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Role Playing (Games)

John Smedley Answers Your Questions 189

Posted by Zonk
from the senator-smed dept.
Last week we asked you for questions about the Star Wars Galaxies 'New Game Experience'. You responded, forcefully and often frustrated. Mr. Smedley has taken the time to answer some of the most thoughtfully put questions, and while some of his answers are brief he answered your questions straightforwardly and honestly. Many thanks to Mr. Smedley for taking the time to talk to us. Read on for his responses to your questions.
The latest "Freebies" by Yerase (636636)
You've recently announced that you plan to give Jump To Lightspeed to previous subscribers who had not purchased it for Free, since it is required for the new intro Tutorial. This is similar to the decision to release the "Total Experience" pack for $30 that included the original game, JTL, and the second expansion "Rage of the Wookies", with an additional item (The Barc Speeder). Do you feel you have any obligation to reimburse the veteran players who payed the premium prices ($30) for each of these expansions when they were first announced (many times before they were even released)? Either monetarily or through in-game items?

John Smedley:
It's common in the game industry to release new versions of games that incorporate older content. In this case, SWG really is much better with both the ground and space games as one package, which is why we're offering them together. We are giving rewards to our veteran players in general, but not specifically in this instance.

OS X client? by Dark Paladin (116525)
I realize that this is a long shot, but with the rise of Mac sales and the upcoming change of Macs from PPC to X86, is there a chance if an OS X client? One of the reasons I believe that Blizzards WoW has done so well is because it allows both major desktop OS's to play together, rather than trying to partition on group on a separate server (or pretending they don't even exist, with all of those dollars itching to be spent).

John Smedley:
Unfortunately, no. I absolutely love Macs (I've got 2 at home myself). I wish we could do this, but it's enormously cost prohibitive if you didn't start out from the beginning with Mac development in mind.

Wouldn't it be easier to scrap the game.. by Jason1729 (561790)
...and start over completely with Star Wars Galaxies 2?

John Smedley:
No. While the scope of the new enhancements is large, it's built upon a very powerful underlying engine that gives us the ability to enhance the game in meaningful ways rather quickly.

Re:Will this update...? by kebes (861706)
Given the recent bad press surrounding some of Sony's intrusive software, what changes, if any, are you planning for the copy-protection and cheat-prevention aspects of the game's software. During these change-overs, are you planning on putting in any special software that will monitor the users, and/or software that will attempt to prevent copying the game? Can you guarantee that such software will not "cross the line" and do things not directly related protecting the game itself?

John Smedley:
No. We are a subscription-based service, and therefore this isn't necessary.

Why wasn't NGE announced on 11/1? by WCMI92 (592436) NGE was dropped on us on 11/2, the day AFTER we were charged for the Trials of Obiwan expansion. Why did you deliberately withold this announcement until it was too late for veteran players to cancel their pre-orders so they could play on Test Center to see if they liked the changes?

John Smedley:
Simply put: We made a mistake in the way we communicated everything happening within the game to our current players, and we apologize for it. We're offering refunds to all players who purchased the Expansion pack before 11/3 (when we announced the NGE). But we feel very, very strongly that our current players are going to enjoy the enhancements to the game. The content in Trials of Obi Wan is even more fun with the new game experience.

Re:Another important question from a player by TychoCelchuuu (835690)
Why have you chosen to answer questions here on Slashdot instead of on the Star Wars: Galaxies forums? Many players are already fed up with the lack of communication, especially with these sweeping changes being announced the day after many of us bought Trials of Obi-Wan. Don't you have more of a responsibility to paying customers than you do to promoting the game?

John Smedley:
There are long threads that I've started myself on our forums, but we have community representatives that are answering questions diligently on our forums already, and I'm very involved in what's being said. I'm trying to get the word out in other venues and we know that Slashdot has a wide reach into the online gamer audience in general and the SWG community. Btw, I try to personally answer all of the emails from our players that are written to me and I get a fair number of them each day from our players.

Non-Combat Classes? by by Alpha_Traveller (685367)
Commando, Entertainer, Jedi, Medic, Officer, Smuggler, Spy and Trader.

