The Sky (of Norrath) Is Not Falling

One thing I have always disliked about EverQuest II is the forum community. EQ2 has problems just like every other game (in many cases the same problems as other similar games,) yet it always seems like doomsday is just around the corner, to hear the forum chatter. The voices of reason and the people with some actual perspective are there but often drowned in a sea of negativity. This really isn’t much different from most other MMO forums, but I’ve spent more time on various SOE fora than I have in the others, excepting maybe LotRO’s, which are very upbeat in comparison.

At the moment, the ire du jour is “Age of Discovery will ruin everything” and “f2p will ruin everything.” On the second… well, it’s already been around for a year and it hasn’t ruined everything. In fact, it hasn’t in any other (western) game that’s adopted a generally similar model, either. The EQ2X model, soon to be adopted by the remainder of the servers with some minor tweaking, has its quirks and foibles, but it’s also not the disaster that the persistently negative say it is, as I have clearly shown before, either in terms of how playable the game is under that model or in how it affects the overall health of either the game as a whole or each service in particular.

That said, it’s indisputable that EQ2’s population is stagnant. And by stagnant we mean “slowly declining.” The introduction of EQ2X allowed the game to garner a substantial number of new players under a model that they have found pretty friendly at all but the highest level of play – at which time it became costly due to requiring tokens for gear and spell equips and broker sales, or suffered from a bizarrely gimped subscription option. The divided model, wherein EQ2X had its own server, also kept lapsed players from returning to their old characters – if you wanted to play for free but not subscribe, you had to subscribe, copy a character over from live at $30 a pop, then cancel the sub… which is such an asinine barrier to put in the way of potential returning players that I think it safe to assume that Extended brought very few players back.

Perhaps the biggest issue with EQ2X, though, is the separation of the communities on the two services. This left Extended players in a kind of ghetto, allowing Live players to grouse about f2p ruining everything without providing the facts of the matter the opportunity to prove them wrong. Extended has a somewhat different social and progression dynamics than Live but the two communities aren’t all that different in overall tenor, and while the playstyles of the two communities differ, it’s not by that much. Had there been one community the doomsayers would have felt (or would have been demonstrated to be) stupid in short order. Splitting the communities allowed the complainers to keep their fingers in their ears.

The EQ2X model thus has these three main issues: needed tokens for gear and spells and the like, a subscription option that lacked what you’d get if you subscribed to the Live service, and segregation of the Extended service onto its own server. The new package, scheduled to go up some time today, fixes two of these issues and on top of that makes it easy for lapsed players to come back and maybe give SOE some money without necessarily resubscribing. It probably will not result in as big an influx of players as the initial Extended launch did, but it also lets new players choose play with friends even if they’re on a formerly-Live server.

EverQuest II will be a stronger game for it. It is already one of the stronger games on the market. It’s graphics are dated and the engine has scaled poorly to advancing technology, but it still looks reasonably decent and its themepark gameplay is frankly not in second place to anybody else’s.

As to Age of Discovery, it’s a different kind of expansion than EQ2 players are accustomed to. It has features but no content – content is supposed to arrive without charge from here on out. It also, unlike most if not all previous EQ2 expansions, does not include all the previous expansions. This is where it gets kind of tricky.

All EQ2 content up to but not including Destiny of Velious is going free to all players anyway. So the fact that AoD does not include it doesn’t mean all that much anyway; needing codes for content up to this point is a thing of the past. Most new content moving forward for the next year or more (the revamped Freeport/Commonlands stuff being one exception,) will be part of the Destiny of Velious content – which means that EQ2 players who want access to that content will need to buy DoV. (Protip: it’ll probably be on sale on Steam at some point in the next month; I got mine over the summer for like $10. EDIT: Steam appears not to offer EQ2 of any kind as if today. Still, keep your eyes open.)

Now, some people are saying that the new features in AoD aren’t worth the money given that there’s no new content. I can see that point, although I’m not sure I agree with it; the Beast Lord is a meaty new class, Mercs are a substantial gameplay addition, Dungeon creator is… well, we’ll see, but there’s an AA cap increase and some other stuff as well. That this isn’t enough to justify $40 is debatable, but it’s not a debate I’m interested in having; everybody gets to decide for themselves whether it’s worth the cost to them, or not.

