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Gordon Walton - "The NGE was my fault."

Vortex5ooVortex5oo Member Posts: 106

I´m not trying to stir up anything by posting this, SWG may rest now, I must admit even though I moved on from the whole SWG mess( a game I both loved and hated at the same time) it was kind of nice to get some "insider" information about what happened. A bit of closure maybe.

 

Quote from:

http://community.crowfall.com/index.php?/topic/5792-gordon-walton-are-you-the-one-who-brought-us-the-nge/

 

"Now that SOE is gone (long live Daybreak Games!) we should go ahead and have the Star Wars:Galaxies NGE discussion.

I'll start with the easy part:  The NGE was my fault.

I'll also say that memory is an imperfect thing, particularly around emotional circumstances, so I won't say this is 100% accurate, but it's the way I remember it.

I was running SWG starting before the Jump to Lightspeed expansion was announced.  This wouldn't have happened if SOE had been happy with the size and thus profitability of the game.  Expectations had been that SWG would be as big, if not bigger than EQ which at the time was ~500k players.  SWG had briefly gone over 400k but settled down into a 200-250k level.  The Holicron addition and hints on how to get a Jedi ended up slowing net growth of the game and undermined the in-game community as people tried to macro their way to Jedi.

We had hoped that by adding the "Stars" in Star Wars (i.e. space vehicles and flight) that the game would grow significantly.  But SWG had more fundamental issues around the combat system (which hadn't gotten nearly enough iteration before launch), and an overwhelming amount of bugs, balance tuning and missing features for the dozens of various professions was holding the game back.  The team was constantly working against a giant backlog of these issues just to keep the players we had retained.

SWG was a real masterpiece in many ways.  The team, led by Rich Vogel, John Donham and Raph Koster, built an amazing game, both in scope and AAA presentation.  It had a character customization system that was the state of the art for the time (and still better than many we see today).  An amazing diversity of professions and skill trees. Some extremely innovative design and gameplay roles were first seen in SWG.  Having a player council was a SWG innovation. Rather than using the EQ technology, and entire new engine was created to match the requirement of SWG.  And this was all done for <$18m in <3 years (2 years and 9 months), launching in June 2003.  This was and remains unprecedented achievement in building a AAA MMO.  And like so many MMOs, it was launched far too soon for financial reasons, so there were plenty of problems at launch and beyond.

After the Jump to Lightspeed expansion launched (Oct 2004), it was clear that our audience size was clearly <300k and that was not acceptable to SOE (or to LucasArts).

We were working hard to fix the bugs, missing features and trying to make the audience happier so we could grow.  But that was a slow grind, even though SOE had added significantly more development resources in 2004 when I joined the team along with my team that had been working on an unannounced SOE project.

Elements of the SWG team had this idea that maybe we should build a second Star Wars game that was focused on the "War" in Star Wars.  It would be large scale battle game for planetary conquest.  That way we could have more people in bigger battles (the character customization in SWG was far too detailed to have lots of players on the screen without significant performance issues).  We could have a game where people fought over planets and they'd be dominated by either the Rebels or the Empire until they switched hands again in a galactic strategy game.  We could build a real twitch combat system that was less turn based and more visceral. It was a very exciting idea.

I championed an idea to SOE and LucasArts that we build this game with a new team, sell it as a separate product, but actually share the universe with SWG.  No matter which game you initially joined, your subscription would give you access to both games.  You'd have a battle game and a role playing game all together.  The battles would take place on new worlds, but the outcomes would affect who owned the SWG worlds, such that the worlds in SWG would change who owned the government buildings and towns, empire and rebel banners swapping out, storm troopers patrolling where formerly the rebel soldiers would have been found.  And an overall strategy game at the planetary level, bringing the "Wars" to Star Wars.

Management was excited about this concept until the cost of this new game was clear and neither company (SOE or LucasArts) wanted to (or were able) make that investment.  But the thought remained that a Star Wars game with more "Wars" in it could be huge.

A prototype of the combat and faction switching in a town had been built. That and the launch World of Warcraft game influenced the development of the Combat Upgrade (Apr 2005) and following New Game Experience (Nov 2005).

The context at that time was that World of Warcraft had launched in November 2004, and so had Everquest 2.  Everquest 2 clearly didn't meet expectations as WOW took off, even with their early shortages of product.  Almost every other MMO in the market got less play and less acquisition as WOW took market share.  So there were noticeable financial stresses on SOE and all the other MMO companies.

