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Friday, April 14, 2006

FanFaire Report Part 5 - Events, The Future, And Other Things





Events

I happened to get into a conversation with three guides early on in FanFaire. They really liked being guides but they just wanted more to do. They wanted to be able to run more contests and events. They didn't mean anything on the scale of the Plague or the Griffon Towers (although they liked being a part of things like that). They were referring to more personal, small-scale events.

Well, I'm happy to report to them that it was stated that design is working with the guide program to implement two or three more quests that guides can do with players. These will likely be on the smaller scale side. I think this is excellent because:

1. I love the concept of the Guide program and I want to see it be utilized.

2. While these types of events may not reach as many players as some of the larger scale events or regular game content, I think they have a profound effect on those they do reach.

I was also going to mention the Brew Day Festival here but if you read
the LU #22 notes you know as much about it as me. It sounds like a fun time and I'm ready to get my "brew" on.

Futurama

Okay, there were no official announcements on the next expansion. But we did receive a somewhat startling piece of news related to expansions. The famed "every six month" expansion push is now finally dead and buried. This announcement was meant with joy from the general public (and it seemed from the EQII team).

Expansions will now be released more in line with when they are ready and polished rather than by an arbitrary deadline. SOE plans to use about half of the additional time for development and half for a longer beta testing period.

I think this will result in a better product for the consumer and a more enjoyable experience overall. A word I heard thrown around a lot at the panels was "polished." For example, it was stated that SOE preferred to release KoS with fewer quests then they would like to ensure that the quests in KoS were polished. I have to agree with that decision. Although I do think the number of quests is a bit low, they are probably some of the best quests in the game. And I do expect the number of quests in KoS to increase over time as SOE stated they "have more stories to tell there."

Ah, but back to my point on the word "polished." With the expansions being given more development and testing time and SOE apparently preferring to go a bit slower in order to release polished content, it seems like a little bit of a paradigm shift away from "release as much content as quickly as possible" to "release content quickly but only when it is polished." I found this interesting.

"Polished" is a word often associated with WoW. And no, I'm not saying "OMG EQII copies WOW lol." But maybe recent times in the MMO world have shown that the general market prefers polished content even at the cost of lack of new content on a timely basis. Now, I'm not saying SOE is going to mirror Blizzard, who I'm sure is going to be releasing an expansion sometime this decade. But they do seem to be moving a bit more to the "polished" model which is something I think both the game designers and players will appreciate. However, I think you will still see SOE continue to push new content on a rapid basis, as today's Live Update shows. That pace may just be slowed from a sprint to a run.

At one point players were asked for expansion ideas and the overwhelming response was a maritime/underwater type theme. I emphasize that this was only the players ideas and not SOE's. Personally, I don't care too much about the theme as long as the expansion itself is really really good.

Adventure Packs were an issue raised often by players, probably because Splitpaw was so enjoyable and a great value for the money. Nothing specific was stated but I was happy to hear that the whole concept of Adventure Packs is still alive because I was concerned that maybe they did not make economic sense for SOE. Can we expect one before the next expansion? I'm not sure but I would guess that we can.

Several people asked about the possibility of new classes and SOE stated pretty clearly that for now 24 was quite enough. I have to agree that 24 classes is a rather large amount. But I noticed they didn't say the same thing about new races (maybe because the question wasn't asked), so who knows?

Questions were asked about the future of soloing in EQII. In terms of the overland zones, I'm not buying the "there's not enough to solo" argument. I believe it was stated that 80 percent of the mobs in the overland zones are solo, or at least that is the goal. That's pretty much in line with my experience.

However, I am quite glad that someone raised the issue of more solo instances in EQII because that's something I enjoy tremendously. While I am mainly a group player, there are times when you just feel like soloing and I love to do a fun instance with quests and events. Of course, I loved the solo instances in Splitpaw. And I've spoken before about my enjoyment of the Tear Grifters quests in DoF. This is one area where I felt KoS was lacking. Though there are a good amount of solo quests I enjoyed tremendously in KoS, I missed that cool solo instance.

Of course, there are downsides to the solo instances. We've seen people re-doing Harclave for 20 levels or more and not really experiencing the game. And I admit that for about 3-4 levels in DoF I fell into an Aquim/Tear Grifters cycle because it was the path of least resistance. But I do think this can be overcome, perhaps with lockout timers, so I was happy to hear SOE state that they do enjoy creating these solo instances because they are a unique opportunity for storytelling. So I think we can expect more.

A common question at FanFaire was: What's in the future for the low level gamers? I completely empathize with being a casual player in, say, the mid-30's and hearing about all this cool stuff going on in DoF and KoS and not being able to experience it. I would probably feel the same way. But the reality is a bit tricky.

The statement by SOE was that while they plan to keep things fresh and exciting for low level players they do have to be careful because it can lead to population issues. Let's take an example (my example, not SOE's and the numbers are probably insanely incorrect - it's just an example):

There are 20,000 active players on a certain server.
There are 2,000 people between twenty and thirty (you have to consider there are more clumped at the very high or very low levels so I'm being generous).
Let's say half are on at a given time so now we're down to 1,000.
Now let's say almost a half are soloing so we're down to around 600.
And how about tradeskilling, messing with their inn room or other miscellaneous stuff? We're down to 400.

