Friday, September 28, 2007

EQ2 - Casual Friendly? Part 2: Guild Boogaloo

Alright, we've covered the ins and outs of EQ2's casual-friendliness on the player level. I think it's hard to argue that EQ2 is NOT a good choice of games for the casual player. Sure, it might take a bit more effort to level up than some other games, and if you craft you actually have to pay attention rather than have the game do 99% of the work for you, but there's plenty of content for the casual crowd nonetheless.

Now I'd like to take a look at a different aspect of the game: Guilds. Membership in a strong, healthy guild is a valuable part of many people's lives, but not necessarily necessary. Each character we make is required to have a race and class. Levelling up isn't technically required, but it is if you want to see your money's worth of the world. Wearing equipment is essential to survival.

I can only think of a couple core character traits that are optional: Your artisan class, and being in a guild. Just as anyone could solo from 1-70 if they choose, so could anyone do it without ever being in a guild. Pickup groups are also an option, though if you do a good job you're likely to get many queries about recruitment into a guild. Pickup raiding isn't highly likely, but you make enough friends in pickup groups and it could happen.

By the strictest definition of a guild, there's really no reason why one couldn't be an absolutely casual structure used by a handful of good friends who want an extra chatline. I even know of people who hire 5 folks to help them make a guild, then keep the guild as a 1-man operation to give them and their alts extra bank slots (not that I condone this).

Still, the EQ2 guild system offers a whole lot more than that, and most guilds choose to venture down the path leading to toys and bragging rights: Guild Levels. Quick Robin, to the Bat Time Machine!

As with so many things, EQ2 at launch had a pretty tough system for gaining guild exp. Firstly, only certain people tagged as Patrons were allowed to contribute to guild exp when completing writs and heritage quests. Anyone not flagged as a Patron could still do these quests, but only personal status would be gained. If you flagged someone as a Patron and they weren't pulling their weight, the whole guild was getting screwed. If someone contributed a lot as a Patron and then, say, stopped playing, you could un-Patron them to make room for someone new, but in doing so you would lose their contributions thus far.

What's more, that wasn't the only way to lose guild exp (including de-levelling, which wasn't possible for players, but guilds could sure do it). Every day (or was it hourly?), Patrons and their associated guilds lost a small chunk of exp, forcing a lifestyle wherein once you started working on guild levels, you were stuck having to grind out at least a certain minimum number of writs every day just to maintain the status quo, much less make progress.

One of my favorite memories of the Guild Level system at launch was the Maj'Dul carpet prize for Guild Level 30. Approximately 750,000 Status Points (a hefty sum before Status Items) and 66 platinum to get a totally unique, 48% mount. Can you say OUCH? I don't even have 66 platinum NOW, 3 years into the game! (admittedly, I am a bit spendy)

EQ2 guilds at launch were NOT casual friendly. Argue otherwise if you can.

Since then, with various intermediary steps along the way, we find ourselves in a much more relaxed atmosphere: Patrons are eliminated and everyone from a guild can contribute to levels equally, prices on the spiffier prizes (mounts and houses) have been made a lot more reasonable, and guilds NEVER lose exp, even if contributing members leave the guild entirely.

Most guilds are able to level a lot faster now than in previous times, not just because exp decay went bye-bye, but also because most of us have a much better Status-to-Exp ratio than we had before. Any time you earn status, the amount you earn is divided by a certain number - the result turning into guild exp contribution. That number used to range between 6 and 24, depending on the size of your guild. Now that number is 10 for everybody, which, again, makes MOST guilds level faster.

Uh oh..."most" guilds? Someone got left out of the joy of the 10% conversion rate? Yes, someone did. Very, very small guilds of between 6 and 9 members actually receive LESS exp per status gain than they did under previous rules. (Actually, so do guilds of less than 6 members, but while the strict definition of a guild only requires 6 members to form it, not maintain it, the spirit of the idea of a guild is still a band of at least enough members to form a full group with. As such, it's hard for me to feel sympathy for their loss of the ~17% conversion rate. Sorry.)

Annnnnnnyway, we do see a ding here against the little guy, and the little guy is most-often also the casual guy. Much as I can't quite relate, as my own guild hasn't had less than 10 members since its first 5 minutes of life, I do still feel bad for the legitimate small guilds of the world. You see, the giant guilds have had an advantage on levelling quickly ever since Patrons went away. A guild of exactly 24 people had the worst conversion rate of all, but anything over 24 contributing characters made the *effective* conversion rate slowly climb back up again, eventually matching or beating the prospects of the smallest guilds.

