A panel at GDC Europe reveals the problems Sony Online Entertainment faced with two of its MMOs.
Developers and publishers face difficult decisions all the time when it comes to their games. Linda Carlson, global community director at Sony Online Entertainment, detailed just how difficult in a panel discussion at GDC Europe this past weekend.
In the case of Star Wars: Galaxies, Carlson said that a lack of communication between the development team and the community. "There's no such thing as too much information. There's an assumption that players won't understand or aren't interested. Players appreciate the information, it makes them feel a part of the process."
She said the New Game Enhancement Update that basically simplified the game became a shining example of how not to do things. "It was too much change. It was brought in all at once. Even after the event there was an idea that it would blow over [among the developers], but it didn't. There was so much anger. You cannot hide from these events." She said the studio still gets hate mail about that update.
Carlson said SOE is working to protect its developers from overly belligerent fans. "Players think developers are sharks who think they are out to ruin gameplay and dumb it down. ... Developers are terrified of players."
She said it begins with open communication with fans, but extends to proactively guarding the dev team, including an "increase in reports of verbal and written threats and attacks against devs, a practice of zero tolerance of abuse, punishment by withdrawing participation, the guarding of developer's personal information and by consoling the devs."
As for the ill-fated Matrix Online MMO, taken over by SOE not long after the game launched in 2005. The game was plagued with problems, and was eventually consolidated to only three servers because of a small user population. However, the game stayed around until 2009. Carlson said that was a game that should have been taken offline sooner.
"The breaking point where cost of maintenance just to keep the game up was ridiculous," Carlson said. "Sometimes you just have to shut these games down." According to Polygon, she said that at the time the game was officially shut down, there were fewer than 500 active players.