EverQuest2: Stranger in a Strange Land

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

31 thoughts on “EverQuest2: Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. Some good points – I think a lot of veteran EQ2 players have simply become used to all the game offers, and it’s difficult for us at times to see things through the eyes of a new player. We tend to make our pitch for EQ2 based on all the depth of the game, all the features it offers that no one else has, and all that is true, but as you say, it hardly matters if a new player doesn’t last beyond the first few minutes. I tried to address this in my post linked below – and it works well for your challenge as well. I particularly found it funny that I posted something similar two years ago, and some of the things have been addressed. So maybe your suggestions can be implemented, but slowly.

    http://bosw.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/eq2-and-new-players/

  2. I cannot understand Tipa and the need for an rebuttal of a very constructive idea how to make more people interested in EQ2 and give them a better start either. It was a very interesting analysis, after all. With good intentions.

    “It appears I may have struck a nerve with some people in the EQ2 community for having the temerity to post such an article.” – Yeah, I think you just did that. It is a bit odd that people have so much problems with well meant criticism. I have read much sharper criticism from you, this should be obvious.

    You know what is funny: In most MMOs nowadays it is hard if not impossible to create an ugly char. In EQ2 it is quite the opposite! Just take a look at screenshots of the faces, this is just outdated.

    I want to add something regarding the anger about the misplaced huge ESRB-logo that you mentioned: People are just reflecting their anger because it is just too true on you.

    Who is dumb enough to place a huge fricking ESRB logo right there? Sony Online Entertainment, of course. You can only call this nitpicking and get worked up about it if you have some much more serious problems with your article, in other words they were upset that you were quite right in general. :>

    I think even if SOE would bother to improve the starter experience, this game has an image problem. New players probably do not even know it, and if they start comparing it to WoW it is lost.

    I think they should re-launch the whole franchise. EverQuest is legendary and EverQuest 2 is no worthy successor at all.

    World of Warcraft is actually EverQuest 2, even if some die-hards do not want to recognize it. Developed partly by some of the most prolific EQ players.

    Last time I read such strong reactions on criticism it was from the Darkfall community, and by all means, you were not nearly as snide as Ed Zitron or Kieron Gillen, and this was not a review but posting some ideas how to make the game better and more attractive from someone who really loved EverQuest and wants to give EQ2 a chance.

    So well… EQ2 is great, fun and entertaining, just different and better than WoW? :>

    Talk about denial and self-delusion.

  3. Hmmmm. Where to start?

    Perhaps the best place is with a declaration: I’m personally about as interested in the ePeen “My MMORPG is better than your MMORPG” wars as I am in the Over-90’s Lithuanian Figure Skating Championships. For those who don’t know me, that’s to say: not at all.

    I also wrote a rebuttal on my blog on the 15 minutes review. Not because you had the ‘temerity’ to post something, but because I simply thought you had it wrong (for the most part.) That doesn’t make for an attack personal or otherwise. I’ll also admit that this doesn’t make me right on the subject (but I am ;-p ), I’m as capable as making errors as the next person.

    I’ll digress here for a second, but it follows. Longasc makes the comment above that he hasn’t seen as strong a reaction since the Eurogamer Darkfall review. Now come on! What both Tipa and I wrote was mild compared to the reaction you’d have gotten (just from Syncaine, let alone the DF forums) if you suggested the same for Darkfall!!!

    The thing is, you’ve put up a post on a topic expecting to start a conversation have you not?

    Well, congratulations, you’ve succeeded. ;-) You have a conversation going with a few other bloggers who don’t happen to agree with you. Don’t take it personally and complain that everyone hates you because you have the ‘temerity’ to post something they don’t like and rebutt. Although I can’t speak for anyone else, I don’t hate you and wish you ill, and I’m pretty sure no-one else does either.

    Personally, I’m happy with the comment you left on my blog, and plan to write a response to it. Needless to say I don’t agree with everything you’ve said in that comment either, but I hope you’ll continue the conversation. (Might be a day or two before i get a chance to write something thoughtful though. Real busy at work and I’m a little jealous of my play time at the moment.)

    As I said earlier, I don’t give a rats about whose MMORPG is better. I’ve played (almost) more MMORPGs that I can count, and I’ve generally enjoyed each one to varying levels. They are all different games with their own strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, their own styles. It’s self-defeating to get all pissy about which game is better.

    I’ll also make another digression. I’ve only really been back in EQ2 in earnest for a few weeks (I jump around MMOGs a lot) and the people I’ve run into have been exceptionally friendly and helpful. Perhaps more so than during my time with WoW (except for my guild friends.) Both on the forums and in-game I’ve seen the veteran players most helpful of new players. The exceptions are when those new players tell them that their game should be more like WoW, and of course the usual ePeen banter of chat and forums.

