This week, I have have been given the opportunity to interview David Staats, a System Designer at Bioware about the upcoming second Galactic Season, “Shadows of the Underworld” which will begin with the launch of Legacy of the Sith in February. I want to thank David for taking the time to comprehensively answer my questions and everyone at Bioware who helped make this possible!
For readers who might not know, would you mind introducing yourself? What is your role at Bioware and how does it relate to Galactic Seasons?
David Staats: Absolutely! My name is David Staats and I am one of the Systems Designers here at BioWare working on Star Wars: The Old Republic. I originally joined the SWTOR team back in 2014 just after the launch of Galactic Strongholds and remained on the team through our Shadow of Revan and Knights of the Fallen Empire expansions. I rejoined the team again in mid 2020 shortly after the launch of Onslaught and have loved being back as a part of this team and part of the greater SWTOR community.
As a Systems Designer a part of our job is to create, balance, and maintain the core game reward loops and goals for players within SWTOR – all the stuff that a player does between their amazing story beats. This includes components such as Guilds, Conquest, Legacy, Crew Skills, Achievements, Group Finder, Strongholds, and more.
Galactic Seasons is one our newest systems in this nature, and one I have been involved with in every aspect–from its inception and initial development to its continued development into Season 2 and beyond. I work with our incredibly talented team of producers, artists, engineers, UI/UX designers, and Quality Verifiers (QV) to develop all aspects related to Galactic Seasons.
The first Galactic Season seemed to be structured towards completing objectives every day of the week if possible. I have heard players complain that if they simply did not have time to play on a given day or a week, they felt like they fell far behind. Is this something Season Two will address?
David Staats: Yes! This was a piece of feedback I took to heart and set out to address with Season 2.
When we balanced Season 1’s Galactic Season Point distribution, we did so with the intention that the average player would have plenty of time to complete the Season. We didn’t want to apply too much pressure on players that they felt like they needed to log in every day to make the progress required to earn the full rewards in the time allotted. In fact, the Season was balanced with the notion that the average player could complete the Season by only doing a small handful of days worth of Daily Priority Objectives with the occasional supplemental Weekly Priority Objective, and that player would still complete the Season with time to spare.
This was the intention, however, the feedback we received from players told a different story.
We felt this was extremely important to alleviate, so it was the very first and most important design change we tackled when we approached Season 2. Our plan to shift this focus from daily emphasis to weekly emphasis includes a few things.
A large part of the daily participation feeling was in the number of points a player could earn each week by completing all Daily Priority Objectives (42 points per week potential) when comparatively speaking to the Weekly Priority Objectives (24 points per week potential). Moving into Season 2, the total point percentage for Daily Objectives is now substantially smaller for Season 2 (16%) than it was for Season 1 (57%), while the total point percentage for Weekly Objectives is substantially higher for Season 2 (79%) than it was for Season 1 (32%). Our hope is that moving forward the Weekly Objectives will drive the core participation, with the Daily simply being supplemental.
Next, we are changing the distribution method of the Objectives such that all players will be provided 10 Weekly Objectives per week and just a single Daily Objective per day. This was done so that players who have time on a certain day could complete more of their Season progression in one go, rather than having it be spaced out over the course of the week. In addition, we also heard feedback that the Season 1 method of Objective delegation was leaving little to no room for players to participate in the Season together, so this change both alleviates the Daily participation feeling while also providing players more opportunity to plan their week with their friends.
Finally, we are adjusting what that Daily Objective is asking from players. For Season 2, that will simply be “Earn 25,000 Personal Conquest Points across your Legacy.” This would allow players the freedom and flexibility to play however they want while still making Galactic Seasons progress and alleviating that final bit of Daily participation concern.
Our ultimate goal is to fully relieve the pressure of daily participation, and rather invite players to participate in Galactic Seasons on a week-to-week basis. The feedback we received from Season 1 went directly into informing what changes were needed to meet this goal, and we encourage everyone to continue providing feedback as we progress into Season 2 and beyond.
There were also complaints that the objectives felt like “chores” or forced players into gameplay modes like PVP or GSF that they didn’t enjoy. To what extent is Galactic Seasons about encouraging players to try something new or simply allowing them to play however they want to complete objectives?
David Staats: It’s best to approach this as a comparison between two Systems we have in the game – Conquest and Galactic Seasons. Both are very similar in nature at their core – complete objectives and earn rewards.
