Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Supply-Side Content Generation in MMORPGs

"There's not enough content!" How often have developers heard this lament from their most active players of world-y, "live-in" games like MMORPGs (e.g., Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft) and dungeon crawls (e.g., Oblivion, Two Worlds, Fallout 3)?

Let's start with a couple of simple observations:

1. Content (things to do) is a crucial feature for attracting and retaining players.
2. Players will always consume content faster than you can create it (the "content race").

Many of the most consequential game design decisions in games lately seem to be aimed at trying to invalidate that second observation. How do you keep ahead of your players as they burn through content? What kind of design features help to mitigate content consumption?

This is a supply and demand problem, and as such it can be attacked from one or both of those aspects:


  • Regulate access to content.

  • Hire lots of talented artists and writers.
  • Use the work of lots of unpaid fans
  • Design a system for autogenerating content.
  • Provide players with ways to allow them to create content for each other.
There may be some exceptions, but based on what they actually do, most gameworld designers these days seem to believe that "regulate access to content" to be the only realistic option to hiring lots of talented artists and writers. Other supply-side approaches, when suggested, are dismissed as leading to "sandbox"-type games (as though the Grand Theft Auto series hasn't been freakishly popular).

I suspect that this preference for demand-side regulation of access to content is why we continue to see gameplay mechanisms such as the following:

  • Levels -- some content can be accessed only by characters within a relatively small range of power
  • Experience points (XP) -- actions generate XP which must be accumulated to reach the next level
  • "Grinding" -- some content may be (or must be!) repeated to generate XP
  • Zones -- level-based content grouped geographically
  • Race -- some content can be accessed only by characters of a specific race
  • Faction -- some content can be accessed only by characters liked sufficiently by a specific faction
These mechanisms and others like them do address the problem of players burning through content faster than a limited stable of writers and artists can crank it out... but why are designers so intent on framing the larger issue of the content race solely as a demand-side problem? Why not make a serious attempt to design systems that make good content easy to create instead of trying to ration content by regulating player access to it?

One objection to eliminating rationing mechanisms like character levels is that players "need" to feel that their characters are "advancing" somehow. I've heard it said by many people that "without levels, or a skill-based system which is similar, you must still allow the player to feel that his character is developing over time." Why? Says who? Where is there any evidence for this other than "because everyone believes it"?

Character development over time, to me, is just another way to say "XP-based levels." It's just another rationalization for using a comfortable demand-side mechanism to regulate the player's access to content. Yes, it may be a mechanism that has become familiar to players (and harried developers), but is familiarity really going to be what drives game design from now on? There was once a time when none of these mechanisms existed; they had to be imagined and implemented. So why can't we keep trying new approaches to content provision?

OK, maybe they won't prove to be as popular as the now-familiar demand-side mechanisms. But how can we know that unless someone gives these alternatives or others a serious tryout?

[2008/04/24 update: Apparently there is now going to be one game that does try to solve the content-production problem by creating content generation systems that allow any player to make aesthetically pleasing content... and the name of that game is Spore. Suppose this attempt is successful: will other game developers try it in their games? Or will they beg off, claiming that supply-side content generation doesn't fit "their" game?]

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Betrayal of Star Wars Galaxies

In the best of the single-player first-person shooter games based on the Star Wars license, Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, there's a level in which you must find a way to escape from a wrecked starship that is plummeting toward a deadly impact with the ground below.

It's terrifying fun: klaxons are howling; the deck pitches and cants at crazy angles causing objects to fall past you and explode; a wrong step sends you falling to your doom; it's hard to get your bearings; and through all of this there is a timer inexorably counting down the seconds until the ship crashes and you must restart the level.

That's how I feel about Star Wars Galaxies. Except it's not as much fun. And I’m not seeing any reason to restart.

I came to SWG about a year before it launched because it sounded so good. For one thing, I'm a fan of the films. (I was quoted in my hometown newspaper for having seen the original film seven times.) The idea of playing a MMORPG based on the movies that would let me "live the saga" sounded like a lot of fun.

For another thing, I'm a student of game design. In particular, I'm interested in "world-y" designs. So what I saw and heard from LucasArts and SOE suggested that SWG would indeed be a complex and dynamic world, and that excited me as well.

So when SWG launched, I signed off of EQ and started playing SWG. I also participated frequently and constructively on the official forum. I've both praised and criticized LEC/SOE developers, but I always tried to pay for my criticisms with specific suggestions for correcting what I thought were problems, and I stuck around through all the changes. (I still have a character in SWG.) All told, I think it's fair to say I've been one of the "loyalists."

All of which is to highlight the sense of betrayal I have increasingly felt, both as a player of SWG and as someone who thinks that good design and implementation matter. I don't use a word like "betrayal" lightly, as I'm not a dramatic person; it's simply the most accurate word to describe my reaction to the actions taken by SWG's developers since SWG launched, and most especially regarding the recent "New Gaming Experience" (NGE).

I wasn't against making significant improvements to Star Wars Galaxies. I actually agreed with those who praised LEC/SOE for being willing to make broad changes to an existing game. First, the developers admitted the obvious -- SWG wasn't delivering a "Star Wars-y" experience. And then they proved ready to significantly alter the game to achieve that goal. LEC producer Julio Torres and the other leads deserve credit for these things.

But this by itself doesn't solve the whole problem. Seeing a problem and doing something about it aren't enough -- you have to do the right things.

Opinion: Where I think LEC/SOE have repeatedly gone wrong is the specific design and implementation of the changes made to SWG's original design. The NGE is only the latest example of two and a half years of increasingly bad design and scheduling decisions. By itself, the NGE isn't enough to make me (a loyalist, remember) give up on SWG. It's the fact that the NGE is the last and most destructive wrecking ball applied to the remarkable original design of SWG.

I don't feel "betrayed" just by the NGE -- I feel betrayed by the NGE on top of two+ years of similar decisions that have consistently ignored, corrupted, or outright eliminated the aspects of this game that I cared the most about.

  • SWG launched with and repeatedly pushed publishes containing bugs that were reported in testing. In some cases, these were bugs that had already been fixed in a previous release. A goal of hitting aggressive schedules is laudable, and the business need to release new content in time to tie in with other media events is understandable, but achieving good QA has been a consistent and conspicuous failure.

  • The original design respected and encouraged multiple playstyles by explicitly requiring crafters, healers, and entertainers to support combatants. Subsequent releases provided serious content only for combatants; other playstyles received only minor content, or even had their required support abilities removed completely. The NGE delivered the final blow of this "only combat matters" thinking by its squashing of all entertaining and healing professions down to one class each, and all crafting professions down to one class (with four "specializations" so that it wouldn't be necessary to remove existing schematics)... but the combat professions received all six remaining classes of the nine primary classes. Not only that, but combat skills and non-combat skills do not trade on a one-to-one basis when existing characters are converted to one of the new classes. Knowing any skill in one of the pre-NGE non-combat professions inflates into knowing all possible non-combat skills in the sole related NGE class, but one pre-NGE combat skill is worth one NGE combat skill. Translation: combat skills are worth more. Taken as a whole, these changes on top of all the others have sent a clear message: SWG is only for people who like fighting games. Explorers and Socializers need not apply.

  • In particular, the handling of Jedi has been consistently awful. You would think that a concept so fundamental to the story told in the movies would be handled with extreme care, from gameplay concepts to implementation to playtesting, but that seems not to have been the case. The initial idea of unlocking Jedi abilities through mastering several random professions made some sense from a game mechanics perspective: it would take time and effort; it would be unique to each player; it would reward and thereby promote a deep knowledge of the game. As a mechanical process, it got the job done. But in terms of actual entertainment value, it was a Very Bad Idea: it led to mindless grinding past professions that others valued; it bore no resemblance to how a simple moisture farmer could learn to respect and apply the Force; and it quickly began filling the game world with Jedi characters run by powergamers who had no interest in "playing like Jedi." Subsequent changes never solved this problem. The NGE simply surrenders and calls it victory -- now anyone can be a Jedi when they start the game. That's not more "Star Wars-y" -- it's less, much less... and it's typical of how SWG's developers have sacrificed a deeply human story of betrayal and redemption to whatever Marketing says will move more SKUs.

  • The easily-switchable skills system of the original design promoted variety in play, depth of roleplaying, and opportunity for experimenting with other playstyles. While these features offered open-ended gameplay, the cost was that effectively knowing and performing one's role in combat groups required study and experience. To make this goal easier, the Combat Upgrade stratified professions somewhat, even to the point of exposing the "level number" of mobs and players. This reduced the value of having a broad set of skills. The NGE, in turn, utterly destroyed the skills system, turning SWG into merely another class-bound MMORPG.

  • The simplification of skills into a few classes is part of a larger trend of reducing or eliminating many of the deeper aspects of gameplay. It's impossible not to wonder whether the depth of gameplay and even the keyboard control system are being "dumbed-down" in order to attract console gamers. (I'm not expressing a personal belief that console gamers are dumb. I'm describing what I believe is the perception of console gamers by SWG's current designers as incapable of appreciating any gameplay beyond rote memorization and trivially simple button-mashing.) [Note: SWG producers have explicitly said that they have no intentions of modifying SWG to support direct play by console owners. But that doesn't mean they don't want to turn SWG into a PC game that caters to console gamers.]

  • I don't feel any personal animosity toward any of the responsible folks at LEC or SOE. They mostly seem like nice people, and I'm sure that most if not all of them wanted to make a fun game and truly believed that their decisions were the right way to achieve that goal.

    The problem is with the definition of "fun" that SWG's post-launch development team seemed to have. The original design of SWG promised depth and drama, things I care about in a game, but since Star Wars Galaxies launched it has been repeatedly stripped of those things in favor of simpleminded combat. This doesn't mean that SWG has become a bad game, or that it couldn't once again become a popular game. It just makes SWG a game that I can no longer enjoy.

    Will Vanguard or D&D Online or Lord of the Rings Online or Star Trek Online be the game that proves that "deep" and "popular" aren't mutually exclusive? Will any of them offer emotionally engaging entertainment and retain that focus over time? Can LotRO or STO deliver fun gameplay while remaining true to the spirit of their licenses (and satisfying their licensors)?

    I hope so. I just don't know yet if, after Star Wars Galaxies, I'll be able to trust any MMORPG developer enough to try out their games.

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    Economic Stages in MMORPGs


    Do you consider the economy implemented in your favorite MMORPG to be "advanced" compared to the current real-world Western economic system? Why or why not? How about in MMORPGs generally? What the heck is an "advanced" economic system, anyway? What features define an economic system as advanced or not? How could these features be implemented in MMORPGs, and what changes might have to be made to these features so that they work as part of a game? For that matter, why do MMORPGs need advanced economic systems? Where's the benefit?

    This essay is intended to consider these questions. I recognize that they've been thought about and discussed by professional designers and others, and I don't presume to suggest that this essay provides all the answers. Nor am I suggesting that most past, current, or proposed games are "broken" if they don't include advanced economic features.

    But I do believe several things:

    • some real-world cultures have seen sharp increases in economic activity
    • it is possible to characterize the innovations that enabled these increases
    • most MMORPGs implement only the earliest of these economic innovations
    • these innovations could be implemented to offer deeper economic gameplay
    • some MMORPGs would benefit from implementing more of these more recent innovations
    It's my hope that exploring these beliefs will produce some ideas of use to designers as they consider the economic aspects of the worlds they create.

    Note: This document was originally developed in late 2003 as an essay on the official online message board for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). It has been expanded and modified from its original form to be less SWG-specific and (I hope!) a little more coherent.


    Humanity over the last 10,000 years or so has for most of that time enjoyed a relatively primitive level of economic activity. The dominant form of economic activity for thousands of years consisted of handcrafted goods exchanged through a barter system. This "Prehistoric" stage of economic action was better than nothing... but not much.

    Eventually population densities increased to the point that new economic concepts appeared and spread through a culture. Some of these new ideas were technological, while some were new cultural institutions for organizing human action, but when they occurred together, the economic activity within that culture increased dramatically. (Carroll Quigley's The Evolution of Civilizations is the best discussion of these and other effects I've ever read, and I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in this sort of big-picture analysis.)

    The following table lists what I believe are the key technological and organizational innovations that enabled distinct new levels of economic vitality:

    1.CivicagriculturecityÇatalhöyükca. 5000 BC
    2.Tradingcurrencycode of lawsLex Duodecim Tabularumca. AD 1
    3.Mercantileprinting pressbankingBank of Englandca. AD 1400
    4.Commercialsailing shipscorporationDutch East India AD 1600
    5.Industrialsteam enginefactorycotton millsca. AD 1800
    6.Service(special)division of laborFord Motor AD 1900
    7.Informationcomputers?Internetca. AD 2000

    (Note: It's not yet clear what the key organizational form of the Information stage is or will be. Also, the "special" technology concept enabling the Service stage is just a conveniently short placeholder word representing three important technologies that arrived nearly simultaneously. Finally, the dates given aren't meant to be exact -- they're simply rough markers of when the behaviors common to a stage began to be clearly visible from a later perspective.)

