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Star Wars Mailbag: The Sequel

GameCore is CBSNews.com's video game column written by William Vitka, Chad Chamberlain, Lyndsey Hahn, Alejandro K. Brown.



Our previous Star Wars Galaxies mailbag was a popular article. It was all fueled by what you, the readers, wrote. Since you want to be heard, we'll do our best to make sure you're heard.


Good Evening Mr. Vitka,

Or should I say good morning being that its 0045 a.m. on Monday here in Canada. I'm a semi-vet of the SWG experience, having cancelled my one main account and having kept my auxiliary account only to check progress once in awhile.

I have to ask, has Lucas Arts or anyone involved with the development or maintenance of the Galaxies franchise even responded to this yet? I understand that the New York Times published a similar article so I am looking for any information from SOE to validate my remaining $15.00 a month before canceling that too.

For me life is too busy. As a full time Firefighter and new father if I get time to myself I play the game that *I* want, not the cookie cutter development that SOE and LA have pushed upon the loyal legion of Star Wars Fans.

Regards,
Michael



As of the 26th of this month, after 2 and 1/2 years to the date of joining the best MMO out there, i cancelled my account. The NGE was not properly tested at all in any way, shape or form. I am very sorry to see the game i love go away.

SOE lies to its customers and players. Don't buy another SOE product at all, or if you do, don't expect any customer service at all or anything. I am very angry for spending that much time, effort and money to get wasted.

SWG is a joke, don't buy it, play it at all and Julio Torres's interview on G4 was a JOKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I noticed that the 2 calls that got it were not from angry fans at all, probably had some producers calling in as players.

Have a good one

Dave



There is much more to this than just another MMO that got moldy and diehards cementing their feet to the ground.

Digital expansion packs is the new trend, it's cheaper than distribution and a quick buck for the game. Just before the unannounced NGE Sony Online released an EP with a rich new content aimed and sold on much of the content that was to be removed from the game. They later accepted refund requests and were overwhelmed.

MMO fan sites have been critical of SOE in the past and their lack of customer support and as a business modal, SOE are 'light bright' video games. The access pass offers skins to the same game, not unlike the days of LED hand held video games in the early 80's. In fairness to SOE, much of this is genre related and the work of IGN like groups who have made it a business to profit off MMO gamers. Just as much is an element of trust required to get save card addicted video gamers to put their digital toys in the hands of a 3rd party like an MMO and for me, it's the rigidity of SOE and absolute determination to shovel this not so good trend onto the consumer. Games are in decline in quality and it is not a demand issue, companies and programmers are just getting lazy. Sony can't make bad games a fad, or the trend continues.

http://forums.station.sony.com/swg/board/message?board.id=swggpdiscussion&message.id=241305&view=by_date_ascending&page=1

A good example.

This was ignored, even jumped all over. A simple market test to determine the demand for 2 systems. Sony Online are to say the very least, a very rude company.

Edwin Spence
Toronto


I have played SWG for 2 years and never when they made a change in game did so many long time players leave. Not only did they leave but canceled accounts. If I had not bought a game card that I cannot return I would have left game by now also. I will be leaving game as soon as my paid time is up looking forward to D&D when it comes out in February can not believe that George Lucas would be behind this.

All they needed to do was make new servers for the consoles or split the servers so both games could be Systems could be played.

Thanks for reading this and taking the time.
Dirk



Hello,

I just read some of the emails in your "mailbag: Star Wars Galaxies" article.

Just like many of those who have written to you regarding this game, I have played it since 2003 (just after it was released). I had a veteran Jedi character with MANY hours of work invested into it. A lot of that work was trivialized by the implementation of these changes.

The difference between me and those people is that I am able to suck up the losses and continue to play what still is the best MMO game out there. Most complaints are coming from people who had an extremely powerful character which is now no better or worse than any other character of the same level.

Before these changes, certain combinations of professions were so powerful that you couldn't compete with other players without one of these "flavor of the month" templates. There were also extremely powerful items that were only accessible to Hardcore Players (those who play around 8 hours every day). The game is now balanced so that any two characters of the same level are about equally powerful. You can get items and such to help you out, but player skill is the main factor in determining who wins a fight.

If these changes do what they were designed to do, that is bring in new players and help the game last longer, then good for SOE and Lucas Arts. I want this game to last as long as possible, and whatever they have to do to make that happen is fine with me. The other thing is that George Lucas (via Lucas Arts Inc) can do whatever he wants to do with any Star Wars product.