Conquest is a system which we wanted to reward players for virtually anything they did in the game, and have those rewards be meaningful to one’s overall in-game progression (be that monetary, Guild, or equipment related progression). This allows the player to continue to progress through the game by simply playing any content the game offers. Because Conquest is so flexible however, it also has the potential to leave some players with decision paralysis. One could sit and shuffle through the expansive list of Conquest Objectives long before actually going out and doing anything.
When we set out to create Galactic Seasons we wanted there to be some overlap to Conquest. Seasons was intended as a system which rewarded players with mostly cosmetic items, but intentionally asked players to step outside of their comfort zone in order to obtain those rewards. We want Galactic Seasons to be a more directed and streamlined path to activities, becoming a system which complements Conquest, but not replacing it.
While the core intent of the systems is different, we still want to give players opportunities and room to progress through their Objectives in a manner they see fit best for them. This was our intent with some of the Objectives from Season 1 such as “Defeat non-player opponents across Belsavis, Hoth, Rishi, or Tatooine.” and “Complete [HEROIC] missions on either Alderaan, Balmorra, or Corellia.”.
With Season 2, we are continuing with and expanding on this type of Objectives design, while also updating how we present them to players each week. We are adding a handful of Objectives into Season 2 which give the player bonus progression for certain actions. This is intended to further provide ways for players to progress their Objectives in a way they felt best for them, including if a player wanted to further challenge themselves. Here are a few examples of Objectives we have planned for Season 2 which follow this new type of Objective design:
- Ace of the Armada: Board your personal ship and complete Space Missions (1 point). Earn bonus progress for completing [HEROIC] missions (2 points).
- Legacies of the Force: Complete Flashpoints (1 point). Earn bonus progress for completing Depths of Manaan, Assault on Tython, Korriban Incursion, or Secrets of the Enclave (requires content) (4 points). Earn additional bonus progress for defeating their Bonus Bosses (3 points).
- Quelling the Uprising: Complete Uprisings (1 point). Earn bonus progress for completing Crimson Fang, Done and Dusted, or Firefrost (1 point). Earn additional bonus progress for completing them on harder difficulties (1 for Veteran, 2 for Master). (Requires a Subscription)
Looking at the ‘Legacies of the Force’ Objective above, the Objective requires 8 “points” to be completed. This provides the player with a few options:
- For a player who does not want to run any of the listed Flashpoints, they could still make progress by running any other Flashpoint in the game, earning 1 point for each run regardless of the difficulty. While this may take more time, the option is completely viable and available for players.
- For a player who does run one of the listed Flashpoints but may want to do it in Solo/Story Mode, they would still make progress by earning 1 point for running a Flashpoint, and an additional 4 points for it being a listed Flashpoint (for a total of 5 points).
- For more of a challenge, a player could complete one of the listed Flashpoints while defeating that Flashpoint’s Bonus Boss to complete the Objective in a single Flashpoint run.
Any of the above methods and/or any variation of the above is a viable path to completion.
As also mentioned, we are now providing 10 Weekly Objectives for players each week, but the system only asks for 7 of those Objectives to be completed. Once those 7 Objectives have been completed, the remaining Objectives will be disabled, so if there is a certain Objective or Objective type you may not enjoy, there is more flexibility in Season 2 to avoid it.
SWTOR has an expansive amount of content within the game, and with that there is the opportunity for certain pieces of that content to become somewhat lost as players find the most efficient way to progress. We want Galactic Seasons to be a game map of sorts, providing a straightforward and clear path for players to follow to participate in the various types of content available, and with Season 2 we are taking that notion to the next level with the Objectives.
As SWTOR is an MMORPG, we support and encourage group play and want to provide opportunities for players to experience other parts of the game they may not have in the past. It has been incredibly wonderful to read comments across various channels that players have found a new joy in Galactic Starfighter!
Can we plan on Season Two and perhaps future seasons lasting as long as Season One?
David Staats: Yes, and for a few reasons.
First is that we want to offer ample time for players to progress through the Season without a fear of missing out. Shorter time periods create more pressure to get as much done as quickly as possible, and that is not our goal with Galactic Seasons. We want Galactic Seasons to remain as a longer term goal players can work toward over time, and enjoy the ride – something you want to come back to week-after-week to progress rather than binge through and move on.
We also want to allow some small windows of time between Seasons for players to unwind from the previous Season. Galactic Seasons can be a long commitment window, and we want to encourage a healthy play balance with the game.