What if my daughter wanted to be a diplomat? Something tells me that's not the same as Officer. You mentioned each class would show up as a familiar Icon, and I wouldn't call Princess Leia any of the things above. Only three out of the nine are even remotely "non-agressive" in nature. That doesn't speak well for a game that was once geared to be more of a world to explore than just a massive wargame.

[editor: How would you respond to this reader, concerned about the overwhelming shift in emphasis from sandbox-style world to combat-heavy 'game'?]

John Smedley:
This is a really good question, and I think goes to the heart of why we made these changes. The name "Star Wars" carries with it a lot of expectations, and from the research we've done, we weren't delivering enough of the core Star Wars experience to people. Remember, SWG takes place right in the middle of the Galactic Civil War! We felt like we needed to focus on the core iconic professions rather than 34 different professions that weren't unique enough. It just made the game too hard for us to add content to and to balance properly. We finally saw the forest from the trees on this and made the right move.

We still offer professions for non-combat oriented online players who are more interested in the social aspects of the game. We still have the Entertainer position (which is about as non-combat as you can get), as well as the trader class, which encompasses all aspects of crafting and item creation within the game. Additionally, we have made it so that non-combat professions do not agro within the game, so that players who do not choose to fight will be able to move about the game world without worrying about aggressive mobs.

Returning players? by Minupla
With the complete revamp of the game will there be a returning player incentive program? Something so that those of us who left earlier can come back with a minimum of pain and check out the rework and see if it's something that is compatible with our particular playstyles?

John Smedley:
Absolutely! We're going to be offering free trials for download (or at retail stores) in addition to the all-new Starter Pack.

Why not fix the game? by Zonk
Overwhelmingly, the jist of many questions we recieved was "Why do this instead of fix bugs and expand existing content?" What led to the decision to make such a drastic change in the game's playstyle, given that there was still a large population of players who were very happy playing Galaxies as it existed two weeks ago?

John Smedley:
We didn't feel that we could "fix" the existing game without making these changes to the number of professions. Trying to add content and balance a game with 34 different professions was just proving too difficult. We would spend weeks working on content specifically for one or two professions, but that would come at the cost of neglecting the other 30+. I think when we made the game we went too far into the direction of a "sandbox" style of gameplay, when what we needed to do was balance that out with awesome Star Wars gameplay that gives the player the feeling of being heroic.

We also had the very basic business problem of needing to appeal to a wider audience of players in order to keep the game growing rather than seeing the audience dwindle down over time. At the end of the day, our decision came down to wanting to make Star Wars Galaxies the most incredible Star Wars experience ever. Even though we know these changes will be upsetting some of our players initially, we feel that once they see how awesome we can make the Galactic Civil War, and how cool the new Star Wars content is they'll feel like we made the right decision at the end of the day.

All I can say is: try it before you pass judgement. If you are a current player, log in and check out the game. If you are a player who has tried the game and left because it was not delivering the experience, come back. If you're a gamer who has been on the fence because of what you've heard about the game previously, grab the free trial and jump in. We have a free 10 day trail available on the website (http://starwarsgalaxies.station.sony.com/), which can be converted to the full version of the game at the end of the trial period. I feel that the enhancements we've made to the game have made Star Wars Galaxies the game it was always meant to be.

See you on Tatooine!

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John Smedley Answers Your Questions

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  • Erm.... No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) <`dylan' `at' `dylanbrams.com'> on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @12:50PM (#14045317) Homepage Journal
    I let SWG run my life for seven months. I became one of the most effective builders of Starships and Weapons on one of the biggest servers. (Ahazi)

    In the seven months I played there were two major game updates, both of which were reviled by the majority of the player base and touted as something wonderful by SOE. However, from commentary from both Lucasarts and SOE, it was highly apparent that the people in charge of this game were staring at WoW and thinking, "Star Wars is cooler than Warcraft, why aren't we rich?"

    Then they started to make it a clone of the Blizzard game. No matter how loud their player base screamed.

