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Role Playing (Games)

John Smedley Answers Your Questions 189

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

Comments Filter:
  • Re:Erm.... No. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kookus ( 653170 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:26PM (#14045647) Journal
    I got in beta and could see how poorly things were going from there, this really isn't a surprise at all. You were required (although I don't think they had a means of checking) to read a whole bunch of documentation before each test period, which only happened once a week or so. During that test session you would test something they've implemented and gave feedback + try to break it. So you'd fill out your forms and submit them. The problem was that they were ill-equiped to handle the actual testing periods, the periods themselves were scheduled far in advance, but were delayed on the day they were scheduled by hours. Organization was seriously lacking for something outlined so well in advance and required so much of the testers before hand. I gave it 3 weeks, and told them it wasn't worth my time if they weren't going to respect my time. You don't do this in the corporate world without getting fired. That's how you lose a customer. But happily, I'm a WoW addict, and I can sleep at night.
  • by cnelzie ( 451984 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:40PM (#14045780) Homepage
    Try 2 years and 5 months.

        That's how long I have been playing and in that time the game has grown by leaps and bounds. I like the Combat Upgrade change, but I love the NGE change even more.

        Star Wars Galaxies is going to keep getting better, but if MMORPGs aren't your thing, then they aren't your thing.
  • Re:Erm.... No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:42PM (#14045798)
    Yep. I quit Galaxies long ago but for the same basic reasons. I mean the game design was some of the best I'd ever seen. I loved the job based system, and when cities came out, I was ecstatic. For once in a game, there was real, useful, housing over some place just to store your shit. For once players could have a real impact on the game environment.

    However the devil is in the details and the problem was in the implementation. Sony just seemed to work as hard as they could to screw everything up. Here were the big ones for me:

    1) The patching system. They would issue patch after patch fixing game bugs. After a string of these, the game was up to a pretty good state, not perfect but free of major problems. Then a new patch would come out that introduced new content and everything broke again. It was as if they were basing it off of old code or something. This cycle just repeated over and over. I got sick of things being broke all the time.

    2) The removal of cool features to fix stupid problems. For example, when player-run cities came about there was the concept of a militia. The militia was appointed and could exert control over the city. Milita members could tell you to leave, and if you didn't, flag you as attackable by all milita, and they could then shoot you. It was nice, gave you direct control over your city. Ok but someone found a way to exploit it to gain experience. No big deal, experience was easy to come by, but instantly Sony removed it and it never came back while I was playing. So now jackasses would run all over your city being jerks, and there was nothing you could do. However...

    3) Refusal to deal with real problems. While they were removing cool features for non-issues, they'd never crack down on real cheating. People were creating insanely powerful cheat weapons and armour. Rather than just deleting all of it and banning the offenders they took forever to straighten things out, and didn't really do anything.

    The event that was one of the big ones that pushed me to quit was when the military bases in our cities were assulted by a cheater guild. We mounted a defence, and a big one (we were the largest Alliance guild on the server). However all our efforts were futile, we couldn't damage them, and they'd kill us instantly. Now amazingly enough we got a hold of a Sony CSR, he came out, observed what was happening and interviened. He told them they were cheating and their accounts had been marked, anything further, they'd be banned.

    So of course you know where this goes. An hour later they were back at it again. We managed to get a hold of the same CSR and he came back. We figured great, banned cheaters. Nope, he did NOTHING. He scolded them a bit and hemmed and hawed, but no ban. So, of course, they now figured they could do as they please, no repercussions.

    4) Total lack of balancing. Sony was always tweaking the class dynamics, but what it really got down to was there was no balance of combat classes. It wasn't too hard to design a tactic that was essentially unstoppable For things like taking out a military base. I never saw it get any beter in all my time there.

    So, now I play WoW. I personally don't think it's as well designed a game as Galaxies. It's well designed, don't get me wrong, but not as good. However the important part is it's well implemented. The game works well, and feels balanced. That's what really matters. You can plan and plan all you like, it's implementation that ultimately matters, and THAT'S what Blizzard does right.

    Personally, I don't trust Sony to be able to replicate it.
  • by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @02:59PM (#14045939) Journal
    Since we were "one of the violent mobs" he mentions, many of the changes were directed at us and others like us specifically

    I think you've misunderstood some old MUD lingo. The only use of the term "mob" in TFA is:

    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.

    Wikipedia's definition of this type of "Mob":

    A mob is a non-player character (NPC) or monster in a computer role-playing game (especially MUDs and MMORPGs). It is widely accepted as being short for mobile object or simply mobile, stemming from its use in the earliest text-based MUDs, and is commonly written either mob or MOB (the latter more often considered an acronym of Movable Object Block, a term for any on-screen moving object, or sprite)

    Long story short, they're saying Bantha's won't attack your Dancer, no matter how close you walk to them now. They weren't talking about player killers.
  • Re:Erm.... No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Karzz1 ( 306015 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @03:15PM (#14046045) Homepage
    In the live version, none of those bugs are present and it just works very well.

    You have got to be kidding me. If it works so well, how come there are 55 pages of comments in the "issues" thread alone??? -- check it out [sony.com].

    You must be some kind of SOE apologist. And for the record, I have 2 toons on TC (TC2 and TC5) -- I cannot tell the difference between the "live" game and testcenter.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @03:54PM (#14046413)
    This is slightly off topic, but I gotta ask why is WoW so damn popular?

    WoW is more than the sum of its parts. The competition for "overworld" items is part of the fun, it means you actually need to think about the most efficient strategies for gathering etc. The quests are generally well designed, and many are quite challenging. The concept of "instances" is nice, where each party going into high-end content gets a private copy with no competition (or help). Finally, PvP works well and the battlegrounds concept provides another interesting and fun diversion.

    In short, I think WoW is great. I run an almost fully epic-equipped lvl 60 damage warrior, and I expect to keep playing pretty intensively until the big expansion comes out in March. Blizzard has done a good job of providing a lot of interesting high-end content.

    P.S. I see a tremendous diversity of character "look" on our server (Shadowsong). Did you play past level 10?

  • Re:Erm.... No. (Score:2, Informative)

    by doorbot.com ( 184378 ) on Wednesday November 16, 2005 @04:06PM (#14046528) Journal
    I wouldn't say SOE was trying to screw up the game, it just seems like they had three problems:

    1. Poor QA
    2. Poor change control
    3. A lack of time/ability to polish their product.

    I certainly agree that their design was good but the implementation was flawed.

    The perfect example of this was the "Test Center" servers. Publicly, SOE asked the players to test the upcoming publishes on these servers. There were plenty of bugs of course, but this is a "test" server so to a degree one might expect that. A lot of the bugs would be "obvious" game breaking bugs, leading one to think that very little QA had been done on the TC release.
    But let's just accept that for now and move on... so the players test it and report bugs (game breaking bugs). Publishes would be announced ahead of time of course, and on the day of the publish, they got pushed to live whether they were ready or not.
    Imagine the frustration of a TC player who spent time beta testing the publish only to have it released with the same game-breaking, reproducible bugs they had just reported. Except now those bugs affected the entire population of Galaxies; many players would simply wait a day or two after a publish before logging on, just so they would know (by reading the forums) how to work around the bugs.

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken