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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Nice Job

"A few hundred 'bot subscriptions just aren't worth the money when compared to keeping the game fun for hundreds of thousands of people." -EQ II Senior Producer Scott Hartsman

"Clean your finger before you point at my spots." -Benjamin Franklin

Being relatively new to MMORPG's I don't have the built up ill will towards SOE that some do. I have often given them the benefit of the doubt when more experienced players have not. I gave them kind of a free pass on the Froglok nonsense.

I have been willing to accept their mistruths and missteps and have always tried to take everything in a light and humorous way.

But not today. Not on this day.

For years I have listened to SOE and other MMORPG companies vilify IGE and the secondary market to the point where they have become the devils that cause all that is evil and wrong with online gaming. Whether this is true or not is a matter for another debate. But now I know why SOE was bashing IGE. Not as an enemy, you see, but as a competitor.

I watched as SOE lauded themselves for their victorious war on farmers and botters. "Not in our game," they cried. "They will not interfere with our precious sanctity." Sure, when the coins are going into someone else's coffers. When it's your own pockets that are getting filled then it's a service.

The funny thing is, things were working. According to a source I trust, IGE has had almost no currency for sale on any EQII server for some time now. A friend of mine who belongs to an "exploit" forum reports that it is basically dead because there are no exploits to speak of. So what do you do when you're the corrupt sherrif of a town? First you drive out all crime. Then you hit up the townsfolk for protection money.

The hypocrites fully intended to enter the secondary market themselves and are now preparing to do so. SOE will be taking a "service charge" on each transaction. If they are really doing this for the good of the game, why not do it for free?

The new
Exchange website is full of scare tactics. Beware the Secondary Market! They will steal from you and murder your children! And that's just before breakfast!

Now, I happen to have two friends that guiltily admit to using IGE. I don't judge my friends. I polled them last night on their experiences.

"A few months ago I bought a few plat from IGE. They delivered each time in under 2o minutes."

"I bought 3 platinum a month ago (from a smaller IGE competitior) and it was delivered in 10 minutes."

Again, I'm not trying to say they were right or wrong. But they certainly didn't have any of the issues mentioned in SOE's propaganda.

Of course, if you try to buy plat, accounts or items from the more shady venues out there, you may get scammed. But the same could be said for buying anything on Ebay. You pay less but there are some risks. Order from Amazon and there are no risks but you pay more.

For those who say, well this is only for new servers, for those who say, you can play on them or not, it's your choice, I say, "Read carefully."

"Over time, we will look at possibly enabling Station Exchange on current servers based on the desires and activities of our communities."

Oh, but if they make your server an Exchange server you get a free transfer off! Wow, what a deal. Say goodbye to your friends, guild and community. But as Brenlo says,
a server is just a piece of hardware, right?

The most frequent comment I got while playing last night is that this will put the botters in one place. My first reaction was the same. But on further reflection, I don't know if that will happen. Not everyone who uses the secondary market is going to suddenly leave their guilds and friends to transfer to a new server. Thus, there will still be demand on the non-Exchange servers for plat-selling. And where there is demand, you will find secondary market companies and their botters and farmers. And let's say you are a botter that works for a secondary market company. Why would you work on an Exchange server that has no need for such a company?

I'm afraid we've all been so conditioned to hate botters and the secondary market that we've forgotton why we hate them. Let me remind you. It's because they ruin the integrity of the game. SOE has used this hatred as a way of gaining support for their new cash cow. But SOE is ruining the integrity of the game on a higher level than any botter and doing it with a smile. If you hate botters and the secondary market, why would you possibly support SOE doing the same thing?

Smed talks a lot about the future. Is the future a place where real world money is the only thing that will count in gaming? Will you feel the same accomplishment finishing a difficult quest and knowing someone bought the same reward for five bucks? When easily transferrable real money is on the line, how many people will play just to make a quick buck, making the "game" a hunt for the quickest exploit or farming area? Is the recently announced PvP going to be a fun round of who has the fatter bank account?

SOE loves to blather on about the storied history of Everquest, it's greatness and purity. But they sure are quick to sell out that history for the sake of a quick buck. For a company that has always held itself up to be something more special than its competitors, they have no qualms about being first to dive into the muck.

