And The Spin Goes On

Sony continues to combat its o­nline woes with a combination of stonewalling and counterattack. Player feelings have hardened, as SOE has dug in and refused to back down to its customer's revolt.

Some have given up:

“…. it's too late. All the protests seem to be losing steam if you ask me. Enough players have walked away from the game for the last time that pro-CU posts are approaching mere uncommonality as opposed to their former virtual non-existance. SOE has successfully diverted (or deleted) the angry posts to forums tucked away out of sight of new players.”

Other commenters are still analyzing the situation, if o­nly for consolation:
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“They've got a fun problem — if they pin their hopes o­n droves of people showing up from Episode III (my guess is that's a bad bet for a two year old game with BAD word of mouth problems), then if those droves FAIL to materialize it'll be too late to save the Vets. If they start changing NOW, they run the risk of having a non-working system if those droves DO show up. Or — depending o­n how deeply they buy their own spin — they'll think the 'old system' isn't fun to newbies.

 It's actually kind of dumb. The main problem with the system was 'lack of content'. It'd take six months or more for a casual player to exhaust the available content, plenty of time to add content if they were worried about keeping Episode III players. They've placed themselves in a no-win bind. They know that bad word-of-mouth is poisoning the Episode III well (even as they're using the Live servers for rapid beta-testing of RoTWs) and they're losing vets at a steady clip.”

Not far past that is a summary of just how badly SOE is shooting it's leg off:

“Many preordered the digital download of RotW so they would get the exclusive extra ship storage. They might have preferred the new vehicle to the lizard but chose to have the extra storage. Then, o­ne day before release SOE is including what was exclusive to the DDL (extra ship storage) with the retail package. There are some angry people out there.

Back to the numbers game now. How many are against the CU, how many have quit etc. You fill in the blanks below:

How many people did they anger due to two server roll backs?

How many people did they anger by installing the CU?

How many people did they anger by losing their templates in respec?

How many people did they anger by o­ne way or another cheating them out of a full week of double exp?

How many people did they anger by pulling the bait and switch o­n the RotW digital download?

This all happened in what, two weeks? Did I miss anything?

Someone give us an estimated total of angry people and an educated guess as to how many of those have or will cancel their subscriptions as result. Keep in mind that though some of the above issues may not be enough to quit over, two or three back to back o­n the same account/person has got to be intolerable.”

Some complaints go deeper than just how combat is balanced. Several problems with the new system that have been brought up o­n various boards are:
-Doctors no longer get xp by healing people in the Medical Center. Therefore, players can't find anyone to heal their wounds, unless they have a Doctor in the group.

-Combat Medics can't heal wounds, just hit point damage. So a Doctor is needed again.

-Groups have been limited to 8 members max (from the previous 20). Entertainers, who used to form large bands with synchronized dancers, can no longer do so.

-Worse, Entertainer buffs are both less desiarable and no longer under the player's control. Combat characters have to spend time relaxing in the cantina watching or listening to Entertainers to remove their “Battle Fatigue.” It was considered polite to tip an Entertainer for this service (such was their primary income).  Such Entertainers also had ways to “gate” access to their buffs, and a limited ability to deny services to rude players who did not tip them.  Thus they had an income in the game (since they had no combat abilities and couldn't run missions for money). Now, not o­nly are the newer buffs not as desirable, the denial ability was eliminated — the new buffs work regardless of the Entertainer's desire for them to work or not.

-All items o­n sale “lost” their descriptions, which SOE will not fix. The o­nly workaround is for each and every item to be delisted and then relisted o­n the vendor.  For sales o­n the public bazaar, this costs the player game money. As for private vendors….some players have thousands of items for sale.  This is hugely frustrating because items have always delisted automatically after 30 days and have to be relisted for sale. So if all the items are relisted today, any that don't sell will have to be done again in exactly 30 days.  (Merchants usually stagger this task over multiple days, as it takes hours.  Requests for simple interface improvements have gone ingored for almost two years).

-Many crafters and merchants are quitting due to their lack of survival ability under the CURB, making it impossible to find the necessary items.  The few remaining Armorsmiths o­n each server are charging extremely high prices, because the new crafting changes require all good armor to be hand made, and require far more material harvested from creatures, that have themselves become either tougher to fight, or less-experience worthy.

-Shipwrights (players who make ships for other players) are incensed that the game now gives away better ships than they can make.

-Jedi are incensed that the game design forces them to group for experience, which is suicidal.  Under the game's design, Jedi who pull out their lightsabers or join groups gain “visibility” and the game begins generating rewards for Bounty Hunters to find and kill them.  Up to five Hunters can combine to chase a single Jedi. However, the Jedi cannot form groups to aid each other or defend themselves.  Worse, for the Jedi in training (Padawans), their new combat skills aren't strong enough to survive, and their old combat skills have to be dropped as they level up in Jedi. Even worse than that: a Jedi that gets killed loses experience equivilent to weeks of work.  It used to be mere hours worth, but jedi can't group for better experience without incurring the visibility penalty.  The topper?  A player recently did the math to show that under the CURB, it would now take a staggering seven years of play to become a Jedi.

Overall, the playerbase is now deeply suspicious that SOE has decided to destroy not just the Jedi, but also crafting and the player economy, to replace the latter with NPC vendors. Players point to the fact that it would shrink Star Wars Galaxies' database size, and therefore its expenses. However, it represents a marked change from the original game design, which promoted multiple play styles.  Essentially, SWG was five games in o­ne:

–Hardcore players who liked to kill other players joined the Empire or Rebellion and engaged in Player v. Player combat.
–”Softcore” players who wanted to defeat the challenge of the game world, but not fight other players could fight non-player characters for rewards in the game.
–Social players who liked to chat, show off, and talk, became entertainers, or even image desigers.  (You could literally hire other players to decorate your house!)
–Players that liked to acquire resources and make the best things possible became crafters and Merchants.
–First-person-shooter (aka: “shoot'em up”) fans could go into space and engage in fighter combat against the computer or other players.

The versatily of the game was so wide, that many players bought multiple copies of the game and paid extra to have a choice of roles to play.  SWG is the o­nly major Sony o­nline product that limits the player to a single character per server.  A server is a copy of the game universe; it's standard practice in MMORPG's to have as many as needed to handle the customer load.  Therefore, players who wanted to really enjoy the game were forced to spend extra for that privilege.

While the CURB was advertised as a way to change the the way the first two roles worked, the greatest effect has been o­n the second two, who consider their playstyle wrecked.  As a result, these two groups have been hit far harder than the others.  This is crucial, beause in SWG, players made almost everything needed by other players.  (Until recently, that is.)

In the business world, such a radical change in game/program design and philosophy has been dubbed “successor team mentality,” as the new people come in and try to put their own stamp o­n the operating system. It is said to result in disaster more often than not. It may be telling that, in publicity pieces, many other MMORPG's speak of their prominent staff members as being “a veteran….a former content developer for Everquest”… or SWG, or EQ2, or games belonging to other competitors.  Sony hasn't spoken much of it's developers–and never trumpets their prior experience.  In short, SOE appears to have become the “bottom rung” of the MMORPG world, where the inexperienced go until they gain the pre-requisites to be employed elsewhere.

Whether or not this spells “disaster” here may depend o­n o­ne's definition of “disaster.”  For the many players who have spent two years being part of an active community, the CURB fits that definition.  For SOE… o­nly the future will tell.  Certainly, most businesses would not consider it a raging success to become the laughingstock of their industry, as is rapidly happening here.

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