EverQuest2: Stranger in a Strange Land

by Wolfshead on July 23, 2009

A few days ago I wrote an article describing what a new player might find in their first 15 minutes in EverQuest2. As far as EQ2, I have no axe to grind and no dog in the hunt. I have invested nothing in EQ2 except the cost of the expansion, a number of hours played and a few days of research and writing preparing my article. I’m not a typical EQ blogger in that I want my class fixed, some part of the game changed or concerned with social popularity. I’m just a sentimental MMO gamer who’s currently burned out from WoW and decided to rekindle my interest in a MMO I barely tried in the past.

Let me explain why I wrote that article. It was not an exercise in bashing SOE. Been there, done that a few years ago and besides it’s just too damned easy. Secondly I have nothing against the current SOE team or EQ2 players. Instead I see a MMO with great promise that is being shortchanged and betrayed by a few elements that could use some polish.

As a game designer I figured it would be a fun and useful exercise to analyze the first 15 minutes of gameplay. So it was my earnest desire to try to make this MMO better and more acceptable to new players by simulating what it’s like to land on the shores of Norrath2 and see the MMO for the first time with a fresh set of eyes.

So what’s it like to intrude on an established MMO community?

The Tipa Point

Tipa, a respected member of the EQ2 community seems to have taken a bit of offense at my article. One of her comments in an article on her blog were a bit of a cheap shot at my observations on the size of the ESRB logo in EQ2. Of course to most EQ2 players the size of that logo or other aesthetics is not a pressing concern nor should it be — their job is to enjoy the game and not to worry about design issues. I don’t expect people that have no expertise in this field to understand the subtleties of game design and the aesthetics of presentation. But this isn’t about them or the concerns of high level players, it’s about trying to make the game more accessible to new players.

This week she decided to rebut my article. Fair enough. It’s a good and informative read from what you would expect from a well known EQ2 advocate. To be honest, I’m puzzled at why my article needs to be rebutted. It was simply my observations and suggestions about the introductory phase of a MMO. It appears I may have struck a nerve with some people in the EQ2 community for having the temerity to post such an article.

I wonder if rebutting potential subscribers who turn away from EQ2 after playing for a while is very helpful? Not really, because they’ll just move to a MMO that they find comfortable. They really don’t care nor should they about the history of SOE or how many times they’ve tried to fix things, other assorted rationales and excuses. In these economic times people can’t afford to subscribe to every MMO. To them all that matters is that their first 15 minutes of EQ2 sucked compared to what’s out there.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

But I’m not simply saying that” EQ2 sucks” and walking away. Instead I’m trying to figure out what why this MMO is not number one in the market — a question which probably hasn’t been asked in a while about EQ2. In order to do that I put myself in shoes of a typical WoW gamer that is looking for something new. In that respect consider me the messenger for the thousands of people who tried EQ2 and never bothered to subscribe for any number of reasons. These folks don’t have blogs and they have no voice except for the vote they have with their wallets.

All I’ve done is I’m pointing out certain identifiable areas that need improvement. For that I have been mocked in certain quarters. No good deed goes unpunished on the Internet. Others like Richard Bartle have been unjustly pilloried by some in the MMO community for trying to explain the finer points of game design theory; so I guess I can consider myself in good company.

As I mentioned in my original article, EQ2 may very well be the most amazing MMO in existence. But that does not matter to the person who just quit because they couldn’t understand the user interface. Sadly, they’ll never hang around long enough to see the good parts of EQ2.

Can’t find a tank or healer? Too bad that new player that quit because of the repugnant character models, if they had kept playing EQ2 they may have been that tank and healer you needed last night.

Companies pay thousands of dollars in consulting fees to get into the head space of their potential customers. Therefore it is in SOE’s best interest to eliminate any impediments and objections that a new player might have when they play EQ2 or for that matter any other of their other online products.

Defending the Status Quo

Justifying the status quo of the current reality of the newbie experience is not going to help SOE here. I fear it may just lull them into a false sense of security. Instead of trying to discount someone who’s trying to help, I would like to challenge Tipa and others to put forth their suggestions to help SOE make a better EQ2 newbie experience.

The truth is that SOE hasn’t done as well as they hoped with EQ2 and they need all the help they can get. Most video game companies focus groups of testers that come in and test their game periodically. I’ve seen this process myself first hand at Vivendi in Los Angeles in the course of my duties as a lead game designer. This is something that SOE should be doing routinely. I figured I’d try to recreate this testing experience and write about it in my previous article.

