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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

EQII Community Summit: Part I

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Yes, I did indeed survive the community summit and I’m back to tell the tale. Before I get into the specific game issues that were discussed I would just like to say how much fun I had. I want to thank the SOE team for making us all feel welcome and for taking the time to talk and listen to us.

My friends here in New York, great as they are, are just not gamers. So it was a real thrill for me to get the chance to talk gaming and EQII with such knowledgeable and funny people. The thing that impressed me the most is the passion each and every SOE employee I met has for this game, and for gaming in general. I’ve never had experience with any company where the employees care so much about what they do. The fire in their eyes as they talked about the game is not something that can be faked.

But don’t worry, even though I now know that they are such a cool and hard-working group, I’m not going to take it easy on them. In fact, it will be even more fun to catch them when I think they screw up.

I also actually learned a lot by listening to the other players who were in attendance. Since I write about EQII five days a week, I think I know it pretty well. But I quickly realized that there are aspects of the game I know very little about. To remedy that, I hope to interview a few of the other attendees here on Aggro Me in the near future to give perspectives that I can’t give.

Okay, on to the details. To be honest, I get so fired up listening to people talk EQII that my notes are lacking when it comes to who specifically said what. I’ll do the best I can here and I’ll be sure to link you to reports from the other attendees when I’m done.

I’m going to start with the tour. The SOE offices are spread over several large buildings at a fairly typical office complex. In fact, the interior of the offices are not that different from a typical office, if you ignore the gaming posters on the walls and the fantasy figurines on peoples’ desks. The art team apparently likes very low lighting in their section of the office so that they can focus on the colors they are working with. My plans to kick back at Smed’s desk were defeated by the fact that he was in his office, working on a Saturday.

As part of the tour, we did get a chance to see the SOGA models. And I have to say they look pretty amazing, though I think even Combat for the Atari 2600 would look amazing on the incredible monitors in Scott Hartsman’s office. From what I saw, it is my belief that the majority of the models are a definite improvement over the current versions. They just looked interesting and easy on the eyes. Sure, a few did have some wacky anime hairstyles (I believe someone termed it the Super Saiyan look) but there were other hairstyle choices for those characters which are perfectly fine. I did feel the ears were a bit much on one of the elf models.

The male SOGA characters had a bare-chested look and it seems they have been spending a lot of time at the gym. Sure, the Ogres are massive but even the Ratonga is pretty cut up and the Halflings have apparently been hanging out with Barry Bonds’ personal trainer rather than stuffing their faces with Voleen’s Sweetbread and JumJum juice. On the whole, I liked the new models so much that I am seriously considering switching when they come out, even though I feel a connection to the way my character currently looks.

I want to be clear that what I saw was not the final version. SOE is still tweaking the models before they are released. There is no set timeline on this other than “when they are ready.” Of course, also remember that they will be an optional choice. I did inquire as to whether you would be able to re-customize your character if you decided to switch over to SOGA. My reason for that question was the following: If you roll up a new character with a SOGA model you will get to choose the hairstyle and facial look that you want. But I imagine that for pre-existing characters your look would be the closest SOGA counterpart and you just might happen to hate that particular hairstyle or body markings. The answer was that you probably would be able to “respec” your SOGA look as a one time only thing at some point in the future.

We also got a peek at the gambling game which is coming with Live Update #14. Basically you buy a ticket from a shady looking little goblin. There are set numbers for the entire server. Then, when you play your ticket, random numbers come up and if they match the server numbers you win. Your prize depends on how many numbers you match. With each ticket that is purchased, money is added to the server-wide “progressive jackpot.” That jackpot will keep going up and up until someone wins. Minor prizes (i.e. 50 silver for matching a few numbers) do not come out of the jackpot.

A great thing about the game is that the animation and sound for the “slot machine” window that pops up is very well done. The effect for winning a minor prize is even better so I think people will really enjoy it. The chance to win a big jackpot is always a draw so I’m sure it will be exciting when the jackpot for a server gets really high. The odds are apparently much better than any normal lottery you might play, though the net effect is still to take some gold out of the economy, which I think is the way it should be.

