I've never paid much attention to the names behind my MMOs, which is actually a little embarrassing now that I think about it. How can I be a fan of something and yet know so little about the people who created it and who continue to pour their hearts and souls into continuing to update it? If I think back to SWTOR's early days, the only two names that come to mind for me from that period are James Ohlen and Damien Schubert, but even now I couldn't tell you what exactly it was that they did for SWTOR. Awkward, but that's how it is.
I say this to give context to how strange it's been for me to see the recent changing of the guard (or game producer, to be more precise) receive as much attention as it has. Ben Irving had inadvertently gained infamy among the playerbase for describing the process of opening random loot boxes attained through Galactic Command with the words "thrill of the hunt" during a livestream - which was understandably and rightly mocked by many players and quickly turned into a meme. (Fun fact though: I have a guildie who genuinely loves Galactic Command and who sometimes talks about the "thrill of the hunt" with only a small amount of irony.) I don't know how much blame for Galactic Command can realistically be placed at Ben's feet, but he certainly managed to create some bad PR for himself with the aforementioned quote, casting himself as someone who doesn't really understand the game and what its players enjoy about it.
From that point of view it's understandable that his move to a different position at Bioware got people interested, but it's not just that - it's that his successor Keith Kanneg immediately stepped into the breach with an attitude to show that he was exact opposite of what had come before, actually going so far as to post a producer's letter on the official website in which he talked about how many hours he's spent playing, how many characters he's levelled and how many achievements he's got. Since then, he's also been giving community manager Eric Musco a run for his money when it comes to making posts on the official forums, to the point where fellow blogger XamXam started a weekly column called "Keith Watch" to keep track of what he's been saying.
It's hard not to feel excited by this. Even if one doesn't hold a grudge against Ben, all this direct communication is a pleasant change of pace. We've already been promised a road map for the upcoming year, something that we haven't had since 2014 I think? (From 2015 I only recall mention of a producer's letter being read out at a cantina event.) Keith also immediately took to the forums to apologise for not being done with the road map yet, while feeding us tantalising glimpses of small quality of life changes scheduled for the next patch - changes of the kind that mean little to MMO news sites but that get dedicated players excited. An extra way of gaining companion influence? Didn't I just write about that? Gunships and bombers for everyone, in an actual update for GSF? I had a post about that too! Is Keith reading my blog or something? Hype!
I'm a trained sceptic when it comes to excitement of this kind though. There's got to be a catch, right? I suppose wanting to talk about what's coming up is no guarantee of those same features actually making it into the game in a timely manner. In fact, doesn't a lot of past bitterness among the playerbase stem from features being promised (or at least talked about) and then not delivered? Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Also, enthusiasm for playing and an appreciation for the players' everyday problems doesn't guarantee that Keith will be good at keeping an eye on the big picture. Isn't posting on the forums all the time more distracting than anything?
... that's about all the negatives that I can come up with right now though. And that's pretty good, isn't it? At the end of the day, I can't really see anything bad coming from having someone at the helm who is truly passionate about the game in all its weird MMO-SPRPG hybrid glory instead of wanting to mould it into something else. We'll see where this new direction will take us in the upcoming year.