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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Aggro Interview: Kwoung of EQ2Test.com

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When picking community members to interview, I like to focus on aspects of the game I am unfamiliar with. One such aspect is the Test server. Before conducting this interview, I was honestly pretty clueless about what playing on Test was like.

My subject today is Kwoung, who runs
EQ2Test.com and was introduced to me at the Community Summit as "the Test Server Guru." I hope you enjoy this look into life on the Test server. *************************************************************************

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your website, EQ2Test.com?

As for myself, I have been gaming and running websites for a while and computers are my work and hobby, I think my first MMOG was Meridian 59 back in the day and I left that to beta EQ. I first got involved on test servers back in EQ many years ago, where my wife and I re-rolled as a last desperate attempt to have fun, since our live server friends, guild we were in, etc had all fallen apart numerous times and we just were not enjoying the whole experience, even though we did enjoy gaming in general. All in all, we feel it was the best move we ever made and have seldom regretted it.

We have played a few different games along the way and I guess what started the test server website thing with me, was DAOC. I played their test server and started a small casual guild, which somehow ballooned into the largest guild on the server and our website sort of became the unofficial test server website there.

After I moved on to SWG, I created www.swgtest.com as a community forum away from all the chatter on their official forums and it caught on. So when I came to EQ2,
www.eq2test.com was one of the first things I did.

As for the why, well it is pretty hard to have a community board for a Test Server on the official sites, as we tend to get more folks from outside the community posting there than the people who actually play on the server generally. The various testing forums over on the SOE boards are a good example of that, especially the In Testing Feedback and Dev Request Forums, which are a constant source of amusement for me. I will give you a couple examples;

Here is what it says in huge red letters at the top of the forum:

This board is for feedback from people who PLAY ON TEST. If you don't, then please post your reactions on another board. Responses that don't fit this criteria will be deleted.

Here are some snippets of typical responses from the Offline Selling thread there;

-I have a question . May not be the right place for this. What happens when the Server reboots in the morning.

-I am not a Test server player but I wanted to comment

Anyways, the thread goes on, I saw a couple responses from people that actually tested something, but most responses were typically from people that have never stepped foot on Test to check the change, tossing in their two coppers worth in hopes a dev will read it. And people wonder why the dev’s don’t listen? It’s called signal to noise ratio and thankfully, the people that do play on test have other channels at SOE to give direct feedback and testing reports to the dev’s, so bugs that are caught and changes that are tested can actually be adjusted correctly and www.eq2test.com is there for us as a place to hang out, get to know each other, share knowledge, setup groups, raids, etc. :)

Are there issues related to the small population on Test? How have you tried to overcome them?

Well, playing on Test is definitely not for the faint of heart or the easily aggravated, it is most definitely a different play experience. The issues due to the population can be pretty harsh, but before I go on I will say; as you will read further down, the low population also offers many benefits.

First off, for the person new to Test, not doing your homework before logging on will most likely result in massive frustration, as getting groups can be a real bear. Also, a trip to the broker will more often than not, result in you not finding what you were after and finding a crafter in game to make something you need, can also be an exercise in frustration. Raiding on Test is also a challenge, as getting four groups together is not something that can happen at the drop of a hat. Related to this as well, is a players ability to complete quests. It is generally impossible to show up in an area, join a group and kill that mob you need, because chances are, you will be the only person in the area when you show up.

Another issue of the population is personalities. Test is like a very small town and unless you are a complete recluse, you get to know pretty much everybody in your level range. Unfortunately, there will always be someone who rubs you the wrong way and since there is no massive population and the resultant anonymity to get lost in, you have to deal with it, as that person or persons will be in your face on more than the rare occasion, probably even grouped with you here and there. Working out your issues with people sooner or later is almost a requirement; as it is that or let it end up spoiling your game time.

For most other things, my community forums help out. Players can plan hunts, put together groups to finish quests, look up crafters names or ask for items to be crafted. To help in-game, we created a server-wide community channel called Test. The Test channel is a great place to get help while online and chatter with your fellow Test players. I will add though, that it is a community channel to help make playing on Test a more enjoyable experience and people dropping in or joining cross-server to ask questions about recent changes, etc, are not generally well received.

What improvements would you like to see SOE make regarding the Test Server to make playing there more enjoyable?

