Year in Review
On June 26th, Star Wars Galaxies celebrates its year anniversary. Wow. For the past 366 days (2004 is a leap-year...), hundreds of thousands of players have ventured into the virtual Star Wars universe to fight Tusken Raiders, join the Rebel Alliance or serve the Galactic Empire, and explore such signature worlds as Naboo and Tatooine. Meanwhile, we on the development team have spent what seems like every one of those 366 days reading forums for feedback, working on new systems and improvements of existing systems, upgrading and adding content, fixing bugs and addressing top issues, and prioritizing, reprioritizing, and reprioritizing again. Sometimes, it seems like the year has passed at lightspeed; other times, it's hard to imagine that only 366 days have gone by...
Typically, a "year in review" piece focuses on the highlights of the past year. Well, if you've been playing since launch, you're probably familiar with the additions and high points. Yeah, we've added a ton of new features: Player Cities, Mounts, and Vehicles by the end of 2003. And yes, new content has been rolled out as fast as humanly possible: the Nighsister Cave (August), the Warren (October), the Geonosian Bio-Lab (March), the Corellian Corvette (April), and the Death Watch Bunker (May), along with tons of smaller content pieces and the "themed" publishes like the Imperial Crackdown. And yes again, in our attempts to evolve the game, we've revisited existing content (Dantooine and Tatooine quests received complete overhauls, and Bestine was given an entire political landscape in December) and have made changes to or completely revamaped virtually every profession in the game. We've also hosted dozens of successful live events, from Jedi Hunts at the end of Beta to droid raids on cities to our current missions featuring Boba Fett. And then there are the hundreds of other things, from Wookiee armor to the "holo-emotes" to new enemies that we've tried to add at a steady clip since launch.
But most of you know all that. Instead of focusing solely on what we've done, we thought it would be better to talk about what the past year has meant to us as a development team and how it will shape our view of Star Wars Galaxies moving forward.
June 26, 2003: Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided launches. After nearly three years of hard work (and over four years of planning), we were finally able to let the public see what we'd been laboring over. It was probably the most exciting and stress-inducing day of most of our careers. The amount of people trying to play the game on Day One surprised everyone, including us. But once we were past the initial hurdles of launching a live service, we were able to start taking a look at the feedback about the actual gameplay. While much of the feedback (and press) we received was favorable, it was also very clear that we had a lot of work ahead of us to make Star Wars Galaxies more fun, more accessible, and feel like a more immersive Star Wars experience.
July 4, 2003: Our first in-game holiday (coordinated for the U.S. Independence Day) invites players to light off fireworks from all major starports. It was the first time we rallied the community (since the end of beta, anyway), and we were quite happy with the response. It was the first sign that we had built something big, something that a loyal community would rally around (but more on that later). We followed this up with the Wookiee Life Day in December.
August 12, 2003: Act I of "Cries of Alderaan," the first of a proposed series of "story arcs" is released. Cries of Alderaan, which saw Act II in October and Act III in January, told the story of a conflicted scientist and his top-secret project. The story arc invited players to help sway Dr. Vacca towards the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire. By most accounts, the Cries of Alderaan was successful in telling an engaging story and providing new content and challenges for players. So, why haven't we followed it up with another story arc? Well, because we realized that it was a lot of work to build and test content that was only going to be available for a limited time. We've taken the lessons learned from the story arc to create compelling Live Events, which in turn are incorporated as permanent fixtures in the game after we iron out the kinks (a good chunk of the content in Imperial Crackdown first appeared in-game through Live Events). We hope to introduce more story arcs down the road as part of new quests and missions.