Are subscription fees, game sales, adventure packs, and expansions not enough ways for them to make money? Apparently not. I can just see a board of directors meetings in which some SOE suits proudly brag about the "new revenue streams" they will be creating. "Okay /pizza got us a few bucks, but wait till you see the profit margins on this one!"

The devs are apparently under orders to post it up on the
new Station Exchange Forum and they have really been churning out the feel-good nonsense. I don't blame them, it's a job. I might even buy a used car from them. But I'm not buying this one.

If companies want to try this model, let them. But I didn't sign on to play
Project Entropia. I signed on to play Everquest II. And I listened to them slam the secondary market forever. They are not only sullying the integrity of their own game, they are setting a precedent which underminines the future legal rights and integrity of any other companies that make MMORPG's.

I don't even mind corporations being greedy whores with no morals. I think in the era of Enron and Worldcom we are all sadly used to it.

What I mind is SOE's disgusting hypocrisy. They are whores who villify their fellow whores and dress themselves in holy garb. Whatever good will they may have built up, they just irrevocably damaged forever with this truly sickening announcement.

Here are some links for further commentary on the story:

Wired Magzine: General news coverage. My favorite quote: "The move is surprising because SOE has been one of the fiercest and most vocal opponents of MMO players who spend real money on virtual assets."

Adventuring with Ark: Good commentary. My favorite quote: "It's such a bad idea, even Moorgard's old website, Mobhunter, thinks it's a bad idea."

TerraNova: Argument on both sides. My favorite quote: "If eBaying isn't a problem, why sell objects at all? Why not just give them away to anyone who wants them?...because it SPOILS THE GAME. "

Vanguard Crafters: They have an unofficial poll up as well as an editorial.

Aggro Me will eventually return to it's usual light commentary. Thank you for reading.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the first time I have actually gotten disheatened over something Sony has done. And I have been playing EQ/EQ2/EQOA since 2001!

Ah well not all doom and gloom, but it sure feels like it.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought you would find what Brad McQuaid said concerning this decision and how Vanguard will handle it:

Wow, what to say. I'm still reeling a bit.

A lot of you brought up money: that this sort of decision was based on money, and in one sense it likely was.

But, honestly, we're all in this for the money (and the fun, etc. -- how often does one do something for only 'one' reason?).

The money and fun we're looking for results from a popular game that lasts years and years. To that end we're constantly thinking about retention mechanisms -- ways to make the game stay fun and entertaining and compelling for that long. It's not easy. One thing we know is that we have to protect the long term health and balance of the game, and that a big part of that is the game's economy (especially given its item-centricity).

There are a lot of ways to do things short term in an MMOG. You could be a really popular company short term by popping into an area of the game for a few hours as your GM character and handing out high level items to newbies. I'm sure you'd be cheered and have quite a following. But it would mess up the game and cheapen other players’ experiences, so it would be a bad idea.

Likewise, one could sell high level items in-game for in-game plat or out of game, on eBay. The former could be quite an in-game money sink, and the latter a real-life money maker. Both, however, would hurt the overall health of the game.

My point is that facilitating the out-of-game sales of in-game items is undoubtedly a way to make money short term and also to control to some extent (or at least get a piece of) the money being made by third parties engaging in this sort of thing. This is, obviously, appealing in the short term and to someone who may not understand the importance of protecting the long term health and integrity of the game and what really makes an MMOG tick.

Vanguard is being designed as a home for the core gamer for months and years. It is also a game designed such that the integrity of the player driven economy is paramount. Because of that, out-of-game sales will harm Vanguard (they will happen to some degree, although we are determined to stop them in any way possible). Likewise, participating in shortening the lifespan of Vanguard in order make money short term is not compatible with our business plan... our vision… our desire to make money long term and host a game that lasts for years, do expansions, build our company, and hopefully create other MMOGs in the future.

So it's not going to happen.

