Thursday, 2 July 2020

A Little Can Go a Wrong Way

A recent, relatively insignificant, change to the user interface in SWTOR sparked a cacophony of outrage on some of the more popular forums and outlets.

A new UI element, the 'Galactic Guide', was introduced to replace the old Social Bar and it was, well, weird. Not only does it not match the look and feel of the rest of the UI, it also can't be customised in the same way the rest of the screen items can. The fact that it introduced some bugs into the way the UI is used and contains a prominent link to the game's real-world money marketplace (the Cartel Market) only added insult to perceived injury. This was seemingly especially the case among some subscribers, who objected to being overtly pushed towards the cash shop when they already pay their dues. Such players are always likely to be the most vocal, and rightly so, but also I suspect in the minority of numbers compared to the casual, free-to-play and preferred status players, who EA need to drive towards the Cartel Market.

I'm not particularly concerned with the content of the Galactic Guide - it doesn't serve any useful purpose for me. Rather I'm more disappointed at the minimised appearance:

The old Social Bar, which could be minimised into the form above

The new one, which, er- cannot

The episode got me thinking. Not so much about the element itself (and yes I think it's odd and incredibly annoying), but about what seemingly tiny details can upset the balance of a game and drive players into incandescence.

The answer, I hope, is that the vast majority of players really do care a great deal about the game. They are invested in it (emotionally and financially) and want the best possible experience BioWare can give them. When there is a perceived breach of that developer-player trust (or where something is obviously just poorly done) these players take a hit: their world, their Star Wars experience, is now a little diminished. And that can hurt. SWTOR, like all of Star Wars, is pure escapism for many people. When something comes along to jog us out of that reality we feel it personally.

This is why when something a developer introduces is in the spirit of the game, open and honestly communicated there will likely not be a problem. It's the feeling of forced-direction and poor execution that riles most, I suspect, not that there's now an extra link to the Cartel Market.

As implemented, the Galactic Guide is a jarring item in an otherwise immersive experience. And anything that jolts players out of their game-reality is going to have a disproportionate effect, no matter how small that item is.

Developers beware: even the smallest details can go wrong. Think about how the truly invested players might react - in the end, they're the ones that will still be here years down the line. While the most vocal, they're probably the ones that love your game the most, too.

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