Please upgrade your browser for the best possible experience.

Chrome Firefox Internet Explorer
×

What happened to SWTOR? Some insight by Jeff Nyman (game tester)

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > General Discussion > Off-Topic
What happened to SWTOR? Some insight by Jeff Nyman (game tester)
First BioWare Post First BioWare Post

Lhancelot's Avatar


Lhancelot
09.11.2019 , 10:56 AM | #1
Just for (imo) an interesting read, anyone wondering how we ended up in this mess might find what Kryptonomic wrote months ago on the forums. Krypto was an actual game tester and even worked on SWTOR at one point.

I believe his take on what happened is about the most accurate you'll find regarding BW and SWTOR. For those who missed his posts, I will share a couple here. I'd suggest checking out his article, too. He added the link in it, and it's still available to read on his original site.


Quote: Originally Posted by kryptonomic View Post
this may get taken down by the swtor team or perhaps it belongs more in "off topic." not sure. I was originally going to post this here as a thread, but instead i posted this article:

a swtor context

obviously there is a lot of sentiment around the game, it's current development, and it's possible future. I've found in a few of these conversations that people do appreciate a bit of context. Historical context is often the best of all. So that's what the above is.

It's not white knight content; it's not so called "hater" content. It simply is what it is: Providing some context, at least from one person's point of view. If curious, i also have some posts on swtor regarding testing. None of this reveals any internal details of the current team nor any details of internal operations, both now and in the past.

The definitive story on swtor will likely be published at some later date. And it certainly won't be by me.
post 2

Quote: Originally Posted by kryptonomic View Post
i think part of it was simply that resources weren't available. Many were let go or moved onto other projects that were now in the build pipeline. There was also, i think, a certain lack of confidence about what could be done. But notice the dangerous loop you get into there? You don't put in resources but because of that it doesn't get better. And you can't get it better without more resources. So something has to be break the confidence paralysis there and make some decisions.

That, incidentally, falls to a product and project team, not a development team. The product team has to make a case for what can be done and the project team has to assure them that the vision can be completed with the resources on hand. This is what the lead producers tend to handle as part of their mandate. Think of them as the product managers.

But there are justifications required here on the part of the team.

It often comes down to: Do we want to maintain a status quo? Or do we want to keep pushing for the "better"? (it's a way of asking: "is the status quo 'good enough'?" this is a way of viewing quality.) and this gets into an interesting dynamic with the typology of game players. In the game development industry as a whole, strict mmo gamers (i.e., those who play something because it's an mmo) are sometimes called "treadmill gamers." they are willing to do the same thing over and over again to get gear (or whatever) so that they can do the same thing over and over again.

That's great because they keep paying. The trick is that all you have to do is keep them "happy enough" to keep paying. That can require much less development resources when you boil it down.

But that argument doesn't work when you start talking to story-driven or environment-driven game players, who prefer the concept of voice acted stories with coherent story lines that explore and refine lore but that also mix in the expansive sandbox nature of a game that keeps them coming back. These are players, in the case of swtor, that are playing something in spite of the fact that it's an mmo.

That identity crisis has plagued swtor pretty much since its inception and it's a tricky balance.

Another identity crisis has been "how star wars does swtor actually have to be?" that may sound like an inherently silly question (assuming it makes sense the way i phrased it) but prior to the disney/lucasfilm deal, there was a bit more wiggle room here. That's not a knock on disney or the tightened focus of the story group, but in pre-disney, the "canon" was actually many different canons and the main story group at that time really only cared about the movies and, to a lesser extent, the established eu in books. (this is why the force unleashed could pretty much do what it wanted, including the infinities "alternate universe" ideas.)

yet another identity crisis is the idea of a persistent world with meaningful choices, and thus consequences, that are situated in a lore-heavy background. That doesn't always sit well with an mmo context. I realize that's debatable and i don't intend to imply otherwise. But as an example:

One of the cooler (i think) possibilities of the expansive story mode playing out for players involved the empire side on balmorra. Consider near the end of the quest chain for darth lachris. You get into a base where republic troops are all over the place. Lachris is supposedly sending legions of troops to help you out. But you don't see that at all. Except in one tiny little instanced part. But in the original kotor 3-style implementation, players would have been navigating through a space that was filled with npc republic and empire troops fighting it out, giving the impression of an actual battle going on. That doesn't work in an mmo where spawn points and available npcs for quest kills are necessary and have to look roughly the same for any player at any given time.

I'm cherry-picking there a bit, but you can get the idea. Lots of ideas have to change when you decide on the constraints -- but also the possibilities -- of an mmo.



I think the development team very much believed the game was worth it.

I think one of the key things that people struggled with in terms of the game was identity. It started off as a game around koto3. It became swtor. That can be seen as nothing more than a name change but it led to some fundamental reshuffling of ideas. Once you added in other classes, for example, you had to fit their context into the wider story of the cold war and the start of the new galactic war.

Then there was concern about the disney thing. On the one hand, this was great! More star wars! Future interest is assured because more movies, more books, etc. But, on the other hand, all of that is essentially continuing a story that is thousands of years after the events of the old republic. So how relevant would an old republic time frame be? Would it make more sense to have a game more current so there could be more tie-ins and so on?

