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Dear SOE: EverQuest Next and Landmark

Dear SOE,

I’m one of your original players back from the EverQuest days. I played the original EverQuest for many years, and I have continued to follow and play just about everything you’ve released. I am a true fan of the EverQuest series and have been eagerly awaiting and watching for all things EverQuest Next. I’m writing you to express my concerns regarding the direction I see you taking this beloved franchise.

My confidence in EverQuest Next is faltering. Development for Landmark has come to a weird crawl, and when something new is announced or implemented it’s taken in a bizarre direction that none of us really expected. I started playing Landmark back when it was all about the adventure of exploring a world, finding resources, and building things. Now the Landmark name is becoming associated with awkward live streams, building contests, and …. battle arenas?

I feel like you do not truly know what Landmark is supposed to be anymore, and as a result neither do your fans. Players like me, the original core fans, saw what we wanted to see months ago and stopped playing and testing because of the lack of communication aimed at keeping us interested in your progress. The focus was lost and shifted more towards this amalgamation of appealing to a different demographic and testing marketing tactics.

I’m not sure what has happened to the EverQuest brand over the past year. I feel like the brand is truly being mismanaged. What used to be a highly-regarded fantasy MMORPG brand portraying a very dignified and mature approach to building virtual worlds is now feeling like a ‘hey look at me, I’m the class clown who will dance and tell fart jokes to get attention!’  I have to be honest… I’ve stopped watching the live streams unless it’s just Dave Georgeson or Terry Michaels or Steve Danuser on the screen, taking themselves seriously, talking about real game-related things.

I have a question for the older crowd at SOE — the men and women who love(d) the older EverQuest games — Do you guys believe in the game(s) you are making? Are these the games YOU want to play? I’m starting to question that… and it concerns me.

Hope is not lost. I’m not jumping ship. I’m still a megafan. I just need to see more from you guys showing me that EverQuest Next has substance and isn’t just another game being made for the MOBA or minecraft generation of kiddies — heck, at this point I just need to see that the game is still going to release; Some out in the blogosphere think EQNext is going to be vaporware if Landmark can’t get its act together and H1Z1 takes off.

Gaining back the confidence of the core crowd of EverQuest fans is going to take a big change in the way you convey information. Utilize your website more and release written material with well-made pages, images and clear descriptions of features — things we can get excited about. Pull back on the reins a bit with the silliness in your live streams and ways you interact with the public. Get us excited about being in Norrath again. Leverage the nostalgia factor! No one from the generation and market you’re currently targeting knows or cares about the name EverQuest, so you’re going to have to either make people care by doing something huge or get the true fans of the name to start doing it for you — you won’t get that without convincing us that you’re still making EverQuest.

EverQuest Next needs to feel like it has a clear direction and vision behind the game. It has to feel like an EverQuest game. Landmark lacks that entirely right now, and as a result the general consensus among fans like me is that it’s floundering.

Thank you for creating worlds I have loved to live in. I respect and admire many of you. I want to be in your world again, just show me that you’re creating something I can care about.

What Kind of Gamer Am I?

What kind of gamer am I? I’m reflecting on this question and my gaming habits more and more lately. I know the kind of gamer I used to be when I was younger. I used to play games all day every day at what many would consider hardcore or even unhealthy levels. I scaled it back significantly to what I would classify as a “serious” gamer while in college, and somewhat serious after that.  Now, things are starting to change.

I’m a picky gamer. I’m a particular gamer. I might even be a gaming snob. I know what I like, and I no longer need to play games just for the sake of having games to play. Games are my greatest passion, my beloved hobby and pastime. I would absolutely return to the days of playing games for hours on end and loving every second… if there were games to be played that I could enjoy for that long.

I can consume games like Assassin’s Creed. I can casually play games like Minecraft and Civilization on and off. If I could pick one style of game I love the most it would be MMORPGs. I love the immersion, the world, the social dynamics, and the progression over an extended period of time. I can play MMOs for years. What I can’t do anymore is justify being the tourist bouncing around MMO to MMO. That’s why I stopped playing WildStar and I’m skipping games like ArcheAge.

Settling for and buying every new MMO just isn’t in me anymore. Why bother? I can think of plenty of other activities I’d rather do than act desperate and throw myself at every promise. I’d rather be extremely picky and overly critical.