But here’s where it gets interesting: if it’s not, you don’t have to buy it, and you won’t miss out on any new content as long as you have DoV. Even players without DoV can reach the current level cap of 90 (where it was set by Sentinel’s Fate.) So if you think AoD is a ripoff at the current price, just wait for the price to go down or don’t buy it at all, and even not getting the AA cap increase really isn’t much of a big deal.

SOE is going to find out whether this new way of structuring expansions will work or not fairly soon. Personally, I suspect it doesn’t matter – I think that future features (or content, if SOE backs off on that,) will come a la carte from the store. I suspect that Age of Discovery will be the last traditional expansion for the game. I also suspect that SOE will move away from the “all content is free” idea, but not until after their proclaimed Velious content is exhausted, which puts that particular barricade a year or so into the future.

And I’m fine with that, too. Age of Discovery is EQ2’s eighth retail expansion pack. At $40 a pop plus subscription fees, that’s a very large amount of money in a market that is evolving away from games sold on this model. EQ2 has years of life left in it, but its ability to adapt to the changing market and changing consumer expectations will determine just how many years that turns out to be. I am okay with paying for stuff – I’m even okay with paying what amounts to $15 a month spent actually playing over time. But I like to be able to spend that money as I like and be able to drop in and out at will and as my schedule demands/allows. EQ2’s model works fine in that regard, and with the adjustments made in taking the whole game to a microtransaction-based model it even gets a little bit better.

10 responses to “The Sky (of Norrath) Is Not Falling

  1. I have zero problem with the use of consumable tokens to unlock gear and spells. Ironically, only a hardcore solo player actually replaces their gear often enough to spend more than $15/month on these things. My problem with EQ2X is that it has always been designed to force high level players into a subscription through restrictions that cannot be lifted through any amount of money other than a recurring subscription.

    There have been compromises due to outcry over the last year – see the gear tokens – but we still see the old philosophy in the Plat cap – level 90 characters are capped at 18 Plat. I’ve tipped crafters 18 Plat for making items for me. Even turning in your dungeon shards for adornments costs 5+ plat per adornment as a throw-in. Without the ability to keep a functionally useful amount of plat (excess plat is lost, not sent to an escrow as in DCUO’s similarly misguided system) on your person, that mercenary feature sounds like it is effectively subscriber-only, because you’d have to spend the entire time farming the plat to pay them. Perhaps this is one last remaining flaw that has yet to be fixed, but I am not hopeful.

    As to the expansion, you’re absolutely right that EQ2 demands “a very large amount of money”. This is the second $40 box in 10 months, on top of a subscription fee and on top of a cash shop that gets stuff like the new $20 race that they concocted as a last minute paid add-on for Velious. This would be fine if we were actually getting more than twice as much stuff as any other game, or maybe even if what we were getting was of high quality but more expensive due to being a more niche product. Instead major features and content are released buggy after far too little testing because there is not enough time for a team this size to accomplish their goals.

    Itemization is handled by a script, which does not even know what stats characters want (but there’s a reforging feature in the $40 AOD box for that). Every single character created in EQ2’s history before today gets no new abilities, mechanics, or features in this paid box, because all of the class team’s work had to go to making a new class to make the box sound like it contains something. The team will now have to carve out a new role for a game that already has 24 classes, probably at the expense of multiple existing ones.

    The only irony is that, unlike Beastlords, most existing classes don’t have 320 AA’s worth purchasing, which may make the “optional” AA increase actually optional, despite SOE’s transparent attempt to force players to purchase the “optional” expansion by pairing it with increased character power. I doubt they actually will go to a la carte in the future, because many people would NOT pay $40 or more for the contents of the AOD box, who might feel forced to by the AA.

    It is very difficult to bring down an MMO in one fell swoop, and the past year probably isn’t enough to pull it off. That said, the overwhelming majority of the benefits of the new model have most likely already been seen through last year’s rollout of EQ2X. Right now, it feels to me like we’re looking at a seven year old game that’s taking its current customers for granted while it focuses its efforts on gaining new customers from some undetermined source. I don’t think that’s a good call.

