Mobhunter: The Allure of Augments

The aftermath of the shocking news that SOE would open Station Exchange, a service that will facilitate the sale of in-game items, characters, and money for out-of-game cash, came to an interesting conclusion. An additional posting, written a day after the original announcement, stated: "There will be no current live servers switched to the Station Exchange ruleset."

This makes a pretty big difference. For the most part, Station Exchange will have little effect on most players. The person next to you wielding that shining prismatic sword probably won't have bought it and if they did, it wasn't from SOE's Station Exchange. If you don't want to buy or sell in-game resources or if you don't want to play with players that buy or sell in-game resources, you simply avoid those servers.

Station Exchange probably won't push out companies like IGE if they don't facilitate sales on existing servers. Players have friends or characters on existing servers that they'd like to improve with some hard cash rather than in-game effort. IGE will remain in business for a while and those same problems mentioned in Smedley's first letter will probably continue to exist.

It is very unlikely Station Exchange will migrate to EQ1. Considering that SOE already began merging existing servers, it is unlikely they plan to stand up any new ones not to mention setting up a whole process and interface for the transfer of EQlive gear. For now, I don't see a future for Station Exchange in EQLive and thats fine with me. I am no longer concerned about Station Exchange.

A few days ago, the developers and producer of Everquest answered questions over on the EQ Stratics House of Commons chat.

My favorite bit of information came early on in the chat. Zajeer, the EQ itemizer, announced that Dragons of Norrath vendor items would include a new type 9 augment slot in addition to the existing type 7 slot. The DON vendors will also carry type 9 augments priced at twice the cost of a base item at that level. He doesn't mention the power of these augments but I imagine they will be lower in power than the existing type 7 augments. It should be just enough to give DON gear a nice edge over previous LDON gear and other single-group drops.

A couple of articles ago, I mentioned that high level single-groupers needed access to higher-power gear to progress through high level single-group content. Gemdiver wrote something very similar in his state of the game part 2 article on Caster's Realm. This started a lengthy and heated thread on EQLive called Some feedback based on the latest Mobhunter post. It had a lot of interesting views on single-group equipment progression and I believe many of the concerns for both Gemdiver, myself, and others in that thread may be alleviated with these new DON augments.

I have two questions on the subject of these augments. Can a DON equipped level 70 hunter with somewhere between 150 and 300 AAs expect to hunt and survive in the Muramite Proving Ground trials, Riftseekers, Ikkinz, and The Accursed Nest? I think the answer to this is "yes" but I'd like to see actual proof.

Second, will the cost of these new augments push the total cost of a nice piece of DON gear so high that most people won't bother to acquire it? SOE can always lower the cost if they see that no one is purchasing it but at a cost of roughly 1270 (340+250+680) for a single item (roughly forty missions worth of crystals), it doesn't seem likely that anyone will deck out every slot with nothing but DON gear. However, it is realistic to expect that these new DON items and augments may help fill out the lower power slots of single-group hunters. I'm planning on a new set of boots myself.

We'll have to see exactly what these augments are like and whether the cost is low enough to make them a practical upgrade when they come out in a couple of weeks. This is an exciting improvement.

Zorillius mentioned that they are not looking at the EQ2-style adventure packs for EQLive. While I liked the idea of D&D style modules for EQ, there's enough new content with each new expansion that I don't think they need to put out a few more zones. Besides, I'm already spending enough on massive online games, I don't need another $10 a year for adventure packs.

Level 69 and 70 spells came up again recently, both in the dev chat and over on the Forums. Rytan recently doubled the drop rate for 69 and 70 runes in both MPG and Riftseekers. For all practical purposes, however, Riftseekers and the MPG trials is the only place to receive 69 and 70 runes with any reasonable chance. With somewhere between eleven and twelve runes per spellcaster in the 69 and 70 range, I still don't think drops in one zone is a reasonable solution for such a huge amount of classes. For some classes, these runes are required to operate against higher-level mobs, yet they are nearly impossible to receive except for camping named beasts in a single uninstanced zone. Some other solution for 69 and 70 runes needs to be considered.

Last week I wrote an article for Caster's Realm called "Disturbing Trends in Massive Online Games" that mentions the recent trend on focusing on solo content as well as other instant-gratification changes such as out-of-game purchases. This focuses on a problem I've had with Everquest 2, Worlds of Warcraft, and last week Guild Wars. All three of these games seem to focus highly on solo-quests.

I've written a lot about solo content before. I find solo content to be counterproductive to a massive online game. I've received a lot of email over the last week. Many players agree with me and give examples of how their playtime in solo-friendly games like Worlds of Warcraft and Everquest 2 are not as rich as the social connections they make in games like Everquest. Those that argue for soloing usually bring up the LFG problem. Currently, in most games, players spend too much time looking for a group. Adding more solo content could make this problem worse. The more players are able to progress alone, the less likely they are to group.

Rather than find new ways to let players solo, all of these game companies should use all of their skills and all of their powers to find easier and faster ways for players to group. I've offered up a few suggestions such as game-wide invites, a mentor system, improved friends lists, and alt tracking, but I am sure there are many others I have not yet thought up.

With the Fan Faire and Summit coming up in about two months, I am beginning to ponder issues for my next "Evil Agenda". The LFG problem will probably be number one on my list.

More than anything else, it is important that both game developers and players remember exactly why they play these games. Gear, progression, zones, and levels aren't nearly as important or as lasting as the friendships we build.

Loral Ciriclight
2 May 2005