Thursday, June 12, 2008

But I thought I fixed it…

Scott Jennings has a great response to some things written by fellow game developer Dan Rubenfield.

For those of you who aren’t a readers of Broken Toys, Scott is a game developer credited with working on Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC). Dan Rubenfield is credited with working on both Ultima Online (UO) and Star Wars: Galaxies (SWG).

Scott’s article is a damn interesting read for anyone familiar with the controversial drama surrounding a major gameplay patch for Star Wars: Galaxies called NGE (an abbreviation for New Game Enhancements).

The original game mechanics included in the launch version of SWG were often cited as overly complex and even broken. As with any game, it was tweaked and expanded and eventually developed a pretty stable user base. However, given the Star Wars license, the subscription numbers were felt to be low (particularly compared with Everquest, the other SOE game at the time).

Two years after the launch of SWG, they released the NGE which dramatically altered nearly every aspect of the gameplay. These NGE changes were so sweeping and dramatic that many people didn’t even consider it the same game.

Now consider that for two years, the user base grew to enjoy and become familiar with a particular style of play. Arguably, the style of play wasn’t always the most enjoyable experience, but every single person had spent considerable time in character development to progress within the game. When NGE took place (unannounced and following an expansion), huge parts of the subscription base felt betrayed and canceled their accounts.

The ironic thing about NGE is that most critics and players who ultimately gave it a chance widely agreed that it was a massive improvement in gameplay. It lacked the depth of the original game, but was more enjoyable and popular among casual players. I had a good friend who left SWG after about 6 months and then came back after NGE and found it to be a far better game. Albeit, a very different game.

Anyway – with that context in mind, I highly recommend reading Scott’s response to one of the developers responsible for the NGE. It’s good stuff and a very enjoyable read.

I have advocated some big changes in MMO design on this blog. While I think these types of innovations are good for the industry, I also strongly believe that many of these changes could never be implemented in an existing game. NGE is a perfect example of how that can actually destroy your game instead of fixing it.

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