    If you’re seeing intolerance from other players, might I respectfully suggest that you check what you are saying. Nearly every ‘other’ game out there gets comments in forums and chat from players suggesting how to make the game more like WoW. It wears a little thin.

  4. Tipa did have a point about the crafting being in a much larger role than it is in WoW, though. It makes sense to allow crafting-oriented players to start at level 1 instead of doing a bait-and-switch and forcing them to do some adventuring content first.

    • From what I understand, EQ2 crafting isn’t tied to combat like it is in WoW. It’s nice to have that clear as early as possible for those who want to dig into crafting. The hypothetical MMO designs that I ramble on about here and there would do something similar, where crafting and combat are complete and independent advancement paths, available to anyone from day one.

      Of course, the way that EQ2 handles crafting might itself need work, but *introducing it* early isn’t a problem in my eyes, it’s a good thing.

  5. If I were you, I would trudge on anyway. A lot of readers really enjoyed that blog entry and are looking for more. I do not feel you were bashing EQ2 or SOE in any regard. A lot of what you say is the simple truth or immediate observations.

    I know it had me thinking about the items you mentioned and I agreed totally.

    Keep it up!

  6. The problem I have with you is, you make too many assumptions about EQ2 players. For example:

    “I would like to challenge Tipa and others to put forth their suggestions to help SOE make a better EQ2 newbie experience.”

    What makes you think she doesn’t? My significant other is a die-hard EQ2 fan, and she is constantly giving feedback to the team via proper channels.

    You, once again, act as if your interests are altruistic, but any potential new EQ2 player that read your ‘First 15 minutes’ would be pushed to give up on the idea of trying the game; you make it sound about as much fun as bamboo shoots shoved under the fingernails.

    In my experience (I dabble in EQ2, but honestly never stay in it for very long myself) the EQ2 community is pretty welcoming to new players. I’ll admit I see that situation through the lens of my SO and her guild and all the new EQ2 players in it.

    But neither can you. You have no idea what SOE is doing back at its HQ.

    You say:

    “Companies pay thousands of dollars in consulting fees to get into the head space of their potential customers. ”

    Well how do you know SOE hasn’t done that? Doesn’t continue to do it? Some of the things you critique (eg, the background images at character creation) were the way you suggest that should be (different background for ‘evil’ characters) but SOE changed it so that all characters are in front of the same background. Why did they toss out the ‘evil’ artwork? Was it an arbitrary decision, or was it based on market research and focus testing?

    If you truly, honestly want to help SOE improve the game, then submit feedback TO THEM. Don’t trash the game on your blog…all that really helps is your page view count. And I know you’ll say you weren’t trashing it, and maybe that wasn’t your intent, but that is definitely the feeling one comes away with after reading your 15 minutes post. You come across extremely arrogant and dismissive. I’m not saying you *are* either of those things, but that’s how the post reads.

  7. To be honest I don’t think Tipa’s rebuttal had as harsh a tone as you seem to have taken it, and i’m sure Tipa will be the first to state that.

    That said, I will keep my eye on your blog with interest, while EQ2 is your pet project as I was a new EQ2 player last summer and am baffled as to why more MMO’ers don’t recognise just how good this(my) game is. Maybe your right and many more players try it and have the same “niggles” as you.

  8. I think there are good points on both sides and a bit of histrionics from both sides as well. So it goes when context and tone are missing, as are so often the case in written communication.

    And indeed, WoW poaching is easier than grabbing a new customer these days. It’s not necessarily ideal, and it does cause a lot of mindless “me too” design, but on a very basic level, the less you alienate “WoW tourists”, the more likely they are to stick around. UI and the initial experience are a significant part of that.

    Speaking of established games and communities, though, I’m reminded of the Saga of Twixt. People really do get defensive about things they have established a relationship with. Objectivity is something that people have a hard time maintaining a lot of the time; it’s a learned skill to maintain that sort of academic detachment.

    Psychochild is right from the other article, though; EQ2 is established at this point. They have made their bed, and seem content to lie in it, for better or worse. Their veterans are happy enough, or have convinced themselves they are. Ditto for Blizzard with WoW and their treatment of the “old world” and design focus on the veterans. Perhaps discussions on the shortcomings of both games might be received better if framed as a discussion of what a new MMO could (or should) do?

  9. @ Tesh: “Perhaps discussions on the shortcomings of both games might be received better if framed as a discussion of what a new MMO could (or should) do?”

