Saturday, November 17, 2007

Lessons of Star Wars Galaxies +

Originally Posted by Random Redshirt:
they better not pull off a "paladin" type class that gets continually beat down with the nerf bat.
There's a general rule of MMORPG design (if any such thing can be said to exist) that's worth highlighting here: Start your game with character abilities that are weak overall.

Most gamers won't mind if you make "their" preferred character stronger by improving abilities. But they are unforgiving in the extreme when you must balance a game by weakening any character ability.

As for nerfage and SWG... it really wasn't that bad. Being the kind of guy I am, some time back I developed a spreadsheet that categorized every single documented change to the game, ranging from the first update on June 29, 2003, to the final pre-NGE Publish 23.04 on September 9, 2005. (The Combat Upgrade was Publish 15.)

Based on what the developers themselves said about each change, I categorized changes as major new content additions (ADD), player enhancements (ENHP), world enhancements (ENHW), general modifications (MOD), nerfs (NERF), and bugfixes (BUG). (I made a lot of other categorizations as well; this is just the key categorization of "type of change.")

Out of the 3520 individual changes that I tracked, here's how those changes broke down by raw numbers and percentages of the total:

ADD     ENHP     ENHW      MOD     NERF      BUG
116 254 672 1010 106 1362
3% 7% 19% 29% 3% 39%

To some degree this is a little misleading. For example, although there weren't many major content additions, those that were made produced significant changes in gameplay. (These were things like vehicles, the various "dungeons," and major story arcs.) Likewise, although the absolute number of nerfs turns out to have been extremely low, it's possible that some players might have felt that one nerf or another "destroyed" the game they felt entitled to play.

That said, a spot check of the things I marked as nerfs shows that most of them were pretty trivial, such as decreasing the duration of effect for vehicle customization kits in Publish 11.5. Without looking in detail at all 106 items, the harshest nerfs I could find were the dismantling of the Force Ranking System in Publish 15 and making all Elite and Boss creature pets non-Elite in Publish 23. Far more nerfs were much less meaningful than those. Overall, I have to say that SWG's players were injured considerably less by nerfage than public sentiment might lead one to believe.

Of course, then came the New Game Experience, which might reasonably be considered the most overwhelming nerf in the history of MMORPGs so far.

That's not in my spreadsheet. :(