GameCore is CBSNews.com's video game column written by William Vitka, Chad Chamberlain, Lyndsey Hahn, Alejandro K. Brown.
We love doing mailbags. We love letting readers spill their guts; or, we love letting them say as much as we can get away with letting them say.
Recently, Sony Online Entertainment has made some changes to their MMO game Star Wars Galaxies. SOE calls the changes "enhancements." However, many long-time players call the changes things that are various ways of saying "crap."
The alterations seem to be aimed at making the game less complicated and less intricate; a move to expand the potential gamer base beyond that of regular RPG players. But at the same time, that assumes that gamers want dumber games and more instant gratification. To make the game more "fun," does that mean make it dumb?
Star Wars Galaxies fans, or former fans, are bellicose.
Several of their - very long - e-mails are just a click away.
I started playing Star Wars Galaxies in October 2003 (http://lirial.20m.com/cancelled.html) as Proof for those who don't believe I played the game as long as I state) and apparently it was 2 years of time wasted on making the character I wanted because Sony Online Entertainment/LucasArts has felt the urge to change it so that you are no longer "Living the star wars saga, YOUR saga" as you want it, you now can "live the experience" the way they TELL you you HAVE to live it. No more customizing your character to a profession that suits you...
When the game first came out, there were 32+ professions you could choose to work on. (IE: Rifleman, Scout, Bounty Hunter, Creature Handler, Bio Engineer, Droid Engineer, Medic, Doctor, Combat Medic, Chef, Dancer, Musician, Image Designer, Swordsman, Fencer, Pikeman, Teras Kasi Artist, Pistoleer, Brawler, Architect, Politician, and others) If you decided you didn't like a profession, you could drop it and work on another, intermixing the professions as you felt the need.
You want to be a dancer who can earn a little on the side hunting in slow times in the cantina? (Maybe go Dancer/Rifleman, or maybe Dancer/Teras Kasi Artist with a dash of medic) Nope sorry you want to dance, (Entertainer) that's ALL you can do.
You wanted to catch and train the taun tauns they rode on Hoth? Be the like the guy who took care of Jabbas rancor in Return of the Jedi? You wanted to be the one who went out and got an egg to grow a veractyl like Obi Wan rode in revenge of the sith? Maybe catch and train the dewbacks that the stormtroopers were riding on as they searched for R2-D2 and C3PO on Tatooine in A New Hope? Guess the gungan animals they used in were BORN with all the gear strapped onto them and carry it because its attached to them...But if that's what you wanted, well, to bad because Sony/LA feel that the Creature Handler profession was "Not Star Warsy" enough and removed it... along with 20 or so of the other professions the game started with...
Now you can pick a picture of one of the 9 movie characters pictures in the character select screen and say "That's me, I'm gonna be Han Solo" (Smuggler), or "Oh look! I'm gonna be Boba Fette!" (Bounty Hunter) Since the interchangeable 32+ professions were turned into 9 preset "Iconic" profession with the aforementioned movie personas on the select screen. (Once you choose that profession if you don't like it you have to DELETE your character and make a NEW one)
You like role-playing and chatting with your friends while hunting? Nope sorry, due to the pathetic attempt at making SWG a FPS you can no longer type in chat and hunt at the same time unless you magically acquire an extra set of hands... god forbid you are disabled in any way, apparently disabled aren't part of their profit margin so they aren't worth making able to play... Even though they were able to play just fine in the pre-NGE gamestyle.
As for the "faster game play" another person summed it up best... it now looks like Benny Hill on crack...freakishly sped up not improved....
Don't you love having to keep line of site and your cursor over mobs to hit them, yet they can run all over and behind buildings, hills, whatever and still hit you, while your now like the typical moveie stormtrooper who cant hit the side of a barn...
Customer service? Unless you're someone singing their praises, you are utterly ignored by SOE/LA, unless they are deleting/locking anything negative you might post about their game...
Due to this mess, and messes experienced in other games by SOE It has pushed me to the point where I will never again purchase anything made or even affiliated with Sony or LucasArts, and try to let anyone I see going towards them know just exactly what their practices are...