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. While I think a lot of the points in the original article were quite valid, it’s probably the case that the players most invested in EQ2 (or any MMO) as it currently exists are most likely not very interested in any sort of sweeping changes to the game they love – even if they might agree in theory with the game design concepts underlying the arguments for change.

  10. Pingback: Dragonchasers » Blog Archive » Rebutting Wolfshead’s Rebuttle of Tipa’s Rebuttle

  11. People are always going to become very defensive about the thing they love, it’s just human nature. I actually think you’re doing a service to EQ2 but objectively appraising it.

    Y’know, I would love to see an EQ3. It will probably never happen now but I think the EQ lore is so strong – stronger than the WoW lore – that they could make an awesome game with it.

    • I would second this. I just have little trust in SOE. But Brad McQuaid is itching on working on a MMO again. Vanguard and the “Vision” failed hard, some people learn from their mistakes, after all. And he was one of the daddy’s of the mmo design that is predominant nowadays, after all.

  12. I’ll echo what Stropp said above: posting something like this on a blog means that you’re going to get discussion. Not all the discussion is going to agree with you. Just as you’re offering constructive criticism to SOE, consider our discussions with you to be likewise. :)

    But, I think as you accuse others of doing, you are also getting a bit defensive here. Personally, I’m trying to engage you to get you to think through your suggestions a bit more. It’s one thing to say, “backgrounds during character selection should be more attractive!” it’s another to say, “I understand how how hard it is to find the resources to do it.”

    One line in particular here cries out for attention:
    How then can it be a bad thing to write an article that finds ways to make your MMO more appealing to new players?

    Three letters: NGE.

    The NGE revamp of Star Wars Galaxies had the same stated goal you have here: to improve the game by making it more like “Star Wars” and more appealing to new players. The problem is that they changed the game in a way that alienated the existing core audience. And, as far as anyone has said, they didn’t gain a significant increase in players.

    You’ve suggested some pretty massively game-changing things that go beyond the newbie experience. You wrote:
    Reduce casting times by about 30% across the board for all spells/abilities

    As I wrote in a comment over at Tipa’s blog:

    You see tedium, I see a more thoughtful pace. I loved EQ2’s combat much more than WoW’s because it was slower paced, and there were more options. You a wide variety of abilities instead of a handful of abilities that get upgraded again and again. If you increased the speed of combat in EQ2, then all those options would be overwhelming.

    I think that’s the core problem the EQ2 people have. Talking about the new player experience is moot, because they were able to accept it and play the game anyway. (In fact, some of them might have played it back when it was a lot worse than it is today.) So, it’s one thing to want to improve the game and appeal to new players. (And, I know that’s something that the game has done many times over the years since launch, including a major revamp of the gameplay to make the game more solo friendly.) But, if you alienate the existing players, you’re going to end up with a game that nobody likes.

    Finally, I think you’re also ignoring a lot of non-game design reasons why EQ2 is not #1. One of the biggest problems is perception: EQ2 is seen to have “lost” the contest with WoW. EQ2 will always be considered the “also ran” in that contest. None of your suggestions will change this perception.

    It comes down to the simple fact that it doesn’t matter how good the newbie experience is if SOE has already lost the battle before the person logs on. For a lot of people, the kneejerk reaction is that “WoW rocks, EQ2 sucks.” Which is probably why SOE is reasonably focusing on making existing players happy instead of trying to attract new players.

    My perspective on this.

    • You are quite right. Every MMO nowadays seems to have to live with the shadow of WoW, and WoW stole it all the thunder despite EQ2 being released a few days earlier.

      But contrary to your statement Sony IS working on the newbie zones, too, as Anakh stated. And it would not be a “NGE” style dealbreaker and alienate their customers to improve the starter zones, the only point that affects every player would be the “30% shorter casting times”.

      I still wonder how Wolfshead could cause such a strong kneejerk reaction from the EQ2 community.

      • I still wonder how Wolfshead could cause such a strong kneejerk reaction from the EQ2 community.

        This is a great question Longasc. Part of it is that EQ2 subscribers are older, more sophisticated and cleverer then the average WoW player. I’ve noticed this on the chat channels in EQ2 as well. They are very defensive and possessive about their MMO and will defend it at every opportunity from an upstart like myself.

        Another reason may be that due to the fact they are playing a relatively unpopular MMO they’ve got a unique bond with each other. They represent the underdog, the “little guy” versus the WoW Goliath. It’s much like the Mac vs. PC thing. The cool college educated, artsy fartsy Mac types versus the blue collar people who use PC’s.

