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Fixing The Game: Whether You Like It or Not!

Dana Massey Posted:
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Fixing The Game: Whether You Like It or Not!

The Ethics of Sweeping Changes to a Released Product

Editorial by Dana Massey, Lead Content Editor MMORPG.com

Recently, Sony Online Entertainment and LucasArts took the unprecedented step of offering refunds to those who had purchased the Trials of Obi-Wan expansion pack as the company announced some sweeping changes to the game.

This is the latest incident in a string of public relations misadventures for SOE and LucasArts as they make wholesale changes to Star Wars Galaxies.

Earlier this year, the much-criticized, but ultimately accepted – at least in terms of subscribers and informal polls – Combat Upgrade hit the servers to a round of howling from the fans. Then, in a recent Producer Letter, Julio Torres explained that the team would be making more moves to make the game feel more like Star Wars.

“Changing a live game is never easy,” wrote Torres, obviously aware of the challenge. “We realize that players do not like to have their experience altered. These enhancements will take some getting used to.”

Obviously, it was not enough. Several days later came the offer of a refund for those who find “that these new enhancements are not to your liking.”

Like it or hate, it LucasArts has gone further than any other MMORPG company to reinvent their game midstream. In terms of subscribers, Star Wars Galaxies had always been a bit bitter sweet. It has more than the majority of the games on the market and by most standards would be considered a hit.

But, it is not measured by most standards. This is a Star Wars game and with that logo on the box, some believe it should have been a monster success, more akin to World of WarCraft. Thus, the question: why isn’t it?

After a few years on the market where it stuck largely to the ideals that caused people to buy it in the first place, it is now in the midst of large sweeping changes.

“Bottom line, Galaxies has always been a good game, but was failing to capture the true Star Wars experience that a Star Wars game really needs to deliver,” said Community and Press Relations Manager Casey Keefe in an interview with MMORPG.com.

Yet, when players pay the price of a box copy and then $14.95 a month over several years to play the game is it ethical to make drastic changes that completely alter the experience?

To an outsider, the proposed changes sound like good ideas and the ideal of making the game more like Star Wars cannot be questioned. It is this that LucasArts and SOE must be counting on. And so, they choose to role the dice and risk alienating those who had already been paying their bills in favour of reaching a broader audience.

The question of whether or not the changes improve the game is not for this editorial. That is beside the point. The real question is whether or not a company should completely change its game after release?

MMORPGs are unique in that they never truly leave production. They grow and they evolve over the years that they are supported by their companies. However, I believe that once you begin to charge people for a product, you owe it to those players to maintain the core values that attracted them in the first place, while expanding on the content.

To change course as LucasArts is doing – no matter how noble their goals – should be the place of another game or at the very least restricted to new servers. If a company truly feels that changes are necessary and for the good of the game, offer players the option to enjoy these changes. If you’re right, the classic servers will lose players and slowly be merged together, but at least in that case it is done with their needs in mind.

I would even go so far as to suggest they do this as a parallel product. Issue a new box that accurately articulates the game as it currently exists on the back and let those interested buy it. For existing subscribers, let them move over for free or a nominal fee. This opt-in model would clearly separate the two incarnations of the game, and while admittedly it would be a production headache, it would also be fairer to those who have kept the game running long enough for changes to be made.

Parallel incarnations of a game are not unheard of. Mythic Entertainment created classic servers for those Dark Age of Camelot players who did not enjoy some of the more recent changes to the game. Yes, it creates the expense of managing two different games, but it also shows a respect for the players.

LucasArts and Sony Online Entertainment have taken the opposite stance.

“When you have such an accessible IP (Intellectual Property) such as Star Wars, you do the IP and its fans a disservice by providing a game based on this that doesn’t deliver the true Star Wars experience,” said Keefe. “We wanted to change that.”

I applaud the bravery of LucasArts and SOE to crusade for changes that they believe will provide their players with a better product and thus ultimately increase their profits, but for them to force this on all their players simply is not fair. In retrospect, these are decisions they should have made before launch. They were not and to force it upon everyone is thumbing your nose at those who made the game a success in the first place.

Ultimately, time can be the only judge of whether or not these changes have a positive impact upon the game and its community. Yet, in my opinion, while their desire to correct the mistakes of the past is admirable, the manner in which they are doing it is not.

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Dana Massey