I participated in the early planning for the NGE, and I was told to execute it over my and many others on the SWG teams’ objections.  I failed as an effective communicator in my attempts to change this course.  In March of 2005 my boss came to Austin for a visit, and I told him I was going to refuse to move forward on the NGE development and launch.  I had assessed that it would be a breach of my fiduciary duty to do so.  I believed (and told him) that launching the planned NGE would alienate the customer base, cause at least half of them to quit and lose the company 10’s of millions of dollars.  At the same time I told him he deserved to have people that worked for him do what he said, and I was sorry I was being intransigent.  A week later I was terminated, and frankly I was never happier to be fired.  I don't blame my management, as I basically made them do it.  Being in conflict with your management is never fun, but doing something you don't believe in is worse.

I watched the launch and outcome of the NGE launch closely.  I actually hoped that the NGE would work out, as that would have meant that I’d have to revisit my entire mental framework on working with MMO communities.  But the customer losses were significant, and the blow to both the SWG and SOE brands was noticeable.  Destroying player persistence, the professions they’d put months or years of work into, along with their identities, to make the game “better” for new customers wasn’t a win from my external assessment.  Many of those alienated customers became activists against SOE due to their losses, and the bad feelings around this change to SWG continues with ex-customers to this day.

I want to stress that everyone that I knew who were involved with SWG at SOE and at LucasArts were trying to do the best thing as they saw it for their companies and for the long-term benefit of the game. I just didn’t believe then or now that it was right thing to do from a customer stewardship and fiduciary standpoint.

So I feel I am responsible for the NGE, because the impetus came from an idea I initially championed, which I as unable to deflect when it was being mis-applied (in my view) to SWG.

Again, the lesson of messing with the core of a game design in order to try and grow revenue being a likely recipe for disaster was demonstrated to me.  And I had yet another Forest Gump-type moment in MMO history in my career.

It's OK to grieve a bit if appropriate for you.  I don't want to see bashing of John Smedley or any of the other folks I know and respect at the former SOE.  It's easy to demonize someone for doing something risky when the results turn out poorly.  And we need risk takers to get innovation.  What's more valuable is to figure out how to avoid making major mistakes in the first place, and coming up with more creative ways to solve these combination of game/community/business problems."

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Comments

  • PhryPhry Member LegendaryPosts: 11,004
    Always interesting to see how things were from the inside, and the whole SWG/NGE debacle will probably forever be a millstone around Mr Smedleys neck, can't really fault  GW's actions, he stood by his own decisions regardless of the outcome, that he was proved to be correct in the end probably helped. Its a shame that for SOE this did not become an epiphanic moment, perhaps if it had, then Sony would not have been left in the position where they felt they had no alternative but to sell that division of the company. image
  • justmemyselfandijustmemyselfandi Member UncommonPosts: 559
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  • Vortex5ooVortex5oo Member Posts: 106
    Originally posted by Phry
    Always interesting to see how things were from the inside, and the whole SWG/NGE debacle will probably forever be a millstone around Mr Smedleys neck, can't really fault  GW's actions, he stood by his own decisions regardless of the outcome, that he was proved to be correct in the end probably helped. Its a shame that for SOE this did not become an epiphanic moment, perhaps if it had, then Sony would not have been left in the position where they felt they had no alternative but to sell that division of the company. image

    Yeah I agree with you, GW is not to blame. It was all those things that happened during the time. In hindsight, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Cut development / too early release, WoW smashing all boundaries with millions of subscribers, GW suggesting a not too bad idea really... but Smedley in money panic gets his mind corrupted around this idea and crushing what little of was left of the original community with The NGE .

     

    I know its pretty worthless thinking, but I wonder sometimes how SWG would have been with ½ - 1 year more in development  and no WoW ever released? Would we talk about SWG clones instead of WoW clones today? :)

  • Vortex5ooVortex5oo Member Posts: 106
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi

    I'd be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.42942-SWG-NGE-Crying-Freeman

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/86552-Jeff-Freeman-Former-SWG-Lead-Gameplay-Designer-Dies

    Tragic, but they said that his suicide was not related to SWG. But who really know for sure... RIP Jeff.

  • justmemyselfandijustmemyselfandi Member UncommonPosts: 559
    Originally posted by Vortex5oo
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi

    I'd be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.42942-SWG-NGE-Crying-Freeman

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/86552-Jeff-Freeman-Former-SWG-Lead-Gameplay-Designer-Dies

    Tragic, but they said that his suicide was not related to SWG. But who really know for sure... RIP Jeff.

