Mobhunter: Topics of the New Year

With SOE's developers on vacation this week, life in Norrath has been quiet. So let us sit back, relax, and enjoy our new year with a look at some of Norrath's most recent topics of discussion. Four big topics continually seem to dominate the live forums: EQ's lifespan, server consolidation, class balance (egads), and the summit.

Let us get the most painful one out of the way first. For nearly the entire time I've written for Mobhunter, people complain about class balance. I covered it a couple of times before, but let me step back from my own views on the matter and talk about what we see.

Early on when the new EQLive forums stood up, Kytherea and Ashlanne began keeping track of the top ten class issues for each class. Regardless of the continuing disclaimers on these threads, people assumed this meant these class issues would all be addressed. Now even though many classes have had some of their issues addressed, people lean towards statements like "SOE isn't listening" and "none of our class issues are being met". How easily we forget. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with someone who stated that even though some of their class issues were met, they were things that should have been fixed anyway and didn't count.

My head swam with the spiral I see people swimming down. Then, my friend Boanerges from EQClerics linked a document called The Laws of Online Game Design gathered by Raph Koster. Raph worked on a variety of online games including Ultima Online, and Star Wars Galaxies and now acts as the Chief Creative Officer over at SOE. One of these rules shined like Frodo's Light of Earendil:

"Hans Henrik Staerfeldt's Law of Player/Admin Relations: The amount of whining players do is positively proportional to how much you pamper them. Many players whine if they see any kind of bonus in it for them. It will simply be another way for them to achieve their goals. As an admin you hold the key to many of the goals that they have concerning the virtual environment you control. If you do not pamper the players and let them know that whining will not help them, the whining will subside."

Another one might articulate this better:

"Hal Black's Elaboration: The more responsive an admin is to user feedback of a given type, the more of that type the admin will get. Specifically, as an admin implements features from user suggestions, the more ideas for features will be submitted. Likewise, the more an admin coddles whiners, the more whining will ensue."

We might argue that not listening or responding to player concerns ends their whining simply because they go away. If you don't listen to your customers and address the issues that must be addressed, they will go away. Sometimes, however, I wonder if badgering the developers into making changes has become its own progressive massive online game. Why should I hunt for a new hammer when I can get the developers to make the one I have better? Why fight so hard against the Luggalids in Nadox when I can convince SOE to make them easier? It seems the EQLive forums became their own sort of meta-game. I might receive more improved items and upgraded spells there than I will hunting in game.

This brings up a multitude of questions. Should SOE have ever validated class issues by keeping track of them on an open forum? Do those class issues really represent the whole set of players who play those classes? Now that they have validated these concerns, what should they do to address them? Will simply addressing them as-is result in breaking the game even further? Do the players really know whats best for the whole of the game? There are few easy answers and a whole lot of theory.

Let us shift paths and discuss server consolidation. Recent threads reveal no official words on any move by SOE to consolidate servers although I stand by my rumor that they at least consider and discuss Zek consolidation. It makes more sense for those servers with their wide variety of rule-sets on top of population issues. While more and more threads pop up each day, I wouldn't expect SOE to make any other move to consolidate servers until after the release of the next expansion.

Shifting paths again we reach the Guild Summit. SOE had originally planned a summit in January but announced that they pushed the date back to July. The original January announcement started a series of interesting feedback threads on soloing and tasks, user interface, and grouping improvements. While it would have been nice to get a deeper look at the next expansion, a June summit may hit at a more opportune time to offer feedback. As far as the summit effecting the longevity of the game, I don't think opinionated egotists like myself have as much impact as we would like to think. For all we know, Firiona Vie's hem-line has more to do with EQ subscriptions than any feedback found on a website.

Which leads into the last path we will walk today, the life of Everquest. I wrote an article for Caster's Realm titled Is Everquest Dying?. Anyone who read any of my other articles already knows my answer but in case you have not, the answer is "no, it isn't". When we look at the longevity of previous MMOGs and how few users can still finance new expansions, I think it is safe to say that Everquest has a long life.

This brought up an interesting question for me, however. Can Everquest last the rest of our lives? While it is obviously difficult to predict forty or fifty years of technology, we can assume that bandwidth and server costs will continue to go down. The value of continuing to maintain Everquest may be worth the bragging rights of maintaining a MMOG for ten, twenty, perhaps fifty years. Will people still want to play? People still want to play Pong, so probably.

For my last act, I would like to make a formal statement. I was wrong. Yes, I know it is hard to believe and I risk influencing the vast markets in the bazaar with my mere spoken word, but...I was wrong. The prices of Muramite Runes still seem to fluctuate between 20 and 30k in the bazaars well after my Thanksgiving 10k prediction. While I am confident that the prices will continue to go down, it would appear that more people are willing to pay for runes at that price to keep the market high. Shame on you.

Keep an eye out next week for a new article entitled "Loral's 2005 Predictions" for more lies, propaganda, and inaccurate financial outlooks. In the mean time, enjoy the new year and all of the possibilities it brings.

Loral Ciriclight
2 January 2005