    The game is buggy, system-resource intensive, and the only reason I thought it was awesome was because of 1) the open 'jobs' style system, and 2) the incredible crafting system. Both of these things have been dumbed down in the NGE, from what I hear.

    Smedley's answers are all PR boilerplate and have nothing to do with the real reasons they are changing the game drastically. There are some incredibly cool things in the game still, (I once met a guy who had been playing since beta and loved that he could crawl through the grass and spy on people) but I consider the game fatally flawed by the people who run it not caring one bit about play experience- even as a means to the end of getting more subscribers. The entire design of the game is now based on, "This works for Blizzard, how can we copy it?" They don't seem to understand that you need a happy playerbase willing to bring their RL friends in, instead of an angry one that is embarassed about having gotten sucked into a huge marketing ploy and unable to desert their ingame friends.

    I would recommend to any of my friends that they run the other way from any SOE game. Period.
    Mothmar Friedsquid, former Ahazi Guru / Master Crafter.
  • Not far enough (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the computer guy nex (916959) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @12:55PM (#14045377)
    "Absolutely! We're going to be offering free trials for download (or at retail stores) in addition to the all-new Starter Pack. "

    I am a former long-time SWG customer (6+ months). There were many broken promises within that timeframe. I have no motivation as a former customer to seek out a free trial and attempt to become 'addicted' again.

    Sony needs to pony up and offer an economic incentive to resubscribe. Free month for former subscribers, half-price 3 month subscription, etc.

    A short trial isn't enough to bring unhappy customers back.
  • by queenb**ch (446380) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @01:14PM (#14045534) Homepage Journal
    The game was cheap and the on-line pay-to-play fee was not unreasonable, which is why my gaming clan purchased it the first place. However, due to the "bugs" and some of the changes made to game, we soon got frustrated and have moved on to other games. Since we were "one of the violent mobs" he mentions, many of the changes were directed at us and others like us specifically. While we had been hoping for some serious "cops and robbers" kind of action between our mob of raiders and what ever passes for law enforcement, it never happened and we found that to be extremely frustrating and disappointing. We felt, given the presence of Tarkan raiders, bounty hunters, black marketeers, etc. in the original story lines, that we were not out of place in the on-line game. However the game was not particulary accomodating in this regard.

    2 cents,

    Queen B
  • Usual SOE SWG speak (Score:4, Interesting)

    by portwojc (201398) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @01:27PM (#14045663) Homepage
    Everything is " fine " come back you'll like it...

    Simply put: We made a mistake in the way we communicated everything happening within the game to our current players, and we apologize for it.

    Translation. They had the CU go into place just before Rage of the Wookies. I canceled my expansion and I'm sure others did too. Now they learned. Hold out till after the latest round of extra dough comes in. Then turn the game upside down.

    I'll come back only when SOE isn't in charge of it. It's funny the rest of us can see it they just can't.

    Oh by the way SOE if you hadn't released the game 6-12 months early you wouldn't be in this mess right now. Everyone else takes a step back to do it right and look what they have.

  • Re:Erm.... No. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cnelzie (451984) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @01:37PM (#14045759) Homepage
    The NGE took serious care of the system-resource-intensive issue.

        In the Old Game, I had to keep most of the graphics choices cranked to Zero to get consistent Frames Per Second performance, regardless of where I went. Even then, highly populated areas totally blew that down the tubes and gave me almost no FPS.

        In the NGE, I have been able to crank everything back up near the top again and I am obtaining VERY consistent FPS, regardless of where I am and how many people are in a given area.

        The rest of the NGE is also simple awesome in comparison to the old game. I couldn't go back to playing the old game.

        I played the NGE Test Center servers and I was HIGHLY skeptical, because of the poor performance and some of the very buggy issues I kept experiencing. In the live version, none of those bugs are present and it just works very well.

        My whole SWG guild was skeptical, I was one of the two hardcore TC subjects reporting to my PA, a few others entered the TC game briefly, but not as long as two of us did. After playing the Live version, not one of them has decided to cancel their account, in fact they are all more happy with what we have now, then what we had before.

