Open Letter to SOE at 2004 EverQuest Guild Summit
(originally posted by me on 05-29-04 at GuComics in the Moneygrubbin’ thread)
Open letter to all who are attending the EQ summit and those who love EverQuest,
The problem with EQ is not World of Warcraft or City of Heroes. The problem with EQ is not the hundreds of thousands of loyal players who’ve paid the bills for EQ for over 5 years. I submit to you the problem with EQ is SOE. All of the major problems of EQ find their genesis in SOE and in their subsequent mismanagement. How then did the most successful online game in history go so wrong?
Let’s examine some of the problems and how we got to this point:
DOMINANCE OF THE RAID CENTRIC MENTALITY and THE RISE OF THE UBERGUILD
EverQuest was never designed to be a raiding game. It was designed to primarily focus on group interdependence in a persistent online world. The EQ Devs were caught off guard by the tenacity of the uberguild phenomena. These guilds consumed content like locusts and in many cases actually tested major encounters. Uberguilds were also consuming content faster then the Devs could create it and they complained quite vociferously to SOE on their websites. Somehow the uberguild members got elevated to superstar status given all of the attention from SOE. Wanting to see the latest exploits of the uberguilds players would live vicariously through them by visiting their websites. Imagine gamers in a fantasy world fantasizing about being Furor and killing creatures they could only dream about killing? It’s perhaps the ultimate irony of online gaming.
Somehow as EQ morphed into a “raiding” game and the little guy with a job and a family got forgotten and left behind. With people like Furor and other guild leaders complaining the loudest, the squeaky wheel got the proverbial grease and EQ expansions starting with Planes of Power officially became raid centric with 80% of its zones only available by completing trials and flags. If you wanted to truly succeed and see the content in EQ you had to join a uber guild and raid 6 hours per day in a quasi-military like fashion. Despite being a small minority of the playerbase all of EQ’s resources were focused on keeping the uberguilds satiated with content at the expense of normal and casual gamers.
No longer is EQ an online game about grouping to solve quests and adventures. It is primarily about raiding. As many have pointed out never has the gap between the normal/casual gamer and the powergamer/uberguilds has never been wider. At one point in Norrath we were all just players. We all had the same chance to go to Lower Guk and Nagafen’s Lair. No longer is that the case. EQ has become a caste system of the pampered uber vs. the great unwashed normal gamer. The EQ playerbase has become polarized and it’s destroying the game.
THE DEATH OF EPIC STORY TELLING AND THE RISE OF THE WAYFARERS
EverQuest was always a game about humans, elves, dwarves and dragons. That is the stuff that high fantasy is made of. Many on this thread have brought up this point. Scars of Velious was the pinnacle of epic storytelling with the battle between the Dragons, the Dwarves and the Frost Giants. Online gaming reached heights unseen with the massive battle of the Ring War and the ultimate quest of the Coldain Shawl. EverQuest was at its finest. Then Luclin was released with the introduction of something very un-fantasy: aliens from space and cuddly cat people living on the moon. Luclin also heralded the dreaded concept of timesinks and guilds that would “own” content by keeping smaller guilds out in zones like Vex Thall.
With the release of Planes of Power at least the designers focused on EQ’s previously successful lore with it’s tale of the gods despite its obvious pandering to uberguilds with 80% of content closed off to the normal gamer.
Enter Morden Rasp and his band of followers, the Wayfarers Brotherhood. These characters are the new salesmen of Norrath. Got a new expansion? Who you gonna call? Why Morden Rasp of course. No longer would epic figures of Norrathian history like Firiona Vie and Lany’s T`vil make history with their deeds. The Wayfarers have been the worst example of epic storytelling I’ve ever seen in an online game. They are a clever, convenient device used to market and sell an expansion. EQ used to be a game about slaying powerful dragons and entering the planes of the gods. Now it’s about working 9-5 for Morden Rasp and his Wayfarers. Instead of being a part of unfolding history we are subject to monthly snippets of text from Morden. Never has the dream of EQ been so betrayed by such a shabby storyline.