The only issue I have against the changes is the way they were implemented. With only two weeks warning to the players we didn't have enough time to prepare for such radical changes. This was a bad decision on the part of SOE.

Brian P

Hello, I am a 16 year old American Male, I have been playing SWG for two years, and I have loved ever moment of the first 1 ½ years of playing. Now I realize you have many e-mails from people about SWG, I noticed you didn't show any from SWG's new target subscription base.. the teenage males.

I was FASCINATED by star wars when my dad and me stayed up late watching the first three whilst eating macaroni n' cheese with hotdogs. I was so in love with the Idea of being that one rebel in the third row, second to the left after the Battle of Yavin that I started wearing orange jumpsuits and carrying a homemade Iron Hanger Blaster at my side. I blasted so many lamps and other imperial scum that my mom started making a tab on how much I owed her. I am still paying her back.

When I was introduced to SWG on my 14th B-Day I couldn't believe it, not only could I be that random rebel, I could be that random rebel Meatlump WOOKIEE. Now back then wookiees were slightly disadvantaged because we couldn't wear armor. but the Idea of Being a wookiee more than made up for that. Not to mention a wookiee that crafted his very own bowcaster! I joined up with my cousin, a fellow Rebel wookiee who was a Scout/Rifleman/Pistoleer/Carbineer/Teris Kasi. He was the ultimate Wookiee jack of all trades. The planet adventures kept me spell bound and failing school for 2 years, even thru the "combat upgrade"(more like downgrade. it promised new armor, attacks,balanced proffessions) what it delivered was new armor few to noone could wear due to faction needs( standing in the rebel or imperial army) exact same attacks only with COLOR, like we needed that. and now Being melee which was really good as it should be, you had to be standing next to the guy! got hit with the Nerf( that means to be downsized, un powered. made weaker) bat and couldn't wear armor !! We were promised new armor and received NO armor as melee. Then.. the NGE hits out of nowhere. Now all my high school buddies have quit because they already own Battlefront 2 and don't need a buggy laggy (slow) junk game that the servers go down for hours on end and get SECRET!!!!! changes to the game. Recently a quest was changed and SOE/LA still denies it!! When I posted a question about it my post was..DELETED. Also they rollback (edit the data so it shows what it was at an earlier time) the servers anytime one of their bugs needs to be fixed so no one gets any credit for the hours spent working to do it.

12-28 year olds DON'T want a twitch based FPS that is so massive.. IT LAGS (slow) and then you can't hit ANYTHING. its like playing paint ball with metal chains wrapped around you , its hard to move and when you do you jerk so hard you can't hit anything.

Heres another HUGE issue. SOE/LA claims they made it more "Star Warsy"(man I am so sick of that word, Julio uses it in EVERY post of his) when there is now a 90:1 Jedi ratio. thats right You see 90! jedi for every 1 non jedi. WHERE Were all the jedi in Ep. 4-6?(this is the time period of SWG, actually its 4-5 but I added 6 for a broader view)? You cannot enter Mos Eisley without seeing 30 lightsabers flashing. People spent 2 years earning their Lightsabers just to have to be hidden and jedi like with it in the fun old system, now you click "Jedi Proffession" and you instantly get a robe. Do 2 days worth of quest and you have the Lightsabers people spent 2 years to earn.
Bounty hunters got hit with the Nerf(to make lesser) bat and can no longer hunt people! Thats right bounty hunters cannot Hunt for their Bounties!?!?! how Iconic is it to be Boba Fett and not be able to go hunt down that Han Solo wanna bee that just killed 20 of Jabba's Thugs?

Smugglers. the name alone implies you will smuggle right? Your Han freaking Solo of course your gonna smuggle.. WRONG AINT You LOSE. Smugglers can no longer even make spice let alone smuggle it past imperial patrols. now smugglers basically kill hundreds of thousands of creates, get lvl 90 and run around killing other smugglers, yea real iconic..

Officer was a good idea, but we already had officers, they were called SQUAD LEADERS, now however officers(Squad leader wannabee) are so bugged that 90% of the time when they use their group buff(bonuses) it doesn't work! The only thing officers can truly do is call in an air strike( pretty cool looking) and attack with the basic zap zap click click stuff.