August 27, 2003: We hit 275,000 registered users, making us the fasting growing MMORPG in North America. This was an incredibly exciting milestone for us, but did not come without growing pains. 275,000 players is a lot of people, all with their own opinions and playstyles. As a development team, we were having a hard time processing all the feedback we were receiving and trying to prioritize it effectively. To help with this, we eventually started the Correspondence Program and hired Kurt Stangl (aka Thunderheart) to serve as a direct conduit between players and the development team. The system took some time to develop (and is still evolving to better suit everyone's needs), but it has allowed us to address some of the most important issues for a bulk of the professions (with a few, like Smuggler, admittedly still waiting for their day under the twin suns).
October 14, 2003: Behind the scenes, Star Wars Galaxies hits a critical juncture. The game had been out nearly four months and while we were still dealing with the community's most pressing issues, working on new content and crunching hard to get the mounts, vehicles, and player cities out before Christmas, we also realized that we needed to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. In some ways, we had spent so long focusing on the details that we lost sight of our overall goals of making Star Wars Galaxies more fun, more accessible, and more Star Wars-y. At meetings in Austin that week, the team management revisited these goals again and again as we compiled a list of possible additions and improvements that would help us reach those objectives. The results weren't immediately obvious, but they did lead to things like the themed publishes and ultimately the Death Watch bunker and the Jedi revamp. The meetings also gave us a new sense of focus. Do we often slip back into obsessing over the details rather than evaluating the big picture? You bet. But now we know how to step back and why it's valuable to do so. In fact, we'll be doing this exercise again next week to refocus on our core goals again.
October 31, 2003: The Star Wars Galaxies community grows with the release the game in Europe and the launch of our European servers! As with the North American servers, the European servers quickly grew into large, vibrant player communities. We are overjoyed that Star Wars Galaxies has been able to expand past North America and are actively planning to release the game elsewhere (more on that in the coming weeks).
November 4, 2003: The first Jedi appears in game. As a team, we'd been tracking the progress of Jedi hopefuls for many months and we knew that several players were very close to unlocking their Force-Sensitive character slots, but this was still incredibly rewarding for us. The initial feedback from the Jedi was very heartening, perhaps influenced by the sheer thrill of wielding a lightsaber. But, as more people became Jedi and the path to unlocking the FS character slot was exposed, the feedback became more critical. By the end of November, we were already discussing our plans for not only revising the path to becoming a Jedi, but also plans to improve what it means to be a Jedi. You're about to see the first of those changes with the Secrets of the Force update coming soon. November 13, 2003: Probably the most feature-heavy free update ever added to an MMO, our mid-November publish introduced both Player Cities and Player Mounts. The mounts allowed players to find the content in the game much more quickly and bolstered the Star Wars feel of the game. Player Cities, meanwhile, have resulted in massive communities within the overall community. Today, Star Wars Galaxies is home to more than 3,000 player cities and 280,000 player structures. There was an unforeseen side effect to adding player cities: y'all left the designer cities in droves! To address this, we've started revamping cities (Bestine being the first example) and hope to eventually convert many of the player cities into adventuring areas.
Decmeber 16, 2003: Our third major feature, player vehicles, is added. Even more than mounts, this increases the Star Wars feel. For us on the development team, it completed the feature set we had planned for the initial launch of Star Wars Galaxies. And speeder bikes are cool. Perhaps driven by all the new features and the holiday season, Star Wars Galaxies enjoyed record high usage: on December 29th, we exceeded 50,000 simultaneous players.
January, 2004: This is typically "award season" in the gaming business, and we waited anxiously to learn if we had won any accolades from the press. Fortunately, we did receive numerous awards, including several "Best MMO" and "Best Online Game" nods. Probably most rewarding, however, was EGM's 1up.com's Player's Choice award we received for Best MMORPG. It's great when editors think the game is good, but it's really more important if you, the players, do.