Best analogy I can come up with for they way they treat their paying customers is as follows... Sony Online Entertainment/LucasArts = Hurricane Katrina, and Star Wars Galaxies subscribers = New Orleans. Be prepared at any time to have the game you purchased in good faith on how it was advertised to be completely changed with little to no notice.
Myself I played a Master Creature Handler/Master Swords with a dash of medic to be able to keep my pets and myself healed. In October of 2005 they started advertising an expansion to the game called "Trials of Obi-Wan" with many allusions to enhancements to my Creature Handler profession (more animals to catch, and a "Master Creature Handlers Necklace" which would enable us to go from controlling up to level 70 creatures to level 80 creatures. The expansion was ONLY available as a digital download (online purchase via Credit Card, downloaded as a game patch) They VERY day my payment was processed, SOE/LA announced that they were releasing "New Game Enhancements" in two weeks, and my profession was being REMOVED from the game entirely along with may others.
If you do decide to go into this game, NEVER ever ever ever prepay for more then one month in advance. Many people paid up to a year in advance to have the game they wanted to play completely changed, and were refused refunds.
Never again will I purchase any product owned or affiliated in any way with Sony & Lucasarts.
Straw. Camel. Back
Dear Mr. Lucas
I am contacting you to voice my concern over the recent changes to the online game Star Wars Galaxies (SWG), how they were communicated and implemented, and how the Lucas Arts and Star Wars names have been tarnished in the past few weeks. I am also copying this letter to several media outlets, and the people responsible for SWG within SOE and Lucas Arts.
First off let me introduce myself. My name is Charles Brownell, and I am 37-year-old MIS Analyst for a globally recognized financial institution. I was 9 years old in 1977 when I sat in the Cine Capri movie theater in Phoenix, AZ. and was mesmerized by your magnificent creation. The movie was a life-changing event even at 9. At the time my parents were going through a bitter divorce and my mother had moved us away from the only home I had ever known and all of my friends. This was truly a tragic period in my life for I felt alone and unsure of my future. Star Wars gave me away to escape from the terrible realities of my real life and also a way to connect with new friends. For this I thank you.
Throughout the next few years, things were fairly rocky, moving a lot, changing schools, trying to find new friends, abusive stepfather etc. One of the things that gave me hope was the anticipation of the next Star Wars movie, the comic books and novels that started to get published, and collecting memorabilia. Return of the Jedi came out as I was starting high school and, although it would be the last Star Wars movie released of the first trilogy; the magic of the universe you created lived on in my heart and my imagination as I grew older. Athlete heroes, girlfriends, and other interests came and went, but Star Wars always remained an important part of my life.
I have played most if not all of the Star Wars based games that have been released on consol. However I had never played a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), and I eagerly awaited the release of SWG and closely followed its development. I read and posted on the forums months before its release. I can honestly say the one hesitation I had about the game initially was the combat system. Being a consol gamer, I never could conceptualize the turn based combat system that was being implemented in SWG. But the fact that I was going to be able to create a version of myself and let loose in the Star Wars universe, explore and interact with other fans, made me feel like that 9 year old kid again.
Under advice of a friend who was an avid online gamer I waited a few months after the release to purchase the game. He said it was best to wait and let the game stabilize first. When I started the game player housing and vehicles were just being introduced. I had tears of joy when I first logged on; it was like someone had taken pictures of my dreams and made a game from them. The detail, the graphics, and the sounds were unbelievable. And quickly, with help from new friends I had made, I figured out how to play. Some have said, and still say today, the learning curve was too steep for SWG. For me, learning the game was part of the fun.
For the next 2 years I played a game that was built for a true Star Wars fan, a complete, immersive, virtual Star Wars universe, with seemingly endless possibilities. The fact that I could be and do almost anything with very few barriers was amazing. Although many programming "bugs" existed in the game, more content needed to be added, and some professions needed to be worked on, SWG was a great game that had a lot of potential. The game was on the road to becoming a huge success from a game play aspect with the well-timed release of fun expansions such as Jump to Lightspeed and Rage of the Wookiees, added content, and some great ideas to enhance some of the current professions (Squad Leader, Creature Handler) SWG continued to be a pinnacle of MMORPG achievement. All that ended on November 15, 2005.