        As I have experienced since day one of the original release of SWG, the game is simply getting better and better.
  • Two Years Here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ddx Christ (907967) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @01:43PM (#14045809) Homepage

    This guy is just talking out of his ass. The only way to describe Star Wars Galaxies is perhaps through an overnight liquid culture of e.coli. It started off buggy and lacking content, then shot up exponentially over the next few months. These were times when I had the greatest amount of fun and I eventually reached that "alpha-class" of Jedi. That was fun too. But definitely not the highest point. It was much more fun to group with a bunch of buddies, go out into the middle of nowhere and discover something new. "Hey look, a cave!" and there'd be a whole area full of droids in the middle of what was a desert.

    After the Jump To Lightspeed expansion, all subsequent expansions started looking more and more like money-making schemes that provided little to no content. ToOW was just to have a large renewal of subscriptions and to lock in players for the NGE. He is not sorry. He knows only the most furious customers will actually seek and attain a refund; others will be locked in from uncertainty.

    I'm sorry but there just isn't an excuse for changing the game overnight aside from making it a dumbed down version to port over to consoles. After the "combat upgrade" SWG just started to follow a cookie-cutter path until the eventual complete and utter downfall: NGE. They took all the unique aspects out of the game and made it SUCK because they have no idea what they're doing and most of all they fail to listen to their unhappy customers (these changes negatively affected gameplay).

    I will never recommend a game by SOE. A Christmas or two ago I would have said it was the best MMORPG I've played. Now I'm looking for a new home, possibly DnL. Good thing the NGE came, though. Now I can finish these college applications.
  • by Om (5281) * on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @01:51PM (#14045885)


    I went back to SWG after having played it when it came out. The cities were bustling with people. Theed was truly a hang out. I remember walking into the tavern, and there would be so many people dancing, playing instruments, giving table dances, etc, that you couldn't even find a seat.

    I went back a few months ago, and saw that everywhere was a ghost town. It was flat out sad. The taverns were empty, save for a few NPC. The city streets were deserted. I stood in front of the once bustling Starport in Theed and could hear my own voice echoing across the pavement.

    The problem now is that the servers need to merge. Plain and simple. The problem that Sony faces, is that the design of the game prohibits this. When a game dwindles in population, merging servers is the only way to cluster the remaining people back together so they can actually feel like they are playing an MMOG. Sony, however, cannot do this easily. With the (awesome) ability to place your own house anywhere, and create your own player-made cities, this brings to the front an entirely unique problem.

    If you merge servers, what do you do about the cities that overlap? What about people's houses? Who's house takes precidence? Should we just convert everyone's property into items in their bank and have them start all over? Would this piss anyone off?

    So yeah, SWG is in deperate need to merge their player base! If they can figure out a way to cut their servers by half (at least), and get people back together (and i'm not talking just together in one particular city), then I'll definitely give it another shot. As it stands now, it's just a sad place to run around in.

    ++Om

  • by Ahmunhotep (931568) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:19PM (#14046075)
    John Smedley:
    There are long threads that I've started myself on our forums, but we have community representatives that are answering questions diligently on our forums already, and I'm very involved in what's being said. I'm trying to get the word out in other venues and we know that Slashdot has a wide reach into the online gamer audience in general and the SWG community. Btw, I try to personally answer all of the emails from our players that are written to me and I get a fair number of them each day from our players.

    Where? I have not seen long threads that he has started. What I see are long threads begging SoE to do things differently from their paying player base that go unheeded.

    John Smedley:
    This is a really good question, and I think goes to the heart of why we made these changes. The name "Star Wars" carries with it a lot of expectations, and from the research we've done, we weren't delivering enough of the core Star Wars experience to people.

    Show us the research if you have done any. Well we definately are not getting our expectations now.

    John Smedley:
    Remember, SWG takes place right in the middle of the Galactic Civil War! We felt like we needed to focus on the core iconic professions rather than 34 different professions that weren't unique enough. It just made the game too hard for us to add content to and to balance properly. We finally saw the forest from the trees on this and made the right move.

    Weren't unique enough?? You could put together nearly any combination you wanted to. How does 9 based on Star Wars Characters make them any more unique? You went from a system where a player could mix and match as much as they liked to a system where EVERY character of any one chosen profession is EXACTLY alike.

