First, a disclaimer. I haven't played Everquest in about seven months. I logged in long enough to look at the freebie gift items described below, say hello to my guild, and leave again. I spend most of my time recently playing D&D (expect a D&D 4e review in the next month. I know its not a MMO but you'll just have to suffer through), writing up D&D adventures for my weekly group, and editing my novel (*snoot*), Seven Swords. However, with the attention spent on Living Legacy and my own lack of recent articles, I thought a few words were in order.
Living Legacy is Sony's promotion targeted at bringing veteran players back into EQ. Now that SOE releases Everquest expansions every year instead of every six months, the company likely believes something must be done in between expansions to keep player numbers from dwindling as recently released content becomes old and new content is still far away.
Living Legacy offers a few promotions in a single package. First, all past accounts are reactivated for about six weeks. Second, Secrets of Faydwer is activated for all accounts throughout the six-week promotion and those that choose to keep paying. Third, in-game rewards are given to players to help power up characters to the current baseline. Fourth, new limited-time raids are released with a competitive ranking and reward structure.
Let me cut straight to my problem with this promotion. The people they target left Everquest for some reason and this promotion does not fix these reasons. It wasn't armor power or the cost of the expansion or the lack of raids that pushed many players over to World of Warcraft; it was the lack of entertaining battles and encounters and a feeling of helplessness when it comes to progression.
Everquest's basic structure hasn't changed over the past few years. Aside from instances for groups and raids, much of the game is similar to the way it was nine years ago. The graphics have improved. The characters have grown in power. The items are much stronger than they were. Yet much of the actual gameplay is the same.
Many players left to try something new and found it with other games including World of Warcraft. WoW suffers from its own problems but it offers a few new styles of gameplay at its core that Everquest never embraced: soloing to the maximum level, gear resets with each new expansion, and smaller raids.
A free six week trial to return to Everquest will bring a lot of players back to look around and talk about the old days. People will enjoy spending some free time in the new expansion looking around at all the new places to hunt, beautiful scenery, and big powerful mobs. Some may even enjoy the new armor, although it seems a bit underpowered. The competitive raid program seems to bring the worst part of World of Warcraft, battlegrounds, to Everquest. It would be best to leave that feature alone. Yet with all of these attempts, little in EQ has changed.
Beyond gameplay, character leveling and itemization limits players returning to Everquest. There are so many required alternate abilities that players lagging behind will find themselves either leveling up too far too fast without shoring up their power with AAs or will give up before ever reaching the level of their friends. Some lower level veteran players will also find it impossible to find a group to level up to the same level as their friends.
Itemization also limits returning players. The new gear rewarded for this promotion is limited to three armor pieces and a weapon. Some of these rewards might be duplicates. The power on this gear, unaugmented, is low. Granted, it has augment slots that make it significantly higher, but if players have to hunt for augments to make the gear worth while, they might as well be hunting for the gear itself. It is too little, too late for most people.
In business there is a term called "Barrier to Entry" defining the difficulties of getting customers to your product. For the purpose of this article, "Barrier to Return" is probably more effective. In order to take down barriers to return, what would SOE need to do? Let's look at some radical possibilities:
1. Reward required AA trees at certain levels to shore up characters as they level. Currently it is too easy to level up to the mid 70s or even to 80 without earning any AAs. Higher level characters aren't effective without baseline sets of AAs. By rewarding AAs from 5 levels ago when you reach the next plateau, characters will be shored up and the barrier to return is reduced. Players no longer feel the insurmountable requirement to get 300 AAs on top of 20 levels. The top tier of AAs would still require earning regular AAs but, in a couple of years, players will acquire them when they hit level 85. Every five levels from 65 to 80 players earn their core AAs (determined by the developers) that were available five levels previous.
2. Offer a default set of gear at certain levels. Like the AA sets above, making certain default gear available at certain levels either through quests or vendors would help ensure that players can get to a default baseline power level without having to go to content from five years ago and grinding by themselves. Between this solution and the AA solution, SOE could determine new power tiers for characters and develop content based on these. These tiers of gear should be reset every time there is a new expansion to remove itemization barriers for returning players. Being twinked by your old friends shouldn't be the way you gear up.
3. Let returning players create new classes at any level between 1 and 70. Current MMOs, Everquest and Warcraft included, focus too much on leveling and itemization instead of grouping, adventuring, and campaigning. The content can be the drive, not the lewts. For Everquest, default higher level characters would have the minimum baseline AAs and Gear required to hunt at that level but just about anyone who leveled up manually would be a lot more rounded out. That should help the "but I worked so hard to get here" mentality that destroys game design progress and is largely responsible for the current state of EQ.
Living Legacy is an interesting concept and is likely to bring some players back to EQ. Unfortunately it isn't quite radical enough and largely focuses on free offerings to try to bring players back. Without establishing new character baselines or changing the way the game is played, players are likely to leave for the same reason they left in the first place. At this time, other games are just more fun.
8 June 2008