        I remember people in high school and college who used to go out of their way to listen to the most esoteric bands. As soon as they gained a hint of success they “hated them” and accused them of “selling out” and quickly found another indie band to latch on to.

        • Second paragraph is an interesting thought. I sort of viewed the defensiveness (or rebuttals) as fanboish (not rabid fanboi, but fanboi-like) nature of people who invest time and money into a hobby which they enjoy.

          They’re investing time and money into it and have fond memories. It’s only natural to become defensive about someone saying negative things (even though I do see it as constructive) about something you’ve invested in.

    • But, I think as you accuse others of doing, you are also getting a bit defensive here. Personally, I’m trying to engage you to get you to think through your suggestions a bit more. It’s one thing to say, “backgrounds during character selection should be more attractive!” it’s another to say, “I understand how how hard it is to find the resources to do it.”

      I get a bit defensive when I spend a considerable amount of time and effort trying to offer suggestions to make something better and people come out of the woodwork and accuse me of bashing EQ2. I have this strange and rather odd tendency to defend what I write :)

      Yet this is the Internet and it’s all about taking risks. I’d had many positive comments as well so I’m pleased that at least maybe in some small way I’ve helped to shatter some of the complacency out there and hopefully generated some good discussions too.

      Personally, I’m trying to engage you to get you to think through your suggestions a bit more.

      I appreciate the rational dialogue and the healthy back and forth.

      It’s one thing to say, “backgrounds during character selection should be more attractive!” it’s another to say, “I understand how how hard it is to find the resources to do it.”

      That’s really an over-simplification of what I said. I questioned the appropriateness of having evil races standing in front of a cheery elven backdrop. For me it’s all about creating the right mood and elevating the state of immersion for the player. New players may not notice this but like good background music it has a cumulative effect.

      As to the cost, well as I mentioned many times in my article I considered the cost to implement certain things. It’s up to SOE to decide whether the cost is worth it.

      Are you going to question every comment made on every MMO blog because a coder, scripter or artist has to be hired? The notion that games cost money to make is moot. Also, questioning the price tag of every idea is going to put a halt to creative discussion in very short order.

      I do appreciate your industry perspective here but I’m mainly here to talk ideas. Let’s figure out if the ideas are worthwhile, then let’s figure out how much they cost. Hopefully SOE has sufficient resources allocated to pay decent artists to create art for their flagship product.

      By the way, have you ever seen any of the Blizzard fan art? It’s simply amazing and it’s didn’t cost Blizzard a penny. If SOE is worried about costs then maybe they could run a contest to have fans create some proper background art.

      The NGE revamp of Star Wars Galaxies had the same stated goal you have here: to improve the game by making it more like “Star Wars” and more appealing to new players. The problem is that they changed the game in a way that alienated the existing core audience. And, as far as anyone has said, they didn’t gain a significant increase in players.

      How does wanting better presentation screens that make this product more appealing and immersive alienate the current EQ2 subscriber base?

      How does making a modern, functional and attractive user interface alienate existing users who’ve long bailed on the stock EQ2 interface?

      How does creating state of the art, competitive character avatars with meaningful character creation options alienate existing users? How many loyal EQ subscribers left in protest over the alternate appearances that were introduced?

      You’ve suggested some pretty massively game-changing things that go beyond the newbie experience. You wrote:
      Reduce casting times by about 30% across the board for all spells/abilities

      You are hinging your argument all on the fact I wanted less tedium when performing activities in-game and cite my recommendation of a 30% reduction in cast times. I didn’t say I wanted the game to be dumbed down or radically changed from what it is now.

      The sad thing about the NGE fiasco is that from now on developers will be less likely to make any changes lest they incur the wrath of the player population. It’s going to have a chilling effect on the prospect for improving things in a MMO. Right now you doing the very same thing by questioning my recommendations by trotting out the specter of the NGE.

      The question is this: can a MMO ever be improved once it’s released? You seem to be saying no. I just can’t agree with that.

      I think that’s the core problem the EQ2 people have. Talking about the new player experience is moot, because they were able to accept it and play the game anyway. (In fact, some of them might have played it back when it was a lot worse than it is today.) So, it’s one thing to want to improve the game and appeal to new players. (And, I know that’s something that the game has done many times over the years since launch, including a major revamp of the gameplay to make the game more solo friendly.) But, if you alienate the existing players, you’re going to end up with a game that nobody likes.

      Of course it would be a foolish thing to alienate the existing subscribers. I don’t believe that what I have suggested for the newbie experience would affect them at all. If anything my changes would create a better experience and a more vibrant community with more churn.

