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Monday, December 05, 2005

Worst. Update. Ever.

I don't like some of the game design decisions that have been made recently, culminating in Live Update 17. I've tried to be reasonable about removing annoyances from the game to make it more accessible while still challenging, as you can read here. But things have just gone way too far. It's more than the game just being "easier." Immersion and the complexity of gameplay have taken a hit as well.

But, unlike the Froglok quest caper and the introduction of Station Exchange I don't think SOE is doing anything wrong to their customers. They're just making game design decisions I happen to disagree with it. I'm sure they are doing it with the opinion with that it will make the game more fun for players. That's something reasonable people can have different opinions on. Even if I'm right.

I'm a little late to the battle with this Live Update. The debate rages on the forums and my compatriots,
Quylein and the Bandit have discussed it as well. You can check out Blackguard's argument in favor of the shard removal mechanic here. I recommend reading Beylanu's response on the next page. It was also discussed a bit on the latest EQ2 Daily Podcast (which is a good one). We also discussed it on the forums here in this thread and this one.

Let's start with the removal of the shard mechanic. Even in WoW, as light as the death penalty is, you're at least a ghost for a bit and everything is black and white and you have to return to your corpse. You at least feel like something actually happened. With EQII now it's just click here, pop, respawn. It's worse than WoW, it's Quake.

The death penalty had three facets, progress (xp debt), money (armor repair) and shard retrieval. Sure, you've ramped up the xp debt portion of that a small bit, but on the whole the death penalty is much weaker now. And as for the xp aspect, vitality is so absurdly hard to burn off right now that it's basically just perma-double xp.

Shard retrieval was more than just an annoyance, it was an immersive part of the game. We would have to figure out how to grab our shards, who was going to invis who, how we were going to fight back, whether we should all revive or whether a rezzer could get to us. Moreover, it would affect what fights we took on and how we would take them on. "Better not fight that mob here, our shards would be tough to get." That entire aspect of the game is completely gone now. Yes, there were a few times that it was late and I was not in the mood to fight through RE to get my shard. But that's what the sting was. Removing it doesn't just make the game easier, it takes away a core mechanic and all the strategies surrounding it which added to the depth of gameplay.

I should have protested the shard buy back arrangement in the last Update more strongly. I apologize for that. The low prices made shard buyback meaningless, making this a battle that should have been fought earlier. And I realize that the death penalty was somewhat trivial before this change. But that's because SOE slowly made it that way.

In my first few weeks of playing EQII, which is the first few weeks it went live, one of the things I thought the game really got right was the death penalty. It was tough to take sometimes, sure, but never a horrible thing. Never something you couldn't overcome with relative ease. It was lighter than some older games but on the whole I thought it still had sting. In other words, it was fair. And that's what you want your death penalty to be. Fair. Since then it has been watered down more and more, including the removal of group debt which I felt was a terrible decision for reasons I outlined
here. Now it is meaningless.

And there was a reason for that sting. Risk is important in any game as it heightens the feeling of excitement. It also makes rewards all the sweeter and makes you think carefully about embarking into dangerous territory. Moreover, it is a tool that teaches you the proper way to play the game.

I'd really like to address the Customer Service time argument. It's probably true that shard retrieval is a major part of CS time. I don't debate that. Here's my issue. When SOE was selling Station Exchange, what did they tell us? "Dealing with fraudulent transactions of one type or another takes up roughly 40% of our customer service people's time. We have players calling us up or requesting in-game service for activities related to these sorts of transactions constantly, even though they are specifically disallowed by our EULA." That's from Smed's letter, which you can view
here.

So, you already eliminated 40% of your CS time with your deplorable Station Exchange. That's from your own words. So what's the problem? CS should have plenty of time to deal with shard retrieval. Fix areas of the game where shards are frequently bugged and do not spend time on frivolous shard requests. Do you want to eliminate every CS issue one by one?

If you're level 60, you have only the monetary aspect of the penalty, and frankly that's ridiculous. Level 60's can use the lack of any fear of death other than monetary as a tool to make the game even easier than it is now. Believe me, due to the other changes that have been made I do not see any level 60's hurting for money.

One of the biggest gold sinks, mounts, is practically gone. Mounts are not only cheaper but faster. And if you don't want to pay for a mount, hey, just do a quest and get a 40% speed one for free! What's that, the quest takes too long? Don't worry we'll fix that too by eliminating the wait time!