    He may have had other problems leading to the final checkout, but he took a LOT of angry flak from ex-SWG "vets" up until the day he died. All the shit they call "online bullying" nowadays was done to him, including death threats, etc. Some of those "vets" were and are pretty friggin' unstable even now ( who the hell cries over a game 10 years later? smdh ).

    So yeah, noone knows for sure, but the possibility is definitely there.

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  • Vortex5ooVortex5oo Member Posts: 106
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi
    Originally posted by Vortex5oo
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi

    I'd be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.42942-SWG-NGE-Crying-Freeman

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/86552-Jeff-Freeman-Former-SWG-Lead-Gameplay-Designer-Dies

    Tragic, but they said that his suicide was not related to SWG. But who really know for sure... RIP Jeff.

    He may have had other problems leading to the final checkout, but he took a LOT of angry flak from ex-SWG "vets" up until the day he died. All the shit they call "online bullying" nowadays was done to him, including death threats, etc. Some of those "vets" were and are pretty friggin' unstable even now ( who the hell cries over a game 10 years later? smdh ).

    So yeah, noone knows for sure, but the possibility is definitely there.

    Yeah death threats or online bullying is not ok in anyway.

    By the way, in what way did you think Jeff´s suicide was relevant to my OP? It just feels like a weird thing to bring up. "I´d be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.", so are you suggesting Gordon gonna kill himself after talking about the NGE? Or after me making this post? I just dont understand, kind of morbid aint it to bring it up in that way? Or? :)

  • DMKanoDMKano Member LegendaryPosts: 21,182
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.
  • cheyanecheyane Member EpicPosts: 6,375
    I think the fans of SWG that took to threats and anger over NGE and carrying it on for years have a screw loose. I fell bad for that chap that killed himself I am sure the threats and anger over what happened in SWG could not have helped his condition. This NGE thing has become bigger than it deserved.
    image
  • xmojo1xmojo1 Member UncommonPosts: 56
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    Maybe so, but to take such a risk that puts all that the players have invested into a game (time, money etc) at risk is not acceptable. Did SOE canvas the opinions of the players before deciding on such a course of action? To show such little regard or lack of interest in your playerbase, you deserve all the criticism that gets thrown your way if the risk fails spectacularly.

  • Daffid011Daffid011 Member UncommonPosts: 7,945
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    The success or failure of the NGE isn't why Smedley was criticized. 

    People demonize Smedley, because he treats his customers as disposable. 

    It isn't like the SWG players would have cheered Smedleys risk if the NGE was successful at replacing them.   

     

     

    On a other note, people can stop saying the NGE was something Lucas Arts created and forced SOE to do against heir will. 

     

  • WizardryWizardry Member LegendaryPosts: 16,454

    It only reaffirms what i have been saying about SOE for a few years now.They are a real badly run operation,Smedley should have been fired ions ago if not for the success of the first EQ game.That was as in same case as Wow pure luck,being one of the first,in Wow's case was a beneficiary of massive new online players.

    Soe has been releasing the most bugged games i have ever seen and i have seen thousands of games.They also like to release unfinished work,a trend that has got way out of hand now a days.

    I truly believe that in Smed's mind,he feels a sucker is born every minute,he won't change his ways because he doesn't have to.He spends so little on his games they are not worthy of Triple A standards and greed is out of hand.

    This guy cannot take blame,he does not run SOE,i am sure the pressure was on him and others to find a way to get more  players,make more money.

    Although SWG was considered great for it's customization,i am not a fan of tree systems nor did  feel that SWG was that good.It was released almost the same time as FFXI a game which was not only bigger an bolder but imo looked better as well.Square unlike SOE spends time and a lot of money to get their games right and guess what,almost zero bugs,i have NEVER personally witnessed a bug playing FFXI over 12 years.I would see more bugs in one day playing a SOE game that i have seen playing all the games in my entire life,that is really saying something about SOE quality or lack of.

    Daybreak might be still feeding off of naive gamer's,foolish spenders but imo their best chance as a legit business is to get rid of the blemish....Smedley.

     

    Never forget 3 mile Island and never trust a government official or company spokesman.

  • goboygogoboygo Member RarePosts: 2,062
    Originally posted by Daffid011
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    The success or failure of the NGE isn't why Smedley was criticized. 

    People demonize Smedley, because he treats his customers as disposable. 