I would like to see the Test Server marketed better by SOE so we get more full time players here. As for most else, there is not much to not like as long as you have the basic understanding that this is the Test Server and everything that goes along with that.

When I say marketed better, it is because I believe there is a lot of misunderstanding among the general player base about what the Test Server actually is, what goes on there and what “Testing” is in general. I will expound on this a little;

Testing on the test server is not, in general, taking a character to some specific spot and testing change X, as that is what SOE does on their internal QA server before stuff ever gets patched to Test and not what they need from the players on Test. What they need and want out of the Test Server, is players playing the game as normally as possible and seeing how any changes they made play out under regular game play. They also need to know about the unintended and side effects of changes, which never show up when doing spot testing. These types of things can only be found while players are going about their normal questing, hunting, raiding, etc.. and are normally the hardest to find.

Also, I think a lot of players still think that Test can or will get wiped, have rollbacks and experience a lot of downtime, none of which is true. As a matter of fact, I believe the live servers have had more downtime and rollbacks than we have and as for a character or item wipe happening, the possibility is so remote due to constant database backups and other fallback positions, it is not even worth considering in this day and age.

So in short, it is not only possible to have a “real” character on Test, that is what we need more people to have here.

How is the communication between SOE and the Test community?

Well the one way communications from players to the dev’s is excellent, they give us numerous ways with which to contact them. Players dedicated to Test Server have access to a private forum over on the SOE boards, thanks to Moorgard and the dev’s read it religiously. Also, our in-game feedback and bug reports get handled separately from live servers so they can as much as possible, catch things before the live publishes.

The two way communications however, tend to not be as good as some would hope. Responses to our postings, feedback and bug reports more often than not, come as just another line in the patch notes. One to one responses are not the norm and although the dev’s are reading and fixing based upon our feedback, a response from them in a thread is rare.

We do however, have QA’s assigned to Test Server once again (they seem to come and go a lot) who are in game quite often and responsive to anything testing related.

Do you feel SOE listens to the feedback of the people playing on Test? Or do you see changes go Live with problems the Test community already pointed out?

I think SOE listens pretty well actually, as I pointed out above. However, that does not mean that bugs that were found are not going to go live anyways. There are numerous reasons for this, but in general, they have a timeline they need to follow and that has priority over everything else. So while a great number of bugs are found and fixed before every publish, there are always those that were known but go live anyways.

Can you sell us on some benefits of playing on the Test Server?

Ok, I will give it my best shot, but I am not much of a salesman. I will start with what hooked my wife and myself and I think I can sum it up in one simple sentence;

I believe I get to play the perfect game, the way the designers originally envisioned it.

You see, they keep having to put in systems and make changes to the game on live to combat the population and get the game back to what they envisioned. Things like overcrowding, KSing, training, camp checks, etc, just don’t exist on Test Server. How many players can say they have ever done and experienced a true dungeon crawl in a MMOG while your group was the only one in the zone? How many players can say they have never had the disappointment of planning or attending a raid, only to find someone else beat them to the punch and the mob was already killed?

Those are just a few of the things that I never have to deal with on Test and how I get to play the game. Nothing, in my opinion, is more fun than getting a group of friends together and doing a dungeon crawl or an adventure, you get to see the game from an entirely different point of view and it is really cool. Quests are a lot more fun as well for the same reason, there is no waiting for your turn to get mob X, all you need is a few friends and you can go get what you need. In short, what is one of the hardships of playing on Test, also happens to be one of the major benefits if you overcome it by making a few friends.

One last benefit of playing on Test, is that you can help shape the future of the game by giving your ideas directly to those that matter and if they are good ideas, you may get to see them implemented. I lost count long ago, but I have seen a great many of my ideas get implemented in the various games I have played over the years and that is a pretty good feeling when it happens.

Do you advocate free copies of characters to Test? How about free transfers?

I am emphatically against general character copies to Test Server, because they are almost completely worthless for testing at best, destructive to the testing community at worst.. Someone copying over, popping on for ten minutes to see how change X affects their character, then griping about it on the boards, without ever bothering to see how it actually affected them in normal game play with other players, does absolutely nothing to help test the game. Thankfully, Dev’s I have chatted with, all share my view on this.

