Updated: Wednesday, 09 November 2005
Star Wars Galaxies
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Image Smedley says, "LucasArts and SOE took a very close look at Galaxies to find out what we could improve and what needed to change to make the game more fun for existing players and what would make it appeal more to a wider audience. We did a lot of research and focus testing before we undertook these steps."

SOE and LucasArts pulled in Crompton and Associates (which handles product focus testing for a number of top publishers) to conduct the initial studies. Unfortunately, SOE isn't able to divulge the exact data that came from these efforts, but it came to the conclusion that the game wasn't living up to its potential (both in terms of fun and as a market opportunity).

"We got a lot of feedback about what was wrong and what wasn't. We saw early on that people weren't satisfied with the combat, so we decided to try something pretty radical."

The combat changes to the game went live some months ago and as with most MMOG changes, there was much public outcry on the forums. But SOE didn't experience any drop off subscriber numbers. On the contrary, Galaxies continued to grow faster than any other title run by SOE.

"The combat [change] was really just the first part of it," explains Smedley. "The overriding [issue] was the sheer number of professions in the game."

He adds, "In a sense that was one of the strengths of the game because you could be just about anything in the world, but it also had an impact on our ability to balance these professions and make them fun and unique.  The feedback told us that there wasn't enough diversity and that people's choices [with regard to their professions] should mean something.  

"So we decided to shrink down the number of professions and concentrate on more prototypical Star Wars iconic elements. A bounty hunter is a very iconic thing. Everyone immediately thinks Boba Fett. So we made that mean something now."

Jedi Exclusivity

The original design of the game was very much influenced by the Richard Garriot (Ultima Online) and Brad McQuaid (early EverQuest) schools of MMOG design. That is to say that the very best experiences in the game would come from massive time investment, trial and error and endurance of hardship. The rewards that come from that are significant but highly exclusive.

Along those lines, it was incredibly difficult to become a Jedi. In fact, the mechanism for which it is accomplished (which was secret for a long time) is that a character has to master five specific professions (out of more than 20), and those professions were selected for that character secretly by the game at the moment of creation. The player never knew which specific five would unlock the Jedi path. It was an incredible time sink, to say the least.

In the new design philosophy players can start on the path of Jedi as one of the nine selectable professions at the moment of character creation. In this way, some of the previously secret "cool stuff" is going to be more accessible to a lot more people.  Smedley is keen to point out that characters can be "force sensitive" from day one rather than necessarily a Jedi instantly.  "There are a lot of different levels within that [profession], so the people who've been [working down the Jedi path] for a long time will be much more powerful than the people just coming up. We're still rewarding people for their loyalty over the years."
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