Okay, on to the round table discussions. I'm going to start with the marketing portion of the discussion. I am blanking on the marketing person’s name which is evidence of my note-taking ability. Well, this is karmic payback for the digs I have made about SOE marketing in the past. I do remember that she was the person who came up with the idea for the monkey promotion.

She was big on the idea that marketing is an advocate for the players and she did seem to know the game very well. Overall, it was a good presentation. You might not think marketing is important to you as a player, but if you care about the population on your server, it is. The contests on the official forums were mentioned. I was not aware of these, but I did head on over to check them out.
September's contest was apparently a pirate-themed one which is always a fun idea, since pretty much the only thing cooler than pirates are ninjas and even that's debatable. There are prizes and I am a big fan of things that let players be creative so I think they are a good thing. They are working on some issues with the monthly newsletters so they should be easier for people to receive if they want.

Another possible idea the marketing team is kicking around is a “buddy system” where you would get some benefit for referring friends to EQII. People threw out some ideas of what the rewards might be, the main two being free game time and in-game items (most likely fluff items and not some uber sword). I think in-game items would be a more fun idea and that the whole concept is a good one.

To kill the positive mood with a little negativity, I raised the issue of in-game advertising in Planetside and whether there was any danger that it would come to EQII. The short answer was that I never had to worry about in-game advertising in EQII because it was not going to happen. The feeling I got was that it depends on whether advertising works in the specific game world (i.e. it makes some sense in Planetside because that’s a futuristic world where some advertising would be expected anyway from a realism standpoint). Of course, the issue was also raised that this was a necessary step to support the Planetside community and bring new things to the game. I was informed that the Planetside community has actually been okay with it, but I stressed that I did not think the EQII community would feel the same way and they agreed.

The whole concept is getting pretty big from my research, so I do think you can expect to see in-game advertising in future MMO’s whether they are SOE products are not. Of course, I also think that there will always be games with no in-game advertising, EQII being one of them. It will also always annoy me to some degree no matter how prevalent it becomes.

The one question I forgot to ask in the marketing segment of the discussion was whether there would be another SOE Worlds magazine. If you recall I really
enjoyed the last one. As acting president of the SOE Worlds magazine fan club (which I just invented) I encourage you to pick up a copy of the first one at the Station Store. Okay, maybe it’s more than a little dated now, but it’s the only way I can think of to show them that there is a readership for it. And maybe there isn’t, but I want to read it (and make fun of it) anyway.

I am going to break this down into three parts, with part two coming tomorrow. You can expect some more game-specific commentary in the next post.

I would also like to thank Quylein for
keeping the Friday Humor torch burning, Flashman for his positive review of the Aggro Forums, and the forum members for keeping the fun going while I was gone. It was nice to come back to.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

glad ur back an writing. cant wait to read more.


1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice Read..Good to hear the guys at SOE love what they do and work very hard to bring us an outstanding product. Can't wait to read more. Keep up the great work
35 Assassin

5:57 AM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

Another good summary of what went on...


9:26 AM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

I made it a tiny url for ease...


9:27 AM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

Grrr.. no edit!


9:28 AM  
Blogger warm_machine said...

I'm glad I'm not the only person who wants to see another SOE Worlds mag. I'm also glad to know that I didn't lose my mind... rather, they just didn't make another one after the first.

Count me in for the next fan club meeting Aggro! =P

9:42 AM  
Blogger Matt W. said...

Welcome back, did you punch any Smed acolytes in the penis for me? ;)

Glad you had a good time, hopefully you will have some entertaining tales of nerfs, bannings and dupes to share with us later.


10:38 AM  
Anonymous Rotacidare said...

I was wondering what happened with that SOE Worlds mag...loved the first one! Great write up...thanks

11:56 AM  
Blogger jaipehg said...

Well, fudge. I want to be special and invited to hang out with the cool kids!

Sounds like you had fun, woo!

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Blackguard said...

It was great to finally meet you, Aggro.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Quylein said...

Yeah looks like you had fun. Maybe next time they will invite me..

4:15 PM  
Anonymous RadarX said...

Nice summary of everything that happened Aggro Me. I feel better I'm not the only one forgetting names....

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