Why was the run speed increased? Frankly, I think the perma-sprint speed at which people are running about now just looks silly. You can stealth through anything like lightning. And SOE had already made travel much, much easier than the old days by restructuring the bells and adding more griffon towers. And it wasn't that difficult to begin with.

I realize the Master Chest extravaganza issue was
quickly addressed but there will still be an increase and this is just another example of the game getting easier.

The purpose tags over NPC's? Guess what? I hate those too. They look absolutely ridiculous. As Bandit said in
this thread, "Next thing you know, we will have ! marks above available quest NPC's." Is it really that much of a problem for people to figure out what a person's role is? Dare we ask that they actually learn their way around a new zone? I click on an NPC and find out she's a banker. Okay, now I know where the bank is. Do I need a tag that says, "I AM BANKER<----."

Can we have just a little immersion? Those people who read my forums might think I'm crazy for wanting to do away with a ton of what I think is extraneous information for the sake of immersion (if you're interested check out this thread). But I wasn't really talking about EQII, just throwing out ideas. I don't expect them to do away with the pretty damage numbers. But do we need to see that a guy standing in front of a forge is "MENDER?" I sure don't think so.

So there, I am, respawning in Maj'Dul with people literally whizzing past me like brightly colored gumball machines attached to rockets and chat is filled up with talk about double digit master chests being found in an hour and I'm facing an NPC whose name is "Hay, I'm A MENDER - I Repair Armor :)"...

What game am I playing?

In all my time in EQII I've never logged off in disgust over a tough death, a failed raid, a wooden chest or anything else. But right then, I logged off in disgust.

People say EQII is becoming more like WoW. But soon that won't be a fair statement anymore. WoW might end up being harder.

Okay, I could end the post right there and it would be an accurate and honest portrayal of how I feel. But I always like to take a step back and try to be fair. Whenever I criticize SOE I like to pretend I'm the Emperor of SOE myself, kind of like Smed, only much better looking. It's a good exercise.

So, let's say you're the Smed for a day and in a meeting you are presented with these facts:

1. Our data shows us that most MMO players prefer a more casual experience (i.e. less risk and more reward). What's more, people leave the game every day because the death penalty is too severe. (Don't ask me to explain that one because I don't understand it.)

2. Shards are pretty meaningless right now anyway because we made them purchasable.

3. They're a huge waste of CS time.

My first response would be to say those gamers who think EQII's death penalty is too severe have got to be kidding me. My second would be to say this is not a democracy and the players don't always accurately know what is best for the long term health of the game.

But then, I'd think about WoW, think about the numbers. And if I thought I was going to get more subscribers and more people would actually have fun with the change, I would do so, regardless of whether I, as a gamer, liked the idea. If the massive majority of gamers like a more casual MMO, I really have to listen. To do otherwise would not be doing my job. Maybe the player base in this still "young" area of gaming needs to get more comfortable with playing MMO's before there is a wide scale market for more challenging play.

Back to me as a gamer: I am not happy with the direction the MMO market as a whole is going. Rather than games being made for what I call "moderate" gamers, like me, the wedge between "casual" (WoW) and "hardcore" (Vanguard) is widening. And sadly, I've either beta-tested myself or spoken to people I trust with first-hand knowledge about the crop of upcoming MMO's and frankly I think most of them will be dismal failures. But there's still a few I have high hopes for.

I'm sure I will still enjoy EQII and I still have faith in the EQII team. I'm sure they will continue to add great content to the game. But I have to be honest and say I think the game has taken a step back recently.

There is some other stuff in the Update I haven't touched on, some of it positive (wow actual high level adventure writs - amazing), but I'm done talking about this one.

28 Comments:

Anonymous Anachronist said...

Wow (amazing, no the other game),

I could not add anything. I consider this to be your best post ever. Hard, but fair critisism in times of need. Perfect.

12:00 AM  
Blogger cyan said...

/clap

12:15 AM  
Anonymous Rotacidare said...