What many people in entrenched communities like EQ2 may forget is that without a steady influx of new players your MMO will ultimately die. A constant influx of new players ensures that your MMO will get the development resources to maintain the MMO and create compelling new content. How then can it be a bad thing to write an article that finds ways to make your MMO more appealing to new players?

Shut up, You’re in Our World Now

This is pure speculation but perhaps some in the EQ2 community don’t want new players to invade *their* world. After all you’re in their world now right? Maybe there’s a bit of snobbery and elitism at work here. It’s true that by making EQ2 more accessible to the great unwashed masses of WoW players might have the unintended consequence of threatening the quality of the EQ2 community. So I can understand why some may feel apprehensive with WoW barbarians at the gates of Norrath.

I’m also detecting that some quarters of the EQ community may be a bit insular and intolerant of new players. I’m finding out that EQ2 has an established community that is set in their ways. Just mention that you played WoW and I’ve found in most cases those hapless individuals are summarily crucified in the EQ2 general chat channels. At least in EQ2 chat channels they insult you with style and wit unlike the crude discourse that their WoW counterparts employ.

That Comfortable Old Sweater

Understandably there’s a tendency for people get set in their ways and complacency sets in. Playing their favorite MMO is often like wearing a comfortable sweater that maybe you should have thrown out years ago but you love it just the same. I respect that. I’ve felt that way about WoW for a few years just as I felt that way about the original EQ. I also appreciate the loyalty and dedication that EQ2 players have to their MMO. I understand why some might feel protective about someone new coming in and making pronouncements about their beloved MMO.

The problem is that when you get used to something on a daily basis you can lose perspective. You get so familiar with things that they become invisible. You tolerate those other small things that might be very visible to new players. You tolerate that crappy user interface because that’s all you know or maybe you use a 3rd party interface and have forgotten how atrocious the old one is for new players. It reminds me of those stories you hear older people say: we had it tougher then you so suck it up. Well that’s not quite going to work with the younger generation of players out there.

The WoW Factor

One thing I would like to address is that somehow I want EQ2 to be made into a WoW clone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here in a recent comment from that article, Tipa mischaracterizes the intent of my article and entirely misses the point:

Well, the most amusing bit was, assuming EQ2 IS in need of saving, the best way to do that would be to slavishly copy WoW.

Anyone that has read this blog over the years knows that I’m one of the most vocal and fiercest critics of Blizzard and WoW. To claim that I want to make EQ2 more like WoW would be a groundless and simplistic assertion. Rather I want SOE to take the basic lessons learned from WoW and apply them to EQ2. Concepts of quality and polish are the kinds of things that are universal to the pursuit of success and excellence. Blizzard quite handily proved that with WoW.

Blizzcon

Another reason that WoW should be taken seriously is that it represents the de facto MMO experience for millions of players around the world. Ignoring that reality is foolish and costly. As Tesh intimates if you expect to poach any of those players your MMO is going to need to meet basic requirements that they expect and demand from a MMO. Just as we expect certain basic features and conveniences in a modern automobile so too does the average MMO player expect that a MMO will have a modern user interface, fluid animations, consistent art style, a polished world, etc. These features are no longer a luxury but standard equipment in 2009.

To anyone that thinks that popularity and success really don’t matter. I wonder how many jobs would have been saved during last week’s unfortunate SOE layoffs if their MMOs were more popular than they currently are? I wager that those who were laid off would probably have a lot to say about that right now.

Concluding Thoughts

It’s been an interesting journey in the new Norrath so far. I feel like a stranger in a strange land in more ways than one. I don’t know what to expect but I’m ready and prepared for what lies ahead — hopefully meeting nice people, having lots of fun and adventure.

Despite the fact that it’s almost impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, I’ve decided to make EQ2 my pet project for a while. It may be a lost cause because who really knows what SOE intends to do with EQ2 given that their are promising rumors of an EQ3 in the making. Still, I promise to be kind, polite and I’ll try not to frighten little children in the process. I’m a problem solver by nature and I relish a good challenge. From what little I’ve seen of EQ2 so far there are plenty of issues that need to be pondered, discussed and hopefully addressed.

I’m going to be brutally frank and honest which may put me at odds with some in the EQ2 community. I also promise not to suck up too much to the wonderful folks at SOE; I’m sure there are enough bloggers, internet celebrities and employment seekers doing that already. In the final analysis, I’d rather be right then be popular.

-Wolfshead

{ 30 comments }



{ 1 trackback }