February 19, 2004: By February, well over 400,000 people had checked out Star Wars Galaxies. That month, we shifted gears on the development front to more focused content creation that would hopefully kill many gnorts with a single stone. The motivation behind the Imperial Crackdown (which launched on the 19th) was multi-fold: to increase the Imperial presence and the sense of Imperial oppression in order increase the Star Wars feel of the game; to give Imperial players the sense that they were part of something larger; to give the Rebel players the sense that they were fighting a very powerful enemy; and to incorporate some of our Live Events into the game as recurring encounters. Since the Imperial Crackdown, we've tried to ensure that every theme allows us to fulfill several objectives at once.
March 9, 2004: On March 9th, we launched the Geonosian Bio-Lab. With all the possible content we could add to Star Wars Galaxies, it must sometimes be confusing or unclear to the community why we choose one piece of content or adventure area over another (and sometimes, we've admittedly just grabbed some art that was sitting around). In the case of the Bio-Lab, though, we had a very clear goal. Our development cycle allowed us to include quite a bit of Episode I content in Star Wars Galaxies, including the entire planet of Naboo. Unfortunately, because Episode II went into full development well after our initial feature set was locked down, we were unable to launch with any major Episode II centerpieces (although quite a bit of the clothing in the game is based on clothing worn by characters, especially background characters, in Episode II). We were always a little disappointed by this. To rectify the lack of Episode II content and provide players with some solid mid-range content, we started work on the Geonosian bio-lab (released to Live on the 9th). The battle with the mantis-like acklay at the end of the bio-lab has become a signature moment for many players, and we're trying to recreate such seminal encounters in future adventure areas. In addition, we realize that we need to keep current with the evolving Star Wars universe, so you can expect us to integrate content from Episode III in a much more timely manner.
April 13, 2004: So, why did we build the Corellian Corvette (released to Live on the 13th)? Mainly because we felt that the chance to go blasting your way through the hallways of a blockade runner would capture another signature Star Wars moment. We also wanted to start getting the community and players to start thinking about venturing into space, in preparation for...
April 21, 2004: We officially announce Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed! Although we had revealed that we'd be working on a space component to the game many years earlier, and we'd been working on the content and tech for Jump to Lightspeed since shortly after launch of An Empire Divided, April 21st was a major unveiling for us. We started describing the new features and the enhanced gameplay we plan to add through Jump to Lightspeed. The announcement reinvigorated the community but also reinvigorated the development team. We truly feel like we're building something very special that will make the Star Wars Galaxies experience unique.
May, 2004: E3! Okay, technically E3 (our annual trade show) only ran from the 12th to the 14th, but we spent most of the first two weeks in May preparing for the show (and the rest of the month recovering from it...). At E3, we demoed Jump to Lightspeed and showcased the "Millennium Falcon Experience," assuring press and fans alike that you will indeed be able to pilot your own multi-player transport. We also highlighted some of the new features to Live, such as the Jedi revamp and the jetpack provide by the Death Watch Bunker. This was the fourth year that some version of Star Wars Galaxies was being shown at E3, but we honestly feel like it was our best outing yet.
June, 2004: And we end the year (almost) with perhaps the most emotional, rewarding and humbling experience of the year: the first ever Star Wars Galaxies Fan Fest. About 1,200 people attended - a far larger number that we had hoped - to meet one another, grill the developers on various panels, and participate in a costume contest, Wookiee sound-alike contest, and live scavenger hunt, among other activities. As a team, we were bolstered by the level of enthusiasm for the game and the compliments we received, and thankful for the relevant and honest feedback the attendees shared.
Most of all, Fan Fest just reinforced what we already knew from the forums, chatting with you all on Test Center, and our incognito encounters with players in-game: you are Star Wars Galaxies. Over the past year, the game has evolved and grown based on your feedback and support. Your comments, actions, and reactions inform every decision the development team makes. You challenge us, inspire us, and teach us something new every day. Star Wars Galaxies is a shared experience, and we are so thankful that we've been able to share the past year with all of you. And we're looking forward to seeing your reactions to everything we have planned for the next twelve months (and for that, you'll have to stay tuned...).
With our thanks,
The Star Wars Galaxies Team