So yeah, though by now the conversion rate changes happened long ago, it was still a hit to an aspect of surviving as a casual guild. In fact, a guild of 6 contributing members at launch continued with the same rate throughout the various changes, so far as I recall, up until the across-the-board shift to 10% during Game Update 29.

When we go all the way back in time, the Status Items I keep bringing up didn't exist for casual, hardcore, large, or small guilds to use. They later became a tool used by all types of guilds as a significant source of guild exp, but were abused by certain ass clowns leading to a major nerf. That nerf hurts all casual guilds, in my opinion, large or small, and it hurts us notably more than raiding guilds because they get status from killing epics.

Up to this point, I do see a couple changes to the guild system that aren't so great for casual guilds, but I see a lot of positives, too. The hardcore guilds were able to level up steadily even back during the patron/decay days at launch. Now any guild can level up at its own pace without having to set daily goals and such.

Something should be said about the Guild Recruitment Window/System, however. Having ANY tool in place is better than nothing, but the current tool is massively biased towards the established guilds that don't need as much help (this has been acknowledged by SOE). The pros and cons of that tool, as well as what simple improvements could make it more fair to all, probably deserves a separate column someday.

And the future? What will the future bring? I think what most are expecting to impact guilds of the future are the upcoming Guild Houses. When will we see these? Definitely not with Kunark, and most likely about 6-8 months afterwards. By then I'm sure we'll have a handful of Level 80 guilds in the world, though probably not too many thanks to the Status Item nerf ;)

We don't know what the fortress-like compounds will offer guilds, but I'd be shocked if we didn't see enough functionality to serve as mini-cities: Broker, mender, banker, vendor, and crafting. Perhaps even some modes of fast transport. To acquire these perks, expect guild level requirements for the right to purchase, and no doubt a LOT of money to buy what you've unlocked.

When a guild can offer a fully-functioning, one-stop shop for all your needs, that's a BIG lure to prospective members. We could definitely see a shift towards bigger guilds gobbling up smaller guilds like Pac-Man on PCP.

A smaller, casual guild made up of close friends that desperately want to maintain their distinct identity shouldn't be affected by this. It can be fun to make your own way from scratch, and you can bet many will choose to keep doing this.

Many other small guilds, however, will probably find a very-understandable distaste for the long, arduous guild level climb, and choose to merge into a bigger, more established guild.

The hardcore raiding guilds of the world shouldn't be too affected by guild housing at all, and almost definitely not in a negative way. The really hardcore raiders tend to keep their rosters trim and aren't likely to accept large numbers of refugees seeking greater uberness. Also in their favor is an often bloated guild bank full of funds that result from selling excess raid loot. That'll make building the actual house much easier without having to rely on the contributions of large rosters.

Family-style, raid-capable guilds probably have the most to gain from Guild Houses. They'll accept (if not seek out) merger offers, take in folks of all levels, and pool their resources to grow stronger faster.

As for guilds like my own - large, high level, but extremely casual and non-raiding - I expect we'll come out about even. A roster like ours flows in cycles anyway, occasionally losing clusters of people to raid-focused pastures. We'll have a nice guild house, but not the nicest. Smaller guilds seeking cool toys in a casual atmosphere may consolidate with the bigger casual guilds.

The end result for the future? I think we will see a shift towards fewer, larger guilds, but not exactly the death of the casual guild. I think casual guilds always have to be there as an option - especially as the players who first fed the MMO genre get older - and we need to remember the difference between small and casual.

Is SOE intentionally trying to destroy casual guilds, or any other part of the casual lifestyle? Nah, I think that's just foolishness. EQ2 wouldn't survive without a base of non-hardcore players who just want to relax and have fun in this virtual world.

I would caution the devs, however, to be very careful as they lay out the requirements and pricings for Guild House features. Make sure not to put all the most sought-after features in the upper level requirements. Please closely study the amount of money that 90% of the guilds have access to, and keep housing prices in the realm of something reasonable to work towards. If Guild Houses - or any other future feature - play too strongly to the top tier, THEN we'll find ourselves with a problem with EQ2's casual atmosphere.

