Ooh, this is interesting. I came across this mess when digging out links for the Sunday Papers. Dan Rubenfield is an Ex-Sony Designer, relevantly a veteran of Star Wars Galaxies. He's gone into detail about the story behind the New Game Enhancements - the infamous NGE - and candidly explained what was going on, what went wrong and why it was necessary. The one on his site is considerably more measured than what was originally posted - stored by SWG fans - where he's a little sharper, advocating that those who only want to rant that He Ruined Star Wars Galaxy should go and perform the act of fellatio upon a phallus. Om nom nom, indeed.
Here's some key things he say, from the current edited version on his site. I suggest you read the whole thing, clearly...
So we were given the directive to make Galaxies better.
Not just make Galaxies better, but make it succesful. Not the 200k subs it had, but really succesful. The idea was that we had the most valuable IP in the entire world, and we fucked it up to the point of
having 200k subs.
So, when the NGE push came along, we were asked to reimagine the game.
Not just small changes, but rebuild it.
And it was needed. When we were asked, we were bleeding subscribers.
If I remember correctly, somewhere around 10k a month. LOSING 10,000
subs a month.
Note - We didn’t notify anyone about the change until 2 weeks before launch because until 2 weeks before launch we hadn’t made a decision. You basically found out when we found out.
It was still a huge fuckup.
Epoch grade fuckup.
I think it lost a lot of the Raphy goodness that makes MMOs work, and that was a profound loss.
That was a huge mistake.
But I think the control scheme changes were dead on.
The point, the fuckup, the mistake that we made, was answering an
“Can you change an MMO drastically after it launches?”
If we were to do it again, and wanted to make those types of changes,
you have to make a new game.
Relaunch with a new title.
Or shut down Galaxies and relaunch for real.
You cannot change it at runtime.
Which is all fascinating stuff - the last point, especially. I only bounced off the surface of Star Wars galaxy, for pretty much the reasons described. That it was a game where the shopkeepers seemed to have the most fun struck me as an incredibly odd approach to an MMO.
(And I really do mean that I bounced off the surface. I didn't even get past the original training sequence. The game crashed when I arrived in the first Cantina, and I figured "Fuck it - I don't even like Star Wars that much anyway".)
So, abstractly, the Star Wars MMO should have been a different beast entirely. The thing is, as Dan notes, it's just too late. When you've created a community, there's nowt you can do with it. It's like Eve. If tomorrow CCP changed it for an awesome space shooting game, it wouldn't matter if it was awesome. Those 200K Eve-people LIKED the game that was there, and to take it away engenders enormous hatred. You have to start again.
Some things from the deleted version which has been removed - and not just exciting cock-consuming advice to fanboys.
Firstly, there's a caveat to that You Cannot Change After Launch comment: "BUT! And this is a HUGE but. Right as I left SOE, post NGE. Galaxies was subscriber positive. A few thousand, but it was a far cry from the 10k per month we were losing."
Secondly, some details about the internal debate. Best bit: "We told them. "If you do this, you will lose all 200k subscribers. It is that significant." It was explained that we would gain more due to the marketing push and relaunch. So, we pushed forward."
I swear, there's a fascinating book about this whole period of MMO development to be written.
Oh: As pointed out by Kareem in the Sunday Papers comments thread, Scott Jennings aka Lum, now of NCsoft, takes apart the original post over at his blog.