Everything that so many people have worked hard on is now shredded to pieces and thrown away with the introduction of the New Game Enhancement (NGE). Whether it was because of unrealistic financial expectations or a flawed business model, the game that many people grew to depend on as our Star Wars experience, our own personal Star Wars story, has been destroyed. No longer is the game an immersive virtual world. No longer can you choose your path and find your purpose in the Star Wars galaxy. The 34 well thought out fun professions have been replace with 9 "iconic" professions to "simplify" the game. Some professions have been removed completely (Creature Handler and Bioengineer), Creature Handler being one of the most popular professions (and in my opinion, a true groundbreaking profession model in the MMORPG realm). Crafters, are now called traders, and are all but useless in the game. The once revered economic system is collapsing before our eyes. The combat system, a turned based system that is a staple of all MMORPGs, that allows for interaction during combat and allowed disabled players to enjoy being apart of the fun has been removed for the "fun" "fast action" twitched based combat seen in FPS style games. The game we knew and loved has been pulled away from under us. The depth and immersion is diluted to appeal to a much larger audience. This is no longer the game I enjoy playing. After a few weeks of trying I, along with tens of thousands of others have quit.
In an interview with the New York Times, Nancy MacIntyre, senior director for SWG at LucasArts states, "We wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in the movies rather than something they had created themselves." It is unbelievable that detail, quality, and depth have been sacrificed in favor of "instant gratification". However it stands to reason. Several communications from John Smedley, President, Sony Online Entertainment, and Julio Torres, Producer of SWG at Lucas Arts, point to focus groups conducted with present and former players. And the design changes were a direct reflection of the feedback they were given. It is also well known that the focus groups consisted of only males 18-25.
It is clear to me that the original Star Wars Galaxies game was destroyed without any consideration of the existing player base. Furthermore, it was destroyed because we, the "original" Star Wars fans (35years old and up), are no longer the target market for the gaming business. What was once an immersive, engaging, and complex virtual Star Wars world, has been oversimplified to market to teenagers and preteens in an effort to maximize profitability.
I know you understand economics. During the development and marketing of Star Wars: A New Hope, you were able to maintain the merchandizing rights to the Star Wars brand name, which turned out to be a multibillion dollar franchise. Keep in mind however, the Star Wars franchise exists only because of the imagination of those 7-12 year olds in 1977 that latched on to another galaxy far, far, away. The franchise was fueled by the hard earned dollars of our parents, who raided retailers for the popular Star Wars wares.
My question is why, now nearly 30 years later, are we are no longer a target customer group for a Star Wars game? Is our money no longer wanted? The hallways and rooms of our childhood homes once masqueraded as corridors of the Death Star or the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. They have been replaced with the cubicles, offices and boardrooms where we work. All the little Han Solos, Princess Leias and Luke Skywalkers, are now teachers, doctors, lawyers, software designers, and police officers, but in the hearts of each one of them, that 9 year old still lives, and still dreams of being in a galaxy, far, far away. But now, with these New Game Enhancements, that dream has turned into a nightmare. Although this new game may have been fun when we were 9, now that my generation is quickly approaching middle age, our wants and desires as game players are drastically different now.
In a letters to the community on November 15 and 25th, John Smedly and Julio Torres both said the changes were made to make the game more "exciting" "fun" and "Star Warsy". Those terms are all subjective. What may be "exciting" or "fun" differs from person to person. I for one thought the detail and complexity of the game was what was most "fun" about SWG. The fact that I could create a character and explore the galaxy was very "Star Warsy" to me. At 37 years old, point and click twitch combat holds no excitement. I know this is true for countless others, because they have said so. They speak out in forum threads, in reviews posted all over the internet, and most importantly, with their wallet, as I estimate close to 60k subscriptions have been canceled. The comments I have made here are not just my feelings on this situation, but reflect what the majority, a very vocal majority, are feeling as well.