    (Also, there's a special concept I believe has operated throughout human history: the idea of ownership; the belief that things can be someone's property. The concept of property is so intrinsic to any notion of economic action that there's no point in treating it as a distinct innovation. Of course a perfectly communistic MMORPG in which the concept of personal property does not exist is possible, but if that's what you're itching to implement, this essay won't help you!)


    Although economics is sometimes said to be the study of the effects of scarcity, I believe it's equally correct to think of it as the study of the creation and movement of value. ("Production" and "distribution" are another way to think of these two phenomena.) When goods and services become available, they move -- if they can -- from places where they have low value to places where they have high value.

    What all of the technologies in the above list of economic stages have in common is that they vastly increased the speed at which value could move. And what all of the organizing forms have in common is that they vastly increased the speed at which value could be created. When key technologies and organizing forms (let's call them "techs and orgs" for brevity) were adopted at roughly the same time by enough people within a culture, vastly more of the human potential for creating and moving value was unleashed.

    As each of the techs and orgs listed here were widely adopted, massive jumps in economic activity levels followed, often accompanied by social turmoil as the new ways of living shifted economic power in that society. There have been other points in history where a civilization became more productive (certainly there were plenty of innovations before A.D. 1400, such as the plow and the feudal system), but the ones given here are, I believe, a reasonable selection of those that have had the greatest economic impact wherever they have been applied. (Of course the specific innovations listed here are debatable. If there are other innovations that can be justified as more important economically, I hope this essay will encourage discussion of them.)

    I've listed both techs and orgs as requirements for a distinct new economic stage. It seems that innovations for producing and distributing value require each other; each enables and sustains the other. The social features of an organizational form allow the technology to be applied creatively, while access to the technology supports the survival of the organization through spreading the effects of that creativity. These effects resonate with and feed back into each other, sweeping through a culture and transforming it permanently. Perhaps it's because some key techs and orgs didn't happen simultaneously in space and time within some culture that there haven’t been other and more economic stages identifiable as such.

    Speaking of "stages," this is simply a name I've given to the period following the adoption of techs and orgs that generated a major burst in economic activity. There's no real demarcation between stages; they're just a convenient way to distinguish one level of general economic activity from another.

    Finally, it's useful to recognize that once the Commercial stage is enabled, all of the technologies shown in the table (including the Service stage technologies, discussed in that section) fall into one of three categories: power generation, transportation, and communication. Improved power generation technologies enhance the production of value, while new transportation and communication technologies enhance the distribution of value. This observation will be helpful when I discuss how the techs and orgs of each stage can be implemented in MMORPGs.


    Now consider the MMORPGs you've built or played. At what stage would you consider their economies?

    My impression is that most current and recent MMORPGs (some of which I've played, others I've read about and talked with players about) have, at best, a pre-Commercial stage economy. In other words, most MMORPGs offer a Trading stage game, with economic features limited to those less capable than printing presses and banking.

    MMORPGs may offer some kind of simple crafting; they allow secure trades between individuals; they may but generally don't require agriculture (no one has to eat to live); they have "cities" (though these may only be clusters of NPCs); they let players collect and trade currency tokens (plat, gold, credits, etc.); and the game code imposes some minimal set of "laws" that attempt to insure trustability in supported economic transactions... but that's about it. Some MMORPGs do offer more advanced economic technologies, but they don't also offer the related organization form (or vice versa). Often they don't implement all the techs and orgs from intermediate stages to support the more advanced economic features they do provide. Therefore I suggest that these MMORPGs can't be said to fully operate at an advanced economic stage.

    Let's consider SWG as an example. SWG has the features described above to constitute a Trading stage economy, but does it go beyond these? Looking at the techs and orgs in the table of stages shown above, SWG does not offer any equivalent to the printing press; there's no way to spread creative knowledge generally within the game. (This happens outside the game, reducing the value of supporting it in-game.) Bank loans are not necessary in SWG because money is so easy to get through missions that banks aren't necessary. SWG does offer vehicles, but their lack of an ability to carry cargo prevents them from supporting a Commercial stage economy. And although Player Associations -- SWG's guilds -- come close to being corporations, PAs don't "own" things or limit the liability of their owner-participants in risky economic ventures. SWG does implement an advanced power generation technology, which helps to increase production. But while players can personally automate the mass production of items, there's no feature supporting a formal organization for letting multiple players cooperate to mass-produce goods (i.e., a factory). SWG's very good crafting system offers many craftable items, including a few that require cooperation among a small number of players, but too few of these crafting projects are sufficiently complex to require a widespread division of labor. SWG also lacks a secure player contracts system that would support dividing complex tasks among several participants. And despite being a futuristic game, SWG's in-game email and chat facilities, while accomplishing some of the functionality of Service stage technologies, are not equivalent to having Information stage networked computers that are capable of generating new capital by linking the ideas of many people or enabling the discovery of useful patterns in masses of shared data.

    In general, then, despite having lasers and starships, the technologies and organizational modes for a futuristic economy are not fully implemented in SWG. In fact, SWG doesn't even offer a true Commercial stage economy. This isn't to pick on SWG; again, I'm just using it as an example to illustrate how even an advanced and deep game can wind up with a surprisingly limited economy. While other MMORPGs -- in particular, EVE Online, which implements not only a form of corporation but player contracts as well -- offer some of the more advanced economic features, those features aren't comprehensive in the way suggested by the table of stages. Most MMORPGs, like SWG, stop at Trading stage features. That doesn't make them "bad" games, but it does limit the economic fun they offer. (Note that whether a MMORPG economy is open or closed, or whether it is player-run or includes NPC vendors, has no bearing on what economic stage the MMORPG offers. This depends entirely on the features available to players.)

    Let's assume for the moment that I've persuaded you that it would be good to implement more advanced economic features in the game you're designing. (I'll directly address the "why" question in my Conclusion to this essay.) If Commercial stage and later features are the main innovations in real-world economic history that MMORPGs lack, how could they be implemented? Since most MMORPGs already have Trading stage features, let's examine the key features of each economic stage beyond Trading.


    If pressed to name the single greatest economic innovation in history, I would have to say "banking." Put simply, a bank is an organization which multiple people trust as a safe place to store their money, yet which profits by lending the money of its depositors to other people.

    This has two great benefits. First, it allows hard currency to be replaced with paper (or, later, electronic funds). By switching to a more easily transportable form of money, the number and size of financial transactions can be vastly increased.

    Second, the bank's lending function allows it to place accumulated money in the hands of some individual or group who will likely employ that money in some productive way. This creates wealth which that individual or group would otherwise have been unable to afford to produce, promoting the growth and amount of productive economic activity to a degree not otherwise possible.

    The related technology, the printing press, not only served to create the paper money that could now begin circulating, but it allowed individuals to communicate new productive concepts to each other, increasing the speed and effectiveness of new ways to generate wealth. (This particular economic benefit is of course in addition to the phenomenal boosts the printing press gave to increasing literacy, spreading knowledge, and encouraging scientific activity, all of which would enable a staggering number and variety of new goods and services to be created.)

    Let's consider now how these concepts could be implemented in a MMORPG. Do MMORPGs need to offer their players the equivalent of the printing press? While players often wish for a way to be able to write "books" within the game world, and some MMORPGs actually do offer this feature, it's possible that this ability isn't really required within the game world as long as players can communicate with each other outside the game world. I believe that it would be more interesting and probably more economically powerful to offer this feature in-game, but the basic utility is all that's required to achieve the technological aspect of a Mercantile stage economy. If players can share knowledge, that's not perfect but it suffices.

    But what about the organizational form required for a Mercantile economy? What about banks? Many MMORPGs do not offer a full banking feature -- at most, they provide a money storage facility. Since an avatar could, if so programmed, "carry" an infinite amount of notional money, this storage function of banking isn't especially useful. What's important is that MMORPGs don't provide banking's more crucial function, which is to grow the overall wealth of a community through making loans that increase productive capacity.

    Implementing this in a MMORPG would require changing the conventional thinking about how to motivate players. Most MMORPGs allow individual players to obtain boatloads of cash fairly easily by making it a reward for performing various designer-favored activities such as completing quests, or whacking NPCs. Money is an effective pellet to dispense, but allowing individual players to become cash-rich greatly reduces the value of and need for a bank to loan money to start or expand a business. To allow banks to be important sources of money, MMORPGs would have to remove cash as a quest or loot reward. It wouldn't be necessary to go all the way to implementing a closed economy, but that's a possibility. Either way, banks would need to become the most important faucets from which money enters the economy.

    That's not necessarily such a bad thing. You'd lose one kind of reward pellet for completing quests or defeating an opponent, but loot would still be available. What you'd gain from giving up money as a reward would be a powerful emphasis on constructive activity rather than destructive activity. Because the lending function of banks is to provide capital for productive development, banks in MMORPGs would promote an ethos of building, rather than one of non-stop killing.

    If your game is about exterminating all living things as quickly and as often as possible, then you're probably not in the market for an advanced economy. Otherwise, implementing your money faucet as a bank could be an effective means to encouraging the productive, constructive behavior that you want.

    Naturally, there are some hard practical questions of implementation that would have to be answered for banks to work in MMORPGs. How do you insure that money loaned will be used for community-productive purposes instead of on personal consumables? Worse, what's to stop a player from taking a loan and never paying it back? What if they create a new character, get a loan, give the money to an alt, then delete the original character? In short, how do you make a character pay back a loan?

    The idea of a bank in a MMORPG has been proposed many times, and this criticism that players will "always" find ways to cheat the bank has been raised an equal number of times (at least) with nearly as many ideas for curing it. Most suggested solutions depend on adding the notion of collateral to loans, but this produces the effect of "you can't have it unless you can prove you don't need it" which seriously degrades the value of having banking at all.

    My suggestion (which is by no means the only way to approach these concerns) would be to base the loan amount on two factors: the length of time since a character was created, and the amount of money a character has been given to date. In effect, the amount of money a character could get would fall roughly under a bell curve. You couldn't get much money as a new character, which would help to limit gold farming, but playing the game over the long term would be rewarded with higher loan amounts. At the other end, it wouldn't be possible to take an ever-increasing amount of money from the bank -- you'd get enough to help you become productive, and the rest would be up to you. This would support the early- to mid-game players in their attempts to join the game economy, while causing the advanced economic player to rely on working with other players to make more money rather than on interacting just with the game code to grind for cash.

    This still leaves you with the question of what to do with the Grasshopper player who blows all his loan money on your game's equivalent of beer, as some certainly would. The obvious blunt-force approach would be to limit the kinds of items or services that could be purchased with loan money, but there are probably better solutions.


    The specific techs and orgs I named in the table don't always have to be implemented in exactly those forms. What if your game world doesn't have oceans -- how could you implement sailing vessels?

    What's important about ships such as the galleons and carracks that began to see widespread usage in the 1500s is not that they were floating vehicles -- it's that they could carry much more cargo than overland travelers; they could travel to distant places much faster than could be achieved on land (because they now had multiple masts and sails); and they could maneuver to reach many more harbors through the new capability of being able to tack into the wind. Their increased functionality enabled economic opportunities that previously had been inaccessible. Similarly, what's important about the corporation is not its form, but its capital-concentrating and economic risk-reducing functions.

    So enabling a Commercial stage economy in a MMORPG will depend on giving players capabilities that enable long-distance commerce that benefits the members of a group. Implementing several post-Mercantile features could achieve this goal:

    • some places that contain valuable goods take a long time to reach
    • certain vehicles can use alternate routes to get there faster than regular travel
    • these vehicles can carry cargo (yours or someone else's stuff)
    • these vehicles can maneuver to go where you want (subject to some limitations)
    • these vehicles should be so expensive that only a group can afford to obtain them
    • (corollary: purely solo players should never be in the same wealth-producing league as groups)
    • players can create groups to which other players may choose to belong
    • a group can exist beyond the departure of its founder(s) (someone else "runs" the group)
    • resources can be pooled (the group can "own" its own resources)
    • group resources can be employed on behalf of the group
    • group members who only supply resources (non-directors) aren't liable if directors get in trouble
    When these features (or at least some reasonable subset of them) are provided, the player capability for moving goods from their low-value origin to areas of high value (and, in later stages, for creating new goods and services) will increase substantially. These institutions could be similar to the Dutch East India Company and similar groups, with many of their strengths and weaknesses, or (depending on implementation) might place more emphasis on the group participation aspect and less emphasis on exploration and resource exploitation. In either case, the game economy will expand substantially as players recognize the value of participating in such groups.

