Perilous Change

It’s easy to laugh at SOE or shriek in outrage, but also easy to underestimate just how complicated updating an MMO can be, especially when that update combines an expansion launch, a major content revamp and a conversion to f2p. For what we shall charitably call “not the first time” SOE has chosen to push the EverQuest II launch/update back to Wednesday. The website is also down, although the forums are up. The main issue appears to have been merging the databases from the two services. While this kind of thing is of course annoying, especially when when one has been looking forward all day to checking things out or even waiting weeks or months for the expansion stuff to hit, it’s better to display some modicum of perspective. The game will be there tomorrow (or whenever.) You shall endure.

On the upside, I elected to uninstall EQ2X the other day in preparation for the relaunch since they will now be running on a single client, and in the name of not having multiple installs of the same game lurking in the vastness of my hard drive. The services had merged as of this morning and I was able to get in and do the full install, which went fairly quickly. As of now, you can get into the client but all servers are locked down.

However, the conversion seems to have gone not entirely smoothly thus far. By my calculation I should have seven character slots available, four from Extended silver and three purchased with SC on Live. I am assuming that I won’t get credit for my seven Live slots since I’m not subscribed. However, only four slots are showing open at the moment. Given that there are obviously still issues to be worked out, I am fine with waiting until the service comes back up to see if it’s fixed then. And I can always file a support ticket if it isn’t then.

The EQ2 posts of the last few days have driven a lot of great discussion here and on G+. Most notably some solid discussion of the issues that EQ2’s freemium model has and will continue to have after the conversion, at least at the outset. The fairly harsh currency cap seems to be Green Armadillo’s biggest concern, for example. As he notes, the only current way to cirumvent this is by subscribing, but as Bhagpuss also pointed out, creative players have found ways around it, by making T8/T9 fuel the common currency of trade and using guild banks (which are not capped) to store excess plat.

Too, quibbles with the freemium model aren’t EQ2’s only problems. The engine, for example, has not aged well in many respects. It had the misfortune of being laid down at an almost perfectly wrong time, when it looked like single-core processor speeds would continue to increase very rapidly. When those hit a heat wall and multi-core processors running at lower clock speeds per core and offloading all the most taxing graphics processing work to the video card became the standard, the EQ2 engine was left with its pants down. It’s the kind of problem that is very difficult to fix post-launch, and while some progress has been made, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the complete engine revamp that would be needed to completely solve the problem.

I and anyone else that has played a significant amount of EverQuest II could name other issues. There are legitmate things to complain about, the kind of issues no MMO is ever free of. And EverQuest II is not a new free-to-play game launching without any history or existing player expectations. The long history of SOE, fraught with blunders and community relations missteps, informs the player community’s tone. Those with some perspective, though, recognize that other games suffer from the same or similar issues, and are not dogged by the idea of persecution coming from the company. I firmly believe that SOE is well-intentioned, but that doesn’t make me blind to their mistakes, either. I get that some folks are not inclined to forgive, and while I would just as soon not become a raging ball of bitterness myself, I can see where those people are coming from, and they’re entitled to their opinions. As a clever guy once said, though, they’re not entitled to their own facts. Reasoned criticism and discussion of problems is one thing; pointless sniping is another. There is plenty of room, and cause, for the former, but I have no patience for the latter, and it’s too bad that the official forums, the best means of two-way communication between SOE and the player base, are so dominated by it.

It’s worth noting, too, that change is a perilous thing, and it scares people. The current spate of f2p conversions, common as they have been for the last few years, are no exception. When you have an existing game on the old model existing players are justified in feeling a sense of investment in the game and their characters since they’ve been paying an ongoing fee for the service. The dev team making the changes need to try to minimize any feeling that those players are getting the shaft. But they also want the free package to seem as enticing as possible to draw in new people, which is of course the point of the whole thing. SOE probably went too far in the former direction when Extended launched in August of 2010, segregating Extended players into their own ghetto and offering subscribers on Extended a package inferior to what Live subscribers got. It was a model that simultaneously tried to drive serious players into a subscription but didn’t offer one with the same perks as they had every right to expect.

Now you have two different communities with differing outlooks and expectations that will become one over the next few weeks or months. It will be interesting to see the tone of the combined community, which I hope will feel less overwhelmed by negativity. In any event, the biggest benefits of freemium have probably already been seen in EQ2 with the addition of a substantial new group of players on the Freeport server. The revised model, though, should at least offer a cleaner and less confusing package to the pool of potential additional players.

The offering moving forward is an appealing one: one of the best and best-developed modern MMOs, one that manages to look quite decent over the screaming protestations of its outdated engine, with the benefit of being able to mostly pay as you go, sub and let lapse or get by on microtransactions as you will. Even the utterly free approach contains potentially thousands of hours of entertainment since very little content lies behind the paywall. EQ2 does not have the best freemium model, but it is the best MMORPG on a free model, in my opinion.