Unfortunately, the changes that were made to the game are only a part of a very disturbing situation. How the changes were done clearly shows a lack of respect and concern for the customer. And the timing of the implementation shows true cowardice from management. If one thinks things through logically, you can begin to develop a timeline of events. The game was released in June/July 2003. One year later, financial returns would have been reviewed. It is obvious that SWG did not generate the revenue that had been expected, thus the NGE concept was born. It was a wide held belief that the NGE had to take at least nine months to a year to develop. It is also known that the NGE was being developed in secret, even the current developers had no knowledge of this, and certainly the players did not.
This fact raises an ethical and possible legal question for me. How can a company intentionally deceive its customer base with the intent to mitigate financial losses, by continuing a product, making changes, and adding content, with the promises made of future content, all the while knowing that the product will be discontinued with in a year? Some would argue that the game was just changed not discontinued. However, I contend that a game is defined by not just its genre or subject matter, but by the type of combat system, content, and target audience. To me, Star Wars Galaxies was cancelled on the November 15th, and a new game took its place. Either way, the customers were never given the chance to know how the game was going to change in the future. Had I known a year in advance, of these changes, I would have walked away from it, and not invested my time and money. And SOE knew that many others would have done the same. We were never given that choice. Nor were others that paid for a 6 month or yearly subscription, and are now being denied a refund.
To compound this, the game that was released on the 15th, was not fit to put into a beta test yet alone go live. So not only was a game pushed upon us that few people wanted, and was done covertly to avoid mass cancellations, now we were asked to pay to play a half finished game, and to help find the flaws for them to fix!
To sum this point up again; Customers were deliberately deceived to minimize financial loss, so that SOE/LA could develop a game that few of the current player base wanted or liked, and then, when it was released live with so many coding errors that it was unplayable, the current customer base was asked to help "fix" it, while still paying the monthly fee! Please let that sink in, and reread it as many times as necessary so you can get a full scope of the ineptitude of the management staff that is running SWG. I won't mention the ongoing customer service issues and the Trial of Obi Wan expansion debacle.
The truth of the matter in my opinion is this: SWG is a niche game. SWG will always be a niche game, no matter how you try to change it. The Star Wars Fan base is fragmented because of multi-generational aspects. In general, younger players choose to play one type of a game, faster action, more control, twitch based combat, while older players seem to enjoy immersion and complexity in a game. Had SOE and LA truly done a real market research, they would have found that a consensus could never be reached on the SWG game play and combat platform. There is no way to be positive on how the numbers would breakdown, and SOE and LA are gambling on the younger crowd, but with all the cancellations and negative feedback, it seems they made the wrong choice. When I look at the potential of the new SWG, I can see that it could be a fun 2nd game once it is fit to play, but not a replacement game for the original version. In addition, the game that SOE and LA are attempting to create already exists, it is called Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and is the most popular selling Star Wars game on the market today. If SOE and LA think they will be able to persuade players already playing that game, to subscribe to SWG and stay long-term, they are sorely mistaken. Battlefront 2 is very polished, and is had been specifically designed for a target audience.
Because of these issues, I have made a point to never buy a Sony or Lucas Arts product again. And will never be recommending any products from said companies. Also, any chance that I will ever hold stock in Sony has been lost, and I will never support, financially or otherwise, any company or institution that treats its customers the way I have been treated. The total disregard for customer's wants and needs, and the lack of communication given to the customers of SWG, by both SOE and LA is deplorable.
Mr. Lucas I am writing to you, not for any personal vendetta towards anyone at SOE or LA, nor do I feel I will gain anything. I have come to the realization that a Star Wars game that meets the gaming wants and desires of me and my generation will never be made again. I am deeply saddened for people like myself that have no outlet to continue their own Star Wars adventure. I can look back at fond memories of the past 2 years and smile, and be happy with the friends I have made from all over the world. But there was a time when I would watch any one of the 6 movies and be so excited to get online and play out my Star Wars Fantasies, the way I want to play them out, and not how someone else wants me too. I can truly say that although I had many fun times, SWG has taken away from my overall Star Wars experience.