Finally you have Gates of Discord, with a plot that makes no sense. You have unpronounceable zone and NPC names that sound more like exotic food then Norrath lore. More loot, trials and flags for the Time enabled crowd. Again the normal player is left behind but expected to buy the new expansion and foot the bill for the fun of a few.
IGNORING THE PLAYERBASE
For years the EQ playerbase has been posting on the problems of EQ but their cries have fallen on deaf ears. The cancellation of the official EQ Forums was the beginning of an isolationist, bunker mentality of the SOE. In time Yantis would start buying out all of the various class and community forums. Delicious irony since it backfired in their faces. Now we had Dracula (Yantis) in charge of the blood bank (the player forums). Five years later SOE has re-opened the Forums and seems to “care”. Somewhere at the SOE office in San Diego a light bulb finally went off and they realized that supporting the community of players is essential for success.
Even at FanFaire the attitude of the EQ Devs has grown more defensive and obstinate as they refuse to discuss many legitimate issues raised by players who’ve spend thousands of dollars to travel there. SOE has squandered the advice and suggestions of it’s customers for years now. Why? Because they were the only game in town and could get away with it. No more.
For deeper insight read this illuminating article authored by SOE’s Raph Koster and Rich Vogel both from entitled “How to Manage a Large-Scale Online Gaming Community”:
WHAT HAPPENED TO GAMEMASTERS, QUESTS, EVENTS, and the BOTB?
Shortly after SOE took over Verant, one of the biggest deceptions ever perpetrated on the EQ playerbase was introduced: the Legends premium server. Players would now be treated based on how much they were paying for EQ. No longer would dynamic GM events ever happen on regular servers as server assigned GM’s were removed. If you wanted live events and GM’s then you had to pay the big bucks on Legends. This was the beginning of the end of EQ as we know it.
The Quest Troupe was also dissolved so that Legends would appear more attractive. Around the same time SOE decided to eliminate the Questmaster positions. The Best of the Best Events were also cancelled. The spirit of EQ which was that anything could happen and that gods could visit Norrath was over. Gone were the altered datasets for zones during Halloween and other occasions. With all these changes, it seemed the very lifeblood and magic of EverQuest had been removed just to save a few bucks.
PROFITS BEFORE INTEGRITY OF THE GAME
SOE has always put profits before the integrity of their product and now the chickens are coming home to roost. GoD is easily the least popular of any EQ expansion to date and SOE in their typical “money grubbin” style has yet another expansion waiting in the wings to extract more cash from the players. The problem is the players have finally caught on and have drawn a line in the sand. Enough is enough.
EQ has never been more profitable with the myriad of services that SOE now charges for such as character transfers, first name changes and Legends. Smedley loves to brag about how many subscribers EQ has. Why then has SOE cutback on so many of its staff like developers, testers, and Gamemasters? Why have they outsourced GM jobs to India and the UK?
Things were not always this way at SOE as this Business 2.0 article points out:
EverQuest also relies on 47 staffers to continually add items and quests to the game; another 128 “game masters” function as customer service reps and patrol the world answering questions.
SOE now has just a handful of in-house GM’s compared to the 128 they used to have. No wonder the lack of Customer service is one of the biggest complaints players have with SOE.
EQ has been a cash cow for SOE and its only profitable venture so far. In fact EQ subscribers have been subsidizing the development of EQ2 for years now at the expense of the very game they are paying for. Most of the problems with EQ can be attributed to lack of funding for proper testing of expansions that end up released unfinished and full of bugs. It’s also common knowledge that there are only a few actual employees left working on EQ live. They are overworked and overburdened and the results show.
Consider how understaffed SOE is at this moment and then read the bravado from Smedley from the same Business 2.0 article:
“Would you believe we’ve generated over $1 million in revenue simply from moving characters?” Smedley marvels.