      Finally, I think you’re also ignoring a lot of non-game design reasons why EQ2 is not #1. One of the biggest problems is perception: EQ2 is seen to have “lost” the contest with WoW. EQ2 will always be considered the “also ran” in that contest. None of your suggestions will change this perception.

      This is an excellent point and think there’s a lot of merit in what you say. However, the purpose of the actual article wasn’t to directly examine why EQ2 is not number one but to analyze the newbie experience. Of course that question has been in the back of my mind all along as I stated in this article. I wasn’t ignoring it, rather I would probably be pondering it when I got enough data.

      This begs the question that I challenge those in the community to do some soul searching about:

      If EQ2 is such a great MMO and SOE such a great developer, then why isn’t it the top MMO in the world today?

      It comes down to the simple fact that it doesn’t matter how good the newbie experience is if SOE has already lost the battle before the person logs on. For a lot of people, the kneejerk reaction is that “WoW rocks, EQ2 sucks.” Which is probably why SOE is reasonably focusing on making existing players happy instead of trying to attract new players.

      You may be right. I think that WoW has caught the imagination of the public and occupies a respectable place in the popular culture today.

      Like Elvis paved the way for rock n roll, the Beatles and Stones paved the way for music in the 60’s, like Nirvana paved the way for the grunge music so to has WoW paved the way for other MMOs. A rising tide raises all ships.

      So I’m really not buying the fact that there is only room for one MMO wunderkind right now. Blizzard isn’t what’s wrong with EQ2 not being a success. It should be seen as an opportunity instead of an excuse.

      I just don’t feel that I know enough about EQ2 right now to pronounce judgment on what SOE’s intentions are but I’m willing to agree with you that SOE probably intends to keep their 150k-200k subscribers happy with content that appeals to them. Obviously the existing fans like EQ2 the way it is now and SOE is only to happy to serve their needs.

      I guess if I was a SOE executive driving to work in my BMW, I’d find it hard to justify that our flagship MMO only had a 1.2% share of the world wide MMO market. Frankly, I’d be a bit embarrassed to say the least. But after seeing the aura of low expectations that has permeated Norrath this past week I’m certainly not surprised at all.

      Although we disagree at times I want to thank you again for your thoughtful perspectives.

      • As to the cost, well as I mentioned many times in my article I considered the cost to implement certain things.

        I don’t think you understand what the cost is. SOE probably won’t hire new artists to put in things like new backgrounds, they’ll pull someone off another project. New backgrounds mean that there will be one less armor set in the new expansion, for example. It’s not just about throwing money at the problem. As the recent layoff you mentioned show, SOE doesn’t have infinite money to throw at a problem.

        Also, questioning the price tag of every idea is going to put a halt to creative discussion in very short order.

        As someone who self-funded a game project, will say: yes it does! We’re talking about a nearly five-year-old game at this point, and it’s not something that gets the big money thrown at it. I don’t doubt for a moment than the people working on EQ2 would love to have more resources to work on the game, but they have to face reality and make the hard decisions about what gets done and what doesn’t with their finite resources.

        You are hinging your argument all on the fact I wanted less tedium when performing activities in-game and cite my recommendation of a 30% reduction in cast times. I didn’t say I wanted the game to be dumbed down or radically changed from what it is now.

        But, that change would radically change the game! Making the game that much faster would absolutely change how the game plays, especially in the mid to high levels. This is one of the things I’m talking about with alienating existing players, because significantly speeding up the game would do that.

        The question is this: can a MMO ever be improved once it’s released? You seem to be saying no. I just can’t agree with that.

        I’m certainly not saying the game can’t be improved, but I am saying that you have to be careful about your improvements. The reason is twofold:

        1. It’s not always clear which changes are improvements to the playerbase. As I said, Meridian 59 underwent a rendering engine upgrade. It was a vast improvement to the visuals of the game. People didn’t care and we didn’t see an increase in players.

        2. You need to make sure you don’t alienate existing players. Adding content they don’t care about potentially alienates the, because if they see you added new backgrounds to the character selection screen but didn’t add new raid content, they’re going to be upset. Yes, I had M59 players who were PISSED OFF because we spent our time upgrading the engine instead of working on what they thought was more important.

        SWG’s NGE isn’t a blanket reason not to make any improvements to a game. But, its a notice that you need to consider your changes carefully. The SWG developers thought they were saving the game by making the game more fun.

        I will agree none of your suggestions are quite on the scope of the NGE, but I do want to disabuse you of the notion that, “a change like that can’t possibly hurt….”

