before hand they were still changing core systems, plus they hadn't had a successful patch before launch. Then there was the massive mis-estimates in the popularity of the game, which caused, albeit short, delays before lots of people could even purchase a copy. It got lots right, but it's still not a perfect launch.

Syntheticist:
I wrote about this more on my blog, but it's pretty sad to see The Escapist stoop to such a piece of hyperbolic nonsense, without at least attempting to add something to the discourse.

This happened in late 2005, it's not noteworthy anymore, unless you are going to reveal a new detail or fact.

Not noteworthy anymore? I beg to differ. Wherever the 'old guard' of SWG meets, we reminisc about the 'good old days' of (mostly) pre-cu. The mere mention of the name 'Smedley' or 'Torres' can make gamers wish those people every conceivable evil. Many, many people I know (and I'm still in contact with hundreds of old Bloodfin players) go so far as to not only boycott SOE, but ALL Sony products. And none of us are shy in explaining to younger players why we hate SOE and all its works.

It's been said before, but SWG WAS more than a game to us.

Linna

Players still implore SOE to roll back the game, pre-Combat Upgrade, on separate servers. But the old game's devs have left the company; maintaining two versions would be impractically costly; and, though SOE has divulged nothing, the license might forbid it. Fans have tried writing emulators like SWGEmu and New Hope, but divisive politics and the task's magnitude cripple them.

Emu and ANH are FAR from dead. Go check them out and see where all those players have gone.

 

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