This also had an impact due to the lucasfilm story group's mandate that all content going forward -- games, movies, books -- would be canon. But that canon was now going to be a bit more consistent.

Granted, at this point we're all on the outside looking in. We can recover bits of the history that we knew at the time. Some of that can be recovered from interviews or articles written at the time. Others are from statements made at various conferences, including public and private game development conferences. And, of course, some of it is just inferred based on what we can observe happening, what people are (and aren't) talking about regarding the game, and so on.

I found Jeff Nyman's posts some of the most enlightening I had ever read. His posts actually made it easier for me to "move on" so to speak because with his explanations I no longer was left in the dark angry and frothing at the mouth wanting answers from BW who will never give us answers.

I was always in this perpetual state of anger and resentment waiting for improvements to the game or at the very least some sort of understanding why they have made some of their design changes which for me made no sense and pushed me off the game.

I found his explanations of what a "community manager" does and is supposed to do, too. Here's what he wrote on that topic:

COMMUNITY MANAGER

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
This is where, generally, a community manager would step in and help explain the rationale of the design and development team to the user base and, equally, convey the concerns of the community to the design and development team.

So part of the problem is what feedback reaches the internal team and to what extent it does so is very unknown. A lot of people will assume the "developers must be aware" but it's important to note that most developers in these companies do not frequent the forums. It would take too long to sort of the signal from the noise. Which is, again, why a community management function usually exists.

I've seen this many times in game studios where the community management function is lacking, due to various factors: inattention, inexperience, etc.

Thus, at the very least, if the perception is that feedback is negative about certain things but those certain things seem to get doubled down on with each update, you have to question whether that feedback is even being recognized and received. The idea that this is handled so poorly is obviously not good but the alternative is that the feedback is simply being outright ignored. Which seems perhaps worse.

Again, however, an effective community management function could go a long way towards providing some insight.

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
Agreed. To put this in further context -- and I do realize I can be coming off very negative here -- consider: BioWare has a five day schedule with your generally standard eight hour work day. That means 40 hours per week. I'm not being pedantic here but that context is interesting. Interesting because ... think about what a community manager's job is. Then think about what you see with this game. And ask yourself: what is truly being done over that 40 hour work week as part of the community management function?

As just one example, think of how little "Jedi Under Siege" was actually reviewed by outside venues. It barely made a blip anywhere. Running a data algorithm with some web scripting on the aggregate of announcements shows a huge skew towards VULKK.com. In fact, it's the dominant skew. Next would be MMORPG.com. Then Fantha Tracks.

But then look at reviews of any expansion for, say, World of Warcraft. You see skews toward GameSpot, PC Gamer, GameInformer, Polygon, App Trigger, The Escapist, IGN, VenutreBeat, Ars Technica, Digital Trends, and so on.

I'm not trying to compare one game to another nor the content of one expansion to another. Those venues will review things that are popular, to be sure. But they will also review things if prodded and assuming they feel it's worth the time given the interests of their readers. So a point here is that a community manager (or community team, if such exists) will also make sure the word gets out to those venues: "Hey all, we have a cool new update to our game. Check out 'Jedi Under Siege' as we take the story back to its roots, introducing new characters, etc, etc."

So clearly there was not a lot of outreach to other venues. Or there was and they didn't care enough to actually do anything. (Which is the worse situation I'll leave up to personal opinion). That's one data point. There is clearly a mixed bag of outreach to the community of players. Another data point. That's two arenas of what is arguably great import that are being communicated with quite poorly.

We see that Eric still has to be "shamed" a bit into actually doing his job in a substantive way.

Consider this initial response by Eric and then consider his revised response. This is just one of many examples where prodding was necessary to get something useful.

So, in some cases, it's not "More Funding, Resources and Manpower"; sometimes it's just looking at how your resources and manpower are utilizing time and effort right now. This is another reason why people should probably realize this game, and its studio, isn't being micro-managed at all. If anything, there is a laxness to this studio that suggests they have little to no oversight whatsoever and very little impetus to change.

Again, I know I can seem overly negative here but this is one area where I feel very strongly because I've seen so many situations where active (and anticipatory) community management could have made a difference in terms of potentially heading off a lot of ill-will and negativity about the direction of the game or decisions being made or feedback being (seemingly) ignored.
TRUE
Quote: Originally Posted by DarthSpuds View Post
RNG is counterproductive because it massively increases player dissatisfaction.
FALSE
Quote: Originally Posted by olagatonjedi View Post
As I detailed in another thread, RNG give the players more control over their gearing.

Totemdancer's Avatar


Totemdancer
09.11.2019 , 09:19 PM | #2
This my take and Iím sorry if itís a bit long.

Krytonomicís posts and website testerstories.com are very interesting and fill in many holes with context. I didnít just read the ones you linked, I read a few his others regarding testing and found them enlightening to say the least.

He seems to have enough information to paint a picture of how swtor has swerved or transformed back forth between being an RPG to MMO to RP-MMO to MMO?

My take is after 2013 (Hutt Cartel) and Disneyís influence (and probably EAís), is the head honchoís went for a money grab at all cost to take advantage of the first Star Wars (Disney) movie and they werenít given enough resources or maybe they were squandered. They did this by pulling an old RPG concept story off the shelf that didnít flesh well as MMO content. Thatís why we saw a big swerve to single player content at the expense of MMO players. The quick buck $$ suggestion was brought up on these forums at the time and this would seem to support that.