    It isn't like the SWG players would have cheered Smedleys risk if the NGE was successful at replacing them.   

     

     

    On a other note, people can stop saying the NGE was something Lucas Arts created and forced SOE to do against heir will. 

     

    That is incredibly insightful.  Innovation or risk ( if you want to call it that in case of NGE) for the sole purpose of profit should not of be the motivation for either.  That is a recipe for disaster.  SWG was in fact both of those in its original form by the standards of what else was available at that time.

  • MukeMuke Member RarePosts: 2,614
    Originally posted by Daffid011
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    The success or failure of the NGE isn't why Smedley was criticized. 

    People demonize Smedley, because he treats his customers as disposable. 

     

    ^  That.

     

    Many loathe Smedley for:

     

    -knowingly deceiving players with lies about upcoming content on Fanfests which never got released.

    Example: the walking on/own your own capital ships trailer.

    -Banning upset players from forums for voicing their concerns and blatantly ignoring them. Occasionally start a PR operation to let the outside world see that SWG had millions of satisfied players when the upset player's concerns reached the press. It was their game ofc, and they can ban everyone they wanted, but the upset players WERE their -paying- current player community.

    -Known for firing SOE employees that did their best to keep SWG running.

    -Releasing a paid expansion when he knew 3w later it would be unplayable because of the upcoming NGE conversion. A expansion they worked on for many months, knowing what it would do to the game and the community yet keeping it secret.

     

    (lying to your customers and breaching trust are the #1 and #2 things that are simply NOT DONE to your customer base as a company)

     

    -Openly stating they did not believe the playerbase would really leave the game because of the NGE and that "they will come back soon enough", which they didn't. Many left permanently for WOW, the exact playerbase SOE tried to lure players from in the first place.

    -Regarding the original pre-NGE SWG player community as expendable, easy to be replaced by the huge number of players jumping ship from WOW to SWG. Well, that was their plan.

    -Acting like a self entitled smug guy on the SOE game forums saying he knew what was best for the players, as they were dumb following drones in his mind. He didn't score many points there.

    Seeing his posts lately, the MMO disasters started over a decade ago under his reign have still not taught him any lesson about how to run a business and keep customers happy.

     

     

    And that was just SWG, Smedley buried a lot more MMO's out there.

     

    "going into arguments with idiots is a lost cause, it requires you to stoop down to their level and you can't win"

  • VesaviusVesavius Member RarePosts: 7,898
    Originally posted by Daffid011
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    The success or failure of the NGE isn't why Smedley was criticized. 

    People demonize Smedley, because he treats his customers as disposable. 

     

    There really isn't any need to demonise Smed. You just need to tell the truth. His actions will do the work for you.

  • IridescentJoeIridescentJoe Member Posts: 89
    Nothing new. But thanks. Now we have lack-luster-generic-dumbed-down-MMOs that shouldn't be called MMOs but pay-to-win-cash-grab jokes. Feeling disenfranchised? Not surprised.
  • HorusraHorusra Member EpicPosts: 4,103
    Why would the opinion of the current players matter? It was pretty much stated Lucasarts was not happy with the numbers and might have pulled the license. If you need new blood in you have to take risks...they tried to minimize risk by copying and failed. But the current people would want little change and that was not generating enough.
  • Daffid011Daffid011 Member UncommonPosts: 7,945
    Originally posted by Horusra
    Why would the opinion of the current players matter? It was pretty much stated Lucasarts was not happy with the numbers and might have pulled the license. If you need new blood in you have to take risks...they tried to minimize risk by copying and failed. But the current people would want little change and that was not generating enough.

    That was never stated and Lucas Arts couldn't just pull the license.

    SWG didn't NEED new blood.  They WANTED more players.

     

    You make it sound like the players were at fault.

  • someforumguysomeforumguy Member RarePosts: 4,030

    If I am understanding his post right, the killing blow was NGE. But it was already bad because the game was released way too soon. Otherwise some drastic measure like NGE was never needed.

    This is also how I remember it. The game has always been very buggy (also before NGE) and there were some fundamental issues with the game engine. So while I understand why players wanted preNGE back, I think it would not mean that it would become more succesful.  The engine issues and major bugs were already there.

    Still, if Lucasarts and SOE weren't such crybabies and could accept the less amount of players (they were still making profit after all), the game could have grown into something good after all. It would just take more time and less kneejerk development. NGE and cancelling when it was still making a profit for SOE (though small), just shows how they think about their customers.