    It bears noting that this kind of capability isn't without risk. Investing in speculative opportunities sometimes pays off big, but sometimes it doesn't. Allowing the pooling of money for speculative investment can lead to "bubbles" of unrealistic expectations, which, when they "burst," can turn investors into paupers overnight. While the Dutch did well through the 1602 founding of the Dutch East India Company, by 1637 many Dutch were financially ruined when the irrationally inflated prices for tulips (the so-called "tulip mania") collapsed. And in 1720 came the infamous collapse of the South Sea Company bubble. Isaac Newton, who lost 20,000 pounds he had invested, remarked, "I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men."

    Another consequence of the corporate-funded exploration and development of new resources was the inflation of many of the national economies backing this process. As gold and silver poured into the previously stable economies, prices rose, leading to severe social disruption. Masses migrated to the cities where their inexpensive labor became a contributing element to the next major economic stage, but rioting and lawlessness increased as well.

    Along with the enabling features listed above, a MMORPG designer who's contemplating trying to achieve a Commercial stage economic system should consider what additional features might be worth implementing to try to prevent or cope with speculative bubbles, as well as with the potentially inflationary effects of exposing new resources.


    The next stage of human economic progress is so pronounced in its effects that it's well known as the Industrial Revolution. Again, this is something most MMORPGs don't directly implement, but because it offers opportunities for greatly expanding the number and scope of economic activities your players can enjoy, it's a feature worth considering.

    As in the other economic stages, attaining the Industrial stage depends on a confluence of new technologies and new organizational forms. In this case, an industrial revolution requires greatly increased local energy and a concentration of undifferentiated labor.

    First let's consider power generation. The particular form is less important than the recognition that some way be found to achieve greater power outputs than are possible through simple human or animal muscle power. Pre-Western civilizations were utterly dependent on human and animal power. This explains the importance of slavery in Classical civilization, and the value of oxen in the East and horses in the West after the collapse of Rome.

    Only with the discovery and spread of machines that could provide much greater amounts of power did the next great economic advance occur. First came windmills and waterwheels. These were used for milling wheat, and later for supplying power to weaving "mills" (the most prominent early factories in the modern sense of that word). But as sources of abundant power, they were limited in that they depended on their proximity to natural resources. The wind could usually be relied on in flat northwestern Europe, and hillier country with streams could support waterwheels (in either overshot or undershot forms). But such rural locations often did not coincide with sources of available labor. Thus the economic effects of these new forms of power, while significant, were limited.

    It wasn't until the development of the (relatively) highly efficient steam engine that the next stage could occur. Not only did the steam engine provide vast power for purposes such as pumping water out of mines, its use of a transportable fuel source (coal) allowed it to be sited virtually anywhere, including right in the middle of the greatest source of cheap labor: the cities themselves. For that matter, the steam engine could be used to pull multiple containers that rode on steel rails... and the emergence of the railroad system enabled a new level of commercial activity by dramatically increasing transportation volume and speeds. From 10 million people traveling by stagecoach in Britain in 1835, by 1845 there were 30 million journeys by rail recorded. By 1870, there were more than 330 million rail trips.

    Similar to the other stages, this new steam engine technology by itself was not sufficient to initiate the next burst of productivity. The ready supply of labor in the cities supplied the necessary support for a new organizational mode: the factory system. With enough people to operate the machines powered by steam, it became possible to manufacture vast quantities of goods. As the number of steam-power factories grew, the West's material wealth increased by orders of magnitude.

    Most MMORPGs lack these features of the Industrial Revolution: a large-scale power generator and the organizing concept of the factory. It's not enough just to have the energy to mass-produce goods; more complex goods (including the machine tools that are necessary to create complex goods) can't be made by the lone craftsman. What's needed is a crafting system that enables a stable group of crafters to work together in an organized way to produce quantities of goods. The concept of the factory provides the organizational form that permits this new kind of productive action.

    As is also well-known, this expansion of productivity came at a high price. Operating hundreds of factories powered by coal-fed steam engines had other, not so pleasant effects. Pollution so intense as to be deadly spread throughout Europe and through England in particular. (Lethal smogs occurred more than once in London, which wasn't even one of the more industrial cities.) And then there were the extraordinary social effects of what was effectively the mechanization of human laborers. Although the response to the dehumanizing exploitation of men, women and children as mere cogs in the factory system led to today's liberal society, getting here meant surviving radical levels of social unrest and strife, effects we are still experiencing 200 years later.

    So why would you even consider adding a feature that might produce such effects in your virtual world? The short answer is, because you're a smart designer. As the designer, you can create a factory system that offers many of the advantages with only enough of the disadvantages to make operating a factory an interesting choice. Being the designer means you can create a factory system that gives players some fun things to do and boosts your game's economy, but in a way that's not abusive or harmful to the game world... unless you actually want to model reality, in which case you definitely want to offer a big-power factory feature just to see if the in-game social effects mirror the historical real-world effects. (But I wouldn't advise publishing your home phone number.)

    Providing an Industrial-strength power source in a MMORPG is relatively simple. A Commercial stage power source ought to be tied to some physical location, but in an Industrial stage MMORPG you can offer a player-constructible building. It should cost a lot so that only groups pooling their resources can afford one, since this supports and builds on the features provided as part of the earlier economic stages. It should also generate some negative side effects so that it's not something everyone puts up just because they can.

    More importantly, an Industrial stage MMORPG will provide a feature allowing players to work together on projects. Players should be able to form structured persistent groups. By "structured" I mean consisting of defined relationships beyond "one leader" and "multiple followers" -- players need to be able to define hierarchical or consensus relationships.

    Mass production should be possible only through multiple individuals working together in an organized way. (An individual character should never be able to independently operate a high-productivity factory in an Industrial stage or earlier economy!) In the first place, implementing the factory model encourages players to cooperate with other players toward the production of desirable goods. This could give new players something useful to offer (their labor) while they build their own capital, while insuring that the goods desired in that game are widely available. In the second place, allowing players to organize themselves prepares them for the features provided in the next economic stage: the Service Economy.


    Where the Industrial stage economy is driven by centralized power and production, the Service stage economy begins when techs and orgs appear that distribute power and productive capacity to small groups and individuals.

    Widespread electrification spread the cost of power generation so that, in effect, individuals gained their very own steam engine. Now an individual or small group could do what once required a huge factory and power plant. At roughly the same time, the internal combustion engine revolutionized transportation by enabling high-speed personal automobiles and trucks (and creating the oil industry and multi-lane road grid that supported these vehicles). Now we could rapidly move goods from where they were created to where they were wanted, stimulating new commercial activity. Fast transportation (with refrigeration) also snapped the ancient agricultural bondage to the land that prevented the majority of individuals from traveling to where they could perform more productive activities. Even the new communication technologies of the telegraph, radio, and the telephone shifted productive power to the individual by increasing the amount of information available for developing new goods and services.

    But having these technologies is not sufficient to achieve a Service stage economy. A Service economy depends on specialization, on there being someone willing and able to do for you those things you can't or don't want to do for yourself. "Division of labor" is another way of thinking of this effect. Increasing personal power through electrification, cars, and telephones exposed more of the human potential for productivity; the division of labor among the members of the group is the organizational form that harnessed that potential.

    It's perfectly true that the division of labor began long before the year 1900; the growth of the middle class from medieval times onward was due in part to specialization. But the personalizing technologies that appeared in profusion from about 1900 vastly expanded the number of specializations possible. Where steam power and the factory system emphasized mass production of identical goods through identical action, the new technologies of electrification, cars and trucks, and the telephone shifted power from the factory floor to the individual. Having many goods was no longer enough -- it now became possible and desirable to have many kinds of goods. The specialization of productive functions allowed the creation of highly complex goods, rather than the mass-produced simple goods possible in an Industrial economy.

    The single most effective feature MMORPGs could offer to enable the Service stage of economic activity is automatically enforced player contracts. Player contracts enforced by the game itself would allow players to engage in economic activity beyond the one-time personal deal available from prehistory days onward. The Secure Trade Window is just the first and most primitive form of enforceable contract -- this concept can be expanded to promote a wide array of economic exchanges while still allowing automatic enforcement by the game itself.

    (It has been suggested that letting players act as lawyers would be a cool feature in a MMORPG. Personally, I see no way to allow this without opening up massive levels of "legal" griefing, but that may be just a failure of vision on my part. That said, if I were the designer I'd stick with making the game itself the arbiter of when the terms of a contract have been fulfilled -- or not -- and of executing the agreed-on consequences of either result.)

    In particular, a Service stage economy becomes most productive when the crafting system of the MMORPG allows complex goods to be crafted. To put it another way, while a strong player contracts system would increase the velocity of wealth exchanges in the game world, taking full advantage of this feature will require letting players cooperate (using not just contracts but banking and corporations as well) to craft objects that individuals cannot craft on their own. This serves multiple goals: it encourages interaction among players (a Good Thing in a "massively multiplayer" world); it satisfies the need to feel a part of something larger than one's personal limits would allow; it satisfies the desire of some players to manage complexity; and it serves the game world by providing valuable goods.


    Finally (at least so far in human history!), there is the Information stage. The key technology in our world that makes Western civilization's budding Information stage economy possible is the widely networked computer, which is responsible for speeding by orders of magnitude the creation and distribution of that most precious form of capital: ideas.

    As a society attains this stage, every organization in that society is magnified greatly in value because it becomes what might be described as an "intellectual capital bank." Until this point, the variety of goods and services is limited by the difficulty of communicating concepts. Consumer needs and desires can't be fully supplied, because no individual is creative enough to figure out how to make and deliver that vast array of goods and services. But with the advent of networked computers it becomes possible to harness the ideas of every worker toward achieving the goals of the enterprise. New goods and services become possible as more of the intellectual potential of workers can be combined. And the economy enjoys another period of expansion.

    In MMORPG terms, attaining an Information economy means accomplishing what is currently one of the most difficult challenges in multiplayer game design: figuring out how to let players add their own content to the game. A sandbox world can offer this feature, but enabling significantly open-ended player-created content in a multiplayer game world is a hard problem. There are not only technical constraints (such as designing and building a game engine capable of supporting player-created goods, as well as a database system that can reliably store and quickly retrieve them all), there are legal concerns as well. (Who owns the player-created content? Can you make that conclusion stand up in a court that doesn't understand technical issues? Can you afford the cost if you're wrong, or the cost of litigation even if you're right?)

    Because this is such a hard problem for a game world, it's not fair to criticize a multiplayer game for not implementing an Information stage economy. That said, the game that manages to solve these problems will become the respected progenitor of the amazing game worlds to come. Assuming it has also implemented features that enable the earlier stages of economic activity, a game that lets players create their own unique goods and services, that allows a truly rich expression of human creativity, will, I believe, have the most satisfied players of any online game to date.

    Even if it doesn't yield wheelbarrows full of cash for its designer, that would still be a reputation worth winning.


    I believe the preceding discussion has shown that advanced economic techs and orgs can be implemented as features that will deepen and extend the economic gameplay available within online game worlds. But this begs the question: Why do MMORPGs need such features? Not every game needs an Information stage economic system, or even a Commercial stage economy. If the setting for your game is medieval France, you may be just fine with a Mercantile stage economy.

    There are at least three reasons to consider implementing advanced economic systems in your game. First, they give your players more to do -- i.e., more content. Second, because they will better reflect the economic dynamism of the real world, advanced economic abilities will increase your players' perception that they are members of a living and opportunity-rich community. And third, some MMORPGs just don't seem complete without advanced economic features. Any serious MMORPG with a modern or futuristic setting deserves better than a Trading stage economy! (For that matter, the designer of a truly futuristic game ought to have thought about and included futuristic economic effects far beyond those generated by mere Information stage features.)

    Implementing a deeper economic system isn't desirable merely for the coolness factor or to supply Marketing with something unique to advertise. Nor does being able to offer your players an advanced economic system mean only that some few players will be able to engage in a high-level economic competition game. Implementing the features that enable a deep, complex, integrated and high-velocity economy in your game world means that every player will have more opportunities to find interesting things to do, especially in conjunction with other players, and that your game is likely to satisfy more of the economic desires of every player. Even those players who don't participate directly in the economy through crafting or sales will still benefit from a generally higher level of economic activity, as satisfying their own needs and wants becomes more likely when you increase the economic capabilities of other players. Everybody wins.