  2. One point that probably should have been in the post is that the sort of complaining I’m addressing in the post is not the sort of reasoned critique that GA offers above. I’m talking about thoughtless people with single-line “this sux” posts and those who seem to feel that no other game has problems of the same nature or on the same scale as EQ2. There are plenty of nits to pick and problems to address in EQ2., and plenty of good discussion of those problems to be had. I fear, though, that official forums are not a good source of feedback for any MMO developer.

    Also, on AoD: I plan at this point to not buy it. The features are attractive but I am disinclined to spend $40 on them, and I am nowhere remotely close to the current AA cap on any character. Once the price comes down I will consider it.

  3. The question I have hasn’t been answered anywhere I can find it. What happens to me when my characters in “subscriber-EQ2” are suddenly added to my f2p? Specifically: I have literally 1000s of plat among a dozen characters in old-EQ2. The current limit would slam that down to sub-18-plat. Am I about to LOSE all that plat that I carefully built up?
    As someone who actively “plays the broker”, and enjoys that aspect of the game, I’m also shut out of the game because of the enormous cost of buying broker tokens. I calculated it: I like to buy and sell, and would literally be dropping far more than a subscription cost each month. For me, that prices me OUT of EQ2, since i can’t afford a sub right now. Between the two issues, I feel like Sony has created a DIS-incentive structure for EQ2 — exactly the opposite of what you want to do with an F2P structure (create INCENTIVES to get people to play and to be in your cash shop — a la LOTRO, which has account-wide unlocks for the gold cap and such and incentives like activity-based Turbine points that get you in the shop to spend your free points. Getting someone in the shop is brilliant, because people are more likely to spend if they’re already spending there… Kudos to Turbine, forehead-slap to Sony)

  4. You will not lose plat. However, you cannot gain new plat or access the old plat over the cap. As far as I know subbing is still the only way around this. You may experiment with pushing plat to a guild and/or shared bank, but I have never smelled anything like 18 plat so I don’t know.

  5. I find the forum complaints about the F2P conversion interesting in the Live forums because they seem to be so bitter in the face of the Live players essentially getting anything they have objected to removed from the Station Cash store. Some people on the Live servers seem to be upset that Sony is making a change that does not benefit them directly. I mean, that is the essence of one of GA’s points above, that to continuing playing in the way he has become accustomed he must continue to pay in the way he always has.

    It is almost as though the restrictions are designed to make you subscribe… which of course, they are. So it ends up feeling a different than LOTRO, for example, because they try to gate content more than gear, coin, and abilities. (Though they gate those as well.)

    The really odd complaint, and I have seen this thread a few times in the Live forums, is that F2P players are going to “ruin” the game. They sound like Victorian era prigs worried that somebody from a distant land is going to be an uncouth barbarian and crap in the middle of the parlor rug. And yet, one of the loudest complaints in the Live forums back when EQIIx kicked off was that Live was going to whither away because all of the new players would go to the Freeport server.

    Now Live gets new players, they get F2P with all the stuff they really hated removed from the cash store, and the option to carry on as before with their subscription pretty much without change… except they get a Station Cash stipend now… and some people, as you say, can only respond with, “this sux!”

    Meanwhile, the last time I checked the Extended forums, the tone was more questions about how exactly a given scenario was going to work (character slots, vet rewards, that sort of thing) and a bit of bemusement that some of the cash shop stuff was going away because once in a while you have a reason to want something they were offering.

  6. Just a small note. Everquest 2 doesn’t appear on Steam anymore, as far as I can tell. Dunno if it’s a region lock, or if US folks don’t also get the game, but yeah… might want to check that and update as needed.🙂

    Cheers!

  7. @Wilhelm: The Extended forums are indeed a somewhat more civil place. As is, for that matter, the actual community in-game on either service.

    @Victor: I did notice that some time after posting. I am not sure when that change happened; DoV was definitely on Steam as of July 17.

  8. AOD has no one on the fence, which leaves me more sad than happy. I’m in a top 10 raid guild on Oasis server and probably 50% of my guild mates are getting the expac because they feel obligated to and 50% are boycotting because the extra 20 aa doesn’t add much for them and they don’t want or need the features offered. I consider this expac more focused on the transition to FTP and enticing new players or returning players 100% more than placating the hard core players.

    I personally feel this expac and the FTP model will strengthen the game, but it won’t come without conflict and some discouragement for long time members.