That said, the overwhelming majority changes to adventuring, crafting, and guilds over the last 3 years have been to the benefit of casual playstyles, and making EQ2 a more accessible game for all. I *THINK* we can count on the devs to remember their evolution of guilds so far when making plans for something as major as guild housing, but we're also way too far out to judge at this point. We'll look again in about 6 months!

Monday, September 24, 2007

EQ2 - Casual Friendly? Part 1

I want to take a little time to address an offshoot topic that I saw bandied about on the official EQ2 forums following the recent status item changes. Someone had posited that this nerf was a sign of things to come, and that EQ2 would gradually cease to be a casual-friendly game.

As I sit down to write, I don't feel remotely convinced of this. Yes, I think the Status Item nerf was an unfair hit to casual-but-venerable guilds, but it isn't going to kill MY guild, and I don't think it'll kill others.

But hey, maybe amidst my stream-of-consciousness rambling, it'll turn out that EQ2 is, in fact, becoming less casual-friendly. Let's find out!

Usually, when I start a topic along these lines, I like to look into history first. Today will, of course, be no different.

From beta into launch, EQ2 was - I thought - a terrific game, but not what I'd call casual-friendly. The developers promised that anyone who desired COULD level from 1 to 50 by soloing. I'm pretty sure this promise was kept, but anyone taking this path probably would have been bored out of their minds. Some overland content was soloable, but maybe only half of it at best. Heroic and solo encounters lived together in perfect harmony (their harmony, not ours), making it difficult to find stable/safe hunting grounds. Dungeons, meanwhile, were basically 100% heroic.

Thing is, much as I love the casual play, I didn't see this as a bad thing. EQ2 at launch didn't force grouping, per se, but it was pretty much required if you wanted to see or do anything cool. Of course, at launch everybody was the same level and finding groups was extremely easy with the first couple tiers absolutely packed with people. A few years into a game like this, and the world's population inverts - most people are now in the high end zones, with little activity (especially for pickup groups) in the first few tiers.

Forced grouping can be frustrating at times, but it has a wonderful side effect of making you meet new people! My guild at launch was mostly people I already knew, but with differing playtime schedules and (eventually) a widening level range, I still looked for strangers to fill slots in groups from time to time. It's always a gamble with a pickup group, but in my experience these aren't Vegas-style odds! Sometimes you do lose, but I also made some new, lasting friendships in those early days of EQ2 that never would have come to be had EQ2 not made grouping a way of life.

Fast-forwarding 3 years, a whole lot has changed, and mostly for the better. As I said earlier, the zones with heavy population are the higher level areas, which can leave a true-newbie feeling left out in the cold if he needs to find a group but can't.

Nowadays, overland zones are primarily soloable content with lengthy, interesting quest lines full of varied content. This is extremely valuable, because soloing from 1-50/60/70/80 has evolved from a slow, boring grindfest into something actually quite fun. I've done certain favorite quest lines 5 or 6 times with different characters and still enjoy them because of the variety of tasks the quests require!

Going back to statements from early design interviews that didn't come true at launch, most dungeons in the world now have a modest amount of non-heroic content in their entrance areas. This allows players to be able to hang out in a zone and wait for a group opportunity without having to be totally idle the whole time.

Heck, in a move I can only assume was an adaptive measure to the population centers, some low level dungeons (Vermin's Snye) are now primarily populated by non-heroic content; exceptions usually being of the Named variety. It's entirely possible that as the level cap raises, this trend will spread out to more low and mid-level dungeons.

In the past, long, heroic quests were needed not only to gain access to some dungeon or instanced content (Nektropos Castle, Cauldron Hollow, Tower of the Drafling), but even to overland areas for Tiers 4 and 5. If you were unable or unwilling to find a group to do the access quests with, you could have very possibly run out of content long before maxing out your level! Nowadays, most of those former access quests are for lovers of lore, overland zones are wide open, and instances that remain locked (Cove of Decay) are the exception to the rule.

I will admit that, as a quest fanatic, a lot of my time is spent soloing because I'm none-too-keen on gathering groups just to help me win some little token quest. I'm also a guild leader who frequently groups with others in need, but when accomplishing my personal goals, I tend to be alone. Because of that, there's still quite a bit of content I've never seen. For example, I've yet to set foot in most of Fallen Dynasty, Nektropos Castle V3, and I haven't gone further than a couple rooms into Unrest. Much as I would like to see and experience these areas, however, I don't make that list with regret. Quite the contrary, I think it's fantastic that after all this time, I still have areas of Norrath left to discover!