        If EQ2 is such a great MMO and SOE such a great developer, then why isn’t it the top MMO in the world today?

        Let me put it another way: WoW and EQ2 are seen as very similar games. The market has chosen WoW as the winner between those two. WoW has the popularity, the attention, and the massive income to maintain that position. After almost five years of this, it’s hard to imagine any sort of “simple” changes going to be able to fix this.

        Although we disagree at times I want to thank you again for your thoughtful perspectives.

        My pleasure. I love discussion, even (especially?) if I have to be the wet blanket. As I said, I think your motivations for doing the article are great. And, if I thought you were just a fanboy trashing a game I wouldn’t bother posting lengthy discussions. :)

        I just firmly believe that even if the EQ2 team implemented every change you suggest that they wouldn’t topple WoW as the #1 game. The way to beat WoW isn’t to take a WoW-like game and improve it. It’s to create a new type of game (like Free Realms) and try to dominate another category. We’ll see if that strategy works out for SOE in the long run.

  13. From my experience quite a significant amount of the WoW playerbase are actually not happy with the state of WoW at the moment, and are more than willing to try new (and old) things.

    Apart from that I don’t see why people are so afraid to be compared to WoW. It is the leading MMO at the moment, and this is undeniable.
    It is also undeniable that it became the leading MMO by taking good ideas from other games.
    So what could possibly be wrong with taking the good ideas from WoW and implementing them in your game?
    I am not saying WoW is better than any other game, I am just saying – even if your game is the very best, miles ahead from other games, there is nothing wrong with watching what’s new and what works, and implementing it to develop yourself.
    There is no need to reinvent the wheel.
    Even the worst game might have some good points to offer.

    • I would totally agree with you SsandmanN, while WoW is dominant their position at the top of the bean pile was rocked in Europe by Age of Conan launching taking away several 100,000’s of top fee playing players for a while, that alone is evidence that there is potential for their subscriber base to be reduced a lot. And out of their ~11 million the bulk are paying just 6c an hour out in China, so those figures were a significant amount of the player base.

      As a former WoW player myself I would say the reason for it would be the game catering to the less experienced and no offering enough for the experienced players (e.g. 1 raid at a time, if you don’t like that raid then tough for 3-6 more months). I also think EQ2 needs to really advertise itself better, I’ve a feeling that the new expansion with the new starter area could be the start of a new push from SOE.

      Onto Wolfsheads comments, I think for me you did sort of horrify me with visions of logging into EQ2 and seeing another Anime style RPG where everyone is beautiful. I admit there is some scope to improve the looks of some races with some plastic looking moustaches etc, but improving the looks for me doesn’t mean making them look more beautiful, if anything more rugged weather worn looking humans would be cool – maybe they can achieve this with the shader upgrade?

      I did a rough head count and found that about 25% of the player base was a non human/elf/halfing etc style player. That’s a significant amount of players who picked (like me a Froglok) something that really is just different. While the bulk of people always will pick a beautiful avatar the game feels so much better with variety, I always found Guildwars to feel daft with everyone looking like they were a beauty model, it certainly put me off the game a lot immersion wise. And I think WoW has proven that ugly avatars are not an effect on the games popularity.

  14. I adored EQ1. I skipped both EQ2 and WoW at launch as I was enjoying DAOC. My friends went to WoW. I went to Wow.

    I left WoW, eventually. Decided to trial out EQ2 to see if I had missed anything. I didn’t last 15 minutes. Many of the reasons you listed here, Wolf.

    Now, as a veteran MMO’er through all the years of gaming, and dozens of MMO titles, I probably should know better and just fight through the clunkiness until the game gets good! Right?

    Probably. Unfortunately, I am getting too old to have to fight through poorly designed newbie experience to see if the game is any good at level 10. If they can’t make the beginning fun, how will the rest of the game be?

    • I adored EQ1. I skipped both EQ2 and WoW at launch as I was enjoying DAOC. My friends went to WoW. I went to Wow.

      I left WoW, eventually. Decided to trial out EQ2 to see if I had missed anything. I didn’t last 15 minutes. Many of the reasons you listed here, Wolf.

      Your experiences with MMOs almost exactly mirror mine Chris. I loved EQ! Eventually I migrated to WoW but I too wanted to give EQ2 a try. Each time I did I found myself losing interest rather quickly.

      Now, as a veteran MMO’er through all the years of gaming, and dozens of MMO titles, I probably should know better and just fight through the clunkiness until the game gets good! Right?