Commando lets see, once upon a time commandos used flame throwers and grenades and other heavy weapons, now commandos uses Storm trooper E-11 carbines because thats "Star Warsy" oh and by the way, wanna be a commando in clone trooper armor just like the icon says? TO BAD there's an ARMOR RESTRICTION. Commandos CANNOT wear clone trooper armor which is what their ICON IS. All of the commandos old heavy weapons are DISABLED. Grenades are now just another carbine attack, the only difference is this attack flashes instead of zaps.

Spy was the greatest profession idea ever, it mixed Ranger(good sneak escape abilities) with pistoleer. However NGE released Spy with the lovely bug that their only specials were bugged and didn't work, so now your trying to spy on an imperial base.. oh wait SOE/LA REMOVED ALL THE IMPERIALS/REBELS AND THE WALLS FROM THE BASES CAUSE THEY WERE NOT STAR WARSY ENOUGH. Since when is a base not Star Warsy... Dantooniee,Hoth, Yavin, Endor.. don't make me go on. Since when were Storm Troopers guarding these bases not Star Warsy.. the only thing not star warsy about Storm Troopers is their wow accuracy. Oh and BTW Spies Iconic character is Boussh and guess what, you can't wear that kind of armor as a spy, you have to wear.. CLONE TROOPER ARMOR!

Medic... wow this is great. Medic is no longer a support class it is now a COMBAT class, the heals are horrible, the good thing about medic is well they do more dmg than JEDI. BTW guess what medics your based off of a droid with 2 lines. Oh and yea.. you can't wear droid armor AHAH YOU LOSE.

Trader.... worthless, the new loot tables drop guns so often and so much better than trader crafted items that there is no point other than engineer traders who can make droid.. oh but guess what as a trader you are the lowest combat.. your iconic guy is Lando who did some pretty nice blaster work for a Combat level 1..

Entertainer.. the ultimate slap in the face. now entertainer buffs are so dismal they are worthless. no one bothers with them. entertainers do little more than dance and pray some rich role-playing pervert comes and visit them.

What I don't understand is why SOE/LA instantly thinks that teens are gonna love the NGE, they did NO POLLING NO QUESTIONERS NOTHING to us. I do not know anyone that likes the new game as much or anything near as much as the old original day. I would take PERMA DEATH compared to this, at least then you had someone to die with now you have... your iconicness to die with.


If you think what they did to SWG was bad, you should see what they do to their other games.

Let me give you a few examples of their business ethics. Handed down from John Smedley.

In EverQuest 2, there is a world event quest that would introduce the froglok playable race to EverQuest 2. Players had to figure out the quest to unlock the race. Well, people started trying to figure out how to go about doing the quest, and working on it. They looked everywhere for clues, used months of play time. When they asked SOE if the quest existed at launch, an SOE community manager stated that the quest was in.

Six months later, SOE added the actual quest. People were in an uproar. SOE basically used a quest that didn't exist to keep players paying a subscription to figure out something that never even existed in the game. Imagine spending 10-12 hours a week for 6 months, and in the end, what you were trying to figure out wasn't even possible, and the reason why SOE didn't say anything was because it lengthened your subscription time.

It doesn't stop there. When SOE took full control over EverQuest, they would release expansions 60% complete and not tell the customer. People would go out and purchase expansions for EverQuest (More content) at $29.99. 6 months later, using subscription revenue, SOE would actually finish the 40% of the content of the expansion that consumers already paid for. For example, the Planes of Power expansion. It retailed for $29.99. The last parts of the game were called Plane of Earth, Plane of Fire, Plane of Air, Plane of Water, and the final reward zone, called Plane of Time. These 5 zones accounted for 40% of the Planes of Power expansion.

Those zones were not complete when people bought the product. Instead, SOE introduced artifical bugs to make sure players could not progress into the next areas. Once they completed the area that consumers already paid for, they would "fix" the bug, and let people advance. It took 8 months worth of subscription revenue from players to finish the development of the final 5 areas in Planes of Power.

I know this because I used to be a member of the Guide program. The volunteer customer service department for SOE at the time. We were given explocit instructions that if we zoned into those areas, we would be kicked from the guide program. Well, I zoned into those areas the day of retail release. And what I saw was amazing. I saw 5 completely barren areas, with strange "developer boxes" everywhere, without a good majority of the environment even done for the zones themselves. I know first hand that the zones were not completed.

