Mobhunter: Five Steps to One Million Subscribers

I want to see one million people playing Evequest. I want to see Sony Online Entertainment double the subscribers they currently have. I do not have a master's degree in business or marketing but that never stopped me from having an opinion before and it won't stop me now. This article outlines five steps to improve Everquest's success.

Loral's Marketeer Five Step Evil PowerPoint Slide for the success of Everquest:

- Continue to release fresh retail versions of Everqust. Make it clear to the consumer which one they should buy and cheap enough to compete with newer MMOGs.

- Update the PC models and graphics to compete with newer MMOGs and make EQ look like a brand new game.

- Release another Lost Dungeons of Norrath style expansion with scaling content for levels 20 to 70.

- Simplify the interface; perform usability studies; simplify the skill and discipline system.

- Improve Everquest stability; make patches modem friendly; offer updated versions of EQ on DVD as DVD drives proliferate.

Step 1: Market Everquest as a new game every expansion and offer a free version. The release of the Everquest Platinum edition greatly improved SOE's chances for increasing subscribers. For $30, a new player gets the basic game, all seven current expansions, and a month to try it out.

Release the basic game with a one month trial for free to let people try the game out. Pass this single-disc version around like AOL. Have people making coasters out of it and throwing it at that guy hovering over by the fax machine. While the current free download helps, the sheer size of the game makes it almost inaccessible to new players. Offering free CDs in gaming stores, magazines, and bulk mail will bring in a lot of new players.

Continually update this $30 version with everything but the most recent expansion. Pull older versions off the shelves. Make it clear which versions players need to buy.

Step 2: Update player character graphics. There are no graphics more important than PC graphics. When people shop for a new MMOG, player graphics are the first thing they see. Everquest has excellent world and beastie graphics, but the current player graphics need work.

SOE plans to release new player graphics by the end of the year. It is important that they stick to this deadline. EQ2, Worlds of Warcraft, and Final Fantasy X offer brand new and fresh player graphics. New PC graphics is SOE's first chance to impress new players, it is the first graphics a new player sees. New player graphics are the most important change this year.

Player graphics require three things to succeed. They must scale well on existing systems and offer good performance during raids. They must be customizable enough to create unique characters identifiable from far away. They must be good enough to let us escape into the lives of our characters.

Step 3: Release another Lost Dungeon-like expansion. Lost Dungeons of Norrath offers the most highly scalable content in any of the previous expansions. LDON offers usable and rewarding content from level 20 to level 65. Mobs are always blue. Treasure and rewards scale well. Groups are easy to find and the camps are well connected. The dungeons allow for easy corpse recovery but still offer a good challenge. Players can finish an event in between 45 and 90 minutes.

A new Lost Dungeons expansion should use the Gates of Discord expedition system so players can leave if they have to. Like LDON, it should allow players to work towards powerful items in small steps. The storylines should put the players in the role of the hero and not the errand boy. The storyline should progress as the players hunt. Threats should seem real. Adventure types should reward the players equally for equal difficulty and there should be a wider variety of them than the current ones.

Step 4: Simplify the interface. Everquest's interface is very difficult for new players. The basic controls alone require a lot of work but stack on communications and character improvement interfaces and you have one of the most complex game interfaces ever seen.

Reduce the number of windows a player must go through to set up disciplines. Start all skills at 1 so they will raise on their own instead of requiring a player to run back and check with a guild master every couple of levels to see if there is a skill they missed. Tell the player when a new discipline is available and let them scribe it like a spell. Streamline the hotbox macro creation process so it is easy to build complex macros mixing skills, disciplines, spells, and other commands.

Perform usability tests with new players to see where interface elements break down and where they can be improved. Basic usability tests are cheap to perform and can easily improve profits on even simple systems.

Simplify the interface and more players will stick with the game.

Step 5: Improve stability and lower network requirements. When I first played Everquest Online Adventures on the Playstation 2, I was impressed by two things. One, they download patches into three megs of space and it never gets any bigger. Two, they focus almost entirely on game enhancements instead of stability improvements.

Make Everquest as stable as a console game. Improve hardware testing and application testing so that players can reasonably expect the game to work every time they log in. Many players still face a variety of technical issues and these issues are far more damaging to the game than almost any content problem. The chaos of PC architectures makes testing very difficult. Stability should be a number one concern for SOE developers.

The large patches that Everquest players face require a high-speed connection. While the game itself plays well over dial up, downloading two hundred megs of updates cut off a lot of players from playing. As DVD drives become more common on newer machines, offer Everquest with all expansions on a single DVD but lock the content the user didn't pay for. Update this DVD with the most recent large patches so even existing players can go get the updates from a game magazine or from their local game shop. Keep patches small and consider dial up players when they are released. No patch should take longer than 30 minutes to download. Even thirty minutes will cut out a lot of players.

I don't claim that these five steps are the keys to the success and future of Everquest, but from the five years I've played this game, the above steps seem to be the ones most hindering to new players. New players are the key to success for Everquest in the years to come. While a lot of players would rather SOE focus on the top 1%, that 1% is going to go away eventually and only by bringing in new and fresh players can Everquest continue to grow into the future.

Loral Ciriclight
15 August 2004