Thursday, February 16, 2006

SWG: The History of SWG and Non-Combat Gameplay

For you folks who feel as strongly as I do about the value of non-combat content: Why be surprised at an apparent disinterest from SWG producers in non-combat gameplay? This is not by any stretch of the imagination some new approach on SOE's part.

a. If non-combat gameplay mattered, the NGE would not have eliminated so many non-combat professions, nor would the new non-combat classes have been treated so differently compared to the combat classes. Nobody asked for classes and levels like Every Other Game, but non-combatants didn't even get that -- if when you respec'ed you knew one non-com skill, you got 'em all. It's as though the feeling was, "if it's not a combat skill, it's not worth asking people to earn it."

The NGE changes were just a continuation of the long-standing attitude toward non-combatants: minimal attention is all that's required to retain those odd people who aren't into 24x7 combat gameplay.

b. When Helios_SOE was asked at the CU-related Stratics chat back in April of 2005 how non-combatants could survive a game world filled with much nastier mobs, his response was, "If you wish to gather resources in dangerous areas, you should either get a PSG or you could also hire some other players to protect you in the wilds."

c. I twice put together a spreadsheet that examined every single documented change made since SWG launched -- in the second version, all the way up to publish 23.04 (Sept. 15, 2005). In it, I categorized every change on multiple aspects, such as whether it was a new feature, a change or a bugfix; on whether it was about combat, crafting, entertaining, etc.; on which gameplay features were affected (houses, PAs, travel, space, etc.); and on which professions were most affected.

Analyzing this data confirmed what I'd long believed, which was that since SWG launched, the vast majority of significant new features were combat-specific, while the superb crafting system with which SWG originally launched was allowed to languish with virtually no major new content.

Note that adding new schematics from time to time does not constitute "major new content" -- not when compared against things like the Force Village or the Combat Upgrade.

d. To see this in an anecdotal way, consider a series of questions I have repeatedly asked:

Where is grouping for crafters? Where's the equivalent of a Hermit Quest for entertainers? Where's anything like Jabba's themepark or Nym's themepark or the Imperial or Rebel themeparks for merchants? Where's a Nightsister or Geonosian Cave for medics? When will non-combatants get any content even remotely resembling the scope of the Corellian Corvette, or the Deathwatch Bunker, or the entire planet of Kashyyyk?

I've never gotten an answer to these questions.

It would be nice to get answers now, but I don't believe there's any reason for us to expect that.


Now, all this said -- I'm not a pessimist. So for all of us who long for deep virtual worlds with richly interactive gameplay, let me offer this tiny glimmer of hope.

Nancy MacIntyre, LucasArts senior director for SWG, has suggested that a SWG2 might be in the works for a 2008/2009 release. From the Hollywood Reporter story (concerning SOE's upcoming games using a pay-per-item revenue model) from December 14, 2005:

"Not all games are set up around the buying and selling of items, which would make it very difficult to take a game like 'Star Wars Galaxies' and make that transition," she says. But, she adds, when "Star Wars Galaxies 2" is developed -- perhaps in 2008 or 2009 -- things will be different. "If we were starting to build 'Star Wars Galaxies' today, we would absolutely consider building it from the ground up with premium services."
OK, that's extremely tentative in all counts; might not happen at all.

[2008/05/16: Or perhaps that is exactly what's happening, given the product development agreement signed by LucasArts and BioWare when we know that BioWare Austin is working on a major MMORPG.]

But what if it is happening?

[2011/09/20: Which it is. Say hello, Star Wars: The Old Republic.]

Suppose production of a SWG2 really is part of the LucasArts business plan. Perhaps the intention is to transmogrify SWG into something for a "broader audience" (i.e., console players), while SWG2 is being designed (perhaps by a band of Rebels in a hidden base) as the rich and challenging Star Wars Galaxies the rest of us dream of.

And maybe this time, it won't needlessly exclude those paying customers who actually do enjoy playing as Uncle Owen.

Just a thought.

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