/heartily agree

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eq2 is the first MMO I've ever played, and I've been playing now since November last year, and I can recall how frustrated I was my first few months with the shard retrieval. I must have had five shards in that water passageway in Forest Ruins, and I couldn't get them back because the water wasn't deep enough and those blue guys kept killing me. I remember back then I also tried WOW for a month, with having to run back to your corpse as a ghost. I know I'm a beginner to these games, but I disliked both approaches to death. I died all the time because I never knew who I could kill before they killed me. I stuck with Eq2 because overall it is a far more complex game to play. I don't think most people are willing to put in the amount of effort and time I put in to figure out EQ2.

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree totally with what you are saying. I've been in EQ2 since beta and the game is now a lot easier than it was. Where has the challenge gone..

6:42 AM  
Blogger Krystalea said...

Tend to agree with you on this one. Although, after traveling both Norraths, I do like the speed increase. At least now I am not burning throw SoW potions like they are water.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Xest said...

Excellent post. Couldn't agree more.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nope... your a whiner. Most of your points are weak or close minded AND weak

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

I wish there was a way to leave shards on and then get some sort of benefit. Like no XP loose or decreased repair costs.

Anything to put the mechanism back in the game.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Wargut said...

Amen to you brother!

10:22 AM  
Blogger Karnatos said...

I decided a month ago to take a month off of EQII because I was suffering from burnout, and I wanted to give CoH/CoV a shot for a month - turns out I got a month free for each game... so I'm playing my two free months right now.

However, my intention has always been to return to EQII once my free-time for CoH/CoV was up... but since I left I've heard little good coming out of the EQII updates, and that really saddens me.

… so …

I was wondering if anyone (either player of game developer) has thought about making different server types to meet different player calibers. There’s already role-playing servers, would it not be possible to write new game code to be optional based on a given server? Imagine having a game server that had more severe penalties for dying (included the whole gambit of losing shards, requiring amour repairs, XP loss/debt, and maybe even more) and other servers where the penalty is just getting rez-sickness and a bit of XP debt when you revived; one server still has invis such that you creep around as one would when they are trying not to be noticed, and one server when you sprint as fast as possible when you are invisible; one server has tougher mobs populating zones making the overall game tougher, requiring people to group more just to get through content, and another server that has more solo-able encounters to allow the casual gamer to play as they’d like.

I just wish my old EQII would come back; I am one of those that like a sense of danger when I jump into battle, I don’t want to know for certain that I am going to survive; I don’t want to be able to simply run away from any fight that starts to go bad and not have to worry about dying because I run as fast as a horse; I want to depend on other players to help get through a quest… why? Why do I want a more difficult game? Because it’s more immersive, I can get into my character more…

After all, is that not what RPG is meant to be; a “Role Playing Game”?

I want to play the role of a hero in a land wrought with danger, and help rid the land of the evils that plague it. What Norrath will soon have is a bunch of powder-puff men and women in chainmail swatting at orcs, goblins, and dragon as if they were nothing more than a mere nuisance; and that’s not a role I wish to play.

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Brett said...

I'm absolutely with you on this. EQ2 is becoming more trivialized by the patch. I'm waiting for them to implement an XP button that grants you xp equivalent to killing an even-con solo mob every time you push it. Because soloing is such a pain.

I do have to take issue with one of your arguments, however:

So, you already eliminated 40% of your CS time with your deplorable Station Exchange. That's from your own words. So what's the problem? CS should have plenty of time to deal with shard retrieval.

There's flawed logic here, and it's not just the existence of the Exchange. Who said that the Exchange removed all the CS time devoted to botters/ebayers? I don't even think SOE makes that claim, as I can easily disprove that to anyone who spends 5 minutes following me to the Overseer camp in Clefts of Rujark. I get your overall point, and I think it's valid, but it's a bad route to your conclusion.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Zygwen said...

With respect to death and dying you may want to read this article from Feet of Clay

Oh Death, Where is Thy Sting?


He draws a correlation between account retention and weak death penalties.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Twodragons said...

I actually think that SOE's occasional "mistakes" are more intentional than purported.

A short list of "mistakes" that were fixed:
- Master drops (fixed after 1 day)
- Tears Grifter quest in Maj'dul (fixed after 1-2 weeks)
- Splitpaw loot (fixed after 3-4 weeks)
- Repeatable Runneyeye quest from Janitor (I forget how long that one was up - nerfed to a 1-hour'ish re-use)
- Exp bonus (I forget how long, it was a while ago)

And other Easter Eggs that jump-start people to come back and quickly "...get the loot before it gets nerfed!".