It’s not too late to fix EQ. They need to listen to the whole community not just the voices of a privileged few. Here are a few suggestions many of them similar to what has already been posted:
FIX THE BUGS and STOP IGNORING YOUR CUSTOMERS
Before you release any more expansions fix the bugs first. Make EQ stable before you add one more iota of content. Address the concerns that various class boards have been raising for years now. Learn some humility and start to listen. No more excuses.
POPULATE THE OLD ZONES WITH NEW CONTENT
No more expansions! Less is more. Most zones are empty across Norrath. Use the existing geography to realize the dream of a living, thriving Norrath complete with political and factional intrigue.
STOP PANDERING TO UBERGUILDS and FOCUS ON CONTENT FOR NORMAL PEOPLE
The gap between uberguilds and normal players has never been wider. This is the number one problem facing EQ. For all the attention you have lavished on them, the uberguilds are leaving EQ fast and furious. Focus on content for the great majority of normal to casual gamers before it’s too late. Start supporting small guilds that are non-elemental. No more flags or trials. Create alternate pathways for success in this game that don’t involve 72 person raids. Create amazing dungeons that everyone can use like Lower Guk and Nagafen’s Lair.
DUMP MORDEN RASP and CREATE A MORE COMPELLING EPIC STORYLINE
Bring back the spirit of old EQ with a return to ancient struggles between the Dragons, the Giants and the various factions of Norrath. Morden Rasp and his band of merry Wayfarers need to go. Morden…you’re fired!
HIRE MORE DEVS, QA and GAMEMASTERS
Start using the profits of EQ to hire more Devs, Quality Assurance and Gamemasters. The poor quality and instability of EQ is directly proportional to how much money has been spent on staffing.
PUT THE QUEST BACK INTO EVERQUEST
EverQuest needs a complete revamp to its Quest system. Make quests meaningful and worthwhile. More live and scripted events too. Create quests worthy of the name EverQuest!
MAKE EVERQUEST FUN AGAIN
Somehow EQ stopped being fun. Everyone has said this over and over. EQ needs a serious does of fun injected into its lifeless body. The problem is that there are so many pressing issues that need to be addressed the fun/cool factor of EQ has long been neglected due to inadequate staffing and resources. The 5th Anniversary was a step in the right direction with the Fabled drops. Every month in Norrath should be a celebration of adventure and quests!
Can EverQuest be saved? It seems very unlikely with SOE at the helm. Like the Titanic took hours just do a 180 degree turn I seriously doubt that SOE can turn the ship around and put it back on course. The iceberg of WoW is looming ahead and many will abandon ship when the time comes. The real problem is the culture of corporate arrogance and chronic under funding at SOE which created this terminal patient known as EQ. At least Smedley has finally realized there is a problem. Perhaps that is a start.
I urge Woody and everyone that has the good fortune to attend the SOE guild summit to please stop and think about what’s good for everyone who plays EverQuest not just the privileged few. It seems that SOE has again pandered to high level guilds and have invited many of their guild leaders to attend in an effort to stop the hemorrhaging. Maybe next month we can have a “player summit” where average players get to speak to SOE. Let me remind them and SOE that casual gamers subsidize the powergamers in this game. Soon there may not be any left to pay the bills for your fun.
In the final analysis all that SOE understands is money. They feel entitled to your hard earned dollars despite releasing substandard expansions. Those of us that still love EQ need to stand firm and resolute. Boycott the new expansion. Vote with your dollars and send a strong message to Smedley and SOE: the status quo in EverQuest is no longer acceptable. Business as usual will no longer suffice.
I’d like to close with a gem of a quote from John Smedley from a 1999 interview with Gamespot. This quote is stunning in light of the current state of EQ:
Gamespot: If there’s one thing wrong with the gaming industry you’d want to change in the new millennium, what would it be and why?
John: Stop rushing games! Great games take time and must be refined. To me, the best people in the business at realizing this are at Blizzard. Let’s all learn a lesson from them.
Obviously Smedley should have heeded his own advice. Sadly I fear it may be too late.