      Probably. Unfortunately, I am getting too old to have to fight through poorly designed newbie experience to see if the game is any good at level 10. If they can’t make the beginning fun, how will the rest of the game be?

      Great points here. I think that many EQ2 veterans have forgotten what it’s like to be a newbie in a MMO that has one of the steepest learning curves of any MMO that I’ve ever played. To a veteran MMO player looking for a new MMO it’s mind boggling and overwhelming. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for a complete newbie to MMOs.

      EQ2 is a MMO that has layers upon layers of complexity. Trying to figure out how things work takes almost 50% of your time while you are in the game. Good game design teaches players gently and intuitively about mechanics. Poor game design results in confusing and inexplicable features that requires that players create forums where all of the details and inner mechanics can be explained.

      One slogan that Blizzard credits for being the foundation for the success of their company is this:

      Easy to learn, hard to master.

      This design philosophy is no longer optional in the video game world. It’s mandatory if you want to be competitive. Yet when I use this kind of analysis to look at the first 15 minutes of EQ2 it seems that SOE essentially ignored it during it’s initial construction of the Norrath newbie areas.

      Every aspect of the EQ2 newbie experience needs to pass this test with flying colors if they are looking to increase their abysmal 1.2% world wide MMO market share.

      If a player has the slightest amount of trouble figuring out the user interface and other features then how will they be able master more complex game mechanics that are introduced later on such as grouping and raiding?

      It really boils down to an issue of trust and expectations. These days people expect that they are going to get a well designed and orchestrated newbie experience. When they don’t see that right off the bat then they have every reason to be concerned about what lies beyond that experience.

  15. As a counterpoint to my own argument, when I trialed AOC I really enjoyed Tortage but quickly – very quickly – lost interest once I had to move on from there. I actually ran a few characters through that experience.

    I suppose a good argument can be made for consistency as well. If AOC was able to continue their newbie experience through mid and end levels perhaps it would have had more staying power.

    That being said, you absolutely want to have that new player experience a memorable one – so players play through it instead of going “meh” and moving on to something different.

  16. Bah on multiposts. Forgot to add one thing:

    As a huge fan of EQ1 i’m not sure if i can put into words how desparately I wanted to like EQ2. I didn’t even want to play WoW – I wanted to go to EQ2. Although I had outgrown the pitfalls of EQ1 I hoped SOE had grown their own experience and adressed those shortcomings that were present in EQ1.

    I wonder how gamers who had WoW as their first MMO will accept Blizzzards next one – although I suppose that is a separate post altogether.

    I’ll probably go bug Tipa or another EQ2 supporter to give me a short piece on “Entering EQ2 for the first time” to lay the groundwork and expectations a player can expect for EQ2 – I’m in a non dedicated game mode right now and am in pure trial games mode – I would love an EQ2 vet to lay the groundwork to give the experience morebstaying power..

    • While I applaud the inclination to be social in an online game, I can’t help but be saddened that you’d have to turn to another player to get the sort of “new players should do this” experience. That’s what the game devs should be doing, in the game itself (not in a separate website).

      I *like* complexity and depth in a game. I’m just decidedly not a fan of a game that takes a long time to “get interesting” or even “start to be fun”. (That goes for any game, not EQ2 in particular.) Especially if I’m paying a sub for it.

      Tangentially, I’m not a fan of these huge clients and day long patches. The Free Realms and Wizard 101 streaming clients make for a much kinder initial experience.

      • I just know I would get better information from a long time players perspective than s devs. So u share your didsapointmemt that way.

        I like complex too as long as it is explained, presented, and educated in the game. I dislike being forced to third party sites. I don’t mind reading manuals, but those are typically ill designed for that purpose.

  17. “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.”

    I was once one of the people throwing virtual rotten vegetables then the penny dropped.

    What Richard does is to consider a point of game design very carefully, distill it into one controversial sentence and then throw that sentence out to agitate MMO fans and workers. He has then drawn them into a discussion where he can lay down his carefully considered points as part of the rhetorical sequence of discussion.

    He trolls to suck people in then gets them to think about his very carefully thought out points.

    Remember the man is a teacher. Not just a teacher but a teacher of university students (who are harder to discipline and less attentive than children). And not just a teacher of university students but a teacher of university students who are all video game obsessives.

    He is a master at getting ideas across to other people.

    There’s no need to feel that he gets unjustly pilloried, he deliberately courts controversy to generate interest.

    In the same vein don’t be discouraged that you’re being commented upon and blogged about. I actually came here from West Karana yesterday. I thought her post was interesting and yours was too. It’s all part of blogging.