    That's not to say that implementing a truly advanced economy in your game will be easy, even if you're able to use some of the ideas proposed here. Every design of a new MMORPG seems to require a lot of wheel-rebuilding. In particular, there don't seem to be any standard building blocks allowing designers to simply plug a full economic system into their design. That's both a Bad Thing and a Good Thing, of course. Not having a prebuilt system to use means your design and development phases last longer, but you learn more when you have to build a complex system from scratch. (But it's still annoying to have to do so over and over again.)

    It's also a fact that most deep MMORPGs come with large price tags just from the sheer amount of code that has to be written. Spending the time to design an elegant Industrial stage or better economic system could jeopardize the completion of some other important parts of the game. Sometimes you just have to do what you can and let some of your great but time-consuming ideas go.

    Finally, there's the reasonable objection that developers can barely control the limited economic systems they do offer. A more advanced and more complex economy that gives players deeper powers might also come with more ways for a clever and hostile player to inappropriately dominate or cheat the system.

    These truths acknowledged, I still believe it's appropriate to consider how to offer players a fuller and more satisfying economic experience in their virtual worlds. I like the idea of offering a toolkit of economic features that could be inserted into a MMORPG based on the designer's needs, cutting development time while enhancing the features of the final product. This toolkit could conceivably be some sort of code library, but for the design phase even an abstract model (such as the one offered here as my table of economic stages) could be helpful if it stimulates thinking on what kind of economic system your game needs -- or doesn't need -- and the economic safeties and monitoring tools you'll need to install no matter what.

    In the end, this layered model of economic stages is just a starting point for thinking about how you want value to be created and moved within your game world. "My game will be set in an idealized Wild West, so I'll need most of the features of a Mercantile stage economy with maybe a few Commercial stage features for flavor and effect... but are there any features outside this model I need to consider as well? And what can go wrong if I do add those features?"

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    SWG: Dependencies Among the Professions

    [2008/05/16 note: Well, obviously all of this was made completely moot by the Sony/LucasArts decision to rip the professions out of SWG entirely and replace them with nine "iconic" classes. I'm including this essay here anyway as it still has something useful to say about designing a large-scale MMORPG in such a way that players are encouraged to interact with each other.]

    An insight I had a while back was that while the original design of SWG established dependencies between the playstyle-based profession groups, these dependencies were all constructed to support combat. I'd like to explore that theory a little more here to see what others think.


    In the Elder Days when SWG launched, it was designed so that each group of professions (see the addendum at the bottom of this post) had a valuable role to play. The goal (I believe) was to construct the skills system so that everybody would have something worthwhile to contribute to other players.

    The thing was, only one playstyle really needed anybody else: combat players.

    Combat players required crafters to create weapons and armor. Combat players required socializers (healers and entertainers) to heal wounds, cure poisons/diseases, supply buffs, and remove Battle Fatigue. As for explorers, combat players didn't exactly require them, but some of their skills were still useful for a combat player to have.

    So being required by combatants wasn't a Bad Thing. It meant that each of these non-combat professions had a useful role to play in SWG. Not only did the combat professions need them, they needed the combat professions in order to fulfill their designed support roles.

    The thing was, no other dependencies were created. Combatants needed these non-combat professions, but the non-combat professions didn't need each other. Each non-combat profession came to be thought of as useful (and received new content) only to the degree that it supported combat, rather than how well it supported all playstyles. There were some exceptions -- Politicians (once player cities were introduced) definitely needed Architects. But these were rare exceptions; by far the more common case was that combatants -- and only combatants -- needed non-combat professions.

    For some time, this wasn't an issue. As long as combatants needed the non-combat professions, everyone had something useful to do.
    But -- surprise, surprise -- combatants didn't like being the only ones who had to depend on everybody else. They didn't like having to pay a lot of credits for high-end gear. They didn't like having to hunt for uber buffs. And they definitely didn't like Battle Fatigue. And thus were spawned the buffbots and AFK macrotainer alts.

    This was clearly not a desirable state of affairs. Everyone was complaining. And so it appeared that the solution was to reduce the dependence of combatants on other professions. Over time and many changes, the non-combat skills that supported combat play were circumvented, nerfed, or removed. High-end loot drops and quest rewards were added to replace crafted goods. Buffs were greatly weakened. Battle Fatigue was eliminated completely.

    The result? Because virtually the entire design of each non-combat profession had been based on direct support of combat play, reducing the dependency of combatants on these professions reduced the value of playing the non-combat professions. Because these professions were never designed to also need each other, and because they were rarely if ever given new content intended to make them fun to play in and of themselves (as combat has consistently been given), removing their combat support abilities leaves non-combat players asking themselves, "What's left? Why should I keep playing SWG?"

    Which is where we are now.


    Having laid out this theory, I'd like to ask some questions.

    1. Do you buy it? Is it mostly right? If there are flaws in the facts or reasoning, what do you think those flaws are? If it misses some other crucial point, what point is that? Or do you think the whole thing is completely bogus and all concerns expressed utterly unfounded? Why?

    2. Assuming you see some truth in the theory, do you think anything can be done about it at this point? Is SWG too far gone down the road of all-combat, all-the-time for any attention to non-combat playstyles to save it? Or is there still hope?

    3. Assuming you think there's still hope, what do you think can/should be done? Is the answer to create new dependencies among all the profession groups? What should these dependencies be? For example, how should entertainers depend on healers or crafters or explorers? How should explorers depend on combatants? How should healers depend on entertainers? How would you explain to players why these new constraints on their preferred playstyle are a Good Thing?

    4. Would an alternate approach -- adding significant non-combat support content to each profession group -- be enough? In other words, can each profession be made so much fun on its own that it attracts players regardless of whether it supports other playstyles or not? Would it be OK to take this kind of standalone approach to a "massively multiplayer" game, or would something important be lost in not providing content that fosters interaction among the playstyles?

    As an addendum, here's how I group the various professions.

    In SWG and other MMOGs, four playstyles seem to be most common: Combat, Commerce, Exploration, and Social.

    Some of these styles can be broken down a little further. For example, in SWG I think of the Bounty Hunter and Smuggler professions (and eventually the revamped Ranger profession) as "Rogue" professions, and of the Rogue group as a subtype of the Combat playstyle. The Social and Commercial playstyles break down to subtypes, too, but the Exploration playstyle isn't detailed enough with professions to have any substructure.

    All of my observations above are based on this concept of organization for SWG's professions. If you have any comments or questions on this structure, those are welcome, too.

    • COMBAT
    • Standard Combat
    • Melee
    • Brawler
    • Fencer
    • Pikeman
    • Swordsman
    • Teras Kasi
    • Ranged
    • Carbineer
    • Commando
    • Marksman
    • Pistoleer
    • Rifleman
    • Space
    • Pilot, Imperial
    • Pilot, Privateer
    • Pilot, Rebel
    • Special
    • Jedi
    • Squad Leader
    • Special Combat
    • Combat Medic
    • Creature Handler
    • Rogue
    • Bounty Hunter
    • Smuggler
    • Crafting
    • Architect
    • Armorsmith
    • Artisan
    • Bio-Engineer
    • Chef
    • Droid Engineer
    • Shipwright
    • Tailor
    • Weaponsmith
    • Sales
    • Merchant
    • Ranger (moving to Rogue)
    • Scout
    • SOCIAL
    • Entertainment
    • Dancer
    • Entertainer
    • Musician
    • Healing
    • Doctor
    • Medic
    • Special Services
    • Image Designer
    • Politician

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Key Features of the Original Sim City

    As an exercise in design, I once sat down and tried to list what I thought were the key features of Sim City.

    It's sort of amazing how few key features there really are!

      • Terrain
        • Dirt
        • Forest
      • Zoning
        • Residential
        • Commercial
        • Industrial
      • Services
        • Transportation
          • Road
          • Rail
        • Power line
      • Facilities
        • Active
          • Power Plant
            • Coal Power
            • Nuclear Power
          • Airport
          • Seaport
          • Fire
          • Police
        • Passive
          • Park
          • Stadium
      • Block query
        • Land/zone/service/facility type
        • Density
        • Value
        • Crime
        • Pollution
        • Growth
      • City evaluation
        • Ratings
        • Statistics
        • Problems
      • Taxation
      • Place Block (on dirt terrain)
        • Zoning (large block)
        • Services (small block)
        • Facilities (several sizes)
      • Bulldoze existing block to dirt
      • Set tax rate
      • Player-set
        • Tax Rate
      • Internal
        • General
          • Population
          • Funds
          • City value
          • City score
          • Mayoral approval rating
        • Per Block
          • Population Density
          • Pollution Level
          • Crime Rate
          • Land Value
          • Housing Cost
          • Traffic
          • Police Influence
          • Fire Protection
          • Satisfaction (aggregate)
      • Each tick of the clock is one month.
      • Zones must be connected to power to attract sims; connections are checked each month.
      • Taxes are assessed on all sims at the end of each year to generate funds.
      • Placing a block costs an amount of money that depends on the type of block.
      • Sims enter and leave the city each year based on satisfaction with city-wide and local variables.
      • Connection to services and proximity to facilities will increase or decrease sim satisfaction.
      • Increasing the number of sims in each zone type affects the desirability of other zone types.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Inflation and Mudflation in MMOGs

    The first thing to notice about faucet/drain economies is that there are actually three things going on in them. There's wealth (in the two forms of items and money) that enters the game through the "faucet" of mission payouts and currency loot drops; there's wealth exiting the economy through the "drain" (item destruction and things like taxes and service fees); and there's wealth circulating in the game among players (people exchanging money and items).

    What's important to see here is that only the faucet and drain matter when considering whether inflation is occurring inside the game world. Money and goods circulating among players do not contribute to inflation -- in fact, the more of this that happens, the better for everyone in the game it is.

    To understand how the faucets and drains determine inflation, we first need to agree on what "inflation" really is. According to economists, inflation is the condition that occurs when the price of a broad array of standard goods rises over time relative to the perceived usefulness of those goods. Note that term "broad array" -- it means you can't just look at the price of swords only, or at the prices of very rare items, to know whether inflation is occurring. You have to consider the average price of several different kinds of readily available goods. If that average price goes up meaningfully over an extended period of time, then you've got inflation, but not otherwise.

    And just to make life more entertaining, there's not just one kind of inflation -- there are at least three.

    Standard inflation is the kind most of us think of; this is where a bunch of money enters an economy while the number and quality of goods produced remain relatively constant. In standard inflation, the value of an individual unit of currency decreases over time for most available goods. If 10 dollars today is worth half of what it was yesterday, then an item whose absolute value was generally agreed to be 100 dollars yesterday will cost you 200 dollars today.

    Demand-pull inflation is the next type. Suppose you have a fixed amount of money circulating in your economy. Now, slowly cut back on the kinds and numbers of goods being created in that economy, or add a lot of new people to the economy without also increasing production. Over time, prices will generally increase as people consider goods to be worth more (i.e., as demand increases because supply is not keeping up with purchasing power). As prices rise for the same goods over time, an individual unit of currency is worth less and less... and that's demand-pull inflation. (This is something that can happen in a MMOG if crafters are widely supplanted by loot drops for high-end objects, or if you irritate your crafters so thoroughly that they quit your game and aren't replaced by new crafters.)

    Finally, cost-push inflation is what you get when the costs to produce goods rise generally. This kind of price increase is usually caused by things like increased wage costs (as through "minimum wage" increases or hikes in corporate taxation) that are passed on to consumers. In games that don't support corporations or that don't have corporate taxes applied by the system, this type of inflation generally doesn't happen. But it can happen if crafting requires natural resources, and the developers cut back sharply on the amount or quality of those resources.

    The most common type of inflation in MMOGs is standard inflation. It shows up when the amount of money being created in the game by players (doing whatever the game allows them to do to make money -- usually running quests) exceeds the amount of money exiting the economy in the form of taxes and fees. This can happen if taxes and fees aren't set high enough to match the amount of money players are creating.

    This can also happen when there's a currency dupe exploit. If when these happen they aren't corrected by changing the code (to stop the exploit) and removing the money very quickly (so that innocent players don't exchange valuable goods for "dirty" money), a game economy can inflate badly, possibly to the point of ruining the game. So tools for tracking the creation, circulation, and destruction of money in the economy are crucial.

    Finally, not every MMOG winds up dealing with inflation. Another potential problem for MMOG economies is deflation (sometimes called "mudflation"). This occurs when valuable objects enter the game world and never leave while the money supply remains relatively constant.

    Mudflation tends to happen in particular as developers create high-level content. If powerful items can be obtained more than once and/or can be transferred to other players, then over time the price of low-level or average items of the same type will decline as more of the high-end items enter the general economy and trickle down to younger characters.