But some are in Splitpaw, let's say 50, so we're down to 350.
Now let's say there are 2 overland zones and 3 dungeons within that range. So we have it down to 70 each.
Great, you can find a group!
But what if SOE adds 5 new zones at that level range? Now all of a sudden everything seems empty and it's very hard to get into a group.

Like I said the numbers are way, way off, but I hope it illustrated the point: You just can't add too many different zones to a level range without spreading the population of that level range too thin in a game that already has a ton of options.

Does that mean people in the lower level ranges have nothing to look forward too? Absolutely not. Just take a look at today's Live Update and you'll find that three dungeons have had serious revamps. Let me pause for a second here to say that the traps in the Wailing Cave sound very fun. One of the few things I liked about DDO was the trap system, so if EQII can add even a portion of that feel to their game it would be quite cool. And come on, those spikes in the WC which just sat there were absolutely idiotic.

Back to my point: lower level players can always look forward to fresh content because SOE continually reworks the older zones and keeps them feeling interesting. They've clearly done that with the newbie isle and they're working their way back through. So I think you can eventually expect better zones and quests at all level ranges. Another type of new content lower level players can look forward to is events, such as the Brew Day Festival.

So try to understand when SOE adds high level content. I know for myself, the one thing that would make me leave the game is being stuck at max level and bored. Sure, I could roll an alt (or, now, I can PvP which I am absolutely loving). But I also might want to check out another game.

Players in the DoF range may say, hey, what about us? Well I'm happy to tell you that the monks of the Ashen Order and the Ashen Disciples will be part of a storyline that will evolve over time. That sounded really interesting so I want to check it out.

Miscellaneous

I wrote about the issue of EQII shutting operations down in China
here and I saw Krones also discussed it. Well, I will admit I missed the main reason in my discussion, or at least the reason SOE gave. We all know SOE changes a lot of the content in EQII. Just look at the newbie isles. All of those quests were completely re-written. And they always add other content which is text-intensive.

The problem? Every line of text in EQII has to be translated into, I believe, three Chinese dialects. And the expense of that translation was just too much based on the pace at which new dialogue and text is added. I'm sure there were other subsidiary factors as well but I have no reason to doubt that the translation issue was not a major part of the problem. We were informed that the problem was not Gamania, EQII's partner in Asia. It was stated that they are a great company which handles such major games as Lineage and Maple Story.

The last item I wanted to discuss was botters. Scott Hartsman was very passionate about this issue and you could tell it was something he was very interested in. You might think that the way SOE stops botters is getting a complaint from a player, checking the complaint out and then making a determination. While that may serve as a starting point, they work on a much larger scale.

Fighting botting sounds much more like statistical analysis than traditional "crime fighting." Some members of SOE get very detailed economic reports every hour. And tools are used to analyze those reports and give clues as to who is botting and exploiting. And when they act, they wipe out a whole ring of "botters" from the farmer or exploiter to the mule or transfer agent to the seller.

They can also track individual plat and remove it from the system even after it has changed hands several times. Does this mean if you innocently receive duped plat you can lose it? No, because the key is they can tell if something of value was received in return. SOE is also moving from a program where they did a major bot sweep once a month or every few weeks to a tighter schedule where they attempt to knock out large numbers of botters on a daily basis.

The fact that they want to eliminate botters is only logical, because it makes for a better game. You might say, "Oh, they don't want to ban botters because they pay SOE subscription fees." But all "ethical" considerations aside, the cold economic truth is that SOE will make more money if new and current gamers do not have their play marred by botters, farmers and issues with the game economy. Even still, I was impressed by how passionate they were on this subject.

When asked my least favorite thing about the game at a panel, I flatly said, "Station Exchange." But beyond that I wasn't going to waste everyone's time by rehashing a debate which has been clearly stated on both sides already.

Conclusion

I left FanFaire feeling good about the future of EQII, not so much because of any one specific thing I heard but more because of the general direction and the intensity of the EQII team. I can't rate peoples' game design skills just by talking to them, but I did like what I heard. And I'm pretty sure the passion for the game every member of the team I talked too exhibited was too real to be faked. I also think that the more time the current team has to work with the tools and systems for creating content, the better that content will be. So I expect any new content (in whatever form) to be not just better, but exponentially better. Time will tell if I am right or wrong. And I'm sure along the way there will be plenty of things I disagree with. But that's part of the fun.

Well, that's the entirety of my FanFaire coverage. Apologies to those expecting some Friday Humor today but I had to finish this writeup before my memory slipped any further, especially because some of my notes look like: "Mentoring? Eadklj!!! SIJF?" Yeah. But if you want some humor check
Quylein's Humor piece if you haven't already or Coyote or these EQII Lethal Weapon parodies (via EQ2Daily).

4 Comments:

Blogger jaipehg said...

So..

Where are all the pictures of Aggro partying a li'l too hard?!

4:06 PM  
Blogger Anskiere said...

*late comment*

Right on with the adding new low level zones. If anyone wonders why SOE doesn't add new low level zones, they should hop on to EQ1 and see how many people hang around what used to be the original newbie zones. They're wastelands because low level content added with expansions offered better xp/more fun/whatever. The cities and surrounding areas are pretty much ghost towns

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