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Reporting In From 'MMOG' Land

by Mark Crump on Aug. 29, 2004 @ 3:00 a.m. PDT

Sony Online and LucasArts are gearing up for their October launch of the first Star Wars Galaxies expansion pack, Jump To Lightspeed, which finally takes the online multiplayer game into space. Earlier this week Sony Online also announced that people might find their accounts lost in space because a character deletion procedure will occur just prior to launch. This week's editorial takes a look at the what's and why's ...

SOE: Star Wars Galaxies Character Deletion

SOE has arguably one of the best marketing departments in the MMOG business - just look at their successes with the EQ product. Star Wars Galaxies, while technically a success, fell short of a lot of customer’s expectations and met with so-so reviews. There’s been a fair share of people who have tried SWG and found it wanting for one reason or another, but a big strike against the product was that for a game modeled after a space opera, space itself was but a loading screen as you took a shuttle to the next planet. Jump to Lightspeed, the first expansion for SWG and due for an October release, introduces space to SWG and should provide enough reason for someone who has a lapsed account to check it out.

Unfortunately, someone must have forgotten to bring up the expansion to SWG’s Database Administrator and Community Manager. It’s the only logical reason behind this post from Kurt “Thunderheart” Stengl, SOE’s Community Relations Manager on August 2nd

“In mid-October, we will be doing a “character purge” of the system. This will be the big deletion of stale characters and items and it will affect all Galaxies. What this means is that any account that has been cancelled for longer than 6 months will be deleted from the database. Character names, items, lots and everything the character possessed will be permanently deleted. The Character Purge is being done to free up names and game space for incoming and existing players.”

“After the mid-October purge, we will be performing a character once every month. We will announce all purges at least a week prior.”

Yeah, you read that right; a around the time the new expansion ships, if your account has lapsed for more than six months, it’s going to get deleted. That’s a rude “Welcome Back” for the person who runs home from work – or worse, took a day off from work – looking forward to hopping in a Tie Fighter and exploring space, finally. A couple of hunches: there is a quite a few people this will affect; and they aren’t going to be too happy about it.

Now every MMOG company has the usual written disclaimers that say after “x” amount of time, your character stands a good chance at getting permanently, irrevocably, deep-sixed. I don’t think any one of them has actually done it, because, after all, that person might just come back – especially when little things like expansions get released. Besides in most cases, the actual characters don’t take up much space anyway.

Star Wars Galaxies is different, though, and has long been plagued by weird database issues. While it’d be a stretch to say it is FUBAR’d, during the beta and the initial disastrous launch, numerous issues were blamed on the database. This is because each and every item created in the game has it’s own database entry and serial number. In other words, if you are grinding your way to Master Artisan and create 200 widgets in an evening session, or your factory is merrily churning them out, you’ve created 200 database entries – or more if the pieces also required subcomponents. That’s a lot of overhead. They’ve done a decent job at reducing the needless database entries, most notably introducing the “practice mode”, where as you create widgets you tell the system, “Hey, I’m just grinding out these here parts, no need to actually make the item - and database entry. (Aside: if your skill advancement for crafting is so reliant on the concept of grinding that you need to have an option to not create an item a crafter is forging, the assorted database issues aren’t the primary concern – the fact that’s a good sign the crafting system sucks as a whole might warrant a look-see.) The database issues also accounted for a decent amount of overhead in the Beta, most notably the infamous Bazaar terminals that would bog down like they hit the trash compactor and R2 wasn’t around to fix it.

Now I don’t fault SOE for needing to do this repair work. Something is clearly “not right” in the Land of the Database, and it is time to get the cleaners in and give her a good-old-top-to-bottom-cleaning. Just, why on Tattoine would you do this within the timeframe you are providing someone with an excuse to reactivate the account and get back into the habit of handing you money each month? Most companies work on coming up with nefarious schemes to separate you from your money; SOE in this case – no stranger themselves to the world of capitalism; just look at all the EQ expansions – seems hell-bent on making people not want to give Jump to Lightspeed a shot if your account hasn’t been touched since April.

For all that’s kind and decent, Sony, at least give us a chance to hand you $30 for a expansion and another $45 dollars for a couple-three months of online time while we see if space is another place for you to put no content; don’t make the decision for us.

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