I do however, support limited copies brought over to Test Server for specific Testing. It is not that unusual to see an entire guild copied over to test some new content and that is a good thing and needs to be done, as there are things the regular Test Server population is just incapable of testing properly. Character transfers on the other hand, are something I support and would like to see a LOT more of, although they are not without their problems and the players transferring, really need to know what they are getting into before they make the jump. This goes hand and hand with my previous statements about marketing the Test Server better. The more people that come over, the lesser the culture shock will be on those that do.

Is there any raiding on the Test Server?

Yes, but it is probably what most would consider to be casual raiding. Due to our server’s population we created a server-wide raid organization, all are welcome to join whether they are guilded or not.

What is your advice to players who are new to the Test Server?

Drop by our community board, read up a bit and introduce yourself.

“/join Test” as soon as you log on;

Don’t try LFG, just start a group. LFG is worthless, “/who all 20 25” and sending tells is the only reasonable way to make a group in game. If you want to join a guild, seek out their members and group with them.

None of the regular guilds on Test actively look for members, nor do they join players they do not know. If you want to ask about joining a guild, do not send a tell like “can I join ur guild/”, ask nicely what it takes to join and where you can find out more information about the guild and who you may be able to group with to get to know them better.

Be nice and be mature. Most of the players on Test talk like regular people and treat each other with respect, we use full words and not lazy speak like U or UR. If you want to make a good impression, do the same. Also, Test is like a small town as I mentioned above, do not expect to be able to act like a jerk and get away with it. The players who exhibit anti-social behavior generally do not last long on Test, as finding groups, getting stuff made, etc… goes from hard to impossible for them pretty quickly.

I read on your forums about Meet & Greet events. What are those?

These were originally started and wildly popular way back when on the DAOC test server and we re-started it here on EQ2 Test. Since our general form of trade is to just give stuff away to those that can use it (thus the mostly empty brokers), it helps to have the occasional server get together where those that want can bring whatever extra stuff they have collected and pass it on to those that need it. It is also a great way to meet the other players on the server who you may not see in your general day to day activities, due to level differences.

What do you think of the current state of the game in general and what changes would you like to see, if any?

I will pass on the “state of the game” part of the question, as I do not feel I am qualified to answer. The current state of the game is something that changes constantly on Test and to be quite honest, I have no clue if our current “state” is in synch or not with live right now.

As for what changes I would like to see, well the only thing that pops to mind in general is pretty huge. I think that players should be made to “feel” more powerful, please do not misinterpret that as “be made” more powerful. You see, I feel I pay SOE for the fantasy, and although they have created a great world for me to adventure in, I do not feel that powerful or heroic at all, as the way the con system works, is to label stuff as to level and how much of a challenge it is to me. By design, I am mostly equal to a regular mob of the same level as myself, how heroic is that? I spend my entire game life adventuring, honing my skills, upgrading my equipment and an insect or madman of my same level wandering around in the desert is an even fight?

It is all about psychology in my opinion. Make me feel like I am a hero, like I am special and all that I have done to date has set me a step above a run of the mill mob. Do not let me see the actual levels of what I am fighting and if I have good gear and skills, I should as the norm, be able to kill something labeled as “difficult”, not “even”. I realize that this varies by class and some can actually do this already, but this should be the norm in my opinion. I want to feel like a hero, that’s all I am asking for, not extra experience, not easier leveling, not more effective soloing or anything of the sort. I am simply asking that SOE should deliver one of the main reasons I play the game… to be a hero and grand adventurer in their fantasy world. Design stuff to be even to me, then label it as hard so I feel like a hero instead of a gimp. :)

Many thanks to Kwoung for taking the time to answer my questions in such an informative and entertaining fashion. I'm grateful for the peek into this aspect of EQII and I'm also appreciative of those players on Test who help to make the game better for everyone else.


Blogger Anskiere said...

Good interview. I've always been tempted to try out test, but I'm not the type to make the leap full time, and I wouldn't want to just stop in and then never be there again. The only game I actually played on the test server for was PlanetSide :)

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, great stuff - very true about people on the forums too.

1:40 PM  
Blogger warm_machine said...

Another good interview. I really like reading these direct perspectives from parts of the game I do not tread.

Keep'em coming! =D

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with the other three - it was a long read but well worth it :)

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Rotacidare said...

Nice read Aggro...I know next to nothing about Test so learned a lot.

3:52 PM  

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