EverQuest Lost

No, that’s not the name of the next EverQuest game. ‘Lost’ is how many of us fans are feeling today.

Big heartfelt condolences go out to the many fine people at Daybreak (SOE) who were laid off. All of the layoffs suck, but to see Steve Danuser and Dave Georgeson and so many of the EQ dev and community teams let go truly pains me. EverQuest lost a huge part of its heart and soul today. You guys and gals did great work. Thank you for your contributions to my favorite franchise.

As a player and fan of these games, the hardest thing to think about in all of this is that anything is possible right now. EverQuest Next could be axed entirely in favor of redistributing all of the newly acquired company’s resources toward me-too games like H1Z1 or something else entirely more appealing to the newly appointed overlords.

Every industry and company has these kinds of days (my own company went through it last week), but I feel like the gaming industry is just so dang volatile lately. I’m starting to think I should stick to marketing outside of games and just be an outsider looking in and enjoying (or trying to) something fun to play.

In a world where success is being dictated by Twitch viewers and how many registered users a F2P game has, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. Those of us willing should hold fast to our ideals. We know what matters most. We know what works. We know where the future will ultimately end up. How the industry gets there will be… well, on days like today it’ll suck. Maybe it will ultimately crash. Maybe it has to in order to recover and go back.

Again, best wishes to those affected. Please go somewhere and make great games. There are many of us just waiting to play.

SOE Acquired… huh

I wasn’t expecting this when I started my morning browsing of Twitter and Reddit.

My immediate reaction: Spine-chilling fear for the future of the EverQuest franchise.

My second reaction: WTF?

My next reaction: Wait, is this for real? Why? huh?

Being acquired by “Columbus Nova, an investment management firm” means you are a line item on a balance sheet of a company run by people in suits with big offices who want to see their lines on the balance sheet with big black numbers next to them. The care for good games goes away and the care for becoming cash-grabby takes over.

The more I think about it, this is starting to make some sense. SOE was behaving a little odd lately with the F2P model conversion, and the whole early access hype building… yep. This wasn’t a weekend deal. This was coming for a long time.

SOE made and continues to make some of my favorite games. I do not want to see EverQuest turned into a cash grab. I do not want to see SOE, a company with dozens of talented people I really respect, turn into a gPotato or Zynga style studio. I want SOE to make AAA games like they have in the past.  I don’t see that as an option now unless this random investment firm is owned by gamers who want SOE to make amazing games.

For now, we’ll watch this acquisition as we have watched them all in the past. Everyone builds excitement, talks about the future, etc. Slowly but surely the implications are revealed, and eventually there’s a thread on Reddit where some anonymous senior level employee tells all. Hopefully that’s not SOE’s (I mean Daybreak Games?) future.

For now, I’m just going to sit here scratching my head. That’s all I can do.

Pay 2 Win

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 days, you probably saw something about H1Z1’s early-access launch debacle. SOE clearly stated several times that guns, ammo, etc., would not be something players could acquire with real money. They would not be purchasable from the cash shop, yada yada. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true.

In what is now being apologized for as a misspeak by a dev during an interview, SOE is cleverly getting guns into players’ hands via the cash shop … indirectly. Players can buy airdrops with a random chance of dropping these types of items.  The problem with the airdrops was that they were landing too close to where the player ordered them. Supposedly these have been tweaked for balance already.

So yes, players can get guns and ammo from the cash shop. It’s just not a direct option. You can’t go to the cash shop and buy an AR-15 with ammo. You have to order an air drop and hope no one steals it from you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if the semantics matter. Smed and his team are 100% pro-air drop, so unless they change their minds it looks like it’ll stay.

What I love about this entire affair is how hard the community policed the anti-pay-to-win philosophy. Reddit blew up on Smed, players started demanding refunds (to which SOE is currently obliging) and a massive spotlight was shined on some pretty crappy decisions and (maybe) bugs leading to a style of play that isn’t in-line with what players want these days.

If only the community would pick up on the design implications of F2P and police it just as hard. The world would be a better place.

H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.

Good News for EverQuest Marketing

Two days ago Omeedd Dariani left Sony Online Entertainment. Omeedd was the Senior Brand Manager of the EverQuest franchise. I mean no disrespect to Omeedd as a person — none at all — but I am very glad to see this happen. You may recall my ‘Dear SOE‘ post from only 14 days ago where I basically laid it all out to SOE that I wasn’t happy with the direction they are taking the EverQuest franchise’s marketing. I didn’t want to point out names of the people I thought were to blame (though I did point out people I was okay with… read between the lines)… I’m now okay saying a big part of my problem has been Omeedd.

Here’s a quote from his post on Reddit where he explains his reason for leaving:

I chose to leave because my direct supervisors didn’t support the community-first marketing approach we’ve taken on the EQ Next/Landmark teams.

Which community? The streaming community? The real “community” hasn’t been represented at all in Landmark or even EQ Next. If you’re not an avid Twitch.tv chat user or a member of the Omeedd fan club then you probably feel like I do which is: (1) Ignored, (2) Frustrated by a lack of real information about the game(s)’ development, (3) Wondering why the huge drop in maturity level, (4) Craving some good old-fashioned MMO marketing where mechanics, lore, and even nostalgia drive hype.

I don’t know why I feel this way, but I started to feel insulted by SOE’s focus on creating an inner-circle of community members. There has been a huge sense of favoritism and a tie to people like the live streamers that has left a severely bitter taste in my mouth. This “SOE Insiders” program needs to be stopped immediately. Having to watch other streamers to get in-game items, having to have one foot in-game and another foot out to participate in this “community” has been quite ugly. The antics of promoting streamers and everything but the actual game will not be missed, and I hope SOE takes notice and continues to clean up.

I’ll say it again: I want SOE to focus on their forums again. I want a huge shift back to their own website with regular updates. Get me excited about EVERQUEST not just some guy waving his arms and drinking scotch on a live stream. I want EverQuest blog posts on a weekly basis revealing one mechanic at a time. You market an MMO by slowly releasing information and conveying it with a story and an explanation around it that reveals a bigger picture. This is elementary stuff. It’s how you properly excite this market without unsubstantiated hype.

When thinking about the EverQuest franchise, I should be thinking about how I can explore Norrath, become one of the characters I see in concept art and how my adventure will unfold; I shouldn’t think of Omeedd or Twitch. Here’s hoping that this means good things for the REAL community of the EverQuest franchise.