We hear the arguments every day on the message forums. For years the bloodwar between high-end raiders and lower power non-raiders has raged like the everlasting conflict in Devastation. Within these conversations, one statement often dominates the discussion:
"Everquest is just a raiding game."
Is Everquest only a high-end raiding game? Do the lower levels exist simply as the path to high-end raiding? Are most active Everquest players actually raiders? Do Everquest developers focus their efforts on high-end raid content?
On 23 March 2006, Kytherea, Everquest community relations manager for Sony Online Entertainment, posted an updated population spread across all of Everquest. According to these statistics, more than half of EQ characters are under level 40. Only 2% are level 70. Even with level 1 to 10 characters removed from the sample to off-set bazaar mules and abandoned lower level characters, the number of level 70 characters only jumps to 3%. It is easy to argue the validity of these statistics, but even with a high margin of error, the fact remains the same. Most Everquest characters are not raiders.
Any good business must know their customers. While many raiders are vocal, loyal, and play for a longer time than most non-raiders, SOE knows they cannot keep Everquest profitable solely on existing raiders. If Everquest was truly just a raiding game, it would not be successful.
Players focus much attention, both positive and negative, on high-end raiding. In some cases, the raiding game of Everquest helps set it apart from other massive online games. Everquest arguably has the best raiding content in the industry. Just hearing about it helps bring players into the game.
The success of Everquest's raiding game also brings the angry voices of those who pay for Everquest and never see these high-end raids. They hear about high-end raids, high-end zones and high-end equipment and soon think that raiding is the only focus of Everquest.
Past expansion releases don't support this theory. Lost Dungeons of Norrath, Omens of War, Dragons of Norrath, Depths of Darkhollow, and Prophecy of Ro all include content for lower and middle level non-raiders. Monster missions and scaling-level instances give content to almost anyone. An entirely new level 1 to 10 tutorial zone shows off the best features of Everquest to players who haven't even yet subscribed.
On the other side, high-end raids have improved much over the past three years. Raids require coordinated efforts by every member of a raiding force. Raids now require constant attention and reaction by these raiders. Every raid target differs from the previous. Raid targets get more and more complicated, requiring the specialties of every class.
Most players never see these dynamic events. SOE has made attempts in the past to offer newer raid content for non-raiders or lower level players and met with very limited success. One can begin to see a cyclic chain of events: non-raiders don't attempt lower-power raids so SOE spends less time and energy developing lower-power raids. Can this cycle be broken with one or more powerful, entertaining, accessible, and rewarding events? Perhaps, but finding that perfect balance has so far eluded SOE on all but a few events.
There is a misconception that today's high-end raid content becomes tomorrow's content for lower-power players. However zones like Sleeper's Tomb, Veeshan's Peak, Vex Thal, the raids in Lost Dungeons, and many of the raids in and before Gates of Discord lay mostly unused. As the power of players increases, older raid content becomes more accessible. However, the rewards from these raids become less desirable and players do not bother to meet the requirements to enter the raid. As the complexity of raids grows, it becomes less likely that a single group will ever be able to defeat a high-end raid encounter as it goes older. Yesterday's raid content does not become tomorrow's non-raid content.
Does SOE focus too much on the raiding game? That question is more complicated and there are many factors to consider. Many of the existing SOE developers are ex-raiders. SOE developers talk at length with high-end raiders in many venues and use hundreds of high-end raiders in testing all types of unreleased content, not just high-end raids. High-end raiders are very vocal in public community forums. These factors do not, by themselves, lead to a conclusion but they cannot be completely discounted either.
SOE clearly develops more and more raid content for the highest power guilds. The effort and power required to get to the most powerful targets increases every expansion. As the power of raids increases, fewer guilds defeat them. According to the statistics kept by the guild Raging Fury, 138 guilds have entered Anguish. 80 guilds have killed Vishimtar, the boss of Dragons of Norrath. 21 guilds have defeated the first bosses of the Demiplane of Blood in Depths of Darkhollow. Only six have defeated Mayong Mistmoore. Prophecy of Ro included not one but two high-end raid instances at powers equal to the Demiplane of Blood. Would a greater focus on lower power content brought more new content to more players?
World of Warcraft's successful solo-focused gameplay brings up other questions. Can Everquest's lower-end game even compete with the ease of use and ease of progression in World of Warcraft? Should Everquest developers focus on Everquest's high-end raiding game simply to differentiate itself from other less time-demanding massive online games?
How can you, as a player, act on this topic? Contact SOE. Tell them what you like and don't like about Everquest. Tell them the style of game you like to play. Offer specific suggestions and recommendations. Don't get caught up in the emotional storm surrounding the controversy. Just tell SOE what you want to see in the game.
The official forums are the best way to give feedback. While one might have to suffer through the flaming criticism of thoughtless trolls, EQ developers read these forums daily. A concise, well-written recommendation will likely be read. Emails and PMs can work too but aren't recommended as official channels of feedback.
What can SOE do? The raiding game is clearly a strong feature of Everquest but few players have the time or ability to grow to the world of high-end raiding. SOE can spend more time helping bridge the gap between lower power players and higher end raids. This doesn't mean simply increasing power. New events can bring the same excitement of high-end raiding to lower-power players. SOE needs to remove the perception that they focus on the high-end game in both word and in deed.
24 March 2006
Kytherea's Keepsakes (23 March 2006). EQPlayers.com. Retrieved 23 March 2006 from http://eqplayers.station.sony.com/news_article.vm?id=50114
Guild Progression List (21 March 2006). Raging Fury. Retrieved 23 March 2006 from http://www.lavanet.no/progress/