Against the Gods

Against the Gods
Raph Koster on Fire

Allen Varney | 25 Jul 2006 08:01
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Star Wars Galaxies: What Went Wrong?
After almost three and a half years of development, Sony Online Entertainment launched Star Wars Galaxies in June 2003 to mixed or negative response. SWG peaked in 2004 below 300,000 subscribers. SOE revamped the game, first in April 2005 and more drastically - some say disastrously - in November, with the New Game Enhancements (NGE). Bruce Woodcock estimates SWG's current player base at between 110,000 and 175,000.

"When I started on SWG, one of the first things I did was write down the things I thought the game had to mean: a great civil war, political battles (under the influence of the new trilogy here), the Light and Dark sides of the Force, swashbuckling derring-do, a rich and diverse world and, lastly, community - because this last one is common to all MMOGs and also because Star Wars fans are themselves a strong community. My goal was to marry the open-endedness of Ultima Online with all the content and depth of EverQuest. My feeling at the time was, 'This is the single best opportunity ever for MMOGs to swing for the fences, damn the cost - if not now, when?'

"Fundamentally, SWG was launched too early from a game design point of view. It may not have been from a financial point of view - there's considerations like how much had been spent, how soon it would earn back the investment, that sort of thing - but most systems in there were first-pass at best. The place where that was most obvious was in the relative lack of content at launch. The tools simply came on too late to make the volume of content needed, and even though a heroic final push tried to populate the game with distinctive content, it just wasn't anywhere near enough.

"A large chunk of the blame lies with me, for being over-ambitious with the design. I don't think there were all that many fundamental problems with the overall design itself - some, sure, but nothing like the closed-economy debacle in UO, for example. [The systems] were first-pass, but mostly conceptually solid. (I am sure current and ex-SWG players will want to argue this point in detail, but hey, this is an interview, and there's no room to give my detailed postmortem on every system! Yes, I still think something like HAM [the threefold Health-Agility-Mental damage system] could work, but yeah, it was probably too complicated.)

"I was not involved directly with SWG from about four months after launch. People seem to think that as [Chief Creative Officer] I was somehow in control of all the design being done at SOE. That's not really the case at all; I had some influence, but I spent most of my time doing pitches, R&D, publicity stuff and that sort of thing. It's been well over two years since I did anything significant on the title. The last things really finished under my tenure were player cities, mounts and the Warren - and by cities, actually, I was barely involved. I had philosophical disagreements with a lot of the direction taken after that.

"I didn't like a lot of the subsequent choices - thinking here of Holocron drops, [Temporary Enemy Flag] changes, group sizes, buff expansions, global market, entertainer changes, creature handler removal, levels, a lot of the combat upgrade ... I could give you my opinions there, but there's no point - even those changes have been changed. Many of them were essentially trying to dig out of the hole that launching prematurely had caused. I can't really blame anyone for them, whether I agreed with the decisions or not. The whole time, the team worked their ass off and tried their best.

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