May 5, 2005 - Last Thursday, the players of Star Wars Galaxies were finally able to experience the long-awaited combat upgrade. Within a few hours, we were swamped with hundreds of letters from players who were all unanimous in their disappointment and frustration with the new upgrade. While we're used to the illiterate rants that normally fill our inboxes, we grew more suspicious as we discovered that nearly all of the letters about the Star Wars Galaxies combat upgrade were refreshingly articulate and outwardly sincere.
The basic complaints seem to be that the new system changes the style of the game and is itself unbalanced. While we'll be offering our own views on the matter shortly, we decided to get in touch with the folks at LucasArts and Sony Online to find out just how they perceive these issues.
On hand were LucasArts producer Julio Torres, Sony Online producer Dallas Dickinson, and Sony marketing manager Debysue Wolfcale.
IGNPC: To be honest, we haven't had this much reader feedback on a single issue for as long as I can remember. For the Combat Upgrade, what do you feel are the main issues that need to be addressed?
Julio Torres: The first obvious issue that's impacting our players is that it's a fundamental change. Players, specifically our hardcore players who've been playing for 20 months, have to relearn how to play. What they're used to doing, what's familiar and what they've been having fun, is now not there. It's quite a shock to have such a huge dynamic change in what you used to be doing every singe day. Now we're asking them to change. I think that that's by far one of our biggest challenges, to get them past the painful thought of "Oh my god, why do I have to do this differently?" so they can actually see what the changes will give them in terms of benefits. That's definitely a huge hurdle. That's the top one.
Then of course, there are the other particular issues which are, once we release it to the public and actually have enough people to actually do testing on it -- as opposed to our local testers where we just have many 30-40 people -- new issues arise that can only happen in that test bed which we obviously identify as bugs. What we need to do is tackle those bugs, communicate that we're handling those bugs and let the players understand that, with their help, we will be polishing the changes that are in there that are not intended because of the bugs. I think that that communication needs to be constant and flowing so that they understand that, in the longest run or the shortest run (meaning as fast as we can) the game will settle and all these people who are participating can enjoy it.
Dallas Dickinson: The thing to keep you eye on here is that we did make a fundamental change to the way the game was being played, but we made it for a very good reason. We made it because we felt that the existing combat system was not going to serve the game going forward. We believe we put in a far more interactive, a far more intuitive combat system, and they are going to be some growing pains as people adjust to it. I think Julio was speaking to this at the beginning. Because it is a new system, especially when you're a veteran player and you have a whole lot of high-level skills you use in combat, it's going to take you a while to use the new system.
There's already a huge shift among our players. They're saying, "I actually get it now. I'm starting to understand how to use my new skills." The immediate reaction was "Oh my gosh! I can't play anymore. I don't know how to play. I either always win or I always lose." People are now seeing that the system is a complex or as deep, I should say, as the previous system; it's just different. They're learning that now.
The people I've been playing with, especially over the last two or three nights--We've had some really cool events where we've run around with players to see how they play. They are all, to a person, saying it took a couple of days to figure out, but they're seeing the benefits of it. They're seeing the interactivity of the combat system as compared to the previous one and they're really enjoying it.
Debysue Wolfcale: Over the last 12 months, both LucasArts and Sony have invested in significant amounts of satisfaction research with players, both current and former. A lot of what we did was based on that research, on the finding that people are drawn to the game, because it's Star Wars and they really want to feel more engaged in the fun of the Star Wars adventure. What we did was say, "Let's make combat more fun and less mechanical. Let's take away some of the distraction that people have to get through and let them walk into the fight and click once and start battling something really fun."
Secondly, the aspect of people joining together in groups is more a focus than it was in the game prior to this. That was driven by the finding that the number one reason people enjoy playing the game is that they're here to play with others. They play other single player games and they play those as single player. When they come to this game, they want the fun and the camaraderie and the fun and star wars feeling of being in grand scale battles with other people.
Those are the things that we were thinking about and trying to bring more of those benefits into the experience of the game.
IGNPC: But the new group focus means that it's harder for players to play solo.
Dallas Dickinson: I think that's a common misconception. It's certainly slightly harder for you to solo. We're certainly going to try to make it more worth your while to be in a group. You can play more efficiently if you are a power gamer if you're in a group. We think that's the right way to handle it. Previously, you could really inspire pure solo, indestructible play. We removed that. It's very hard to be invincible now, whereas it was very easy in the past to do so. We're asking you to join in groups, but you can still play viably as a solo. You just progress slightly more slowly.
IGNPC: How does that apply to Jedi? Jedi have serious penalties for grouping, so it seems that in the new system, the players who have in most cases invested the more time and energy into the game are finding it hard to level up on their own and attacked by bounty hunters when they join up in groups.
Dallas Dickinson: We are looking at Jedi. Jedi are certainly an area where we have some balance issues that we're totally aware of. When I see complaints on the boards and issues raised up to me about Jedis, they're valid concerns and we're working hard.
The thing to understand about Jedi is that it's a separate system from the rest fo the game and it's meant to be. We can address their problems separately, and we will. It should not interact as much with the rest of the population. If you know where we stand in the timeline, Jedi aren't supposed to be hugely involved with the rest fo the player base. We're addressing those and those are some of our highest priority issues. The Players who play Jedi are very vocal and very committed, and they're seeing a little bit of strain right now. It's valid, and we're working on those problems.
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