Without Kryton actually saying, it would seem Ben Irving had to convince upper management (purse string holders) that this was the best way to use the resources. It was Benís decision to alienate the MMO players in KOTFE and his response to try and keep MMO players engaged was more RNG grind. this theme flowed through to 5.0 and he doubled down on the RNG. At the end of the day Ben decided to sacrifice the MMO community to put all the available resources into the RPG aspect. This was a fundamental mistake because he obviously didnít understand MMO players (which include pvpers and raiders) enough to know the changes would drive such a large portion of the player base away. I think this is why he was moved side ways over to Anthem because itís not an MMO.

After Ben left we got Kieth and I think his appointment was influenced by the fact he was himself a heavy MMO player in a progression guild and a pvp player. You can see him straight away trying to balance the game again between MMO and RPG, with a swing back to MMO and fixing the gearing system. This course change obviously affected the RPG players whoíd gotten use to having most of the (limited) resources focused on them. Itís also apparent (to me) that SWTOR had been bled dry of resources after 5.0ís debacle and was probably on the cusp of going into maintence mode if Keith couldnít turn it around (stop even more of the MMO players leaving). This took him a while to do because there was so much to change and not enough resources to do it, I think this is why everything seemed so disjointed till around 5.6.

Up to then, Kieth had done a good job in my opinion. Then things either start to fall apart or he ran out of ideas on how to appease the MMO people and the RPG people at the same time. Remember the RPG players start to leave the game now too because they craved more content and werenít getting it. This is when we started to see new ďSpace BarbieĒ (strong hold etc) and changes to conquest (not all good). Then we moved to Ossus story (not a bad idea), but this is where Kiethís play style bias (not trying to attack him here, we all have them) as a progression raider started to shine through. That is why we got the change to gearing that focused on NiM raiders having the easiest/fastest path to gear.

What I donít understand about the changes coming in 6.0 is the even heavier reliance on RNG again. Itís like heís a different person or being influenced from above or heís not getting the right feed back from the community (Iíll touch on that later). Keith spent a whole year+ trying to fix the mistakes of RNG in 5.0 and now 6.0 looks to have an even more arduous RNG system than before. It makes no logical sense for such a radical course change except a disconnect with the players base (maybe he has no time to play anymore and has to rely on third, fourth and fith party feed back).

That brings me to the last part of Krptonís post about community management. Iím sure Eric is a nice guy and all (and this isnít a personal attack), but if Kieth and the devs arenít getting the right feed back and have become disconnected with the community, that falls heavily on the community manager not doing a good job of keeping them connected.
I donít fully blame Eric because he also has a boss who should be keeping him on point. But Eric is the community manager and his sometimes lax attitude and need to ďencourageĒ him to communicate with us would appear to be part of the problem. Ericís ďhotĒ and ďcoldĒ communication comes across as someone with too much free reign to decide how much community management he can be bothered doing. It appears from an outside perspective that he only communicates ďhotĒ when there is a massive out cry for him or the devs to do so. He makes promises to keep communicating and then falls back to ďcoldĒ when the attention is off him again. To me, this stems from his supervising manager not managing properly and Eric not doing enough to fulfil the role unless he is under scrutiny (once again, not a personal attack, we all go on auto pilot vacations once the boss isnít looking unless there is a financial or personal incentive not to).

This game has suffered a lot of course changes and I dare say mismanagement from many levels. The game could and should have been more of a success if it had a clear vision from the start and allowed to purse that vision. The producers and developers could only work with in the confines they were given. The producers still had to steer and they made too many mistakes with too few resources to deliver a proper MMO-RPG (which is EAs business decision) and itís why weíve ended up here. Still, thatís no excuse for things like destroying perfectly good gearing systems (4.0) and adding arduous RNG. Those decisions fall squarely on the producer, aka Ben Irving and now Kieth.
Letís just hope Keith is paying serious attention to the PTS and forums feed back and not relying too much on the community manager. If heís not already doing so, in my opinion, Keith needs to be micromanaging the PTS and forum feed back to the devs this time and not relying on the ďcommunity teamĒ as much because 6.0 will be make or break this time. The game canít afford another 5.0 type debacle.
Please click below link for FREE stuff and Friend Referal for Free 7 day subscription

Rolodome's Avatar


Rolodome
09.11.2019 , 09:50 PM | #3
Pretty interesting. Particularly the part about feedback. Sounds like we're probably just screaming into a void 90% of the time.
Clicky referral link for freebies, read how referral works.

Totemdancer's Avatar


Totemdancer
09.11.2019 , 09:52 PM | #4
Quote: Originally Posted by Rolodome View Post
Pretty interesting. Particularly the part about feedback. Sounds like we're probably just screaming into a void 90% of the time.
Only if the community manager isnít communicating between the players and the producer/dev team properly. Which is hard to know with Eric because his communication with us is so hot and cold. They can of course choose to ignore it too.
Please click below link for FREE stuff and Friend Referal for Free 7 day subscription

Rolodome's Avatar


Rolodome
09.11.2019 , 10:12 PM | #5
Quote: Originally Posted by Totemdancer View Post
Only if the community manager isnít communicating between the players and the producer/dev team properly. Which is hard to know with Eric because his communication with us is so hot and cold. They can of course choose to ignore it too.
Well right. I think the evidence leans in the direction of communication not being very effective most of the time. One particular case of it that sticks out to me is the kotor 2 style jedi robes. The guy's name escapes me atm, but there was the guy who kept asking and asking and asking for the kotor 2 style jedi robes. Then I think finally, someone who attended a cantina brought it up to one of the named folks, like Charles Boyd or Ben Irving, and it wasn't immediate, but some time after that, we finally got a style close to it.

