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In Which I try to speak honestly about history

06.12.08 | 255 Comments

After continual thought, I still think this is a worthwhile discussion. I am cleaning out some of the assiness so we can maybe have a legitimate talk.

If I have ever created something that you didn’t like or that brought
you sadness, I apologize.

That is never the goal of a game developer.

However.

Let us set the record straight.

Let us set the history of the Star Wars Galaxies NGE into something
that makes a little more sense to those from the outside.

First, some ground rules.

I am a game designer. I make video games. I manage teams, develop
features, and turn the creative insanity that is game development into
demonstrable and sellable products.

A lot of this manifests itself in the form of direct implementation.
Scripting, writing, hands on content development.

I do not sit in a room and give orders. Generally, nobody I’ve worked
with ever did this.

We provided a means to create something to make money.

As professional developers, it is our job to execute on these types of
creative endeavors within the context of limited finances, linear
time, and sometimes explicit creative direction.

Sometimes this context is direction from Raph Koster. Sometimes it is
to meet a marketing need, other times it is one of business decisions.

At times, I describe it as,

‘If someone asks for pink fluffy bunnies, we give then bunnies done to the best of our abilities. You might hate bunnies, but you make the best bunnies you can possibly make. That is your job”

That is what we do. All of this is tempered with reality. Sometimes things take longer than we’d like.
Sometimes things end up more or less fun than we intended.

This is the job of a designer.

This is what I did on UO, Galaxies, JTL and every other game I worked
and am working on.

So we were given the directive to make Galaxies better.

Not just make Galaxies better, but make it succesful. Not the 200k
subs it had, but really succesful. The idea was that we had the most
valuable IP in the entire world, and we fucked it up to the point of
having 200k subs.

And yes, all 200k of you were important, but 200k means nothing in the
scheme of things.
I worked on Galaxies for around 5 and a half years. That’s a long time.

I wrote the combat system, mission system, spawning system. I wrote
the combat model for JTL, implemented all of the development tools and
ship interior systems and more.

Hell, I implemented the original Jedi System in 2 weeks after we
launched. Not because it was how we wanted it, but because we had 2
weeks to do it.

I have the understanding of where we went wrong and how. I see the
misteps and how the experience was misaligned with what most people
wanted from a Star Wars game.

So, when the NGE push came along, we were asked to reimagine the game.

Not just small changes, but rebuild it.

And it was needed. When we were asked, we were bleeding subscribers.

If I remember correctly, somewhere around 10k a month. LOSING 10,000
subs a month.
Note – I think our subs were closer to 160-180 than 200k. It was a bad financial situation no matter how you look at it.

It was not idyllic. You can remember it as an amazing game, but it wasn’t.

Hell, all of you who recall the grand ole days of launch seem to
conveniently forget that everyone quit shortly afterwards.

It’s similiar to the UO rose colored glasses. Everyone remembers the
positives, but nobody remembers how unpalatable UO was before Trammel.
Nobody acknowledges that after Renaissance, UO’s numbers rose from
110k to 220k.

But I digress.

WOW was out. SWG was niche and clunky. Or so it seemed. There’s a question of how close we got to the product, how our perspective changed as competitors launched.
We were told to imagine something new and unique. To push it to the
next level.

Originally, it was specced as a tutorial. A tutorial
paired with a new marketing push, new and grandiose relaunch that
would recapture the magic that we missed when we first released.

But a tutorial wasn’t enough. We scrambled to come up with something
more impressive.

We tested out a new combat system on a whim. I did a quick prototype
and we discussed it internally.

The difference was the control scheme, not the rules. You clicked, You shot.

When we demonstrated it, the first comment was “Wooooah….”

And the producer left the room.

He came back shortly and was torn. He knew that we had to make the
change. It was THAT much better. At least, that much potentially better.

We did a side by side comparison. We tried to play the old system. We couldn’t.

However, we made a mistake. A BIG mistake.

Somewhere during the discussions it was strongly recommended that we
streamline our characters.

People wanted something simpler, more direct, more accessible.

We told them. “If you do this, you will lose all of our subscribers. It is that significant.”

The response was that we would gain more due to the marketing push and relaunch.

So, we pushed forward.

If I remember the dates correctly, we did our NGE conversion in 2-3
months of solid crunch. It was some of the heaviest crunch I’ve ever
done.

We had an immovable date, and an insane set of features.

We were working in parallel, maintaining old code on the off chance
that we would pull the plug on the implementation.

Note – We didn’t notify anyone about the change until 2 weeks before launch because until 2 weeks before launch we hadn’t made a decision. You basically found out when we found out.
We launched, the marketing push failed, and we lost subscribers.

It was a misread at an organizational level. Design, Marketing, Production,
community. You name it.

We made huge mistakes. We got too close to the changes. Design took something and made it bigger than it should’ve been.

We got swept up in the wave of changes and ran with it. And we fucked it up. All of us.

Note – To those who think I might be pointing fingers. I say it out loud, Italicized and Bold.

I fucked it up.

Not all of it, but I made mistakes.

Some big ones, Some small ones,

Some that I’m still torn about to this day.

That is how things work. We make mistakes. We are not infallible.

We take these lessons and try not to fuck up again.

That is the nature of design.

Did the buck stop with design? Did the buck stop with Me?

No.

When I say it was an organizational failure, I mean it. Design made mistakes, Marketing made mistakes, Management made mistakes, Production made mistakes.

Did I alone give the go/no-go?

No.

Did design alone give the go/no-go?

No

Did an organization, made up of over 200 people give the go/no-go?

Yes.

Does that obviate us of blame?

Nope.

It was still a huge fuckup.

Epoch grade fuckup.

I think it lost a lot of the Raphy goodness that makes MMOs work, and that was a profound loss.

That was a huge mistake.

But I think the control scheme changes were dead on.

Does that matter? Not really.
The point, the fuckup, the mistake that we made, was answering an
unasked question.

“Can you change an MMO drastically after it launches?”

Categorically, NO.

If we were to do it again, and wanted to make those types of changes,
you have to make a new game.

Relaunch with a new title.

Or shut down Galaxies and relaunch for real.

You cannot change it at runtime.

A lot of you were upset. A lot of you still seem to be upset. I’m
sorry if you feel betrayed, or that we ruined something you liked.

But I’m proud of the work I and the rest of the team did. I’m proud of
the choices we made, the direction we took. ALL of SWG.

JTL, NGE, Launch, Jedi Fuckups. You name it.

We made mistakes. We made a LOT of mistakes. We crunched, we argued,
we fired people, we hired people.

But we fucking launched a goddamned game. We launched a SECOND
succesful MMO (post-uo). We made a fucking amazing space game using
the same fucking game engine, integrated action combat, interior
spaceships and in 9 MOTHERFUCKING MONTHS, all while running a
succesful, cash positive product.

NGE was done in right around 2 months by a team of people.

I am proud of the work that we did, even if I am torn about the end product.

So those who think it’s about blame or credit or who ruined what or
how great it used to be when kids didn’t swear so much…

Take a deep breath and move on. Times change. Games don’t last forever.

Except UO. It’s still running. And I bet people are still pissed about
some fucked up code I wrote in 1997.

That, I am genuinely sorry for.


255 Comments

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