    You have also said that in the 'coming months" a second character slot would be added. It seems I remember a comment which amounted to the same thing.. that was the revamp for Rangers and Smugglers and that promise was made 2 years ago. I will believe it when I see it.

    As for making the right move, I do not think you would know the right move if it walked up and bit you in the ass.

    IF you want the real truth about what is going on with SWG I suggest you go to sites who have reviewed SWG post NGE, or better yet come and visit the Official SWG forums. There you will find out how much we "love" the NGE. Sure there are the usual SoE fanboys but I think you will find the comments overwhelingly negative. Hey, I have an idea maybe SoE and Mr. Smedley should conduct some research.....from thier own player base, that would definately be something new and exciting. Something needs to be new and exciting because what has been done to SWG surely is not.
  • by sterno (16320) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:30PM (#14046181) Homepage
    They don't seem to understand that you need a happy playerbase willing to bring their RL friends in, instead of an angry one that is embarassed about having gotten sucked into a huge marketing ploy and unable to desert their ingame friends.

    This is such a critical thing and I think SOE has failed at this in more than one of their games. I've been a loyal player of PlanetSide since it came out and I ran into this exact problem. Initially the game was so buggy I found it very hard to recommend it to anybody. Eventually some of the kinks got worked out and so I got a friend to play. He ran into a bunch of bugs, got lousy technical support, and ended up leaving the game within a week of starting.

    The other problem I've run into with this game is that the hardware demands are so insane that many of my friends with older rigs just don't have what it takes to run it. I've got a P4 2.8, 6600GT, 2GB of Ram, a Raptor HD and I run it on a medium graphics settings and it's pretty playable but I still get slow downs in heavy battles. I'm running it on hardware that did not exist when the game was released and on medium setting it performs merely okay. That's tragic. So when I've got a friend with a slightly older graphics card and a sub 2Ghz system, it's rather difficult for me to recommend it to them.

    I've got a lot of friends that I think would totally love the game play, but if their experience is going to be one of low framerates and crashes, I'd be rather embarassed to recommend it to them. Thus the average person hasn't even heard of PlanetSide. Whenever I describe the game to somebody they think it sounds really cool, but they never heard of it because the game got such a bad reputation at release.

    So, SOE, if you want these games to have long term success, release them when they are ready, and release games that will run smoothly on average modern hardware. Sure you can have bells and whistles that will take advantage of the top of the line systems, but make it so it's playable by lower hardware. The time you spend on getting the kinks worked out and the performance issues resolve will be made up for in spades when you can get a game with a strong following for years to follow.
  • The EQ perspective (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @04:50PM (#14047526)
    As a consumer of another of Sony's game (the only sony product I use, and I'm not paying for it- part of my general Sony boycott due to an incredibly rude CS experience)...

    1) Smedley has been like this since he appeared as a giant gnome. He always talks straight but nothing happens as fast as you think it will and somethings never happen.

    2) Anything that is "awesome" is going to get nerfed.

    3) They rarely ban anyone.

    4) GM's have no real authority.

    5) What do you expect for $13 a month...

    6) Someday the servers -will- shut down (It sucked in Earth & Beyond (EA game- first mmorg I know of shut down- I won't buy an EA game again since we had about 8k players ($80k a month) and they wouldn't even leave a frozen copy up and running.

    7) EQ -never ever- did things until it started losing players- then it mimiced like crazy. I argued with Brad on the old petition board for things that never happened- including the current trade interface. Then when DAoC came out with it and EQ numbers dropped, they moved on it fast.

    Bottom line...
    They think the players are delusional, self-centered and/or idiots. They will quickly mimic proven success.

    If they do with SW what they did with EQ1, it will eventually be fun to play again with most of the rough edges worn off so quit paying but don't delete your characters.

    But it is an ENTERTAINMENT not a life. Don't give up your job, spouse, children, etc. just because it's fun because it is 100% certain to abandon you (by being shut down) within the next 5-10 years max- probably sooner.

Programmers do it bit by bit.

Working...