That particular example stands out to me because it seems difficult to interpret it as them having the feedback, but deciding not to act on it. Why would some guy at a cantina asking a question suddenly boost its priority if they already had the feedback on hand? Especially considering it was the kind of request that it could be part of CM profit goals and would fit well with the existing style of the game. I mean, IIRC, it could be described as a request to port a style from a previous kotor game to this kotor game. So the fact that something so blatantly fitting required saying it to a named somebody's face at a cantina to get it going seems like a blatant example of communication being poor.
Clicky referral link for freebies, read how referral works.

MikeCobalt's Avatar


MikeCobalt
09.11.2019 , 11:26 PM | #6
Quote: Originally Posted by Rolodome View Post
Well right. I think the evidence leans in the direction of communication not being very effective most of the time. One particular case of it that sticks out to me is the kotor 2 style jedi robes. The guy's name escapes me atm, but there was the guy who kept asking and asking and asking for the kotor 2 style jedi robes. Then I think finally, someone who attended a cantina brought it up to one of the named folks, like Charles Boyd or Ben Irving, and it wasn't immediate, but some time after that, we finally got a style close to it.

That particular example stands out to me because it seems difficult to interpret it as them having the feedback, but deciding not to act on it. Why would some guy at a cantina asking a question suddenly boost its priority if they already had the feedback on hand? Especially considering it was the kind of request that it could be part of CM profit goals and would fit well with the existing style of the game. I mean, IIRC, it could be described as a request to port a style from a previous kotor game to this kotor game. So the fact that something so blatantly fitting required saying it to a named somebody's face at a cantina to get it going seems like a blatant example of communication being poor.
I really believe the Dev's/ Admin here were ignoring most of the Requests. The issue of the "Jedi Robes" has been popular in the Forums for as long as I've been here; its just been asked for over and over... for Years, I don't see how they/ anybody could possibly "Miss it". I do remember that issue of the Cantina mention about the robes then shortly the gossip saying we finally were going to get a set; then shortly later in one of the Podcasts they described the flared sleeves and hand part, some time later the "Revered Robe" outfit came, maybe the same, possibly not.

Other items also have appeared lately, Han Solo's blaster(s), Malgus (Always a SWTOR favorite), Dantooine, Onderon and other KOTOR parts, Gnost Dural, The Cantina band figures that was requested also for years and now here shortly after its last Request, the Personnel packs also heavily requested but never until now others also. I believe SWTOR is changing to attract Money and try to bring in more interest directly from the members then before. Maybe they're desperate for money, interest or both nowdays adding in more of what the members want and less about "I do this My way.. Period!". The game has quite a bit more story Favorites and Requested then ever before.

ZionHalcyon's Avatar


ZionHalcyon
09.12.2019 , 05:52 AM | #7
I definitely feel like these posts give a lot of context.

I also think they're absolutely true.

There was a very, very, very early questionnaire regarding SWTOR in its early development days. One of the questions centered around the idea of a legacy system where you would play as one character, and then play as a completely separate character who may be bound by Legacy to the original character and have some perks because of it. The questionnaire was to find out if people would be interested in this sort of thing.

It's because of that early questionnaire that I am inclined to believe this person and I find it very interesting that this originally was supposed to be just Jedi and Sith.

While the eight classes and class stories are fantastic, I believe their original scope of just Jedi and Sith would have allowed for a more focused game. Although I also think that it would have not done as well as an MMO.

Honestly the more I get into it, the more I feel like BioWare just got in way over their head in terms of the first MMO they ever made.

The Jedi vs Sith leading up to a kotfe like ending but all within the same story consistency would have been an amazing single player game.

It certainly now brings up a number of questions.

It also answers a few.

It looks like this game for lack of a better term was on Rails until they got through kotfe. All the while the development team was muddling through trying to figure out how to tie up loose ends here and there from an over-ambitious original design that spiraled out of control from something a lot more manageable.

It doesn't give confidence that these people know what the heck they are doing or at least they didn't which based on a lot of early confusion I would agree.

But now, even though people hate the new loot system on PTS( although that could change as early as next week based on player feedback, so we're not completely locked into it just yet), I can see that what they are trying to do is actually a full reboot of SWTOR with the existing characters to maintain story continuity, but trying to right themselves back into the path of this being an actual MMO.

Ossus was the beginning of a soft reboot for the game. It also makes sense given that the development team now is finally working on the engine and surrounding development areas.

Guess we will have to find out if they can get this game back on track.