This type of business ethic continues at SOE because of their CEO, John Smedley. Little does the public know, that Star Wars Galaxies was scrapped in 2002 and redeveloped in 14 months from the ground up. In a meeting, they asked how they could get away with releasing such an unfinished product. John Smedley stated that people will buy it because it has a Star Wars name on it - and then laughed as they said they would complete the retail product (which consumers have already paid $49.99 for) with approximately 2 years of subscription revenue.

Subscription revenue that was supposed to be going to improvements, additions, and access to the game itself, was being used to finish a game which a consumer already paid for. This happened with every EverQuest expansion after Velious, EverQuest 2, and Star Wars Galaxies.

I would love to see a real write up on this. Please contact me if you have any questions. How a class action lawsuit has not been filed yet is amazing to me. Imagine purchasing a car, and it is delivered without it's engine, and sent to you over 6 months in small pieces if you pay $14.99 a month for 6 months.


So, I played Star Wars Galaxies from launch through June of 2005 when the infamous combat upgrade forced me to go back to such games as City of Heroes and World of Warcraft. I returned in the beginning of November 2005, determined to give this new NGE a chance, and activated a new Access Pass account just in time to begin the Test Server beta process.

Now, I am not one of those people complaining of the loss of professions and associative changes to the game. Admittedly, the game needed some serious help if it was to last. Whether or not Star Wars Galaxies last another 2 years is anyone's guess at this point, and only time will tell.

This, instead, is about the Community Relations between SOE and the SWG player base. Namely, the Community Relations Manager, Mr. Kurt "Thunderheart" Stangl.

Checking his posts, one would think he actually performs his job as a community to developer liaison well. However, if one closely checks the threads he started for technical issues, one would see that his answers cover only the most basic problems with the game. When it comes to the more serious problems, he regularly refuses to even acknowledge their presence.

Take my example.

I have the $25 Rage of the Wookie and the $30 Trials of Obi-Wan expansion. As far as the Obi-Wan set, as seen with Mr. Torres on G4 recently, the expansion is indeed broken. Not only does Obi-Wan not spawn for the players, thus making the principle behind the expansion unplayable; but the expansion is rife with spawning issues (multiple MOBs spawning "stacked" and attacking en-masse when a player believes there are only 1 or 2), necessary named MOBs not spawning for 4+ hours or more, and many quests that cannot be completed due to a wide variety of bugs.

As far as the Rage of the Wookie expansion goes. It is even worse off.

Having had quest reward experience added to it in the December 13th, 2005 Publish 26 update, Kashyyyk is now even more broken than Trial of Obi-Wan. MOBs spawn inside terrain and buildings and are non-attackable. Attackable MOBs refuse to recognize damage dealt to them, and hit for far above their levels. Mission that send you into Kashyyyk space to complete are also broken, as just as on the ground the enemy ships refuse to recognize damage dealt to them, and hit for far above their levels.


And those, and more, are in the beginning Kashyyyk quests, making the expansion all but impossible to explore. One of those quests are key to unlocking the Etyyy Hunting grounds, also making that portion of the expansion unplayable.

Between Thunderheart (SWG Community Relations Manager) and Brenlo (Global Community Relations Manager) two threads were started for the same topic: post technical problems with SWG. Brenlo, Thunderheart's superior at SOE, clearly stated that we could cross-post between the two so that it would be sure to be seen and sent on to the development team.

For 2 days I posted the problems with Kashyyyk. In the case of Mr. Kurt "Thunderheart" Stangl, surprisingly the only Moderator that seems to be posting any reply to technical issues at SWG (making the rumor of a massive CSR lay-out/firing seem all the more true), he would instead post canned replies to issues about Flamethrowers, or post joking responses in off-topic "for fun" threads, or congratulate players on interesting "Star Wars Game Play Xfire Videos".

Constantly, the main issues with SWG, the ones that made the core game and the expansions unplayable due to game breaking bugs, went without response. Not even an acknowledgement and that it would be passed on. Mr. Stangl instead felt it better to play around with community members that openly and lovingly supported the NGE and did not post major bug reports.

When questioned about this in a thread, the thread was deleted. No insults, no flames, a simple question as to why time could be spent in that regard, but not on the important issues. When, obviously, I had his attention, and asked for an answer to my issues, again: deleted posts. No answers, just a deletion of asking about fixes for game breaking bugs.

The problem with Star Wars Galaxies lies way beyond the bugs in this NGE, but also within the Community Relations Team, particularly Kurt "Thunderheart" Stangl and his refusal to seriously address the core issues with the community; and more importantly those trying to support the NGE and getting stonewalled by way too many bugs.


