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Star Wars Galaxies: The Tragedy

by Marinda Darnell

June 2003, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and Lucas Arts (LA) launched live the servers for Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided (SWG). On that day I created a Twi’lek on the Bria server. Upon launch SWG was full of bugs and broken classes. The promised content was not delivered. But being a die hard Star Wars fan, I held on, and so did many other players. We fought through the bugs, enjoyed what content there was, and created our own content. I eventually moved over to the Valcyn server, where I stayed for the next couple of years.

As the months went by there was talk of a Combat Upgrade (CU) that would fix all of the balancing issues and add new life to the game. Eighteen months after launch, the CU was released to a lot of controversy. The online forums were full of people complaining that they were being nerfed, and that SOE was destroying the game. The CU was released the same way as the initial game was, not complete. Numerous bugs were introduced; crafters were again ignored, as they had been for the previous eighteen months. Instead of finally providing the player base with a polished game, the CU kept gameplay feeling as if the game was still in beta test. SWG was still not a game most companies would have launched due to the number of bugs. Despite all of these bugs, many veteran players came back to the game, server populations started to swell, and new content was being added. The game had new life, and there was hope. Yet, over the coming months bug fixes were introduced that would introduce more bugs then they fixed. The game became even more bug ridden, and the power curve started to creep upwards again. Players were able to start soloing Nightsister Elders, Ancient Krayt Dragons, Black Sun, and Giant Dune Kimogilas again. Classes started to become unbalanced, and Jedi were popping up like dandelions in the spring. Something again needed to be done with the game. Crafters had been ignored for more than two years, with very little content added and bugs unfixed that dated from game launch.. The second expansion, Rage of the Wookiees (ROTW) was released spring of 2005 with numerous bugs and no patch fixes in sight. Old bugs were ignored while trying to hype ROTW. Bugs that had been in the game since launch June 2003 were still there, and were being ignored.

Summer 2005, SOE and LA announced a third expansion for SWG, The Trials of Obi-Wan (ToW). During the BETA test for ToW it was noted there was only one quest that entertainers could do without the help of a combat person and there was zero content for crafters except via combat. With the advertisement that ToW was an expansion of high end content for all professions, many players became upset because there basically was no content for anyone that did not participate in combat. 99% of the reward items, including crafting schematics were listed as No-Trade, meaning that item could not be given to another player for them to use. If a Jedi looted a schematic for a piece of clothing, armor, a house item, or any other numerous things that it possibly could be, that item was then lost because it could not be traded to a crafter in order to have that item made. Players started to protest on the forums causing their forum and game accounts to be banned by SOE personnel.

Up until this point, and even with the changes coming with ToW, I still played the game and enjoyed it, as did thousands of other players. SWG did not have the subscription numbers that Ever Quest 2 and World of Warcraft had, but there were still people to be found to group with and to role play with. Two weeks prior to ToW going live, the New Game Experience (NGE) was announced. The NGE was set to go live early November 2005 on the same day as ToW. The changes to the game were supposed to make the game more “Iconic”, more “Star Warsy,” and more “Exciting”. The more than 30 professions were reduced to less then 10, with the Jedi profession available from the very beginning. Crafters and entertainers were shafted yet again. The crafters (now called traders) and the entertainers were stripped of almost all usefulness and more bugs were introduced. It is amazing any crafter or entertainer stayed playing the game.