TonyTricicolo's Avatar


TonyTricicolo
09.12.2019 , 06:20 AM | #8
I find it weird that Star Wars in general always a hard time with games. The IP's track history, with a few exceptions, always had rocky times. You would think with the plethora of source material ranging from canon, EU/Legends, and Disney that it would produce "GOLD" but sadly it doesn't. Companies always seem to be either out of touch with the lore or out of touch with the fans. Companies want to make money. Investors want their return as fast as possible. This supersedes everything else. Will we ever get a good Star Wars game? Is it so hard? If it were any other franchise and done by a start up/independent company, I'd say there's a good chance. However, this is the hand we're dealt.
TONY NOVA SWTOR Shadowlands/Star Forge
-STRYDER- SWG Sunrunner/SWGLegends
Referral Link: http://www.swtor.com/r/vNnj3G

ZionHalcyon's Avatar


ZionHalcyon
09.12.2019 , 06:39 AM | #9
Quote: Originally Posted by TonyTricicolo View Post
I find it weird that Star Wars in general always a hard time with games. The IP's track history, with a few exceptions, always had rocky times. You would think with the plethora of source material ranging from canon, EU/Legends, and Disney that it would produce "GOLD" but sadly it doesn't. Companies always seem to be either out of touch with the lore or out of touch with the fans. Companies want to make money. Investors want their return as fast as possible. This supersedes everything else. Will we ever get a good Star Wars game? Is it so hard? If it were any other franchise and done by a start up/independent company, I'd say there's a good chance. However, this is the hand we're dealt.
They once had a working formula at LucasArts, and the studios they licensed out to later on.

Dark Forces, dark Forces 2 Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight 2 Jedi Outcast, Jedi Knight Jedi Academy, X-Wing, TIE fighter, X-Wing vs TIE fighter, X-Wing Alliance.

All of these were very well received. Kotor was the biggest Star Wars game of them all is well. The Force Unleashed also gets a lot of good recognition. And I know there are some others that I am missing. Even Star Wars racer was a lot of fun despite some limitations and issues.

So it is entirely possible. I think the issue comes in when the developers aren't trying to make a good Star Wars game but instead are trying to say, compete with wow or in the case of Force Commander just half-assing it or perhaps Under Pressure to put out something that isn't ready.

I think if nothing else, Star Wars suffers from what a lot of video games suffer from now:

Mega publishers who have tight schedules and demand games be released on certain dates. Gone are the days of a small Studio working on the game and when it's ready it's ready and then they announced it. The only Studios who have that luxury now are ID and CD projekt Red. Everywhere else is a slave to the bean counters which is why video games as an art form have tanked and become very copycat.

Lhancelot's Avatar


Lhancelot
09.12.2019 , 07:27 AM | #10
Here's more of what he wrote on Community Management, and on topics like influencers, and how budgets are managed by a studio. People were discussing Anthem and it's impact on SWTOR's budget.


Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
I get what you're saying here but realistically this is just not how game studios can generally work. There is an asymmetry between the number of developers and the number of players, of course. Plus developers generally have a job to do. Looking at forums and ferreting out the signal from the noise is not one of those jobs. It would also be counter-productive, in many cases, due to the anchor bias that tends to happen.

This is exactly why you have specialists in community management. It's an abstraction layer between the developers and the consumers of what those developers produce. It's also a layer between designers and producers. This is what helps communicate between varying levels of knowledge and technical skill but also working to distill common sentiments of the player base while also not overly focusing on outliers.

This is very true. We don't know. But we do know other areas where community outreach has faltered. I provided one of those above. While that is by no means any sort of proof, we do start to see common patterns being applied of communication that is sporadic, at best, ineffective as a middle-ground, or entirely absent at worst. We do see where the player base has to often prod to get information that really should have just been provided in the first place.

This is a good point. When you work in game studios you generally sign a "non-disparagement contract" as part of your employment. This basically means you can't go out there bad-mouthing your game or the team that produces it. Depending on the strength of the wording -- and it's usually very strong -- you can't even give a hint that things aren't entirely rosy. That is an important context to realize.

That being said, community managers are trained to deal with these kinds of situations. It's basically learning how to convey bad news but without actually giving away internal dynamics or, in fact, making it seem like entirely bad news. One is just being anticipatory. Meaning, try to anticipate what is likely going to be a problem and then respond as much as you can to at least show that you recognize the problem and that you are engaging with the delivery team (producers, designers, developers) about this.

Let's say there's something the producers want to do -- such as a type of "gear grind" that they feel is necessary for whatever reason. Let's say the community manager knows this is unpopular to at least some vocal segment of the player base. Let's say the community manager has made this clear to the product team but the product team has made it equally clear that this is going to happen. Sounds like a bad spot to be in, right?

And it is! This is where you have to work with the product team to convey a message about why this is being done, an understanding that this might be unpopular (so people don't just think the team is oblivious), and what specifically the product team is hoping to see as this is rolled out, along with a demonstrable -- key word there! -- sustained -- another key word! -- feedback mechanism.

Key to this also is a willingness of the delivery team to change, or at least course-correct, based on that feedback. This latter point is something that a community manager can in no way do anything about. So if that community manager is backed by a product team that is going a certain direction regardless of player feedback, yes, there isn't much that can be done about that. There are, however, still ways to communicate with the player base to make the situation less unpalatable or to convey a rationale.