    • Basically, he caters to the short attention spans of online gamers and students by grabbing their attention with controversy? Makes sense, and sounds fun! :)

  18. You don’t know why your article needed to be rebutted? Seriously? After making it sound like anyone who plays past the first 15 minutes of EQ2 is either an idiot or a masochist?

    Or is it that you don’t like anyone disputing any of your facts? Quite frankly, I really enjoyed Tipa’s rebuttal as there is nothing left to say after it. Quite frankly, I think you came out second best in the exchange.

    By the way, I think SOE making the former head of SOE’s community relations team, Alan “Brenlo” Crosby, the new producer of EQ2 is an acknowledgement that EQ2 is going to be just trying to maintain its player base. Even without making Brenlo the producer, I think that SOE’s marketing efforts in support of EQ2 have made it obvious for years that SOE has conceded the fantasy MMORPG market to Blizzard and WoW. SOE is looking forward toward a future featuring Free Realms, DC Universe and The Agency. So if you are looking for some kind of mass movement to radically improve EQ2, you are wasting your time.

    I wish you well in your travels through Norrath and I hope what you are looking for. Unless, of course, it is a supply of material so you can trash EQ2. But if you are going to do that, please get some thicker skin, because people will respond to what you write. That’s one prediction I’m pretty confident in making.

  19. You don’t know why your article needed to be rebutted? Seriously? After making it sound like anyone who plays past the first 15 minutes of EQ2 is either an idiot or a masochist?

    That’s a flagrantly unfair characterization of my article. My goal was to improve the the EQ2 newbie experience. The fact that a few the fanboys of the EQ2 community missed the entire point and came out to “defend” their MMO is rather sad and pathetic.

    Or is it that you don’t like anyone disputing any of your facts? Quite frankly, I really enjoyed Tipa’s rebuttal as there is nothing left to say after it. Quite frankly, I think you came out second best in the exchange.

    Again my article is about my opinions and observations. You can dispute them all you want but they don’t change how I feel about what I experienced in EQ2.

    Tipa by using the word “rebutal” turned this into a contest which I took offense to. This was never a contest. This was never intended to be the Harvard debating school where one person stacks up their impressions of a MMO versus the other person’s impressions and a winner is declared.

    Obviously I touched a nerve with some bloggers in EQ2 community they felt they had to circle the wagons and defend their beloved MMO against anyone with a contrary opinion on a small facet of their MMO.

    I think people like yourself are getting soft and spoiled with the usual parade of softball, puff EQ2 pieces. You don’t like it when anyone dares to question your MMO. You’ve grown complacent and lazy.

    You seem obsessed with declaring a “winner”. There are no losers when people freely exchange information. Again, this is your insecurity showing. Besides, Tipa is a big girl — she can defend her own articles.

    But let’s look at the bigger picture: how does anyone *win* when potential new subscribers decide they won’t bother to subscribe to EQ2? Pride is a terrible thing. You’d rather see EQ2 continue on with it’s shameful 1.2% worldwide share of the MMO market then see anything actually improve. I’m sorry that EQ2 has players that have such low expectations.

    So go ahead keep drinking the Kool-Aid and continue to lie to yourself about the EQ2 newbie experience and keep your head in the sand.

    By the way, I think SOE making the former head of SOE’s community relations team, Alan “Brenlo” Crosby, the new producer of EQ2 is an acknowledgement that EQ2 is going to be just trying to maintain its player base. Even without making Brenlo the producer, I think that SOE’s marketing efforts in support of EQ2 have made it obvious for years that SOE has conceded the fantasy MMORPG market to Blizzard and WoW. SOE is looking forward toward a future featuring Free Realms, DC Universe and The Agency. So if you are looking for some kind of mass movement to radically improve EQ2, you are wasting your time.

    You may be right about Brenlo and that SOE is may be prepared to coast along with EQ2 (that’s been covered already) but considering the hostile tone of your post I’ll be the judge of whether I’m wasting my time or not.

    I wish you well in your travels through Norrath and I hope what you are looking for. Unless, of course, it is a supply of material so you can trash EQ2. But if you are going to do that, please get some thicker skin, because people will respond to what you write. That’s one prediction I’m pretty confident in making.

    I have no desire to trash EQ2 nor do I need to explain myself to you. I offered up unique analysis and ample explanation. What did you offer up? You just came here to complain, whine and piss all over someone who’s tried to offer up some positive suggestions. Maybe I’ll show up at your blog and return the favor. On second thought, I’m not going to lower myself to your level.

    Quite frankly, it’s empty headed people like you that are keeping EQ2 behind and SOE treading water.

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