SWG became an MMOFPS (Massive Multiplayer First Person Shooter) as opposed to an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game). Instead of skills granted at different levels playing a part in how well a character does when fighting an NPC or another player in player vs. player combat (PVP), the game was now purely twitch based, and there was no longer any sort of lock-on targeting. Movement and combat became so fast that specials became irrelevant, and many players started to become motion sick due to the new “enhanced” movement in the game. Instead of having different moves for different attacks, the different attacks became useless because there was very little time to even try to activate the attacks. Hot keys were removed for launching attacks. Instead all specials were launched by first left clicking on the special on the toolbar, left clicking and holding with your mouse on the target you wish to attack, and then while holding down the left mouse button, right clicking to release the special while keeping your mouse over the moving character and holding down the left mouse button. Seem a bit cumbersome? It is. Most people do not bother to use specials now due to the difficulty of the new system, and with how fast combat is now. Combat is reduced (at least with a lightsaber if you can manage to get close enough to hit your running kiting target and keep your mouse on the target) to poke, poke, swing, poke. Melee combat became useless due to NPCs that would continuously use ranged weapons and run circles around the melee characters, who were not able to move and to keep the NPC targeted with the mouse button held down in order to attack. For all purposes SWG was now a First Person Shooter. The scope of the game has been changed so much that it should not have been called SWG any longer. It was not the same game that had been released in June 2003, nor even any where close to resembling it. While I know all MMORPGs have game play that change over time, this was far beyond that. This was the launch of a brand new game under the old name, with SOE and LA giving veteran players the middle finger. Everything that veteran players had worked for was gone. Armor, weapons, and legendary items were now useless. Thousands of accounts were canceled, and law suits have been filed against LA and SOE.

Prior to the announcement of the NGE, SOE and LA had been taking preorders that were not able to be canceled for the expansion ToW. Since the NGE so radically changed SWG, the no refund policy was seen as fraud. With in a week of the NGE going to the live servers, SOE announced there would be a refund program for the people who ordered ToW. The monthly fees were not refunded, only the purchase price of the expansion. Still unaddressed was the policy of no refund for prepaid monthly fees. For people who prepay for more then 1 month in advance and did not like the NGE, they were not granted a refund of their unused time. This could mean more then $100 lost to people who prepay for a year at a time, and had renewed their subscription recently. Understandably, people were very upset when they found out they had lost the prepaid subscriptions if they decided to cancel their accounts. Due to the radical changes made, people felt that their money for unused prepaid time should be refunded. These lawsuits are still pending four months later. Another form of lawsuit that is currently being processed is due to an accusation of the violation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). SWG was one of the most disability friendly games on the market. Prior to the NGE people who had various forms of physical disabilities could play the game with very little modification. With the new system of combat and movement, players with disabilities no longer found the game accessible. For a game to go from being handicap friendly for 2.5 years to not being at all accessible, many people feel this is not only a violation of the ADA, but also a moral wrong by SOE and LA. The concerns raised by hoards of players in game and on the forums were ignored completely by SOE and LA. Well worded pleas from players were either ignored, or the authors banned from the forums because handicap players were not of interest to SOE and LA.

With the introduction of the NGE the player base has dropped, and the new accounts have not come near making up for those losses. The average age of the players has dropped from mid 20’s to lower teens. This has caused there to be a large change in the community and the maturity of the player base. This was directly brought about by the NGE.

There has been much speculation as to why this was done to SWG. Some people feel these changes herald in the integration of the PC based SWG into a mixture of PC/PS2/3 type game. The switch to a MMOFPS would seem to be proof of this. Others feel that LA was the main drive to try to renew interest in the game and bring in newer, younger players. While this has worked, the number of new accounts does not make up for the lost accounts. Another camp feels that this was brought about by SOE in order to break their contract with LA to run SWG, which has been a struggling game since the very beginning. Whatever the reason the NGE came around, most people agree that it has signaled the end of SWG as a long term viable game.

SWG is a game that could have been wonderful, but it was mismanaged from the very beginning. Never leaving the beta state was a large mistake from the beginning. If SOE and LA would have waited another six months to release SWG, a viable game that was not so buggy could have been released and started generating a large amount of revenue from the beginning. Instead SWG developed a stigma against it and a reputation for having an uncaring production team and large mismanagement issues. While the CU was a step in the right direction, the production team never took the steps to complete the fix, and the game remains in beta test, even to this day. It is a tragedy what has happened to this game, and it should be held as an example for all production and development teams of what they should avoid in the future. Star Wars Galaxies: The Tragedy coming soon to a console near you.

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