7 responses to “Perilous Change

  1. Good summary, I’m also very fond of EQ2.

    I’m casual enough that after spending a little when F2P started I can play for free pretty much forever. I have lots of alts, none of them are in any great danger of reaching the level cap and thus wanting to do content that’s behind the paywall.

    Which brings me to a point you touch on about the business model. F2P creates a big splash of cash but then many players, like me, simply don’t need to buy anything. But in any business last year’s income is irrelevant except as a target you aim to surpass. While F2P has been widely admired for its ability to generate substantial interest in and revenue from these aging MMOs what we haven’t really seen yet is how a F2P system matures. There seem to be two ways – squeeze existing players harder to match last year’s profits or bring out new games. The alternative, accepting that from now on profits will be about 30% of what they were when you launched your F2P system is unthinkable for a commercial business.

    I’m very aware that my future participation in EQ2 may seem unsustainable from their side of the fence and am interested to see what they do about players who aren’t interested in any of the new stuff but who “own” enough content already to satisfy us for the foreseeable future.

  2. Ideally, you’d be bringing out a lot of cosmetic stuff and consumables that you can get some low per player but steady revenue with, and if the player base is high enough there is no reason that shouldn’t be sustainable. SOE seems to be on board with this in the tokens for spell and gear unlocks, for example, and maybe we will eventually see store tokens that boost the plat cap as well. I do expect to eventually see new content and features released a la carte, though. You’re supposed to make up in volume what you miss out of from players like you and I who spend a bunch at the beginning but are then more or less satisfied and just keep playing without spending more.

  3. I don’t fault them for delaying the launch once the problems were apparent – better than launching anyway. My server once saw 30 hours of downtime and an actual character rollback from a similar database issue because they had a script issue of some sort, and that is not fun for anyone.

    My strong suspicion is that this underlies the point that the EQ2 team as currently staffed does not have the capability to release two expansions in one calendar year. The buggy state of basically all of Velious at launch, followed by less than a month of beta testing (similar to Velious) does not bode well. Perhaps the database issues could not have been anticipated, and will hopefully all be behind us by the end of the day today. That’s when the real test happens.

  4. @GA: Sure, but you’ll have to admit that this particular update, combining a feature-heavy expansion, a significant content revamp, a total website overhaul and a flip to f2p that’s more complicated than most, is pretty ambitious. So I am not at all surprised that there were issues. It’s not like everybody else pushes out problem-free updates, but that’s not a very good excuse.

    I suspect that you are right and that EQ2 has a smaller team than one would expect given its audience and pedigree. But I also think that if the team was all that shorthanded the issues would be much more serious than they are. We have, after all, seen dramatically underbaked and wrongheaded changes out of SOE before, and Velious, problems or no (and the stuff I heard about was serious but didn’t come close to affecting everything,) wasn’t that. I fully expect there to be issues with AoD stuff, too, but in the end it will all end up working out.

  5. I had been checking into the server status all afternoon yesterday and at various times had all my characters shown (10) with 3 locked to only having 4 show so what you see now is not indicative of how things will be once they get things back up and running. They have also stated on the forums that if there are problems with available character slots they will work to get them resolved.

  6. I gotta find a nice definitive FAQ about f2p & purchases, etc….because I bought Silver right after EQ2X first launched, and I’m not sure I have everything I should have.
    And booo….I’ve got locks on 6 of my 7 characters😦
    Only one not locked is the one I made for EQ2X. All the locked ones are from when I was a live sub, way before EQ2X launched.

  7. I’m late to this thread and my reply will be brief for two reasons.

    1. Throughout the extended downtime I played Rift and had a blast.
    2. Now that I have finally been able to get into EQ2 I’ve been having too much fun to read blogs, let alone post.

    All our characters and accounts converted perfectly. We’ve run into very few bugs so far – far fewer than an average SoE patch. Mrs Bhagpuss’s reaction, which I share, has largely been “I don’t know what to do! There’s so much new stuff I can’t choose what to do first”.

    We’ve already had one guildie we haven’t seen for a few months log in again and she hasn’t even bought AoD yet – she’s just been lured back by the update content and Frostfell. For crafters, Frostfell itself amounts to an annual time-limited expansion.

    I agree with almost everything Ardwulf says above. SoE are a right old shambles and always have been, but the spirit and intent of the MMOs they make is second to none in my opinion. Because in the end I always enjoy their MMOs more than anyone else’s I am prepared to cut them really quite a lot of slack. And in this case I thought they actually handled the situation much better than usual. The post by the CTO was extremely well-judged and it exactly the right tone. Someone on EQ2Wire said they should get that guy to do EQ2’s PR going forward and they certainly could do a lot worse. And have done!