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So What Happened to Star Wars Galaxies?


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<center>Confessions of an Aca/Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins</center>

Earlier this week, Next Generation published a a short excerpt from my much longer discussion of Star Wars Gallaxies and user-generated content in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. The publication seems to have prompted game designer and theorist Raph Koster to blog about what he learned by adopting a more collaborationist approach to his fans. Here's some of what he had to say:

Some have since decided that it was listening to the players too much that caused some of the design problems with SWG. I am not sure I agree. If anything, I think that many subsequent problems came from not listening enough, or not asking questions in advance of changes. Walking a mile in the players' shoes is a difficult trick to pull off even if you have the best of intentions.
The tensest and most difficult moments in SWG's development -- and they came often -- were when we had to remove something that players really liked. Usually, it was against our own wishes, because of time constraints or (rarely) orders from on high. But we couldn't tell the players the real reasons sometimes. That sucked, frankly, because the open relationship really did matter. As often as we could, we laid everything bare.

These days, it's accepted wisdom that you don't reveal a feature until it's done, so as to guarantee that you never let the players down. Of course, even finished features sometimes fall out for one reason or another...

In any case, I think I don't agree with that philosophy. I'd rather have prospective players on a journey with the team, than have them be a passive group marketed to. Yes, they will suffer the ups and downs, and see the making of the sausage... but these days, that's getting to be an accepted thing in creative fields. There's not much to gain, to my mind, in having the creators sitting off on a pedestal somewhere -- people fall from pedestals, and pedestals certainly will not survive contact with Live operation of a virtual world. Instead, I'd rather the customers know the creators as people who make mistakes, so that when one happens, they are more likely to be forgiven or understood.

One of the challenges of academic publishing is that the world can move out from under year in that long, long period of time between when you finish a book and when it hits the shelves. In the case of Convergence Culture, one of the biggest shifts was the meltdown which has occured in the relations between the players and creators of Star Wars Galaxies, much of which really hit the fan last December. I still think what the book says about Star Wars Galaxies -- Raph Koster, as the comments above suggest, remains a leading advocate for a more collaborationist relationship between producers and consumers; his approach does contrast with at least some of the policies that Lucas has applied elsewhere in dealing with other aspects of Star Wars fandom and so Star Wars represents a rich case study of the uncertain and unstable relations between media franchises and their consumers. If anything, these contrasts are even easier to see when we see how shifts in company leadership impacted the community around this particular game.

I have not been on the inside of that meltdown. Most of what I know came from a close reading of news reports about what happened and conversations with other games researchers, such as USC's Doug Thomas or UW's Kurt Squire. I am sure there are readers who could tell us more about what happened than I can and I would welcome them to share their experiences here. I prepared some reflections about what happened for our Convergence Culture Consortium partners newsletter last January.


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