Generally people will be less unhappy if they feel they understand some reasoning -- even if they disagree with the reasoning. Those same people will be even less unhappy if they see progress in other areas, such as better communication about whether logging in and doing activities will have some impact on, say, companion influence that seems to be getting lost.

That's probably my final point. Communication is an aggregate. So community management is about making sure that, on average, the player base feels more communicated with rather than less. Even if what has to be communicated is not stellar news, the fact that there is engagement and that there is substantive engagement can go a long way towards reducing player antipathy and apathy.

Data Centers (removing west coast servers)

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
Just a quick clarification and this is by no means meant to dismiss any specific larger points: EA had nothing to do with the data center stuff. People often (and perhaps understandably) over-estimate how much EA (a publisher) has to do with individual divisions. It's often very, very little. And that includes things like this, which come out of a cost center budget and are negotiated with via a project and product team so as to determine how to use the budgets they have.

That budget primarily comes from revenue and that revenue primarily comes from how well they maintain, support and promote their game so that players will spend money on it. None of that is necessarily dictated by EA. Other parts of the budget come from cost center allocation that EA would distribute among all of its divisions and, within that, studios.

The data center consolidation and migration by Bioware was predicated upon two main things: a smaller population thus a desire to move to fewer servers and the cost of data center residency, which has spiked quite a bit. There's also been a lot of shutdown in data centers as a whole, industry-wide, which has led to spikes in prices as fewer options (relatively speaking) are available given certain needs.

Those two aspects coincided with yet a third thing: a desire to spend more budget on graphical updates for the engine and better hardware that can handle sharding, better solid state storage, as well as simply replacing hardware that was becoming outdated. Reducing costs around data centers always helps with this because it reduces your operational overhead over time, reduces compliance issues, eases auditing issues, reduces monitoring costs, eases replication and somewhat simplifies failover initiation.

To be sure, none of this is me saying that how this was handled did right by many players. I realize that's going to be heavily dependent upon how much someone was impacted.

But, again, none of that was mandated by EA nor forced upon Bioware by EA. The studios are largely autonomous (for better and worse) in terms of the decisions they make. They do, of course, have to report to EA how the budget they are allocated is spent and how that will, in turn, impact revenue and costs. This is why it's critical to have a product team that can serve as a "north star," as it were, for the project team (one part of which is the development team).

More often than not, it's the product team that should be getting some of the flak for internal mis-management, not the publisher. It could certainly be the case that the product team, when reporting to EA, was told by EA that they should find ways to reduce costs. This would have been in an effort to have revenue exceed expenses, which is what all companies do who have shareholders. (It's pretty much what all companies do who want to make a profit; and that's just about all of them.) So Bioware's response to that was -- at least in part -- to do what much of the industry is doing: a data center consolidation strategy.

And that ends my wall of text that no one asked for!

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
Indeed so. ArenaNet actually has the ability to allow members of the development team to participate because their community team uses a means of filtering information to developers that allow them to pinpoint where responses would likely be most helpful. (Behind the scenes it's called a "buzz community" process.) The delivery team can, of course, engage on social media with the player base as they want; this, of course, can have some setbacks in their communication policy, as was seen with the Jessica Price and Peter Fries firing.

But, yes, in general ArenaNet succeeds fairly well in this because of how their community team allows the delivery team (usually the designers and developers) to have a more focused experience with the user base. Their community team also liaises very closely with their customer support team and does very good social media monitoring. A good example of how in tune their community team handles this was seen early on with this article.

So the key thing to note is the very engagement you like by the wider team there is entirely due to how the community team is working behind the scenes to facilitate that engagement.


Funding and Anthem


Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
As a point of interest, these are totally different cost centers. The funding between them is entirely different. Funding for SWTOR is based upon projections and how those projections hit revenue targets for that cost center. The same will be true of Anthem.

I'm not so much dismissing your point because, yes, Bioware Austin does get funding. So does Anthem. (Anthem has been getting funding from 2012 on.) The cost centers, however, are entirely different and that means just saying "we get funding" is not, by itself, meaningful. If I get (relative measures) one dollar of funding while someone else gets twenty dollars of funding, that obviously will have an impact on what I can do.

There is truth to this, I think, but I realize it's an arguable point for many. While a lot of people put so much stock in Anthem -- and admittedly, it's a big thing for BioWare -- in the context of Star Wars people seem to be really underestimating how much is riding on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. A game that is going to be in canon (which matters to some) and is trying to correct for some of the mistakes made by this game (as an MMO) and the Star Wars: Battlefront games.

On the broader point: SWTOR is currently not being used as a barometer at all regarding the success or failure of Star Wars games. It simply isn't. From an industry standpoint right now, it barely rates a mention. That even includes in earnings reports and future revenue projections as released during shareholder calls.

SWTOR is serving only as a very limited sort of learning experience because it ultimately doesn't (at least right now) matter all that much. The Battlefront series was a lot of learning because it showed a few missteps. The first didn't have a single-player campaign at all. The second focused initially on transactions but did have the story elements (including a tie-in novel).

Another learning experience came with the shutting down of Visceral's Star Wars game and then the shutting down of the "reboot" of that game by EA Vancouver. Some of those decisions, arguably, were driven at least in part by the perceived lack of success of SWTOR. But that's complicated by the fact that SWTOR started before EA took acquisition and it was based on a past series (Knights of the Old Republic) that fans generally did like.

