The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Tag: SWG

SOE Management – Why So Clueless?

So it’s baseball playoff time, and I’m enjoying a game on TV when I get an email.  It’s from SOE.  They want to make sure that I know they are closing about half of their SWG servers.  Yeah, OK, I know that.  And they want me to know a couple other things.  To quote;

In accordance with the server closure date, the Free Character Transfer service has been extended through October 15. 2009. Between September 15, 2009 and October 15, 2009 at 4:59 PM PT all characters on the affected servers are eligible for a one way, one time Free Character Transfer* to any of the remaining thirteen (13) Star Wars Galaxies servers.

Cool!  Free character transfers!  That’s always good, especially when the server you are on may be one of the soon-to-be-obsolete variety.  Duh.  But there is more;

After October 15, 2009 at 5:00 PM PT, any characters and their associated items and structures remaining on the identified servers being closed will no longer be accessible on your Star Wars Galaxies or Station Access account.

Ouch.  OK, no longer accessible? You mean deleted, right?

But wait!  There’s more!  And this is the really good part!

To access the Free Character Transfer Service, you must login to Star Wars Galaxies with the character you would like to transfer. You will be notified that your character qualifies for the free character transfer service opportunity when you login. Eligible characters may also enter “/freects” to begin the transfer process. Only one character may be transferred at a time. Please read and respond carefully to each question and answer entry you type. All Character Transfers are considered final and cannot be reversed.

This means that there is no way to transfer your characters if you are currently unsubscribed.  I say currently because the nature of MMO subscriptions is that people come and go, then come back again.  Tarkheena and I have resubbed to SWG three separate times.

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Blizzard Proving Willing to Make the Big Change

When we are talking about the events in MMO history that have caused a company to become reviled among the player base, the Star Wars: Galaxies NGE is frequently brought to the forefront.  SOE still hasn’t lived down the whole debacle.  It’s not even entirely clear that it was their idea, as I hear a lot of people who should know such things point their fingers at LucasArts.  SOE would still be to blame for the timing, just days after an expansion shipped that a large percentage of their player base paid for. SOE or LucasArts, it’s hard to argue against that event being the nail in the coffin of SW:G’s hopes of world dominance.

With that as a background, Blizzard announces this week that they are going to make sweeping changes to their Goose in the hopes that it will continue to lay Golden Eggs at the same or an increasing rate.  For the most part, other than the Horde getting screwed with gobby’s as a race when the Alliance is getting effing Werewolves, the player base looks at it and says a collective; “Hells yeah.”

What’s the difference?

Well there are many and fundamental differences.  I won’t rehash what SOE did too much other than to say that they changed the fundamental nature of the game, some even say the genre.  Blizzard is continuing it’s tradition of changing and rebalancing classes on a continual basis, but overall the fundamental game play will stay similar.  There are going to be a LOT of new features in Cataclysm, but most of them are net-new stuff and won’t likely be viewed as take-aways.  Blizzard is also giving us something that no other MMO company in my (admittedly faulty) memory has done, which is to go back and try to make the old, tired, and trivial content usable and playable again.  I think this makes a lot of sense, because you can redevelop and area and make it good a lot faster than you can go and make new areas, and adding new stuff doesn’t address your abandoned content problem.

I don’t know how the Cataclysm is going to work out.  I am willing to be they will sell a ton of it, but it remains to be seen how the whole things comes together.  A lot can definitely go wrong.  Blizzard’s track record suggests it probably will be mostly solid.  We’ll see, I guess.

For now, I have to say that I’m impressed that they are willing to take a chance and do something bold.  This is certainly bold, if nothing else.  I hope it works out for them. There’s nothing I want more than a dilemma about whether I should be playing WoW or SWToR, or even Copernicus, if that is out during that time frame.  Choices are what it’s all about. It’s going to be a while before we find out if this is a good one for Blizzard.

Further Insane Ramblings on Game Design

As has been written here, I’m playing Star Wars: Galaxies again. It’s made me think about decisions that we make as gamers and that game companies make as designers/producers. Here’s what this has brought to the forefront for me;

For Gamers:

– Fun – is king. If a game has problems (and all of them do to some degree) we are willing to overlook them as long as we are still having fun. What makes a game fun? That’s different for everyone but for me it’s having something to DO.
For example, I’m currently working on making my crafting characters able to make useful or fun items for myself and others. To do that I need a lot of resources. I know this, so I am in my active gathering mode. I know I need this or that, so I go to gather it. I’m stockpiling at the moment, so I haven’t actually progressed the target character that much, but when I next sit down to craft I’ll have what I need to knock out several levels. For me this is fun.

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SWG Deserves a Second (or Third) Look, Too

SWGTipa has an article over on West Karana about getting back into EQ, at least a bit back into it.  I’m going to say the same thing about another Red-Headed Stepchild, and that is Star Wars Galaxies.  As we all know, SOE has become the St. Jude (the patron saint of lost causes) of the MMO industry.  Their MMO assortment includes several games, most of which were either considered disappointments at launch or have become long in the tooth.  I won’t run through the gory details because, well, you all know about it already.