To those considering trying Star Wars Galaxies, consider these points:

1) The core NGE game, quests 1-30, are bugged at too many points. Missing named MOBs, inaccurate waypoints, the game not recognizing a quest has been completed, missing rewards. Publish 26 claimed to have fixed over a dozen of these bugs, but in reality fixed only a few.

2) After the new NGE quests are completed, players have 2 choices. 1) Hunt random creatures ala Eq1 and Eq2 for minimal experience or 2) unless you purchased the old "Total Experience" set for SWG, pay an additional $25 for the digital download of Rage of the Wookies to continue performing quests, which are the (usually) least painful way to level.

3) Since Publish 26, Rage of the Wookies is basically unplayable. Attempts to get these game-breaking problems acknowledged by Community Relations to pass on to development have been completely ignored. Furthermore, Quests that have been broken since its initial release around May 2005, are finally being promised to be fixed between January and March of 2006. Nearly a year, and a complete game revamp, later.

4) After Rage of the Wookies, its time to purchase Trials of Obi-Wan for an additional $30 to complete your leveling from 80-90. Unfortunately, this expansion is also broken, and MOBs spawn stacked, quests (again) cannot be completed, and Obi-Wan himself is so bugged many cannot get him to spawn.

5) Community Relations, your main source of getting bugs across to the development team since in-game CSR has consistently failed to deliver, apparently feel their time is better spent in jokes and lighter discussions, leaving much of the core game bugs without acknowledgement.

To the consumer base, this is not always typical of Sony Online Entertainment. The Community Relations Manager for Matrix Online, known as Walrus, is in constant and regular communication with the player base for problems within the game and regular updates. He usually strives to keep communication open and constant, as he should, and even went as far as to give the player base his first-hand experience with the upcoming Combat Revamp for MxO.

Blackguard, as well as the technical support team at the Everquest 2 forums, are another great team for keeping in contact with the community, helping with game related issues, and generally keeping communication open.

As is typical for SWG Community Relations under the management of Kurt "Thunderheart" Stangl, however; the game is lacking in concrete communication, acknowledgement of serious game related problems, and professionalism.

Which is a shame. A shame that I have chosen to cancel my Access Pass accounts, and the multiple accounts purchased throughout my corporation, due to Mr. Stangl's actions in regards to Star Wars Galaxies. While that also cancelled my MxO and EQ2 accounts, unfortunately I cannot justify sending monthly revenue to SOE after being treated the way I have been by their SWG Community Relations Manager.

Sincerely,

Lee F. Szczepanik, Jr.

Update:
Mr. Vitka,

Thank you for contacting me in regards to the piece in the second SWG mailbag at cbs.com. You are right, there is a lot of talk in the MMO community about some things that were written (I conducted a search after getting your email), so allow me to make one clarification.

The piece on page 5 (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/12/20/tech/gamecore/main1146894_page5.shtml) was not written by me. My piece, as shown in our respective email files, begins on page 6 and extends to page 8, and was written on December 17, 2005 to cbs.com. I stand by what I wrote concerning the state of the SWG: NGE and Community Relations problems as of that date (December 17, 2005). Although the piece was published over a month later, I have admittedly not been a player of any SOE product since that time (even though the account(s) physically expired around January 13, 2006 or so), nor have I been a reader of any SOE forums to know the state of the game as of the publication of the SWG Mailbag 2.

Unfortunately, while I "signed" my name at the end of my piece in good faith, the individual (apparently an ex-SOE volunteer) did not for the page 5 piece. This has apparently lead to some confusion as to when one piece ends and the next begins, within the community.

The most involvement I have had with SOE, or the SWG product, since December 17, 2005 was to respond to an email survey sent to me stating that LucasArts had contracted Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, to ask gamers to tell them what we thought about Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan, which also went into some questions concerning the NGE later in the survey.

However, I am not the author of the page 5 piece which discusses SOE's business parctices on the releasing of unfinished products, and et cetera. I would have no knowledge in that area. I am the author of the piece that begins on page 6, and ends on page 8, discussing my own problems with the NGE, the Rage of the Wookies and Trials of Obi-Wan expansion packs, and Community Relations.

Of course, that was as of December 17, 2005. I've no idea as to the current state of the game.

Thanks,

Lee F. Szczepanik, Jr.
By William Vitka

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