So the only part of SWTOR that is being taken as a learning experience is the notion of a single-player game versus a more traditional MMO game (and perhaps versus a single-player game with some multiplayer elements). Now consider the type of game that Fallen Order is purported to be and you'll see why whether it succeeds or fails will have a large impact on whether a model like that of SWTOR is viable.

Largely correct. Different cost centers. Different development teams. That being said, the alpha team tends to be dispersed after launch of a big game. That happened with SWTOR, for example. So that team from Anthem most certainly could be brought into SWTOR. Or they could more likely be moved into something like the next Dragon Age. A large part of that will be determined by those projections being made by product teams.

I also think this is largely correct. A "failure" an Anthem -- and failure is very relative, just like it is for movie studios with box office figures -- would definitely cause some internal shifting of resources and a re-alignment of assets. Regardless of what does or does not happen with Anthem, the "worst" that would happen is SWTOR's cost center stays the same for the duration.

That definitely won't happen unless they lay off the staff and stop any active development on this game. The cost centers generally don't cross boundaries. The revenues taken in are what are used for further projections to determine future revenue targets. That informs the hiring of staff (who then, of course, have to be regularly paid), retaining current staff (who also like to be paid regularly), what those staff are assigned to do, work on graphical updates (such as what happened with KOTFE/KOTET), etc.

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
if it helps clear things up, that's not accurate.

Were that the case, at minimum, all of the branding done around SWTOR, including on the web site, would be in violation of the law due to misrepresentation. (You can't claim your game is affiliated with a studio or a publisher, including the use of imagery, if it's not.)

Where much of the speculation has come from is the entire absence of SWTOR being absent from the last couple of earnings reports and shareholder calls. (That said, most people weren't making the distinctions between the 10-Q and the 8-K reports.)

What Eric was referring to in his post is SWTOR being a separate cost center; he just didn't word it that way. That cost center is influenced by the fact that it's a licensed product (i.e., Star Wars) which makes some of the logistics of that cost center unique among the other cost centers.

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
There have been rumors swirling that EA feels it might actually be better off without the Star Wars license because it does provide some cost overheads that they may not want to incur. That being said, those cost overheads often come from how well (or not) the games do. If they underperform, the costs outweigh the revenues. That being said, publically, of course, both EA and Disney tout confidence in their relationship.


It does, yes. But that's not to say that EA, as a publisher, couldn't add to the funding of that cost center since it's a studio they own. It's kind of like how, say, Sony Pictures can fund Columbia Studios (whom they acquired) for certain projects. But Columbia can also do its own funding as well. Sony will take a cut of revenue because that's part of what owning them means: Sony provides certain things like operations and marketing that Columbia does not have to do.

The basic dynamic is that the product team for a studio -- and for each game within that studio -- will deliver projections of future revenue based on what they plan to deliver to customers. The projections are based on the traditional triple play: reducing costs, increasing revenue, or sustaining revenue. EA, as publisher, will have a stake in those revenue projections. Just as Sony would with Columbia, for example.

So EA really wants BioWare Austin projections to be accurate because they are more likely to be reached. And if they are reached, that means other plans based on those projections can go forward. Often that money is spent before it actually comes in.

EA's part of that stake will go to whatever they want to do as a wider company. They can distribute that as they see fit. Part of that could, of course, be distributed right back to SWTOR. If it's not -- because they want to fund something else -- then someone could claim that SWTOR is being "underfunded" even though those funds were never guaranteed to go back into their cost center.

The part of the stake that BioWare gets, however, is entirely theirs. This is part of how contracts are drawn up between studios and publishers. And, again, it's actually very similar to how the movie and television industry works. So whatever BioWare makes it can utilize as it sees fit. Obviously the more profitable they are, the more they get (and the more EA gets as their percentage of the revenue).

I bring all that up because if SWTOR performs poorly from a monetary perspective, then, yes, the game will be "underfunded" in the sense that they didn't make as much money as they hoped and thus have less to spend, when they factor in the various other aspects of their business, such as operating costs, employee salary, etc. Also of note, it's often not how much money you make; it's how under your projections you were. That's where cost centers get hit.

It's kind of odd, really, but again the movie industry works the same way. Internally the success of movies is not based on the box office returns; it's based on how those returns compare to the initial projections. Because it's those projections (often made years before a movie comes out) that were the basis of current spending. Consider an oft-cited and accurate example. The biopic movie Steve Jobs cost about $40 million to make. However, it would have to have made $100 just to break even in terms revenue. To get back just half off those initial costs -- i.e., a profit of $20 million -- the movie would have to make close to $140 million.

As another example, consider The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This cost $260 million to make. It grossed over $700 million. Yet it's profit was only $20 million for the studio, due to projections that the movie would actually make $900 million at least.

This may seem like a huge distraction and that I'm wasting electrons here, but the game industry and its projections work very similarly.


The community team for SWTOR could never -- or, rather, should never -- confirm or deny any sort of funding questions or even internal health issues, perceived of otherwise. That would fall afoul of the disparagement clause.

