Mobhunter: The New Player Experience

How can SOE get more players playing Everquest? This is a question we've asked since the release of Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. It's hard to bring new players to a six-year-old game when newer and shinier games appear right next to it. This has been a question I've discussed often in these articles.

SOE has asked this same question many times as well. Recent expansions have mostly focused on the game above level 50. Newer features such as missions are given to players above 50 while those below 50 play the same sort of game we played six years ago. While many small improvements were added to the level 1 to 10 game, they weren't cohesive and didn't compare to the newbie experience in newer games.

Last week on the Everquest Test server, SOE began testing an entirely new tutorial zone. The original tutorial did a good job of showing new players the large array of strange Everquest commands and put them on a few quests but at level five or so, the game dumped the new player back in their old city and gave them little else. I have heard new players speak their frustrations at that point. No direction is given and no other players are in those towns.

The new tutorial extends the original by five more levels. A player can hunt from level one to ten within this new and much larger zone. New Kobold models were released and the zone uses new drake, spider, and goblin models from the Dragons of Norrath expansion.

Quests, about a dozen of them, use the mission window of Dragons of Norrath. Quests have a wide variety of interesting jobs including blowing up Kobold mining operations and stealing the jailer's key. There are even a set of group missions to defeat some of the larger boss mobs in the new zone such as the Kobold king, the spider queen, and some huge unnamed horror in the depths of the mines themselves.

The new tutorial is intended to take players to level 10. Players can leave the tutorial at any time and doing so drops them in the Plane of Knowledge.

Here is where controversy begins. Many people want to continue the fight against Plane of Knowledge. They think this city removes the soul of the original Everquest and removes their race identity that they had back when they hunted six years ago. They're right, but there's more to it than race identity.

Knowledge is often the most populated zone in Everquest. If there is one place where a new player can really understand the difference between Everquest and Morrowind, it's in Plane of Knowledge. The city has all of the practical features any city needs. It has single-click access to sixteen newbie zones. It is the one place where a new player can see how large the population of Norrath really is. This also opens up the opportunity for SOE to rebuild Knowledge, a large job no doubt, into a new and shining city as technology and design understanding continue to grow. Changing one city changes the city for every player.

After the tutorial players are directed to a new Plane of Knowledge Greeter. The greeter gives a new set of quests to explore New Tanaan to find a banker, a spell vendor for their class, their local guildmaster, and a new NPC who begins sending players on a new set of armor quests.

At the time of this writing I was unable to start these armor quests (my little dwarven paladin was only level 7) but my understanding is that these new armor quests replace the original guildmaster armor quests using the new task window. These quests should help lead a new player from levels 10 to 20. At level 20, a new player should have a good view and understanding of the game and now has a path for even greater rewards.

These game updates are the first steps in a new push to bring new players to Everquest. Only successful marketing can do the rest. At the Fan Faire we will hear about a new expansion and then we may learn how SOE plans to market Everquest to a new and wider audience, an audience competed over by other massive online games such as Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft.

Now let's bust a common myth. "There are no new players of Everquest. Everyone's a twink." I hear this a lot. I also hear that the majority of EQ players are raiders and the majority of these raid MPG and above. We always focus on the area we ourselves play. There ARE new players, they just aren't hunting in Riftseeker's. I spend a lot of time in lower level zones buffing and healing new players. Many of them are indeed twinks, but quite a few are actually new players who either downloaded the trial or had a friend bring them in. These new players are often pretty quiet and often hunt far away from other players, especially higher-level players. No doubt there are less new players joining today than there was even a year ago, but they do exist and changes like these may bring in even more.

Will these tutorial changes and new quests indeed bring more players to Everquest? That's hard to say. There are a lot of variables unknown even to SOE. In order to really grip a new player and drag them into a game as huge as Everquest, the newbie experience has to be smooth and clean. The best newbie experience I have seen so far was World of Warcraft. It focuses on a small town with very easy to accomplish quests. I had little difficulty reaching level ten and I never got badly stuck. As SOE continues to improve this level 1 to 20 segment of the game, it would do well to take lessons from WoW. Much of what I see in the tutorial falls into this line.

Expect the new tutorial to be released to live servers after the Fan Faire but in the mean time, build yourself a level 1 test character and give it a try. There are many good threads on this topic over at the Everquest forums and the developers are actively seeking input on these new tests. New players help improve the game for everyone. The more players that play Everquest, the better the game will be for all of us.

Next week expect a brand new Evil Agenda for my trip to the 2005 Everquest Summit and Vegas Fan Faire.

Loral Ciriclight
29 May 2005