There have been other holes that have been filled, and other roll-backs to undo a severe change, but I think we're being thrown an occasional bone in the hopes we will stick around.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, the scary question is why is SOE actually being nice?

Ill tell you why... lack of player base. WOW is stomping their collective grapes and EQ2 is about ready for server consolidation.

Im not real happy about it, I play this game to.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really agree. I think shortly we'll all be happy we don't have to deal with shards anymore. They aren't really that immersive. How many middle-ages/fantasy environments in history, novels, movies, or games have shards to retrieve?

I see SOE just removing more of the downtime. Less time running. Less time running to get shards. Less time struggling to fight your way back to shards. Granted, I'm not sure how I feel about the increased running speed.... But I see it as removing the downtime so that we can keep playing and having fun.

I'm also more apt to try more challenging mobs and twisting caves and tunnel systems if I don't have to retrieve my shard.

All that being said, I think it was a good blog post.

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anachronist said...

Seems to be a perfect example for the fact there's just no matter all players could agree with each other.

As difficult as it is for me, it seems I have to accept the fact some people enjoy it the way it is.

Conclusion: relax ;)

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to play EQ2 up untill about a month ago. I loved the game when it first came out and slowly i started to burn out from it just from all the easy updates we have been getting, I want a challenge and its not giving me that anymore. I went to check out other MMO's and to be honest WoW is starting to get tougher than EQ2 and they havn't even changed much of anything, I want to play EQ2 again but if it gets easy or stays where it is at its current state I won't be back. Its sad that such a great game is dying like this.

I still read the forums (and your blog) to see the new changes in the game in hopes that they might roll back a few of the changes but sadly it hasn't happened yet (aside from their "mistakes").

Great post BTW.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Anskiere said...

I think I have to put my vote with what Anachronist said.


(sorry if this gets posted twice, weird stuff goin' on)

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Scott Adams said...

Tell SOE what you think about shardless deaths.
---------------------------------------------
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. We're paying close attention to what is said in this thread, so keep it coming.


Ryan "Blackguard" Shwayder


http://eqiiforums.station.sony.com/eq2/board/message?board.id=combat&message.id=80546&view=by_date_ascending&page=1

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree completely on this post.

I been playing EQ 1 since 98 and EQ2 since it came out and the dumbing down of the game is appearent in both.

I feel like a old man saying "In my day I remember when you could loot other bodies or have to get a druid to TP you around or....."

EQ2 was deffinatly easier then that but the loss of the shard and XP Debt and some other things just dumbs it down.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Shard retrieval was more than just an annoyance, it was an immersive part of the game. We would have to figure out how to grab our shards, who was going to invis who, how we were going to fight back, whether we should all revive or whether a rezzer could get to us. Moreover, it would affect what fights we took on and how we would take them on. "Better not fight that mob here, our shards would be tough to get." "

Thank you for explaining exactly why I hated shard retrieval.

What is more immersive: Battling to finish a quest, or battling to find your opaque character model lying on the ground?

Why the big stink over immersion? How much immersion are you getting from sitting in front of a PC ,utilizing a mouse and keyboard, and listening to sounds coming out of speakers?

I like the changes SOE has made. Let's hope they continue in this direction.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am disappointed at the general unbalancing to guilds with the Master harvest last week.
I refer to Tiwaz's locked thread on forums.
I actually know Tiwaz from that forums link...Used to be known as Ullr from guild [Cadre,Vindicate, ECT.] on Toxx Server.
We and others as toons were known LvL perfectionists for our Primary toons, and looked for any and all Masters that came pertaining to our class. The amount of hard core plat grinding we would go through was enormous [wer'e talking 150-200+ game days here]. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't just for ourselves too, it was for our guild as well and Many fabled (15+ items and spells since expansion) were bought by me for guild strengthening alone.
And my Masters...well I for one managed to get 4 T6 prior to the Master Day drop through normal gameplay and broker/trader channel scanning. (Not including training spells, and I also have many more Masters at lower tiers too, though SOE cheapened them to the point that you can get by, quasi mentoring alts/toons and get them up 3 Tier 4-5 levels in under2 hours)
Let me assure you that then most T6 do cost 20+ Plat (Especially for healer class) and making that kind of plat takes {NO I absolutely hate the idea of buying Plat} time. I had also saved up ~ 70 + plat (That was top 25 richest for server) for when Masters do in fact come on the boards,but no, there wasn't one T6 spell that made the broker for well over a month {says something about how big guilds dominate the servers, also tells you why i was able to invest in our guildees }.
Most know that many Master spells are far more effective to solo, group, raid, than most of the standard individual fabled gear. There are exceptions In the T6-EPIC instance zones and the temple area of silent City but that's it. Most know a lot of Legendary gear (crafted or otherwise) is better than much of the fabled, but getting back to subject, spells/combat arts are paramount.

