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Dredging up the past - the Star Wars Galaxies NGE re-examined

Michael Zenke

To say that the Star Wars Galaxies update known as the NGE is controversial would be a fantastic understatement. Almost certainly the biggest change to a live MMO ever, the New Game Enhancements were a bold attempt by the SOE-Austin studio to relaunch the game with an entirely different aesthetic. To this day players who went through the changeover have strong opinions about the title, something you've probably noted if you've read the comments on our SWG posts.

One of the developers involved in that project, Dan Rubenfield, has been been getting back into blogging recently after a period of quiet. His recent posts have been very confrontational, "calling out" MMO developers and offering some harsh words for players that dislike RMT practices. One of his most recent posts has caused a lot of eyebrows to raise, as he takes on the Star Wars Galaxies NGE in the post "In which I try to speak honestly about History." As you might imagine, reaction has been strong across the board. Read on after the cut for full details.

The basic jist of Rubenfield's post is that the change was the best decision they could make at the time, given the people and circumstances. He attempts to dispell a few myths about the process, and attempts to answer critics who (to this day) are very harsh on the game, developer motives, etc. Possibly most interesting is the developer's response to the most frequent player complaint. At the time, players were given almost no notice of the upcoming changes before they were pushed to the live servers. Only two weeks passed between the announcement/release of the code to the test servers and the new game concept going live on the actual player servers. On top of this, the company had just released an expansion to the game under the 'old' concept, a pack tying in with the Star Wars prequel movies entitled Trials of Obi-Wan.

On this, Rubenfield says, "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."

He concludes, "We made mistakes. We made a LOT of mistakes. We crunched, we argued, we fired people, we hired people. But we f$#king launched a goddamned game. We launched a SECOND succesful MMO (post-uo). We made a f%#king amazing space game using the same f#$king game engine, integrated action combat, interior spaceships and in 9 MO%#%#@ING MONTHS, all while running a successful, cash positive product ... I am proud of the work that we did, even if I am torn about the end product."

The most direct response to the post comes straight from Scott "Lum" Jennings, writer at the Broken Toys blog. He systematically tears apart Rubenfield's post, with the most vituperative statements coming in response to the basic idea of the game. Says Jennings, "At some point someone - your producer, probably, that being his job and all - should have sat everyone down and said "you. can't. do. that." Those 200,000 customers - customers - you blithely dismiss as "dregs" and "weirdos" - are paying your salary. You can't just blow them off for the mythical millions of people looking for a better game."

Other thoughtful responses come in the form of comments to this Zen of Design post, and a short posting at the Hardcore Casual blog. A less ... considered ... response comes from Jeff Freeman, who also worked on the NGE, and to whom we'll give the last word.

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