    Note that a major secondary effect of mudflation is to make many quests and mobs irrelevant. When everyone can afford to buy very good items, there's no need to loot mobs or do quests that yield less valuable items. For a developer, this decreases the value of time spent developing low- to mid-level quest and mob content because now users are able to complete this content more easily than expected.

    Various efforts have been made to combat mudflation. The concept of "soulbinding" -- setting the "no-drop" and "no-trade" flags on items -- is only partly to counter twinking; its primary purpose is to prevent valuable items from entering the general economy. Decay and damage effects also help reduce mudflation, though not as effectively as soulbinding.

    The main reason that both inflation and deflation are bad news for a MMOG is because they alter the difficulty balance of the game, especially for new players. Because new players have less money than established players, the value of their money is significantly greater. So if new players are unable to buy standard items because of inflation, the starting game will feel too hard. If they are able to buy more items and more powerful items than the designers intended for them to be able to own (due to deflation), their starting gameplay experience can be too easy.

    In both cases, these first impressions of a game can be the difference between a long-term subscriber and someone who goes elsewhere to find a game that isn't too easy or too hard.

    Designing systems to effectively monitor and manage the economy is non-optional for a large gameworld.

    Thursday, September 29, 2005

    SWG: New Economic Abilities for Merchants

    It occurs to me that maybe the dearth of stickified FAQ-type messages in this Business and Economics forum is due to there being no in-game way to get business/economic information that applies to every player.

    You'd expect to see hard numbers on financial operations in a forum like this... but how are we supposed to obtain that kind of info?

    I'm not a Pikeman, but let's say I was. I could acquire one of every type of polearm, write down its listed stats, then use each one in carefully controlled settings to generate a detailed list of behavioral characteristics. I could work out things like DPS ratings, decay rates, and so on for various players in various situations, and from that data produce a chart that would help Pikemen decide which polearm was best for a particular function. That's the kind of useful information that gets stickied.

    But what similar tools do business types have for assessing market characteristics? I know how much money I make based on my sales actions, but that's just me -- it doesn't really tell me anything that can help you and every other sales-oriented player. My personal numbers aren't globally useful information that deserves stickyhood, but they're the only kind of numbers I can obtain right now.

    Here are just a few examples of the kinds of economy-related things I'd like to know on an ongoing basis:

    • Which server has the lowest price for high-CD non-ferrous metal?

    • Which planet on Ahazi has the lowest price for high-CD non-ferrous metal?

    • Which server sells the most swoops?

    • Which server sells the most swoops per active character on that server?

    • Which ten vendors on Radiant/Corellia did the best sales last week?

    • What are the current average prices on Tempest for all flora resources?

    • How have prices for ferrous metals trended over the past week?

    • How have prices for composite armor trended over the past month?

    • How have prices for generic houses trended over the past year?

    • Which planet on Wanderhome buys the most harvesters?

    • Of all Bazaar terminals on Bria, which one is used most often?

    • Which mission terminal gave out the most money over the last week?

    • What is the breakdown of mission terminal money received per profession?

    • Which ten characters have the largest bank accounts on Shadowfire?

    • Given prevailing resource costs, what are the ten most profitable craftable items?

    • Given maintenance costs, what's the optimal number of vendors?
    All these things and many others like them are debatable. But is "debatable" really the qualification for something to be stickied when everybody else is stickying hard numbers?

    If it's the best we can do, then OK -- let's go ahead and sticky the best debates or the most interesting ideas for enhancing economic gameplay... but let's also admit that that's a second-best result.

    Here's an alternative: What if we had in-game abilities that could be used to discover the kinds of hard information that would merit being stickied here?

    What if there were Merchant skills to obtain local economic information?

    Yes, that information would be posted immediately to become global information... but would it hurt the game for many players to have that information widely available? Could it be abused in some way? Or would it be more likely to open up economic gameplay to more players? Would it improve competition, thus making markets more efficient overall as players realize where to go to earn more profits?

    Wouldn't it finally allow us to generate hard economic information worth tracking?

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    A Categorization of Changes to Star Wars Galaxies, v2

    Well, here we go again!

    About a year ago, I offered A Categorization of Every Documented Change to SWG. I thought this was a reasonably useful analysis of the changes that had been made to SWG as of that time, and several other people were generous enough to say so as well.

    Since then, however, there've been some dramatic changes in SWG. They include:

    • the Jump to Lightspeed space expansion
    • the Combat Upgrade
    • the Force Sensitive Village
    • the Rage of the Wookiees expansion
    There've also been many small changes which cumulatively have added up to meaningful differences in SWG's gameplay.

    It would have been interesting to apply these changes to my data, but I wasn't able to do so because my original dataset was lost. The idea of having to rebuild all my original categorizations, then adding the thousands of new documented changes, then categorizing all the new stuff was daunting. (Plus there's this day job they expect me to show up for.)

    And yet... I kept thinking about it. So when Elyssa (our excellent Merchant Correspondent) encouraged me to consider rebuilding my analysis to include the changes over the past year, I decided to just go ahead and do it.

    It's been a few weeks since then. It took that long to reassemble all the patch notes, to rebuild the categorizations, to add new categories as suggested by various commenters from the first version, and to make the appropriate categorizations for the roughly 3500 changes.

    But now it's done, and ready to present to you in its shiny new up-to-date version 2.0 format.

    I hope you find some value in it.

    [Note: Obviously this was written before the imposition of the New Game Experience changes to SWG, which did away with many of the features and professions addressed in this analysis. This document is thus now interesting (if at all) only as a quaint historical study of a complex MMOG at its most complex.]

    OK -- with that introduction out of the way, I'd like to return to my original presentation format. First, I'd like to explain the point of all this effort; next, I'll present the actual results; after that, I'll note some aspects of the methodology I used to generate the results; and finally, I'll make some observations about the results. If some result seems completely out of whack to you, please read the Methodology section -- the reason why is probably there. If not, I'd like to hear your concerns. And if you have questions, I'll do my best to answer them.

    One important note: I spent a lot of time accumulating the data whose results are published here. I'd rather not see it show up elsewhere with someone else's name on it, so I won't be publishing the raw data or emailing the spreadsheet to anyone. I'm also keeping the original data private as a courtesy to SOE. I trust my objectivity, but if the raw data were made public it could be abused, possibly leading to SOE no longer making the patch notes public... and that would be a Bad Thing for all of us.

    Thanks for understanding this.


    I'm interested in the design and operation of massively multiplayer games. Not only can they be fun to play, I find it interesting to look at them in terms of how they serve their customers through their design. What makes a MMOG fun for a lot of different kinds of people? How can you maintain and even improve on the fun of a MMOG through the changes you make to the original design?

    Star Wars Galaxies was a great opportunity for me to watch the design of an important MMORPG from the ground up. Although just a player like everyone else (in other words, I had no special access to SWG's designers), I was fortunate to be able to join the official SWG forum nearly a year before SWG launched. During that time, there were a lot of suggestions made by players and a lot of heated arguments, and SWG's design incorporated a remarkable number of the concepts that emerged from these discussions. (So much so that SWG has been considered an example of "participatory design.")

    Then it launched. It wasn't perfect, but what complex system ever is? In terms of its overall design, SWG was superb, building on many years of accumulated theoretical and practical knowledge of what makes these massively multiplayer games fun. In particular, SWG's designers deliberately created in-game features to support multiple playstyles.

    For the achievement-oriented player, there were PvE and PvP combat (as there most certainly should be in a Star Wars-themed game); there was loot; there was money; there were skill progressions; there were mastery titles. For the exploration-oriented player, there was a crafting system that was one of the deepest and most entertaining yet designed in a MMOG, as well as Points Of Interest on the various planets that could be discovered. And for the socially-oriented player, there were not only story-based quests and missions, there were two whole branches of professions (healers and entertainers) whose explicit function in the game was to provide social services to other players. Not merely an afterthought, entertainers were actually designed to be required by combatants.

    This willingness to make SWG a game that respected and encouraged different styles of play, to explicitly code this welcoming attitude into the overall design of the game, was the best possible start it could have gotten. Sure, there were some bugs; yes, SWG probably shipped before all the features were fully implemented... but the design -- the design was great.

    Since then, there've been a lot of changes. (Over 3500 documented changes as of this writing, in fact.) And every single one of those changes has had an effect on SWG. By the kinds of changes that have been made, which either enhance or diminish the original design, the nature of SWG -- as defined by the playstyles of those gamers who have joined SWG and those who have left it -- has also changed.

    In some ways, SWG has changed for the better. Who wouldn't want more content? There are more quests, more planets and space locations, more and better loot, more dungeons, more schematics, and just generally more things to do.

    But there are also ways in which the changes made to SWG have not supported and enhanced the original design. Everyone's got their own list, but my list of the top ways in which SWG has not improved since it launched includes:

    • too few players per server
    • too many bugs allowed to go Live
    • too many Jedi
    • too little sense of being part of an epic, galaxy-spanning conflict
    • too little effort to retain the original balance of playstyles
    Some of these aren't the fault of SOE/LEC; some are. From a design standpoint, it's the last item that concerns me most.

    I believe that over the past couple of years SWG has added too many features that cater solely to achievement-oriented players, allowing other playstyles to stagnate (exploration) or actually nerfing them (socializing). I think this is a serious mistake. It alters the player population from being long-term stable through balancing the various playstyles to striving for marketing-driven, short-term subscription spikes through sporadically pushing achievement-specific content. That's bad for SWG (which means both its players and SOE/LEC) because it's a self-reinforcing trend that drives away valuable subgroups of subscribers, ultimately limiting the lifespan of this game.

    SWG needs achievers. Achievement-oriented content is good to have. But it's not the only good thing worth having. SWG needs socializers and explorers, too... and it's my contention that while they've gotten some new content, it hasn't been equivalent to the new content given to acheivers. The original design's remarkably balanced gameplay has not been maintained, and this continuing imbalance is making SWG less fun for all its players (and probably less lucrative for its publisher) than it should and could be.

    To back up this claim, I collected the evidence that was available -- the patch notes -- and analyzed them to see whether there was a real trend or not. If there was a trend, I'd be able to say so with some confidence; and if not, I'd be able to correct my mistaken belief.

    I pulled together every patch note that SOE has made available to us. And then I looked at every single change, and I tried to characterize it by change type (new feature, bugfix, etc.), player ability affected, game feature affected, and profession affected. Once I had every change categorized, I calculated the numbers and percentages of each change.

    I believe the initial results supported my claim. The changes made to provide new content for achievement wasn't being matched by equally strong new content for socializing and exploration.

    Well, that was a year ago. How has SWG changed since then? Has the balance been improved? Or has the balance tipped even farther toward "kill monster, collect loot"?

    You decide.

    SWG CHANGE STATISTICS AS OF 2005/09/15 (Publish 23.04)


    FIRST PUBLISH: 2003/06/29

    MOST RECENT PUBLISH: 2005/09/15









    (major new feature)




    (minor player enhancement)




    (minor world enhancement)




    (minor tweak)




    (nerf to player capability)







