Thursday, October 23, 2003
Jedi and Fundamental Freedoms
One of the very early inventions of the roleplaying game genre was the introduction of character classes. Even in games where there was basically only one thing to do, killing monsters, you had the choice by which method you wanted to kill your monsters, by sword, by fireball, or by boosting your defences with healing. Star Wars Galaxies expanded this concept further, by not only having different ways to do the same thing, but also having character classes that did not kill monsters. SWG gives you the fundamental freedom of chosing how you want to play the game, by chosing a character class.
The system is even more free in that you don't chose your character class in the beginning, but you can for little money learn all starting professions, and then see what you like most, and then later move to the advanced professions. If you try something for a while and then find that you don't like that character class, you can drop it and do something else. This is a very nice feature. But somewhere in the development of this feature, the developers totally misjudged how the players would use this possibility. And that was in the design of the "secret way" to acquire the possibility to get a "force sensitive character slot" and play a Jedi.
The basic idea is simple. Jedi have to be in a Star Wars game somehow. But you can't let everybody play a Jedi right from the start, otherwise there would be little else than Jedi. So the idea was that people acquire the ability to play a Jedi by performing actions with their normal characters. If the normal character did a series of actions in the game, he would get a second character slot with which he could make a Jedi. And if the series of actions that had to be performed was different for each player, and the players would not be told what they had to do, only a lucky few would randomly achieve that goal. And that would both limit the number of Jedi in the game, and be totally fair.
So the developers programmed a secret way for everybody to reach Jedi, told people that it was coded in, and waited for the first Jedi to appear. 3 months later there was still not a single Jedi among the 250,000 or so players of SWG. Rumors got loud that the devs hadn't actually coded Jedi, and had simply lied. So the developers had to do something. They introduced a rare loot item, only dropped by hard to kill force sensitive non player characters, the holocron, which would give the person that looted and used it a hint what to do next to achieve the sought after force sensitive slot and become a Jedi. And when people posted what hint they had received, it became quickly obvious what the way to Jedi was, and why nobody had reached it. The developers had done the code all right, but done a grave error of judgement in their "social engineering".
All the holocrons say "To become a Jedi, you must master profession X next". And it seems that you have to master as many as FIVE different professions, most of them advanced professions, to open your force sensitive slot.
Now in SWG every skill costs an amount of skill points. To master a profession, you need to have the novice skill of that profession, and all 4 skills in each of the 4 branches of the skill tree of that profession, plus finally the master skill. That is 18 boxes of skills, costing between 2 and 6 skill points, 4 on average. But you only have 250 skill points, making it totally impossible to master more than 3 profesions at the same time. For a person to make 5 master professions in the correct order, secretly determined by the program, he needs to become master in at least 2 professions and then completely unlearn these professions to have the skillpoints for the next one.
And without the blunt hint from the holocron, people just wouldn't do that. Mastering a profession is the hardest thing you can do in SWG. It takes a power gamer weeks, and a casual gamer months. People might well learn a profession as novice, make a skill box or two, and then unlearn the profession again. But pursueing a profession to master and THEN unlearning it is just not natural. You become too attached to that achievement that cost you so much sweat.
And even with the holocron the way to Jedi is painful. Because telling somebody to master a certain profession is taking away his fundamental freedom of character class selection. And because SWG has the positive feature of having professions with very different play styles, being forced into a play style that isn't yours is even harder. Somebody who likes playing a kickass bounty hunter, probably the most powerful combat class, will NOT want to give up all his combat skills and become a master chef, master dancer, or master image designer. And somebody who is happy with a peaceful career as any sort of crafter or entertainer, will NOT be happy to be told that he has to master tera kasi (Kung Fu) and kill lots of monsters with his bare hands.
So what happens now is that those powergamers that absolutely want to become a Jedi "camp" the NPCs dropping the holocrons, until they have 5 of them. Then they will master the professions they have to do one after the other, without enjoying it, just trying to get it done as fast as possible, cursing all the way. On the forums at , a website for crafters, you can already notice a increase in post asking how to completely automate mastering a crafter profession, and being quite unhappy to hear that it can't be done.
From a basic idea that was good, and a bad flaw in understanding their players, the developers managed to make the Jedi undesirable to most casual players, and unenjoyable to reach for the powergamers. They had imagined that players would change professions on their own and stumble upon Jedi by chance without knowing how. Only when this didn't work and they had to give out hints did it become clear how badly designed the system was.