Star Wars Galaxies is one of those.  It shipped too early in most people’s estimation.  It was way too large a world for hand-crafted content so there was little of it to be found.  There was dynamically created content (i.e. cookie-cutter missions) and that was how you gained experience as an adventurer.  There were also 30 classes.  Well, not classes because the game was skill-based and not level-based.  The game was a great deal of fun as a sandbox but deeply flawed as a main stream MMO.

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John Smedley, I’m Counting on You

This past weekend, Tarkheena and I started playing Star Wars Galaxies again.  Yes, you read that right.  Before you get too mad at me, I know that in the past I’ve pointed at SWG as an example of everything that is wrong at SOE.  I’m not taking that back.  SOE most assuredly DID screw up with SWG.  The NGE (New Game Experience) was a horrible miscalculation, and their timing (2 days after an expansion) couldn’t have possibly been worse.  I won’t go into all the reasons why it was a bad idea here, as it’s all been hashed and rehashed before.

The thing is, now I’m having fun.

Since I now am the (slightly ashamed) owner of a Station Pass, I resolved to try it out.  Tark and I ended up getting our old accounts out and giving all our houses and stuff to the new guys. So they are slightly advantaged (we had resources, but not a ton of cash, er, credits) vs. someone starting fresh.  Let’s be honest; no one is really starting fresh.  I haven’t seen the game in a box on a shelf anywhere, so unless you happen to be using the Station Launcher and see it, you really can’t buy it.

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Sandbox Vs. Amusement Park

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on design decisions that different studios have made in the quest to build a popular MMO title.  Let me start by saying this; the purpose of this article is not to describe all of the different types of MMO that could be popular.  It’s mostly about the style, features, and overarching design type and execution that in the end determines what is a Horizons and what is a World of Warcraft as far as subscription numbers are concerned.

I’m going to start by asserting that most MMO fall into one of the “big-two” design philosophies; Amusement Parks and Sandboxes.  I know that there are many gray areas in between, but stay with me on this one.

Over the last several years, I’ve been involved with communities that are asking, if not begging, for a sandbox.  “I want a world that I can live and play in” is often heard.  “I hate Linear Progression” is also heard quite a bit.  When game companies actually deliver a Sandbox, it’s often greeted with complaints about “lack of content” or “emptiness”.  Well, yeah.  Let’s take a look back at a couple of games which might be the best of their “genre” and how they worked out.

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Vanguard Producer Waffles on Fundamental Changes

Last week, I wrote about the proposed changes to Vanguard that were gleaned from the Producer’s Letter published on the Vanguard Official Forums. I was concerned that they were getting ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. Apparently I was not alone. As of this writing, there are 57 pages of comments and responses to that original post of the letter. Many of them are saying the same thing; “Please don’t make this game trivial.”

I’m sure they have great intentions. As my grandmother used to tell me as a child when I messed things up but had good intentions; “The road to hell is paved with ‘good intentions’.” I’m not sure that they have the proper context to make the design decisions for this game vis-a-vis the user base. Now, Salim Grant is still there from the original team and I trust him implicitly. I think he knows how to design a game. My concern is that Thom Terrazas doesn’t have any history with the game, and he never read many of the 1.9 million or so posts over at the original Official Vanguard Forums. That’s all fine, but if you are going to make fundamental changes to your game I believe that you had darn well better know exactly how to take the user base’s temperature.

I don’t think that has happened. I haven’t seen any user surveys or heard of any that have been performed by SOE to gauge the community’s opinion on the proposed changes. That is why I opined that this was similar to the arrogance displayed when the NGE was rolled out for SWG.

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Vanguard in for Big Change of Direction

Everyone in the gaming and MMO business and most gamers who follow MMO’s already know that Vanguard: Saga or Heroes launched to a disastrous start. While few thought that it would be the legendary “WoW-killer,” a lot of people thought that it would hit an under served niche; what Sigil coined as the “Core Gamer.” When the game launched, it was at least 6 months early, and lacked the technical and game play polish that today’s gamer has come to expect. But that is all review at this point. Most of you already know that Sigil and SOE didn’t produce the game that gamers expected.

Over the last several months, SOE has made some strides in resolving the technical issues plaguing the game. The game’s problems continue to run deeper than the mere technical issues, though. Gameplay fixes are lagging behind the technical ones, and it’s likely that they will continue to do so, as by many reports 14 of the remaining 50 or so staffers were let go a couple of weeks ago. It’s going to be hard to make traction against these issues with the miniature team that is still there working.

When the staffers were let go, SOE also changed the manager of the project. This manager wrote in his introductory newsletter that he didn’t really know too much about Vanguard. He pledged to work on getting to know the product, which is a start.  Thom Terrazas is the new project manager.

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