    -------------------------- ------- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
    Combat                        1277 47%  72  66 172 458  52 457
    Force                           69  3%   0   6   5  28   4  26
    Pets                           284 10%  10  20  42  82  16 114
    Crafting/Manf/Repair/Sales     599 22%  14  93 100 151  11 230
    Sampling/Surveying/Mining       91  3%   3  15  10  29   4  30
    Medical                        105  4%   0   9   9  45   3  39
    Entertaining                   132  5%   2  41  20  28   4  37
    Political                       14  1%   1   5   3   1   1   3
    Exploration                     68  2%   4   6   4  27   2  25
    Rogue                           97  4%   1   7  21  39   4  25
    ------------------------------ ----- --- --- --- --- --- ---
    PROFESSION: ARCHITECT            113   2  13  16  25   1  56
    PROFESSION: ARMORSMITH           153   3  16  15  43   2  74
    PROFESSION: ARTISAN              192   7  19  22  48   5  91
    PROFESSION: BIO-ENGINEER         104   1  11  13  25   7  47
    PROFESSION: BOUNTY HUNTER        593  52  29  86 204  20 202
    PROFESSION: BRAWLER              532  50  25  75 174  15 193
    PROFESSION: CARBINEER            523  51  24  73 171  16 188
    PROFESSION: CHEF                 116   2  13  15  30   1  55
    PROFESSION: COMBAT MEDIC          56   1   5   5  24   4  17
    PROFESSION: COMMANDO             540  51  23  75 181  16 194
    PROFESSION: CREATURE HANDLER     621  57  30  96 185  25 228
    PROFESSION: DANCER                65   2  17   6  20   3  17
    PROFESSION: DOCTOR                53   1   6   7  19   2  18
    PROFESSION: DROID ENGINEER       158   3  26  24  31   2  72
    PROFESSION: ENTERTAINER           62   2  12   8  16   3  21
    PROFESSION: FENCER               512  51  23  74 165  16 183
    PROFESSION: FORCE SENSITIVE      266  15   7  44  83  11 106
    PROFESSION: IMAGE DESIGNER        32   1   7  10   6   1   7
    PROFESSION: JEDI                 496  29  28  73 170  28 168
    PROFESSION: MARKSMAN             525  50  25  75 172  15 188
    PROFESSION: MEDIC                 53   1   4   5  22   3  18
    PROFESSION: MERCHANT              71   4   7  18   9   4  28
    PROFESSION: MUSICIAN              65   2  12   8  19   3  21
    PROFESSION: PIKEMAN              516  51  23  74 169  17 182
    PROFESSION: PILOT, IMPERIAL      169  10   7  33  50   4  65
    PROFESSION: PILOT, PRIVATEER     192  10   8  44  57   4  69
    PROFESSION: PILOT, REBEL         184  10   6  35  56   4  73
    PROFESSION: PISTOLEER            523  51  24  75 172  17 184
    PROFESSION: POLITICIAN            32   2   7   8   4   4   7
    PROFESSION: RANGER                62   3  12   4  28   3  12
    PROFESSION: RIFLEMAN             532  51  25  74 173  19 190
    PROFESSION: SCOUT                 56   3   9   3  23   3  15
    PROFESSION: SHIPWRIGHT            57   4   2   6  20   1  24
    PROFESSION: SMUGGLER             552  51  26  80 183  17 195
    PROFESSION: SQUAD LEADER         503  50  23  74 159  16 181
    PROFESSION: SWORDSMAN            516  51  23  74 169  16 183
    PROFESSION: TAILOR               105   1  15  11  17   1  60
    PROFESSION: TERAS KASI           528  51  23  73 177  16 188
    PROFESSION: WEAPONSMITH          156   2  20  15  44   1  74
    ----------------------------- ---- --- ---- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---
    PROFESSION: ARCHITECT            1   0  112   4   0   4   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: ARMORSMITH           5   0  149   4   0   4   1   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: ARTISAN             10   0  171  18   1   4   2   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: BIO-ENGINEER         2   0   75  19   0   2  22   1   0   0
    PROFESSION: BOUNTY HUNTER      552   1   15   1   9   0  24   0  65   0
    PROFESSION: BRAWLER            523   1   10   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: CARBINEER          513   1   15   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: CHEF                 3   0  112   7   2   3   1   1   0   0
    PROFESSION: COMBAT MEDIC        29   1    6   0  28   0   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: COMMANDO           531   2   15   1   9   0  11   0   3   0
    PROFESSION: CREATURE HANDLER   509   1    9   1  11   0 144   1   2   0
    PROFESSION: DANCER               2   0    7   0   7  61   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: DOCTOR              11   1    5   0  46   1   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: DROID ENGINEER       6   0  147   5   2   4  19   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: ENTERTAINER          2   1    7   0   5  58   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: FENCER             503   1   14   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: FORCE SENSITIVE    246  11   13   1   7   2   1   0   1   0
    PROFESSION: IMAGE DESIGNER       1   0    5   0   0  32   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: JEDI               432  60   30   1  22   0   5   0  13   0
    PROFESSION: MARKSMAN           514   1   15   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: MEDIC                6   0   13   0  43   0   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: MERCHANT             1   0   66   0   0   3   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: MUSICIAN             2   0    8   0   7  60   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: PIKEMAN            507   1   14   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: PILOT, IMPERIAL    106   0    7   0   0   0   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: PILOT, PRIVATEER   124   0    6   0   0   0   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: PILOT, REBEL       120   0    6   0   0   0   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: PISTOLEER          514   1   15   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: POLITICIAN           0   0    1   0   0   1   0   0   0  13
    PROFESSION: RANGER               5   0    3   9   1   0   3  46   0   0
    PROFESSION: RIFLEMAN           523   3   15   1   9   0  12   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: SCOUT               10   0    3   9   1   0   4  34   1   0
    PROFESSION: SHIPWRIGHT           1   0   53   2   0   4   0   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: SMUGGLER           516   2   17   1   9   0  11   0  34   0
    PROFESSION: SQUAD LEADER       494   1   14   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: SWORDSMAN          507   1   14   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: TAILOR               1   0  103   4   0   4   1   0   0   0
    PROFESSION: TERAS KASI         518   3   14   1   9   0  11   0   2   0
    PROFESSION: WEAPONSMITH          4   0  156   4   0   4   1   0   2   0
    TOTAL: PROFESSIONS            8354  94 1460 101 300 251 366  83 143  13
    FEATURE                           TOTAL ADD ENP ENW MOD NRF FIX
    --------------------------------- ----- --- --- --- --- --- ---
    MISSIONS/QUESTS                     356  30  17  69  97   8 135
    GROUPS                               88   0   8  21  17   1  41
    TRADING                              15   0   2   2   1   1   9
    LOTS                                  7   0   0   0   5   0   2
    ADMIN/ACCESS/PERMISSIONS             51   0   5   5  17   4  20
    INSURANCE                             6   0   0   0   6   0   0
    DECAY                                22   0   1   2  16   0   3
    AFK                                   3   0   0   1   2   0   0
    ABUSE/GRIEFING                        3   0   1   0   2   0   0
    EXPLOIT                              45   0   0   0   0   0  45
    FRS                                  23   2   2   4   5   5   5
    PvP/TEFs                             84   3   5   9  35   7  25
    GCW                                 175   7  12  39  52  10  55
    FACTION                             189  13  14  40  62  10  50
    RANK/PERKS                           35   2   4   8   9   3   9
    BADGES                               17   2   0   3   5   0   7
    ROLE                                  5   0   0   1   2   0   2
    CHARACTER MAINT                      55   0   2  24   9   0  20
    SPECIES/GENDER                       69   1  10  12  15   0  31
    CERTS                                13   0   1   1   5   1   5
    TITLES                               12   1   0   2   2   1   6
    SKILL TRAINING/TRAINERS/RESPEC       42   3   4  13  10   3   9
    COMMANDS/SKILLS/ABILITIES/MOVES     560   9  61  72 188  27 203
    TIMERS/CMD DELAY                    131   1   5  26  70   5  24
    DURATION                             15   0   0   1   9   1   4
    RANGE/DISTANCE                       77   0   4   3  41   3  26
    AREA OF EFFECT                       16   0   1   0   8   1   6
    DOTs                                 41   0   2   2  15   2  20
    POSTURE                              38   0   0   7  14   1  16
    VISIBILITY/CONCEALMENT               64   0   4   2  31   2  25
    STUN/DIZZY/BLIND/DAZE/SNARE/ROOT     33   0   3   2  20   1   7
    WOUNDS/DAMAGE                       167   4  11  14  78   6  54
    INCAP/DEATH/CLONING                  95   0   3   6  37   4  45
    STOMACH                               6   0   0   0   4   0   2
    CON/LEVEL/RATING                    102   5   4  22  38   9  24
    ATTRIBUTES/HAM/STATS                162   1   6  18  82   4  51
    BUFF/DEBUFF/INSPIRATION             104   1  18  13  43   1  28
    XP                                  141   2  21  13  38  13  54
    MONEY/FEES/TAXES                     80   0   4  14  30   4  28
    LOOT/QUEST REWARDS                  140   7   7  26  41   9  50
    BIO-LINK                              5   0   0   0   1   2   2
    SLICING                              22   0   2   7   6   2   5
    CHARGES                              14   0   1   2   9   0   2
    MASS/ENCUMBRANCE                     15   0   0   0   8   0   7
    INVENTRY/HOPPERS/CONTAINERS/STACKS  158   1  10  33  23   9  82
    CRATES                               34   0   0   6   6   0  22
    RESOURCES                            66   2  19   4  20   2  19
    SCHEMATICS                           76   1  20   7  18   0  30
    LIGHTSABER                           48   3   4   9  14   6  12
    WEAPONS/MINES/TRAPS                 207   2  20  21  89   4  71
    ARMOR/SHIELDS                       128   4  21  11  45   4  43
    CLOTHING                             64   0   8   6  10   0  40
    STIMS/MEDICINES                      37   0   2   2  17   0  16
    FOOD/DRINK/SPICE                     36   1   3   5  15   0  12
    ATTACHMENTS                          14   1   0   0   3   2   8
    TISSUES/ADDITIVES                    18   0   4   5   4   2   3
    CYBERNETICS                          12   1   1   3   4   0   3
    ART OBJECTS                           5   1   0   2   0   0   2
    OTHER OBJECTS                       202   5  33  48  53   7  55
    FACTION PETS                         28   0   1   3  11   0  13
    DROID PETS                          184   2  24  28  46   5  79
    CREATURE PETS                       200   7  11  25  60   8  89
    MOUNTS                               26   1   6   2   7   0  10
    VEHICLES                             64   3   6  11  13   2  29
    SHIPS/COMPONENTS                    124   3   6  12  47   0  56
    CAMPS                                11   0   2   0   6   1   2
    FACTIONAL INSTALLATIONS              95   1   6  11  31   6  40
    HARVESTING/CRAFTING TOOLS/STNS       36   0   7   0   8   1  20
    VENDORS                              91   2   5  22   9   4  49
    HARVESTERS                           60   0   7  10  13   1  29
    FACTORIES                            62   0   3  11  15   1  32
    HOUSES/TENTS/HALLS                  140   3  12  20  36   5  64
    CANTINAS/THEATERS                    40   0   3   7  11   4  15
    GARAGES/OTHER BUILDINGS              36   0   5   8   7   5  11
    SHUTTLEPORTS/STARPORTS               37   0   2   8   9   3  15
    PARKS/GARDENS/MONUMENTS              20   0   2   3   7   3   5
    PLAYER CITIES                        66   1   9  13  12   6  25
    CITIZENSHIP/VOTING                   23   0   3  11   5   0   4
    PLAYER ASSOCS                        30   1   0   8  10   0  11
    PERSONAL LIGHT                        6   0   0   1   4   0   1
    LANGUAGES                             1   0   0   1   0   0   0
    MACROS                                4   0   0   1   1   0   2
    NOTES                                 1   0   1   0   0   0   0
    MAIL                                 22   0   4  12   1   1   4
    TEXT                                295   0   5 123  59   3 105
    CHAT                                 48   0   1  16  13   0  18
    EMOTES                                6   0   2   2   1   0   1
    UI                                  547   3  14 192 134   4 200
    ICONS                                38   0   2  14   9   0  13
    HUD                                   9   0   0   2   3   0   4
    TARGETING                            61   0   4   8  14   1  34
    TOOLBAR/HOTBAR                       11   0   0   3   3   0   5
    DATAPAD/DEEDS/JOURNAL                98   1   8  22  18   2  47
    MAPS/RADAR/WAYPOINTS/ARROWS          79   0   2  25  16   1  35
    TRAVEL/MOVEMENT                     180   3   8  21  46   3  99
    LAIRS                                33   2   2   2  10   0  17
    CREATURE/DROID MOBS                 186  11   6  33  62   8  66
    NPCs                                359  33   6  82 102   5 131
    CONVERSATION                         30   0   1   6   6   1  16
    AGGRESSION                           34   0   2   3  17   0  12
    AI                                   52   0   0   8  17   0  27
    SPAWNING                             85   4   3  18  25   1  34
    TERMINALS                            67   4   4  11  12   1  35
    BAZAAR                               37   2   2  12   6   1  14
    BANK                                 10   0   1   0   6   0   3
    MINIGAMES                             8   1   0   2   3   0   2
    THEME PARKS                          74   3   0  16  14   2  39
    DUNGEONS                             58   7   1   7  22   1  20