Finally, this cadence gives us an internal time-frame which allows us to create the content and rewards associated with Galactic Seasons to the quality we would expect them to be at.
Season 2 is currently planned to run from February 15, 2022 – July 5, 2022 with our release of Legacy of the Sith. As with Season 1, Credit Catch-Up will be available later in the Season and will remain capped at Reward Level 95 (and as usual, this is all subject to change).
Season One front-loaded many of its unique rewards like the companion Altuur zok Adon and the Shadowlight mount, and I always looked forward to days when I’d get a Galactic Season Token because that put me one step closer to being able to unlock one of the strongholds, but I confess I’d be a little less excited when I saw that I’d have some bracers or a green companion gift to show for my efforts that day. Will there be any changes in how rewards are distributed throughout the season?
David Staats: We want to ensure that the Season is kicked off with a bang – that players feel energized and excited about the rewards they are getting – and we will continue to evaluate the reward “highs” and “lows” for a more consistently enjoyable Season. As mentioned earlier, player feedback has continued to play a big part in how we are crafting Seasons, and the reward structure and cadence is certainly subject to that same notion.
Season 2 is designed to balance the “am I getting rewarded for my effort” feeling, not only because we are offering more rewards than we did in Season 1, but also because we are structuring the progression to focus on weekly participation over daily. If a player has a full day to complete all 7 of their Weekly Objectives, they could earn multiple Reward Levels all in one go and those “high” and “low” rewards will come together to help bring a more balanced reward cadence.
In Season 1, we offered Subscribers a total of 77 Rewards along the Subscriber Track, and 31 rewards across the Free/Preferred track. This resulted in a mixed reward cadence where Subscribers sometimes had empty reward levels in the Subscriber Reward track and only had a reward in the Free track to claim.
Players will be able to see on PTS that with Season 2, Subscribers are provided 100 rewards along the Subscriber Reward track alone, meaning there are no empty Reward Slots across the 100 Reward Levels on the Subscriber track. In addition, the Free track will be increased to 55 Rewards, meaning that Subscribers will often approach Reward Levels with 2 Rewards associated with it. While this is the intended pattern of rewards, it is possible that this can change.
We’re always looking for ways we can improve, so this type of feedback and further feedback on the cadence is greatly appreciated!
Should players expect that each season will have rewards exclusive to that season? For example, if someone missed out on gaining Altuur as a companion during Season One, will they ever be able to have another chance to earn him? Or will past rewards be retired for good?
David Staats: Ultimately yes, it is possible that we will offer previous Season rewards, however there is a fine line to this. Some rewards are better suited to be brought back, while others we want to maintain their exclusivity, and that is a notion we have and continue to approach very mindfully with any reward we bring back which may have been previously retired.
We have intentionally designed the rewards for Galactic Seasons with the mindset that they could be brought back for players who may have missed them. If and when we approach this it will likely be done in the same vein as how we structured Ki’at Thavo (the Seasons Reward vendor), where only certain items from a Season will be made available, and will likely require Galactic Season Tokens.
However, there are no plans for Season 2 to bring back any Season 1 rewards for players to obtain.
The first two seasons seem to be themed around their signature companion. Will that be the model going forward? And will each season’s theme be separate from SWTOR’s ongoing story or related to events going on in the game at the time?
David Staats: Our plans for Seasonal themes will definitely include a strong connection to the Companion for that Season, but we are also looking into a larger theme which that Companion and players can fall into. When we were looking at the theme for Season 2 we took a larger picture approach – what is something which really speaks as a central theme to Star Wars, and how can we incorporate that theme into all aspects of the Season?
For Season 2, we landed on Syndicates of the underworld, a theme which is extremely prevalent throughout Star Wars stories, from the original trilogy, to the Clone Wars series, to more recent stories such as The Mandalorian. Knowing we wanted to explore that as a central theme, we then looked at what that theme meant for the overall picture of the Season – how does the Companion character (Fen Zeil) fit into that theme, how do the rewards fit into that theme, how can we better incorporate the Objectives for the Season into that theme, and what kind of story can we tell with that theme?
Star Wars offers lots of opportunities for incredible storytelling, and we want Galactic Seasons to have its own unique approach to that, individual of what the player might be tackling for their own character’s story. We want Galactic Seasons to be relevant for any player at any point in their own story progression, so while there may be small nods or acknowledgements of the most up-to-date story, we also want it to keep its own time frame in terms of what may or may not be happening across the Galaxy.