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Feedback on the Star Wars Galaxies PR Post

Thanks to everyone who responded to my previous blog entry on the Star Wars Galaxies PR Disaster. For my friends and readers who couldn't care less about computer games, I'll have something less geeky up soon. :) In the meantime, I wanted to respond to a few of the comments that have accumulated to this point.

Be warned: In general, I'm going to be commenting more on the public relations problems than the game itself. I'm having the opposite reaction as Darniaq, who wrote that he is "way past tired of talking about the handling of the rollout." For me, how SOE handles this situation and how the press covers it is far more interesting to me, personally and professionally, than the game itself.

Augie64 writes: "I don't think SOE ever expected people to be able to mass communicate their displeasure with the things they have done in addition to the stealth changes." I disagree. SOE has been down this road before, with the game's April 2005 Combat Upgrade and opposingpetition drive. It would require a massive failure of imagination to not consider that a more radical change might spark a more radical reaction. (Especially given that the New Game Experience upset not only the combat applecart, but the profession system and the value of crafting.) The Community staff had to know what was coming -- but nothing was done to cushion the blow.

Fitzhume thought I implied that SOE and LucasArts were, or should have been, happy with 200,000 subscribers. Sorry I wasn't more clear; I think the game was in serious trouble and they knew it. "Back in the day," that would be a respectable number. But yesterday Blizzard Entertainment announced that they'd broken the 5 million mark worldwide. Different world, especially when SOE and LucasArts have a huge development team and are splitting whatever revenues are left over.

A couple of commenters noted that their biggest gripes with the game, old and new, were the bugs. True enough. SOE president John Smedley suggested that one goal for the revamp was to make SWG's technology simple enough under the hood that the project could be better managed: "We have consistently kept the SWG team as one of the largest teams within SOE (around 70 people). Even with a team that size getting new content done along with maintaining the live game, along with developing new systems for SWG just proved to be tougher than it should have been." I don't play the game anymore, so we'll have to let current customers be the judge. It sure didn't help that reports of buggy implementation came right out of the gate when the NGE was launched.

Ant writes, here and at Terra Nova:

Don't forget the evident deception surrounding the release and advertising of the Trials of Obi-Wan and the NGE. ToOW was advertised as containing items/specialties for professions that were announced two days later would cease to exist. (Emphasis added.) Viewed in the context of SOE knowing full well the NGE would mean lost players, it's not difficult to see that this was an attempt to squeeze out the last bit of money from the previously-loyal playerbase that they have now discarded entirely

I didn't comment on this part of the fiasco because I was trying to limit myself to incidents where the public relations or community relations functions of the companies likely had direct responsibility. (For example, coaching an executive before speaking to a major news outlet's reporter.) The release of an expansion two weeks before it would be invalidated, though? That's a mistake across so many levels that it seems unfair to blame it on the PR guys. Someone should have seen the inherent problem there. Instead, SOE announced a refund program for the expansion a week later. Costly.

Finally, I'll point out that all of the estimates of subscriber numbers are just that: estimates. Bruce Boston, who maintains a chart of subscriber growth for massively multiplayer games, notes that "[t]he number of subscribers to Star Wars Galaxies has always been somewhat uncertain," depending on press reports or other less-official sources. Also, because until recently subscribers were limited to one character per server per account, a potentially large number of subscribers owned multiple accounts (like Brian Orr in the Wired article). We're not going to know how healthy this game really is for a few months.


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It's very steep up-hill terrain for SOE now. Just recently, GameSpy gave SWG the "Green Banana" award, publically adding the notion of incompleteness on top of all the other bad press.

This is quite true, SOE itself has announced that unfinished parts of the game will be developed as time goes along. The NGE was pushed out in quite a rush, after level 30 everything was the same except the interface and combat system. The initial levels were the only quests that changed. From what I hear, there are still many very large bugs, and many of the older quests and missions are broken.

