Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Goodbye Jeff Freeman

I just heard that Game Designer, Jeff Freeman, has committed suicide. I met Jeff a few times and didn't really know him but I read his blog often.

A lot of people blamed Jeff for the sweeping, unsold to the community and pretty much unannounced changes to Star Wars Galaxies, called the "New Game Enhancements." The NGE were supposedly put in to make the game feel more like Star Wars and less like an "Uncle Owen Simulator." This being what everybody was blaiming for the falling subscription numbers, but pissing off your remaining customers isn't always a good idea as in the MMO market when people leave they don't come back.

The blame for that failed plan which caused even more people to leave the game, isn't really something that belonged at Jeff's feet. MMO design is a huge complicated beast that takes lots of people to design and put together. Even then you still have to factor in the ideas and decisions from above.

I make no claim to know what went on at SOE when all this went down. After it happened and community went into a tissy, everybody over there went silent. The problem was there was a blog post that Jeff had made just prior to the changes going in, that even though he later deleted, was found by players.
So don't get the crazy notion that I'm "in charge" here. "The Man" is a many-headed beast called Management. I just try to help it make good decisions. With regard to game mechanics, it even lets me decide, sometimes.

So a few months ago The Man comes along and says "What can we do to make this the most fun game it can possibly be?"

It was the lead designer who holed-up in his office for a few days and then said, "Hey, come look at this."

There's no way we can do that.

There's no way we should do that.

Man that's fun.

The Man will never let us get away with doing that.

We can't do it.

We shouldn't do it.

Oh man that is fun.

When an executive producer sees something that is impossible to do, but which is too fun not to do, he makes a noise like "Hoooooooooph."

My job was to be the guy to say, "Yes we can do that." I had to say this about forty times a day for two months.
Jeff was really only even talking about the combat changes and had little to do with the rest of the NGE. But he became the face of the debacle and the players dumped on him for months and months. Even after Jeff left SOE the comments and blame followed him.

I personally think the original combat sucked big fat donkey balls and the changes Jeff put in actually made the game a lot more fun.

Jeff's brother has come out to say that the ire of the SWG community that isn't what caused him to take his own life.
"I want everyone to know that it was not SWG that led him to take his life," he said. "He has been troubled for some time. There were a lot of personal issues that tore at him."
Unfortunately this leave me with little solace and we are left with one less talented game designer. Sorry to see you go Jeff, we are lessened by your passing.

The link to Jeff's blog will remain on my list. I encourage you to read it.


BugHunter said...

The SWG thing is completely unfair. I didn't know this, but Raph pointed out that Jeff was responsible for the Creature Handler in SWG. IMHO the Creature Handler was brilliant (the only part of the game that was really worth the price of admission). We've all lost the opportunity to experience another piece of game play that is so unique, and genuinely fun, with him gone.

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