Much has already been chortled over with regards to Star Wars: Galaxies and the total game change (NGE: "New Game Experience", see also "Not Good Enough") that was forced on the playerbase in the name of demographic appeal, breaking the game and sending customers away in droves. Here's some recent events which show me that not only have LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment run out of feet in which to shoot themselves, but they've also started on other appendages while growing new feet in cryo-vats.
First, the latest game patch introduces billboards to cities. The patch notes state these are in place "...for important buildings so they are easier to find for new players." Because there's no system in place already for players to find what they want. No glowing blue lines emanating from your chest, Donnie Darko-like, with pulsy beams of light to help guide you to where you want to go. Nothing like that exists in the game, so naturally the best way to help the hordes of new players they're certain will flock to this bustificated shoot-em-up is by using... billboards. Uh huh. Pull the other one, SOE, it's longer.
Given that the company has a history of adding advertising content to their other online games (both Planetside and Matrix Online now have flashy billboards with third-party advertising on them) it's pretty clear that they're hoping for a similar revenue stream to be generated from ads in SW:G. This is the same company, mind you, that justified their New Game Experience revamp by saying the existing game was "not Star Warsy enough." I guess nothing says "Star Warsy!" like ads for Nokia or Fanta. At least make the Fanta Girls a bunch of Twi'leks or something, guys.
Now there's nothing wrong with MMORPGs making money. That's what they're there for, really, and funds make expansion and maintenance possible, as well as appeasing dev teams and investors alike. However, instead of focusing on making an engaging and fun game that not only attracts and keeps players, SOE has decided to spend its time and energy by letting the marketing dudes get their greasy little fingers into the pie. Consider a recent Gamespot interview with John Smedley, SOE president, in which Die Smedermaus wanks enthusiastic over some Really Awesome features:
[Sony CEO Howard Stringer] wants us to work with other Sony groups--bringing other divisions of Sony into this. So a great example is, wouldn't it be great to be able to download music from [Sony's version of iTunes] into our games? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to choose the songs you want to download and have it automatically integrate with our games. We see that as an awesome way to go.No, I can't say that would be great. I don't often run around in a videogame world thinking "Gee, where can I purchase and download some kickin' Coldplay tracks whilst fighting this NPC?" But perhaps that's because I haven't yet seen a billboard telling me to.
Maybe SOE is the real villain, and they're taking LucasArts for a ride. I mean, SOE is the very same company that thought a "/pizza" command to spawn an external IE window pointing at pizzahut.com was an amazing innovation and what EverQuest 2 really needed. But LucasArts, LucasArts sure knows what's going on, right? They know they have a lucrative franchise in the Star Wars brand, and they'd never consider tossing away a much-beloved genre in favor of something flashy and twitchy, right? So when the New York Times runs an article (registration required, etc etc) on the Massively Negative Multiplayer Reaction to the New Game Experience, do you think LucasArts will step up and defend the players? What do you think?
"We really just needed to make the game a lot more accessible to a much broader player base," said Nancy MacIntyre, the game's senior director at LucasArts. "There was lots of reading, much too much, in the game. There was a lot of wandering around learning about different abilities. We really needed to give people the experience of being Han Solo or Luke Skywalker rather than being Uncle Owen, the moisture farmer. We wanted more instant gratification: kill, get treasure, repeat. We needed to give people more of an opportunity to be a part of what they have seen in the movies rather than something they had created themselves."So, let's sum up! Reading is HARD; the core philosophies of the Star Wars experience are "Kill, get treasure, repeat" and "Don't You Wanta, Wanta Fanta"; and nobody wants to be Uncle Owen.
Except, of course, all the Uncle Owens who made up the game's playerbase.
I'm sure I wouldn't be nearly as chortly over this if I had actually still been playing, and watching the frutis of two years' worth of playtime being yanked away in the name of making a quick buck. But that's schadenfreude! Making me feel glad that I'm not you!