We've had a couple of busy weeks so let's dive right in.
A new producer takes the helm at the Everquest Live development team. As Craig Knapp moves off to a new project, Chris Lena takes over as the Everquest Producer. Chris introduced himself in his first Everquest Producer's letter after attending the most recent Everquest Developer's chat over at Stratics. The players congratulated Chris on his promotion and Caster's Realm posted an interview with the new producer.
I found this quote interesting:
"One of the issues is that many people feel a little intimidated by the sheer amount of content – it can be daunting. We are working on some things to address that as well but I can't say anything else on that at this time."
Here's another quote to stick in your scrapbook and come back to in five years:
"EverQuest will definitely be around a lot longer than 5 years."
Last week an accidental slip on the forum list revealed what is most likely the name of the next Everquest expansion, Prophecy of Ro. While no SOE represenative validated the name, none worked to quell the rumors either. Like every expansion since LDON, some players were very excited at the new prospect while others gave the same complaints we have heard for four years: "no new expansions, fix bugs!"
Everquest expansions have come out every six months since Planes of Power. The days of the yearly Everquest expansion are over. SOE stated at previous summits that they regularly see a drop off at the five to six month mark in any expansion release with a clear jump in subscriptions shortly after an expansion's release.
Six month expansions are the pulse of a healthy game. They regularly improve and add upon the existing game, giving players new content and features that go well beyond typical class reenvisionment issues or bug fixes.
Bugs need to be fixed. None of us have any doubt about this, but holding up expansions for smaller bug fixes will not help the health of the game. Players don't return to EQ because the boats started working again, they return to see features like monster missions, single group adventures, and new high-end raid content.
I expect we will hear more about the new expansion in January with a release probably in February or March of 2006.
On Thursday, 15 December 2006, SOE released EQ Players, a website that ties into Everquest more than any other website before. The EQ Players website closely matches the EQ2 Players website of Everquest 2 and includes features such as a live character page, character rankings, guild listings, leader boards, image galleries, item data, and spell data. While systems like Magelo helped players keep track of their fancy gear so they could drool over it while pretending to work, the EQ Players site automatically updates itself as your character improves. So now you can see exactly what Loral is truly like. Oops, I forgot to take off my Turtlebone ring!
The site's release was not without controversy. Eighteen of the twenty webservers used to host the site did not work correctly resulting in lousy performance for the first couple of days. Connecting EQ Players to the live game also created some problems resulting in two or three patches within a 24 hour period. One of Chris Lena's first public jobs was to apologise for the issues.
Other players were concerned about privacy. While the site allows characters to remove or restrict their listings and rankings, doing so requires active participation. Some feel that the privacy of those who do not yet know or understand the site is missing. Frankly, I think the site would be a lot less fun if it only had forty or fifty showoffs while the rest of the world hid in indifference. No real private data is revealed, there are no account titles or personal information. If players are really concerned that people will find out what hat they wear, they can always remove their listing.
Earlier this week SOE also announced the Everquest Titanium pack for release in January 2006. This pack will contain the base game, a free 30 day subscription, and all ten expansion packs including Depths of Darkhollow for $20. This is the first time a new player can buy the entire game for this low a cost. Unfortunately, the pack's release misses the holiday rush, and within one to two months of its release, a new expansion will also be released upping the total cost of Everquest to $50. Still, considering the cost of $80 to $100 before, this is a much better deal.
This holiday season, SOE also offered up a 21 day free account reactiviation for old players. If you no longer play EQ but want to see how the world has changed, now is a good time to go see. Unfortunately, reactivated players won't be able to try out some of the new features like Monster Missions or Spirit Shrouds, but at least they can poke their heads around and see what is new.
A patch on 7 December 2005 added a few new changes. A change to the monster missions now requires every member to enter the mission and receive a crystal in order to earn experience. This was included to prevent players earning experience without ever even attending the mission. Though a fair change that does little to increase the difficulty of monster missions, some players hiding under the flag of "Casual gamer" claimed that this change hurt their ability to match high-end hunters. No element of the game should ever reward experience with no effort. Earning up to an AA of experience without moving reveals a broken system. That system is now fixed.
A new Arena also finally made it from Stormhammer to the live servers.
Speaking of Stormhammer, it appears the elite server will soon close its doors. The high monthly cost for negligible improvement resulted in very few players on the server. While some felt that SOE could have done more to make the server attractive, it was unlikely that SOE could spare the resources for such a gamble. Closing the server and moving the players seemed the only reasonable choice. When I saw the numbers of active players on Stormhammer in comparison to other servers at the last Summit, it was clear to me that this was the only choice.
The difficulty of Overlord Mata Muram came up during the last Developer's Chat. A player asked if the end-boss of Omens of War would have his difficulty reduced considering the small number of guilds guilds able to defeat him. Rashere stated that while probably too difficult, OMM would remain at his current difficulty as a sign of guild power. Within 24 hours of his statement, two new guilds defeated Overlord Mata Muram bringing the total number to twenty. OMM still remains undefeated on some servers including my home server of Quellious.
The second tier of the Demiplane of Blood, the most powerful raiding zone in Everquest, has been entered. Many adventurers whisper rumors of the identity of the final encounter in the zone. Raging Fury has some excellent descriptions of the latest high-end raiding encounters.
If you are more of a single-group hunter, like myself, you may find Samanna's Guide to Depths of Darkhollow Missions useful. This single-page guide has every mission, reward, and progression tree for over fifty Depths of Darkhollow non-monster missions.
Pontificating about massive online games became a new past time of mine since writing for Mobhunter. I found the website Terra Nova to be a very interesting academic look at massive online games. Richard Bartle, the programmer of the world's first multiuser dungeon, writes for them on topics ranging from economics to reward systems. It's a great read.
Gamespot's interview with John Smedley had some interesting things to say about the recent Star Wars Galaxies changes. A recent Wired article titled Star Wars Fans Flee Net Galaxy discussed the exodus of older players due to a more action-based feel. In the interview, Smedley discusses the failure of sandbox games (the Sims, Second Life) compared to goal-oriented games (Everquest, Warcraft). He also talks about a lot of interesting topics including cross platform gaming on any device, massive online games on the PSO, and players in South Korea being unable to put down cigarettes to use the keyboard. It's a great read.
Here's another quote to add to your scrap book:
"People within the company feel so much pride in this game that they want it to beat the crap out of World of Warcraft."
With four and a half million players, a new expansion on the way, and being the number five best selling game a year after release, World of Warcraft has a pretty big ass to kick.
19 December 2005