I don't expect to get an email back from you, or at least anything more than a canned corporate response. But I thought it was important for you to understand how the actions of those you entrusted with the Star Wars and Lucas Arts brand name, are now ruining that good name.
AKA Zaush Du'mas
Dear Mr. Lucas,
I understand that you are a very busy man and that your time is very valuable, so I will try to be brief and to the point. I am writing this letter to you to express my deepest disappointment in the Lucas Arts / Sony Online Entertainment jointly produced MMORPG game Star Wars Galaxies.
I am a lifetime fan of your Star Wars work. At 40, I still feel the same sense of wonder and awe on viewing your Star Wars movies as I did as a twelve year old girl seeing the saga for the very first time -- perhaps more now, knowing and appreciating how much work and care you put into creating this new modern mythology. It is truly something that you can take immense pride in. Through these movies, you have made an impact on not merely a small cult movie following, but society itself.
However, having said this, I must now (with great sadness) criticize the handling of the game your software company has produced in collaboration with SOE. Being a veteran massive multiplayer online roleplaying game player, I am fully aware that no MMO will be flawless and that all of these games have a tendency to start out with many flaws and problems. This is usually handled over time by the development teams to bring a game polish and quality, making it more playable and enjoyable by its subscribers. With
Star Wars Galaxies, this has not been the case.
While successful MMOs evolve over time, improving and expanding, Star Wars Galaxies has improved, expanded, then collapsed into itself over the very short period of years it has existed. The game has not been improved at all by the major changes made to its core mechanics (not once, but twice). Rather, it has been made less interesting, less exciting and drastically less engaging. Flaws and problems one can reasonably expect to be removed from a game after its first year are not only not being removed, they are being introduced into the game more than a year into its existence. The removal of many of the features that allowed and provided flexibility and most of the uniqueness of the Star Wars Galaxies game can by no means be viewed as improvement or added value.
The fact that the companies producing this game have continually lied to us (their customers) about the direction the game was taking only adds insult to the injury that all of this has done us. I have said that I know your time is valuable. I feel the need to point out that yours is not exclusively valuable. My time, and the time of others who have played this game is also valuable. I have to say that I will never be able to reclaim the time I have spent on this game. And had I known the direction this game would take, I would have invested my time differently. I spent a great deal of time playing Star Wars Galaxies having faith that the game would be improved and repaired, yet would remain essentially Star Wars. This was not the case.
John Smedley of SOE and Julio Torres of LA plainly state that they feel that the game needed to be streamlined and made easier to play to attract a broader audience. In a sense, there is some truth to their statement. However, the difficulties of Star Wars Galaxies have more to do with an awkward player interface, game breaking "bugs" and a constant changing of game mechanics than the original core game mechanics. This is no longer the same game I bought last year. As sloppily made and poorly maintained as it was, the original SWG had an amazing amount of potential and was good enough that I could overlook and work around its flaws. It WAS Star Wars.
But this new game that holds the Star Wars Galaxies title is NOT Star Wars.
It ISN'T enjoyable. It isn't playable. It lacks imagination and inhibits any sense of personal engagement. It is shallow and uninspired. In short, it is the least enjoyable game I have ever tried to play. I have cancelled my subscription to this game. But I still feel unsatisfied. I am actually angry. Still. I feel that my loyalty and investment in your vision has been betrayed. This leaves a stain on the way I view the legacy of Star Wars. It has overlaid the timeless purity of a saga that represents the power of the common man over overwhelming circumstances through perseverance and belief in "something better" with the foul stench of corporate negligence and disregard for the very things that Star Wars represents to those of us who have seen and embraced it.
I have to ask you, is THIS what you wish to be associated with Star Wars?
Thank you for your time.
Susan P. Wollett
By William Vitka