    I am rolling a beastlord, I think the dungeon maker is potentially brilliant, especially if they figure out how to make it more playable..The ones I tested in beta were visually stunning.

    I think mercs are quite nice and what I know of the tradeskill apprentices and reforging is also a positive to game.

    And although Freeport refresh is free, the new rendering is SO MUCH BETTER.

  9. I’m sitting here waiting for the servers to come up and this is the best discussion on what’s going on that I’ve seen. I agree completely with your comments on the awful EQ2 forums. They’ll be a horrible surprise to the EQ2X forum posters when they get to see them.

    Most posters above have probably read my thoughts on AoD on my blog but here’s a quick recap – I think AoD is the most valuable expansion EQ2’s had certainly since Kunark and probably since Faydwer. It’s the first expansion for years that has meaningful and useful content for everyone, not just for players at or near the level cap.

    Bear in mind that I’ve played EQ2 since beta in 2004 and I have had multiple characters at the level cap at the release of every expansion to date. I’ve been theoretically able to use all the content offered in those expansions but I haven’t wanted to because I am not interested in Raiding or in token-grinding Heroic dungeons for a place on the gear treadmill.

    If I’m a casual player, it’s only in attitude, not in time played. When EQ2 is my focus MMO, which is often, I put in 30+ hours on an average week. Mrs Bhagpuss plays more than that. We think the feature set of AoD is excellent and well worth the price asked. But if we didn’t it wouldn’t matter because no-one *needs* to buy AoD. All the Heroic dungeon, Instance, Raid and open zone content that we might have had in a Velious2 expansion we are all going to get for free.

    No-one is losing anything, unless you count the opportunity to pay for content rather than being given it. If you don’t want Mercs, don’t want to build your own dungeons, don’t want to play a Beastlord etc etc then you don’t need to buy the expansion. The reaction to the additional 20 AAs with no new abilities has been so derisory that surely no-one can possibly feel they *have* to buy AoD just for that.

    If you find that there’s one feature you would like (Beastlords is an obvious one) but you don’t want any of the rest and you think $40 is a hell of a high price to pay, then welcome to the club many of us have been in for the last few years. We’ve been paying full expansion price for one overland zone and, if we’re really lucky, a level-cap raise. There have been many complaints about this from the non-raiding population, which is most of the population. Finally in AoD it appears those complaints have been heard.

    Moving on to the F2P conversion I am 100% behind it. It is absolutely possible to play right to the top of the solo game, including Velious, on a Silver account. My highest and best-equipped character on any server is my Berserker on my silver account on Freeport. I have a Station Access account and therefore Gold status on Freeport but it’s my Silver account that I play.

    If I only had the silver account it would be considerably cheaper to buy unlockers for the gear and spells than it would be to pay the monthly sub, especially if I was canny and stocked up on SC on the regular double-SC sales. A Silver character has 600 inventory and vault slots available (assuming all are filled with 40-slot Sumac Strong Boxes). Name another F2P MMO that gives you 600 inventory slots at all, let alone for no more than a single $5 one-time account upgrade that also gives many other benefits.

    As for the plat cap, on Freeport player-to-player trade is simply handled with stacks of T8 or T9 fuel. (T8 is nice because it costs exactly 1g a piece, making calculations easy). If you really want to go beyond that, you can make enough free accounts to fill a guild roster (assuming you don’t know anyone you actually want to make a guild with), start the guild with your Silver character and you get not just another 120 (from memory) shared vault slots but unlimited storage for Plat in the guild bank.

    Yes, these are workarounds but in my opinion they are fun workarounds. They feel more like actually playing a character in a world and the prime reason my Berserker is my highest character is that playing under the Silver ruleset is more fun than playing under the standard subscription ever was.

    I listened to the very long Podcast interview with Smokejumper yesterday and while I don’t agree with everything he says by any means i think the general direction he is trying to steer the game is both a good one and a necessary one. EQ2 was dying a slow death of benign neglect before he came on board. At least now it has a chance.

    • @Bhagpuss – Storage is one thing that EQ2 has had right since day one. One of the things that annoys me about Rift is that they passed on the shared storage option, so now I am back to mailing crap back and forth to alts. Bleh.