SOE is really only getting this press about being unfinished now, I don't recall reading much about it in the past, though it has always been in a state of semi-developed. Revamps happen every other month, and I don't see anything that is going to change that.

For customers looking for a game, or those on the edge of quitting, all this negative publicity is really helping to finalize some decisions. I know I myself tell everyone I can, family members, or people walking through the PC games aisle in the stores, to stay away from Galaxies or any other SOE game. The negative press isn't only in the magazine and newspapers.


See, Sony's got TWO problems -- one, they have a seriously bad word of mouth problem.

Two, they have a buggy, poorly implemented, half-complete game to boot.

If the NGE was finished -- hell, if it was just fairly stable -- perhaps they could overcome poor word of mouth.

But it's not. It's bug-ridden, the NGE is actively fighting with the original code, and while part of me applauds the fact that ANY of it works given that coding it must have been like convincing a terrior to mate with a dinosaur, that doesn't mean people are going to want to play what amounts to -- and this is the CHARITABLE view -- the world's laggiest and poorly designed FPS.

SOE claims they did this to "simplify the code and make it easier to fix/expand". If that's what they really believe, their management is even more incompetent than I thought originally.

SWG did have a code complexity problem -- high developer churn meant that most Devs were familiar with only parts of the code, and that overall design knowledge was seriously lacking. (It makes you wonder why, exactly, Developers didn't want to stick with the project).

They also had -- as best I can tell, as an outsider -- absolutely atrocious software engineering practices. We're talking stuff that MIGHT fly in a five man shop, but utterly breaks something involving 70 developers.

I recall -- right after the first CU -- two "Tuesday Tips" in a row that highlighted broken game features. I kid you not -- they were bragging about how great functionality was that didn't work. That functionality had been on the correspondents "Top issues" list for over a month, and had been communicated to the Devs back when the CU was still in test -- and apparently no one on the Development staff knew it was broken.

That's when I quit, btw. No point in thinking things were going to get better at that point....

In any case, their solution to "fix code that was too complex" was to layer in incompatable code on top of it -- not once, but TWICE -- and somehow hope that would fix it? A first year CS student could tell you that's a recipe for more bugs, not less.

You've got the bugs in the NEW code, the bugs in the OLD code, and then the impossible-to-track-down-because-you-don't-understand-jack bugs where the New code and the Old code are stepping on each other....

The NGE will fail, and SWG will die with it. Why? Because no matter how good the individual developers might be (and apparently an awful lot were smart enough to get out early), their management is clueless, their development process would be an embarassment to high school students, and their marketing department seems to be making most of the design decisions without any clue as to what their current customers like, what potential customers would be attracted to, and most certainly without ANY clue as to the state of the game or the complexity (or workability) of the changes they're mandating.

SWG is dead. We're just watching the corpse twitch a bit.

SOE tries to reverse the bad press.

On MMORPG.com, the SWG devs released this statement: "Today, 80% of active players in Galaxies are veterans who were in the game prior to the new game enhancements (NGE). It’s true that many players reacted to the new direction of the game by clicking cancel in the days immediately following the NGE announcement and in fact, our unique usage dropped by 10%. The NGE has now been live for five weeks, the cancel rate has returned to average levels, and we’re seeing many former players return to the game and over 100,000 new players join Galaxies through the 10-Day Trial. Additionally, the third expansion pack, Trials of Obi-Wan, released November 1 is being enjoyed by tens of thousands of veteran Galaxies players."

Basing population numbers off a free trial period to build positive PR...smells desperate.

This would mean, if you follow their ridiculous spin, that there are 500,000 players currently. Not likely at all. So, either they're really working to twist the numbers or most of the 100,000 players who joined have quit since then.

I came here cause I was starting to miss swg(before the cu) I quit right after cu, and was recently second guessing myself but after a few of these readings on this and other sites I can see I made the right decision. First time (the cu) was them being total assess. This second time (NGE) would have been my stupidity. Its too bad they ruined it - I actually enjoyed it a lot. Here'a long but interesting read on it and other mporgs