Brad McQuaid
President & CEO, Sigil Games Online, Inc.
Executive Producer, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've not been playing these types of games for a long time; but I tend to be a social player, occasionally role-playing my character, associating with Family-type guilds rather than the hardcore Raid guilds... and somehow I've managed to not get intertwined in the whole buy-virtual-items-for-real-cash (characters, coin, etc.) scene.

I've never actively tried to find ways to cheat, I move along when killing for XP and someone appears to be killing the same things for quests... I guess I am just the goodie-two-shoes player that is trying to enjoy the game as it was delivered, enjoying the company of people I meet up with in-game, not taking things seriously; I play for the entertainment.

I think what concerns me the most is that EQII may become the game that all others use to describe a type of gamer: ones that would rather buy their way to greatness, ones that don't really want to bother playing the game but just have the best loot going, ones that are not interested in playing their way through the game the way it was intended, ones that have no interest in the game-world itself.

I am not that type of gamer.

I did not play EQ I. I purchased EQ II based on two factors; 1) they had experience with a large customer base and have had a chance to learn the ups and downs of running this type of game... which would hopefully be learned from and create a more stable system, and 2) EQ I seemed to have a lot of back-story to it, they'd created a World that people enjoyed... something they'd hopefully carry to their new game.

But, what incentive will players have to enjoy this great World that SOE has created if you do not even have to actually play the game? I had to work hard while trudging through the bowels of Stormhold to finish the myriad of quests that brought me back again and again... and I was very pleased with the loot I acquired within. But I gained more than loot in Stormhold; I learned more about the World I play in.

I may never even have to enter Stormhold if I had the ability to just buy the best armour; heck... I'd have no need to do the Armour Quests even. I could trade cash for coin and hit up a crafter, or easier yet: just buy the item outright.

I fear this might just ruin the game World that SOE spent years on creating; they might as well strip out all story elements, and allow the character generation page to create the character you want, at the level you want, with the equipment you want, etc. etc. Soon the World of Norrath will have no meaning to people; instead of being an immersive world that you play in it will become a land of polygons where I nobody has an inkling as to why the moon above is fragmented.

I hope that the impact it has on the game I play is not too harsh; else the lush world I currently play in may just turn into a pixelated bore with no incentive to play.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Aggro Me said...

Scott: I haven't been playing nearly as long as you but I have truly enjoyed my time doing so. Like you, this is the first time anything Sony did really got to me. But, like you say, not all doom and gloom. I feel better already after getting that rant off my chest.

Vitesse: Thanks a lot for the post from Brad McQuaid, I hadn't seen that. Very interesting stuff. Vanguard is probably the one (if not only)upcoming MMORPG I'm really watching closely.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Aggro Me said...

Playfair: Thanks for taking the time to comment. I couldn't agree more...why even complete an armor quest when you can just purchase better armor?

As you say, Norrath may become more of a sandbox toy than an immersive world. I hope not, because it's a world I enjoy.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great write up. I really can't put my disgust at this into words properly, its just wrong.

The funny thing is, is that in these games I feel its the "getting there" thats is the fun. If you buy that, what's the point of playing?

Plus, if your game design is so bad that people would rather buy something than have fun getting it, what does that say?

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't play EQII, so maybe I shouldn't post here. But every other game out there is rife with farmers and 3rd party sales if you just dare to look beneath the surface.

Now game developers will be forced to address this issue - flashman said it, they were writing broken games, or at least, games that secondary markets could break. Now they can't. Maybe they'll create games that are fun to play, not just fun to have played, where social status is based on skill and leadership, not just /played or /spent.

You're dead on about what this says about SOE's jihad against secondary markets. Not that it matters, I've ceased to be able to scrape together even more cynicism. I'll enjoy this as a social, economic, and legal experiment and just be on my way.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Aggro Me said...

Flashman: As you say, it is the journey that's the fun part of the game. Let's say you buy a level 50 character decked out with uber equipment. Now what exactly are you going to do? Run around a bunch of grayed out zones? Join raids for no purpose?

Staarkhand: When I am able to take a step back, I do see it as a fascinating social, economic and especially legal experiment. Part of me wants to see how this all pans out. But the part that is a player finds it hard to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

7:11 PM  
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