  • HorusraHorusra Member EpicPosts: 4,103
    Players are not at fault...a game that cannot attract players is. As to the license you do realize they have to renew it.
  • Stuka1000Stuka1000 Member UncommonPosts: 955
    Originally posted by Daffid011
    Originally posted by DMKano
    I really like what he said in the final paragraph - don't demonize risk takers when they fail. Failures are necessary, as otherwise you never learn, and without risk takers there is no innovation.

    The success or failure of the NGE isn't why Smedley was criticized. 

    People demonize Smedley, because he treats his customers as disposable. 

    It isn't like the SWG players would have cheered Smedleys risk if the NGE was successful at replacing them.   

     

     

    On a other note, people can stop saying the NGE was something Lucas Arts created and forced SOE to do against heir will. 

     

    Not just Smed that treats customers that way.  Does anyone remember the training slides that koster had on his website?  He used those to teach new developers etc.  In glorious technicolour they stated that the players were dumb, they knew nothing, they should be treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

    When these were found on his site and the links posted on the SWG forums they caused a minor shit storm.  The post was quickly deleted but the damage was done.  The slides then vanished from Kosters site and he didn't make a single comment about them, which just followed his philosophy of keeping us in the dark.  It does show however just how much notice developers take of the people that pay their wages.

  • AntiquatedAntiquated Member RarePosts: 1,415
    Originally posted by cheyane
    I think the fans of SWG that took to threats and anger over NGE and carrying it on for years have a screw loose.

    It appears the fans aren't the only ones who just can't let go.

    SWG: The oft-beaten deceased equine that continues to spit in Death's eye.

  • Daffid011Daffid011 Member UncommonPosts: 7,945
    Originally posted by Horusra
    Players are at fault...a game that cannot attract players is. As to the license you do realize they have to renew it.

    Even in the busted condition SWG was in, it attracted 1/4 of a million subscribers.  The second largest MMO in the world wasn't in critical need of players. 

    There is a difference between renewing a license and as you claim pulling a license.  Not that either had any effect on the choices made.

     

    Every SOE developer that has talked about the NGE has admitted they initiated the NGE and campaigned for it.  Lucas Arts signed off on it.

     

  • WarWitchWarWitch Member UncommonPosts: 263

    My Wife and I had 12 accounts active we liked the game that much before nge. We did a petition with over 100k players to not change the game. But Sony knows best. Their mistake is even taught in School now days.

     

    But the past is the past all we can do is hope the powers in charge learn from past mistakes.

  • justmemyselfandijustmemyselfandi Member UncommonPosts: 559
    Originally posted by Vortex5oo
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi
    Originally posted by Vortex5oo
    Originally posted by justmemyselfandi

    I'd be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.42942-SWG-NGE-Crying-Freeman

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/86552-Jeff-Freeman-Former-SWG-Lead-Gameplay-Designer-Dies

    Tragic, but they said that his suicide was not related to SWG. But who really know for sure... RIP Jeff.

    He may have had other problems leading to the final checkout, but he took a LOT of angry flak from ex-SWG "vets" up until the day he died. All the shit they call "online bullying" nowadays was done to him, including death threats, etc. Some of those "vets" were and are pretty friggin' unstable even now ( who the hell cries over a game 10 years later? smdh ).

    So yeah, noone knows for sure, but the possibility is definitely there.

    Yeah death threats or online bullying is not ok in anyway.

    By the way, in what way did you think Jeff´s suicide was relevant to my OP? It just feels like a weird thing to bring up. "I´d be careful, the last SWG dev who claimed responsibility for the NGE killed himself.", so are you suggesting Gordon gonna kill himself after talking about the NGE? Or after me making this post? I just dont understand, kind of morbid aint it to bring it up in that way? Or? :)

    It was only relevant in that Jeff just popped in my head when I seen the "NGE was my fault" statement. I remember back when that whole fiasco was going on, so it just kinda woke me up a bit when I seen it, that's all.

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  • BadGuardianBadGuardian Guest WriterMember UncommonPosts: 597
    Looks like Gordon was hit twice with the "ok let's make the game more like wow" stick. He left SWG because of NGE and he also left Bioware a year before SWTOR was launched (although I don't recall him giving a specific reason, but you have to wonder considering the game that SWTOR became). If you listen to any of his talks on YouTube or his interviews, he's insisted over and over how companies have squelched the creativity out of the MMO space to make them WoW big bucks. 
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