I think the best way I can describe myself as a gamer now is ‘unemployed’, ‘unoccupied’, or ‘idle’. The part of me capable of devouring games is hibernating and waiting for something to change. The only game I play now is the waiting game. Something will eventually come along. Something always does.

Has your way of gaming changed over the years? What kind of gamer are you?

Should Do

My friends and I are once again in our go-to game: Minecraft. We have a server up and running on Feed the Beast Monster which contains like 100+ different mods and all sorts of crazy addons. The biggest problem I run into with modded Minecraft, especially with so many mods, is an overwhelming sense of having no idea what to do. I feel like there’s so much to do, and so many options, that I spin my wheels and almost do nothing because I can’t decide what I want.

I said to my friends, “I don’t know what I should do first,” to which one replied, “There is no “should do” in a sandbox.” Fascinating concept, and at first I felt like that was totally true and chastised myself. Now the more I think about it, sandboxes or every game for that matter need a ‘should do’ even if it’s a loose direction. Sometimes that ‘should do’ is a little hard to identify — that’s okay. Thinking over Minecraft, my ‘should do’ is gather resources and accumulate resources like electricity and power. In a MMO the should do is advance my character (whether a prescribed way or however I choose).

There’s a balance in there somewhere. Too much and it becomes a themepark leading you by the nose to every objective. Too little and it ceases to be gamelike. All of that said, I’ll err on the side of less ‘should do’ and more freedom any day. For me it’s all about having something to constantly work toward and achieve. Once I identify what that is, or I can create my own objective and it’s truly meaningful, I’ll play for years. As soon as that objective seems pointless, like a stopping point, or too easy to obtain, I’ll put it in the ‘why bother’ category and move on.

WildStar Pre-Postmortem

In the least surprising move this year, WildStar has abandoned the promised idea of monthly updates. Before launch, I remember some of the more hyped up fans stating that Carbine had 6 months of content already prepped and ready to go. Looks like that is simply not the case.

According to the Q2 report from NCSoft, WildStar only sold less than 500k units. WildStar is already bleeding subscribers. Will WildStar go F2P? Yeah, it will. I give it a few months.

All of this has nothing to do with the subscription model. Nothing. This has everything to do with the themepark design model and how it is no longer sustainable in this market.  People do not unsubscribe from $15 a month because of the subscription — they unsubscribe because the game isn’t worth it.

Here’s how you make a good MMO: Make a virtual world that sustains and allows players to sustain themselves with goals and progressions designed to casually scale over time. Oh yeah, and make it fun.

What can we learn from this?

  • People don’t care about end-game raids or how hardcore your promises about end-game will be
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  • Pre-launch marketing doesn’t sustain a game after launch
  • Nothing else matters if the game is simply not much fun

Expansions are Barriers to Entry

There’s an interesting quote floating around from Blizz dev Tom Chilton. “By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.”

On one level I completely agree. I know the feeling of wanting to go back and play a game but feeling too overwhelmed by what I’ve missed in the past. I absolutely love(d) EverQuest 2. Wonderful, wonderful MMORPG. I’ve wanted to go back so much, but every time I download the trial I feel completely lost. A few years ago (gosh probably 4+ now) I went back for the Kunark launch and leveled a Sarnak from 1-65. As I worked through previous expansions, I felt lonely and never saw anyone around. I needed to do that content to level up to see the latest expansion, but ultimately never made it there.

On a different level, I don’t necessarily agree that this is an expansion’s fault or intrinsic to the idea of an expansion. I think vertical progression / development are the issue. If anything, an expansion can be an enticement for players to enter a game or for someone who has been gone for a while to re-enter because there’s more to do and see — essentially the value offering has hopefully increased. This is also because of the problematic nature of focusing on an end-game rather than an entire game or a “living world.”

Offering an instant level 90 in World of Warcraft is a bandaid fix to the problem of having the 1-89 gameplay be worthless. This is a case where we see the symptoms being treated and not the cause. Does this work for WoW? Yeah, it probably does and in fact it’s actually reducing their particular barrier to entry, but not fixing the core issue.

It’s not easy. Balancing character progression while still creating a world that expands the possibilities more horizontally, without boring people from a lack of “things to do,” is one of the most complex and difficult to achieve designs — that’s why we almost never see it happen.