    BATTLEFIELDS                         12   0   1   3   1   1   6
    PLAYER EVENT PERKS                   13   1   0   6   3   2   1
    TECHNICAL: VISUAL                   245   0   3  44  44   0 154
    TECHNICAL: SOUND                     14   0   0   5   3   1   5
    WORLD: ART                           28   2   3  11   9   0   3
    WORLD: AUDIO                         10   1   0   3   5   0   1
    WORLD: SPACE                        279  14  22  50  86   4 103
    WORLD: PLANETS                      132  31   9  30  26   2  34
    WORLD: KASHYYYK                      59   4   4   8  22   3  18
    WORLD: NPC CITIES                    52  15   1  13   7   2  14
    WORLD: FS VILLAGE                    47   1   0   8   9   1  28
    WORLD: NPC BUILDINGS                 36   3   1   5   5   2  20
    WORLD: TERRAIN                       16   0   0   7   4   0   5
    WORLD: POIs                           7   0   0   4   0   0   3
    WORLD: ECONOMY                        3   0   0   1   1   0   1
    WORLD: RACETRACKS                     4   3   0   0   1   0   0
    WORLD: EVENTS                        27   9   1   6   7   1   3
    GIFTS/VET REWARDS                    20   0   0  14   1   0   4
    TUTORIAL/NEW PLAYER EXPERIENCE       32   1   1  11   8   0  11
    TRIAL ACCOUNTS                        3   0   0   0   2   0   1
    CHARACTER TRANSFER                    3   0   0   2   0   0   1
    LOGIN/LOGOUT/LOADING                 63   0   1  12  15   0  35
    KEYBOARD/MOUSE/JOYSTICKS             36   0   0  11  14   0  11
    LOCALIZATION                         24   0   0  12   6   0   6
    CLIENT                               93   0   2  42   3   0  46
    SERVER                               77   0   0  29   7   0  41
    BETA/TESTING                          2   0   0   0   2   0   0
    CUSTOMER SUPPORT                      9   0   0   2   2   2   3
    TECHNICAL SUPPORT                     6   0   0   2   0   0   4
    DEV SUPPORT                           1   0   0   1   0   0   0
    HOLOCRON/KNOWLEDGE BASE               9   0   0   7   0   0   2
    WEBSITE/FORUM                         1   0   0   1   0   0   0
    CORRESPONDENT/FAN FEST ISSUES        98   0  19  13  39   5  22
    FEATURE                           CMBT FRC CRFT HRV MED ENT PETS EXP ROG POL
    --------------------------------- ---- --- ---- --- --- --- ---- --- --- ---
    MISSIONS/QUESTS                    251   4   17   3   2   7    1   0  37   0
    GROUPS                              36   1    0   0   2   1   12   0   1   0
    TRADING                              1   0    3   0   0   1    2   0   0   0
    LOTS                                 0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    ADMIN/ACCESS/PERMISSIONS            18   0    9   2   0   4    2   0   4   0
    INSURANCE                            4   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    DECAY                                8   0    6   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    AFK                                  1   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    ABUSE/GRIEFING                       0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    EXPLOIT                             23   0    8   3   1   0    8   1   0   0
    FRS                                 19   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    PvP/TEFs                            79   3    0   0   2   0    4   0  13   0
    GCW                                154   1    0   0   0   0    1   0  10   0
    FACTION                            151   0    1   0   3   2    3   0   8   0
    RANK/PERKS                          22   0    0   0   3   2    1   0   1   0
    BADGES                               3   0    0   0   0   0    0   2   0   0
    ROLE                                 1   0    0   0   0   0    2   0   0   0
    CHARACTER MAINT                      2   0    1   0   0   5    0   0   0   0
    SPECIES/GENDER                      18   0   10   0   0   4    0   0   0   0
    CERTS                               11   0    1   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    TITLES                               4   2    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    SKILL TRAINING/TRAINERS/RESPEC      12   1    1   0   0   2    2   0   0   1
    COMMANDS/SKILLS/ABILITIES/MOVES    234  30   19   8  43  38   87  35  18   1
    TIMERS/CMD DELAY                    59   6   21   1   7  13    9   3   0   1
    DURATION                             7   2    5   0   2   0    0   1   0   0
    RANGE/DISTANCE                      47   1    2   4   2   1    4   4   0   0
    AREA OF EFFECT                      15   2    0   0   2   0    0   0   0   0
    DOTs                                35   0    1   0   8   0    2   0   0   0
    POSTURE                             31   2    0   0   2   1    0   0   0   0
    VISIBILITY/CONCEALMENT              29  12    1   1   0   0    1  32   0   0
    STUN/DIZZY/BLIND/DAZE/SNARE/ROOT    33   3    0   0   1   0    0   1   2   0
    WOUNDS/DAMAGE                      115   5   26   1  27   5   21   0   4   0
    INCAP/DEATH/CLONING                 68   1    2   1   1   1   12   0   5   0
    STOMACH                              0   0    3   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    CON/LEVEL/RATING                    65   0    9   1   0   0   35   5   8   0
    ATTRIBUTES/HAM/STATS                85  14   24   2  28  18   27   1   1   0
    BUFF/DEBUFF/INSPIRATION             39   6   25   0  14  36    3   2   1   0
    XP                                  49   2   29   5   6  25   20   9   2   2
    MONEY/FEES/TAXES                    17   0   16   4   0   6    0   0   6   3
    LOOT/QUEST REWARDS                 104   0   21   2   0   1    2   0   4   0
    BIO-LINK                             2   0    1   0   0   0    0   0   1   0
    SLICING                              3   0    1   0   0   0    0   0  21   0
    CHARGES                              4   0    4   0   0   1    4   0   8   0
    MASS/ENCUMBRANCE                     7   0    7   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    INVENTRY/HOPPERS/CONTAINERS/STACKS  14   0   63   4   0   0    0   0   3   1
    CRATES                               4   0   21   0   0   0    2   0   5   0
    RESOURCES                            5   0   32  29   0   9    1   1   0   0
    SCHEMATICS                           2   0   74   0   1   0    1   0   0   0
    LIGHTSABER                          24   3   20   0   0   0    0   0   1   0
    WEAPONS/MINES/TRAPS                125   1   72   0   1   2    1   5   9   0
    ARMOR/SHIELDS                       40   6   66   0   0   2    2   0   9   0
    CLOTHING                             5   0   25   0   0   2    0   0   1   0
    STIMS/MEDICINES                      7   0   15   0  22   0    2   0   0   0
    FOOD/DRINK/SPICE                     6   0   20   0   3   2    1   0   2   0
    ATTACHMENTS                          4   0    2   0   2   2    1   0   1   0
    TISSUES/ADDITIVES                    0   0   17   0   0   1    0   0   0   0
    CYBERNETICS                          6   0    1   0   1   0    0   0   0   0
    ART OBJECTS                          1   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    OTHER OBJECTS                       38   1  110   3   3   9    7   9   5   0
    FACTION PETS                        22   0    0   0   0   0   20   1   0   0
    DROID PETS                          49   0   60   1   5   1  106   1  17   0
    CREATURE PETS                       61   0    5   5   5   0  182   3   0   0
    MOUNTS                               1   0    0   1   1   0   19   0   0   0
    VEHICLES                            11   0    9   1   1   1    4   1   0   0
    SHIPS/COMPONENTS                    67   0   29   2   0   1    1   0   0   0
    CAMPS                                0   0    1   0   1   0    2   7   0   0
    FACTIONAL INSTALLATIONS             82   2    0   0   0   0    3   0   1   0
    HARVESTING/CRAFTING TOOLS/STNS       1   0   34   2   0   0    1   0   0   0
    VENDORS                              1   0   79   1   0   1    0   1   0   0
    HARVESTERS                           2   0   24  23   0   2    0   0   0   0
    FACTORIES                            2   0   40   8   0   1    0   0   0   0
    HOUSES/TENTS/HALLS                  15   0   19   5   0   4    2   1   2   0
    CANTINAS/THEATERS                   10   0    2   0   1   2    1   1   2   0
    GARAGES/OTHER BUILDINGS              4   0    5   0   0   1    0   0   0   2
    SHUTTLEPORTS/STARPORTS               6   0    2   0   0   1    0   0   0   1
    PARKS/GARDENS/MONUMENTS              2   0    1   0   0   1    0   0   0   0
    PLAYER CITIES                        1   0    2   0   0   1    0   1   0  11
    CITIZENSHIP/VOTING                   1   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   5
    PLAYER ASSOCS                        2   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   1   0
    PERSONAL LIGHT                       0   0    0   0   0   0    1   0   0   0
    LANGUAGES                            0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    MACROS                               0   0    0   0   1   0    0   0   0   0
    NOTES                                0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    MAIL                                 0   0    7   1   0   0    0   0   0   4
    TEXT                                62   2   60   2   5   6   18   7   9   1
    CHAT                                 0   0    2   0   0   1    0   0   0   0
    EMOTES                               0   0    2   0   0   3    0   0   0   0
    UI                                  94   6   65  11   6  13   30  11   7   1
    ICONS                               14   2    1   1   1   3    3   2   0   0
    HUD                                  7   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    TARGETING                           46   3    0   0   2   1    5   1   0   0
    TOOLBAR/HOTBAR                       0   1    0   0   0   0    1   1   0   0
    DATAPAD/DEEDS/JOURNAL               22   1   15   3   1   1   28   1   0   0
    MAPS/RADAR/WAYPOINTS/ARROWS         15   0    8   0   0   0    0   0   3   0
    TRAVEL/MOVEMENT                     66   4    4   1   2   1   19   5   4   0
    LAIRS                               21   0    0   5   0   0    3   1   0   0
    CREATURE/DROID MOBS                117   1    1  16   1   0   23  16   0   0
    NPCs                               258   1    8   1   1   1   11   3  12   0
    CONVERSATION                        14   0    3   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    AGGRESSION                          18   0    0   2   1   0   14   3   0   0
    AI                                  36   0    0   1   0   1    4   3   0   0
    SPAWNING                            63   0    1   0   0   0    7   1   3   0
    TERMINALS                           23   0    7   1   0   2    0   0   3   1
    BAZAAR                               0   0   31   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    BANK                                 0   0    1   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    MINIGAMES                            0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    THEME PARKS                         53   5    4   1   1   1    0   0   0   0
    DUNGEONS                            46   0    2   0   0   0    1   1   0   0
    BATTLEFIELDS                         9   0    0   0   1   0    0   0   0   0
    PLAYER EVENT PERKS                   2   1    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    TECHNICAL: VISUAL                   68   5   18   6   5   8    6   1   1   0
    TECHNICAL: SOUND                     2   0    0   0   0   0    1   0   0   0
    WORLD: ART                           9   0    3   0   0   5    3   0   0   0
    WORLD: AUDIO                         4   0    0   0   0   1    0   0   0   0
    WORLD: SPACE                       161   1   37   2   0   0    4   0   0   0
    WORLD: PLANETS                      81   0    3   1   0   0    2   6   1   0
    WORLD: KASHYYYK                     34   0    0   1   0   0    3   1   0   0
    WORLD: NPC CITIES                   18   0    1   0   0   3    1   0   0   0
    WORLD: FS VILLAGE                   38   4    4   0   1   1    0   0   0   0
    WORLD: NPC BUILDINGS                10   0    1   1   0   1    2   1   1   0
    WORLD: TERRAIN                       2   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   1   0
    WORLD: POIs                          2   0    0   0   0   0    0   2   0   0
    WORLD: ECONOMY                       0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    WORLD: RACETRACKS                    0   0    0   0   0   0    0   3   0   0
    WORLD: EVENTS                       15   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    GIFTS/VET REWARDS                    1   0    0   0   0   0    3   0   0   0
    TUTORIAL/NEW PLAYER EXPERIENCE       3   0    0   0   1   2    0   0   0   0
    TRIAL ACCOUNTS                       0   0    1   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    CHARACTER TRANSFER                   0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    LOGIN/LOGOUT/LOADING                12   1    2   1   1   1    3   1   3   0
    KEYBOARD/MOUSE/JOYSTICKS             3   0    1   0   0   0    1   0   0   0
    LOCALIZATION                         0   0    1   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    CLIENT                               3   0    3   0   0   0    0   0   3   0
    SERVER                               6   1   10   3   0   0    0   0   0   0
    BETA/TESTING                         1   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    CUSTOMER SUPPORT                     0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    TECHNICAL SUPPORT                    0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    DEV SUPPORT                          0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    HOLOCRON/KNOWLEDGE BASE              0   1    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    WEBSITE/FORUM                        0   0    0   0   0   0    0   0   0   0
    CORRESPONDENT/FAN FEST ISSUES       62  20    7   0  12   7    4   0   3   1
    TOTAL: ALL FEATURES & PROFS      12362 265 2898 285 546 534 1191 282 411  49