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
But you have to combine that with the fact that BIoWare Austin is still listed as an asset of EA and Star Wars: The Old Republic is listed as an asset of BioWare Austin. Those are part of overall revenue earnings statements as well as investment assets. So if they were lying about this, they are doing it in full violation of the law in terms of reporting purposes. (The fact that SWTOR hasn't been specifically mentioned in earnings reports lately does not indicate that somehow it has been shifted away.)

They are also using branding for the game that would be in violation of the law for representation since the game and the site use the logos of BioWare and EA.

They would also be distributing an End User Access and License Agreement under false pretenses (i.e., stating the license is with EA), which is also against the law. Combine that with them also providing a Terms of Service for Electronic Arts specifically.

Combine that with the people who do respond internally from the studio (Eric, Chris, etc) are BioWare Austin employees, as seen by their LinkedIn profiles.

I'll certainly grant that it's possible to believe that everyone just decided to violate the law across a broad array of fronts, hoping no one would discover this (from the government, to shareholders, to customers), and that BioWare Austin employees are all agreeing to keep up the front. But it's also possible to believe the situation is exactly as it appears.

Influencers

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
A large part of this has to be answered in the context of what it is perceived that influencers have done for the game. A large reason studios use this approach is because the influencers are perceived to be personalities that will positively sway a larger community to either try out a game or continue playing it. Influencers are a promotional mechanism. But over reliance on them has proven to be somewhat counter-productive in the industry.

Beyond that, influencers can drive content decisions. How much and to what extent that happens is much more opaque whereas the above is a bit more visible as a general rule.

So people have to ask: has the impact of influencers been felt on this game? Have you seen the game being talked about more widely and more broadly? Has it been reviewed consistently by many outlets as a result of influencers making sure the game is being noted for what it provides? Or have you seen the reverse? Have you seen more positive word of mouth rather than the reverse? Have various decisions made by the studio seemed to resonate well or not so well with the broader audience?

That last point helps understand how "in touch" the so-called influencers are but it also leaves open how much the influencers are actually listened to as well. (When everything is closed off, we have no idea which is the case. Which can make both sides look bad.)

There are tons of case studies out there about the impact (or lack thereof) of influencers. Two good ones:

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articl...ity-a-mile-off

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articl...-for-your-game

So the general answer as to whether "preferential treatment" should be accorded to so-called influencers has to be predicated around the perceived and actual impact of those influencers on the game itself. "Influence" is a concept that is measurable but the more opaque the influencer mechanism is, the less that measure is useful.

Data Centers (removing west coast servers)

Quote: Originally Posted by Kryptonomic View Post
Just a quick clarification and this is by no means meant to dismiss any specific larger points: EA had nothing to do with the data center stuff. People often (and perhaps understandably) over-estimate how much EA (a publisher) has to do with individual divisions. It's often very, very little. And that includes things like this, which come out of a cost center budget and are negotiated with via a project and product team so as to determine how to use the budgets they have.

That budget primarily comes from revenue and that revenue primarily comes from how well they maintain, support and promote their game so that players will spend money on it. None of that is necessarily dictated by EA. Other parts of the budget come from cost center allocation that EA would distribute among all of its divisions and, within that, studios.

The data center consolidation and migration by Bioware was predicated upon two main things: a smaller population thus a desire to move to fewer servers and the cost of data center residency, which has spiked quite a bit. There's also been a lot of shutdown in data centers as a whole, industry-wide, which has led to spikes in prices as fewer options (relatively speaking) are available given certain needs.

Those two aspects coincided with yet a third thing: a desire to spend more budget on graphical updates for the engine and better hardware that can handle sharding, better solid state storage, as well as simply replacing hardware that was becoming outdated. Reducing costs around data centers always helps with this because it reduces your operational overhead over time, reduces compliance issues, eases auditing issues, reduces monitoring costs, eases replication and somewhat simplifies failover initiation.

To be sure, none of this is me saying that how this was handled did right by many players. I realize that's going to be heavily dependent upon how much someone was impacted.

But, again, none of that was mandated by EA nor forced upon Bioware by EA. The studios are largely autonomous (for better and worse) in terms of the decisions they make. They do, of course, have to report to EA how the budget they are allocated is spent and how that will, in turn, impact revenue and costs. This is why it's critical to have a product team that can serve as a "north star," as it were, for the project team (one part of which is the development team).

More often than not, it's the product team that should be getting some of the flak for internal mis-management, not the publisher. It could certainly be the case that the product team, when reporting to EA, was told by EA that they should find ways to reduce costs. This would have been in an effort to have revenue exceed expenses, which is what all companies do who have shareholders. (It's pretty much what all companies do who want to make a profit; and that's just about all of them.) So Bioware's response to that was -- at least in part -- to do what much of the industry is doing: a data center consolidation strategy.

And that ends my wall of text that no one asked for!



Since some people find Nyman's explanations interesting I added more of what he wrote, just to save people the time of digging it up themselves.

You can find Nyman's comments in posts/threads if you do a search he was fairly active for a small window of time about 8-9 months ago.

He disappeared after dropping knowledge. Like a fly-at-night bomber. In and out without a trace except for the bombs he dropped.
TRUE
Quote: Originally Posted by DarthSpuds View Post
RNG is counterproductive because it massively increases player dissatisfaction.
FALSE
Quote: Originally Posted by olagatonjedi View Post
As I detailed in another thread, RNG give the players more control over their gearing.