By comparison with the SOE Master BUG, we had individuals, alts, or newer members got up to 9 T6 (out of a possible 21-23 T6) Masters for their class in a single day (While i managed to get some for our guild,,, none for me,,, ahhh well. After what they did with taking out the 57 Master 1 spell book quest, we were out to get as many as possible). The change in Raid heirachy and toons involved some who were only 1 month game days old been irreversibly unbalanced to the point that peeps are losing position in their own guild. Some are even holding on to Masters they can't use to exert influence on the guild. Im sure this is not an isolated incident, in our guild alone.
Some players also have skill sets that are lower than others, All these Masters do is hide the fact that often their gameplay needs to be improved.

SOE spits in the face of all who had worked so hard to make their Primary toons the best that they can be, while others get an abolutely free ride to guild/raid positions since SOE can't control their QA.

I am disappointed SOE. A severe debuff to my loyalty has occured. How do you cure it?

1:11 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I'll have to respectfully disagree with your opinion of the shard changes. While this does serve to effectively reduce the value of the effort and work you've put into your characters, it also makes the game much more approachable by the new or casual player.

We picked up EQ2 a couple weeks after release, and a few days before WoW (which we originally had no intention of playing). EQ2 ended up being far less polished, the mechanics felt (and still feel, at least to me) awkward compared to EQ, and my enjoyment of the game plumetted after leaving the Trial of the Isle: inconveniently timed daily downtimes, long load times when zoning, shard recovery, many groups of unsoloable mobs, and unimpressive/too realistic laggy graphics all contributed to dissatisfaction. We played WoW on and off for a year, but I kept my eye on EQ2--mostly through this blog.

A year after release, we re-upped our subscriptions to EQ2 and cancelled WoW. The game, while not perfect, is much better, much more accessible. After hearing my wife complain for a week about shard recovery and costs (painful for someone under level 15), issue 17's shardless deaths made the game less frustrating--and yes, we hardly notice the experience penalty thanks to the vitality changes. It's much easier to find our way around town with tags over NPC heads, and this especially helps me, since I get a lot less play time with EQ2 than my wife does.

I'm a lowbie, with only a week of recent experience with the game, but what I've found is that the game is more polished, more consistent, and much more accessible than it was a year ago. If this had been EQ2 at release, we probably wouldn't have even tried WoW, but what we have now is sufficiently deep and satisifying with fewer frustrations. I feel Sony is to be commended (I hate writing this)...ahem...I feel the EQ2 team is to be commended for making the game more casual and newbie friendly. I don't have the time or desire to be hardcore, and I feel EQ2 may finally be an accessible game--issue 17 goes a long way to making that possible.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! *runs into the forum with much improved speed, stumbles and try to get up*
It says "Loyal" over my head ingame and I loved this game from the first day.
I just hope this "lets make this game easier"-period stops. It´s a adventuring game, and adventures should be exciting and death should lurk behind every corner(well almost).
I learned this game cous i was scared of pulling a aggro and accidently kill a friend..(deeebt and corpseruns!!!) THAT added the tactics that made it so much more fun than just random killing.

Try to make the people that liked this game from begining to stay instead of trying to recruit new people from other games that dont even care about the changes -please.
/guildmother W

12:17 PM  
Blogger Fonix said...

Currently there is absolutely NO death penalty in SWG. No decay, no debt... nothing.

SOE is extremely wishy-washy. SWG had one year on top trying to be its own game. Ever since EQ2 and WoW came out it has done everything it can to copy and be just like them (combat upgrade, urgh!) Now they are just using SWG as beta for their DC MMO combat system.

Speaking of immersion... it really sucks when you realize your 'world' is someone else's game eh?

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