    1. These numbers were obtained by entering every officially documented change (as described in the Publish Archive section of the Official SWG website) into an Excel spreadsheet, then going over every single item to categorize the type of change made and the game systems affected by that change. I then used Excel's calculation functions to sum the number of changes made for each category.

    2. These numbers reflect only the changes that have been officially documented in the Update Notes section of the official SWG website. "Stealth" changes were not included (except as noted in Note 4). Basically, if they made a change without explicitly acknowledging it in a publish note, it won't be included in this analysis. (If I started fishing for undocumented changes, I'd never finish this thing!)

    3. Changes were broken down into four "classes":

    • changes by type: (new features, enhancements, tweaks, nerfs, bugfixes)
    • changes by playstyle (combat, crafting, entertaining, healing, etc.)
    • changes by game feature (missions, GCW, vendors, NPCs, vehicles, etc.)
    • changes by profession (Marksman, Architect, Dancer, etc.)
    4. The previous version of this analysis considered only three types of change: Adds, Mods, and Fixes. Based on suggestions, this version expands on that classification system to track six types of change:

    • ADD: major new feature
    • ENP: minor player enhancement
    • ENW: minor world enhancement
    • MOD: minor tweak
    • NRF: nerf to player capability
    • FIX: bugfix
    5. Some explanation of the definitions of change types is probably in order. I considered an "addition" to be a significant new feature, complex new content, or a new player capability available to most or all players. Some examples of this would be the Corellian Corvette, the Deathwatch Bunker, the initial release of mounts and vehicles, and new epic quests and events. A minor player enhancement would be a new capability whose impact was restricted to one or two professions or specific player abilities -- examples include new weapons, new tamable creatures, and critical fails on assembly no longer destroying components. Minor world enhancements are basically enhancements to the game that aren't player capabilities -- new system messages, UI enhancements, and client/server stability improvements are examples of this type of change. Mods are changes that aren't really enhancements but merely modify some existing feature or numeric value. Changing the stats of the T-21 or clarifying the text of a system message are examples of mods. (Note that a stats change that's good for one player but bad for another player will typically be considered a "mod," since it wouldn't be fair to both players to call it either an enhancement or a nerf.)

    A nerf is a change that explicitly removes or weakens a player capability. From a developer's point of view there's always a good reason to nerf something, but it's still a nerf. That said, I exercised some subjectivity here, so not everything that someone might consider to be a nerf will be included... but most things that are clearly nerfs are definitely included. Examples include removing the ability to slice lightsabers, adding a delay to equipping armor, and removing the ability to give player actors text to speak. Finally, a bugfix is anything explicitly stated in a publish note to be a "fix" or a change to correct a bug or exploit. Note that this means some changes that people might consider to be nerfs actually get counted as bugfixes -- if the developers considered it to be an incorrect implementation of some feature, then it's classed as a bugfix whether it nerfs some capability or not. Examples of bugs (and this is just the tiniest fraction of the kinds of things considered to be bugs) are graphical glitches, mob warping, using abilities when you're dead or incapped, and typos in conversation text or messages.

    6. Here's the full list of the ten "playstyle" categories:

    • CMBT: combat
    • FRC: Force usage
    • CRFT: crafting, manufacturing, repair, and sales
    • HRV: harvesting, surveying, sampling, and fishing
    • MED: non-offensive healing
    • ENT: entertaining
    • PET: pet usage (Creature Handlers and pet owners)
    • EXP: exploration (Scout/Ranger non-combat skills)
    • ROG: rogues (Smuggler/Bounty Hunter)
    • POL: political actions (Politicians)
    7. A little explanation of the ten playstyle categories is probably advisable as well. Some of these are obvious: If it involved combat, it got a tick in the "Combat" column; crafting and entertaining got similar ticks in their columns. Any change related to healing skills got a tick mark in the "Med" column, but changes to purely offensive medical skills (Combat Medic DoTs in particular) went into the "Combat" column. I broke out Harvesting/Surveying/Sampling/Fishing from Crafting/Manufacturing/Repair/Sales because it's possible to do harvesting without being a "crafter"; lumping that with crafting would have lost some useful results. I also debated whether to split out Sales from Crafting, but ultimately left them together as they're done together so often that there's little value in splitting them. (I'm open to other viewpoints on this decision.)

    Any change related to a Force ability got a tick mark in that column. Any change related to pet usage -- creature, droid, or faction -- got marked in the Pets column, and any changes to features that support the Explorer playstyle (mostly Scout/Ranger) got a mark in that column. Smuggler and Bounty Hunter features (mostly slicing and bounty missions) got a tick mark there. And finally, any change to Politician abilities got a tick mark.

    8. Note that not every change got characterized as a playstyle change. Only if it affected a particular playstyle capability did it get marked. Things that affect all players (such as travel or UI options) didn't get a mark, nor did general changes to the game world (such as graphics or server stability). This is why the totals from the playstyle columns don't add up to 100% of all changes. It's also why the counts of changes per profession aren't higher -- changes that affect all professions aren't marked as significant.

    9. It is, however, very important to understand that changes affecting a key game system -- crafting, combat, and entertaining in particular -- affect all the professions directly associated with that system. For example, the bugfix in Publish 5 that allowed the use of ingredients in backpacks during crafting was a change that affected all crafters, so every crafting profession got a tick mark. (Bio-Engineers didn't always match up with generic crafters, but did most of the time.) Likewise, any change related to combat actions generated a tick mark for every profession directly associated with combat. This includes Smugglers and Bounty Hunters, but does not include Scouts and Rangers (which I considered Explorer professions), or Combat Medics (which I grouped with the other two Healing professions of Medic and Doctor).

    So if you're wondering why the number of changes for all combat professions is so high, and each combat profession has a similar number of changes, this is why. General changes to the combat system (including things that you can do only through combat, such as looting corpses) affected all combat professions, general changes to the crafting system affected all crafting professions, and so on.

    10. Among the professions, I took the suggestion made by MsNil and Phaelyn to break Force Sensitive out from the Jedi profession. However, if you're interested in seeing the effect that Force use is having on SWG, then you can just average the numbers for these two professions to get a more accurate picture of that. This won't be perfectly accurate since there are some changes counted for both the Force Sensitive and Jedi professions. But it'll be close enough.

    11. In only a very few cases have I actually added a change that was not listed in the official Update Notes. One was the inclusion of the first swoop racing circuit (the Agrilat Fire Swamp circuit on Corellia), which I assigned to Publish 9.1 on July 19, 2004. Another was a breakout of changes made to support the new Force Sensitive system in Publish 10. By far the most significant breakout, however, was the list of changes made for the Combat Upgrade (Publish 15). This required converting official CU change descriptions from various places into specific change notes. Being as fair as possible to describe the key changes to how combat works, I wound up with 27 specific change items, which I then characterized just like every other change. Although I freely admit there's a certain amount of subjectivity here, I believe my breakout of the Combat Upgrade changes accurately captures the significance of those changes.

    12. Not all numbers add up across the various breakdowns, or even with a particular breakdown type. There are three primary reasons for this:
    a. Not every change that could be categorized as a particular type (Add, Modify, etc.) could also be categorized as to game feature or affected profession. Some changes only affected the game world, for example.
    b. Although I did my best to be accurate and objective in categorizing changes, there are without question some errors and subjective decisions, particularly with regard to which game features were affected by any given change.
    c. Roundoff error may prevent some groupings from summing to exactly 100%.
    That said, the totals for the six change types (addition, mod, bugfix, etc.) do add up to 100%. Every change has exactly one tick mark in one of the six types, so adding up the totals for each of the six change types will exactly equal the total number of changes made.

    13. Some changes were listed more than once in the official update notes -- they're duplicated word-for-word in more than one publish. In a few cases where this duplication was obvious, I have removed one of the duplicate listings. In cases where there was any question of whether a second change listing was a duplicate, I have allowed both changes to stand. This may incorrectly inflate the effect of duplicated changes, but I want to give the benefit of the doubt to the developers that their patch notes are accurate.

    14. When deciding whether to categorize a particular change as a "bug fix," a modification to existing features, or a new feature, I've given the developers the benefit of the doubt. If they described the change using a word like "fixed," I categorized it as a Fix; if they used the word "added," I categorized it as an Addition or Enhancement; if they used words like "adjusted" or "modified," I categorized it as a Mod (unless it was described as "significant," in which case it was categorized as a Player or World Enhancement). In all other cases, I made the most reasonable categorization I could.

    15. The "Love" statistic that I calculated in version 1.0 is gone, gone, gone in this version. It was just too misleading. If you want to decide which professions or features the developers love the most (or least) and you don't like the rough assessments I made in the Observations section, then you should decide what matters most to you: new features or problems. If you think getting new features is what counts, then check the Addition, Player Enhancement and World Enhancement categories. If you're more concerned about not running into problems, then you'll want to examine the Nerf and Fix categories. Then you can decide for yourself whether your special interest has done well or poorly.


    With as much data as there is here, there are bound to be a boatload of entertaining results that we can argue about. Here are some things I've noticed; feel free to agree, disagree, debate, or point out other things that you notice.

    1. There's no question about it: no matter how you slice it, combat has gotten vastly more attention than other activity in SWG, and by a significant margin. Whether as a raw number of playstyle-related changes, or by comparing changes for combat professions to other professions, or counting up changes for features in general, combat gets radically more effort invested in it than even its closest competitor, crafting. And while it's true that "attention" isn't all good (combat professions have gotten a rough average of about 18 nerfs, compared to about 2 for crafters), the number of major content additions (roughly 50) for combat professions swamps everything else. Look at the groupings under "Feature Changes By Style" for Missions/Quests, Commands/Skills/Abilities/Moves, Creature/Droid Mobs and NPCs, and Space: nothing else even comes close to combat in terms of changes made. A lot of the changes for these features have been mods and bugfixes, but they've gotten plenty of major additions and enhancements as well. Creature pets have also done very well... but then pets are mostly about combat. Overall, the belief that Exploration and Socialization playstyle content has become unbalanced in SWG compared to Achiever content appears to be grounded in fact.

    2. Bugfixes and minor mods account for just over two-thirds of all the changes to SWG. Minor enhancements to the game world account for one-fifth of all changes. New player abilities account for 7 percent of changes, while only 3 percent of all changes have been major content additions, and and only 3 percent have been nerfs. The ratio of major content to minor content and tweaks is understandable, but the number of nerfs seems low. What do you think?

    3. Among the combat professions, the rogues (Smugglers and Bounty Hunters) have actually received special attention, while the Squad Leaders have languished. (The changes recently proposed for the Squad Leader profession, if implemented, will improve this situation somewhat, but not completely.)

    4. Among the crafting professions, Artisans (as the basis for so many elite professions, and -- in the past -- having weapon and armor crafting abilities) have fared the best, while Bio-Engineers and Tailors have received the least positive attention. Bio-Engineers in particular have largely been forgotten except where their tissues are useful in armor for -- say it with me! -- combat players.

    5. For sheer attention, you can't beat the Creature Handlers. For some reason, they have not only the highest number of major content additions and bugfixes, but the second highest number of nerfs as well. You'll have to decide for yourself whether all this attention adds up to being a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.

    6. Of all the professions, the Jedi are the most often nerfed, and the most painfully nerfed given that other professions (including Creature Handler and Bounty Hunter, the next most often nerfed professions) have also received access to more major content additions than Jedi. This does not mean that "the devs hate Jedi" -- it means that the game software governing what Jedi can do isn't working as well as the code for the other combat professions, and most likely indicates ongoing efforts by the developers to try to keep the Jedi profession balanced with other other professions despite the large number of people who (surprise, surprise) have picked up Jedi skills. It should also be noted that changes for Jedi did not begin appearing in patch notes until Publish 5, so combat changes generally did not affect players until then.

    7. The game features that are the biggest losers in the "I Got Hit With the Nerf Bat!" competition appear to be Skills/Commands/Abilities/Moves, XP, and the GCW and faction. Most of these are related to combat. Important point: Other than XP, these features also received significant numbers of major content additions, so being nerfed didn't hurt them that much.

    8. Of the objects that players can own (other than "Other Objects"), weapons and armor received far and away the most developer attention, including the most major content additions.

    9. Among all structures, homes and PA halls received the most attention, while factional installations were the most frequently nerfed.

    10. Oddly, Privateer Pilots have gotten slightly more attention than Imperial or Rebel pilots. Does this suggest that there's not enough of the GCW in space?

    11. Take a look at the Correspondent/FanFest Issues category. Of the 98 changes identified as coming from Correspondents or FanFest suggestions, not a single one has led to the addition of major content. There have been 19 player enhancements, and 13 world enhancements, but no additions. On the other hand, you did get 5 whacks of the nerf bat courtesy of Correspondents/FanFest. (One related to the Nightsister Energy Lance way back in Publish 6, and three to Jedi and one to Riflemen in Publish 19.) I'm not pointing this out to beat up on Correspondents -- it's actually more about what suggestions by the Correspondents the developers have chosen to implement.

    12. The devs are also apparently very interested your Correspondents have suggested regarding combat, the Force, and medicine: these got 62, 20, and 12 changes, respectively. By comparison, crafting and entertaining got 7 Correspondent/FanFest changes each, pets got 4, rogues got 3, Politicians got one, and Scouts/Rangers got zip. (Note: The Ranger profession is undergoing radical modification -- presumably with Correspondent input! -- so these numbers may change.)

    13. An average of 4.42 changes per day (including weekends) is pretty amazing. If anything, maybe that's too many changes....