From where I'm sitting, the only problems arise for the solo casual gamer when they take an attitude that they've been cheated out of content. Not that this happens all the time, mind you, but there's always a small "entitlement" crowd that wants access to the best stuff (content, loot, toys) without having to leave their comfort zone.

Much as I've grown to appreciate soloing in EQ2, I'm afraid I'm a bit of a hardliner on this. In EQ2, soloing is possible, fun, and a large amount of content is devoted to it. If that's not enough, then I will simply point out that Oblivion is a beautiful game - both in graphics and content - and I give it my highest recommendation for a strictly single-player fantasy RPG experience.

It seems to me that as a solo/casual player, there's a TON to do. I know from personal experience that, with combat exp turned on, there's TOO much content for one or even two characters to make a dent in. Frankly, if you really take the time to explore the non-heroic areas of Norrath, and focus on more than just the next bubble of exp, the amount of time you can spend is likely on par with a huge single-player game like Oblivion, but then you get to add social and multi-player aspects on top of that. And finally, in this stage of MMO development, can anyone really see SOE turning away from the inclusion of a plethora of casual content in future expansions? They're trying to bring in MORE of the crowd, not less!

At this point in my writing, I feel like I am, perhaps, focusing a little too much on the word "solo." A casual player in a casual-friendly game should not definitively be a soloer. On the other hand, when grouping isn't forced and exp can be gained quickly and efficiently without a group, that winds up being the method of choice for a huge portion of the population. The solo levelling-up may just be the stepping stone to bigger groups in tougher areas, but the number of people in Dungeon X compared to the number of people in Adjacent Overland Y is usually quite tiny. Most folks are running around in solo content - not *always* by themselves - but using that content for quick exp, quests, achievements, etc.

Still, the hypothesis that inspired me to start this column arose from a discussion about guilds, so what about casual guilds? Are casual guilds destined to become an endangered species? Are we already an endangered species and just don't know it yet? Tune in next time as I dig through what guilds can and can't do in part two of this article!

Friday, September 14, 2007

In the Wake of GU38 - A New Proposal on "Reverse Writs"

It's hardly a secret that I'm none-too-pleased about the Status Item changes found in Game Update 38. It's too bad, too, because the changes to dual wielding, Bloodlines spells, and the appearance slots really made for a fantastic update, only to be tarnished and overshadowed by a frustrating nerf.

Let's take a step back in history, shall we? (take note of the bit in bold)

July 20, 2005 - Game Update 12
- Earn experience for your guild by collecting status loot!

- In addition to completing writs that are assigned to you by city NPCs, you can now earn guild status by turning in new kinds of dropped items.

- Many of the NPCs around Norrath now have a chance to drop items that the major political factions in each of city are after. Be on the lookout for these new types of Scrying Stones, Amulets, Sealed Documents, and Relics. There are different varieties of each of these items for each level range.

- You can sell these new items for status points to the same NPCs that assign writ quests. This is a whole new way to increase your guild level and personal status.

- Regardless of whether or not you are in a guild, status loot can be traded to other players or sold to regular NPC merchants for cash.

Leading up to their launch, the new status items were billed as a form of Reverse Writs. While a normal Writ (aka City Task) would ask you to venture out into the field and kill specific mobs in exchange for a reward, a Reverse Writ status item could be found on most any mob, but in return for this be worth far less status per item. It would, I believe, take 12-15 Tier 2 status items to be worth as much status as a Tier 2 Writ asking you to kill 8-12 of one specific mob type.

If you wanted oodles of status to level up your guild, City Tasks were still far-and-away the way to go, but status items certainly helped! In the higher tiers, the ratio of points-per-item vs. points-per-Writ got a little bit better, too. As more high level characters were out there killing mobs en masse, more valuable status items entered the world, and this came to be a very significant contributor to total Guild Experience and Levels.

Fast forwarding, as we all know by now, this system was badly abused by certain guilds that managed to nigh-instantly hit the new level cap within hours of the last couple expansion launches. While I do blame those guilds for being Choadly McChoadlersons, it does seem like there's WAY too many status items in the world, and SOE probably should have examined the drop rate a good two years ago.

Now we're sitting in the aftermath of a huge nerf meant to prevent guilds from levelling too fast. I still hold to my previous statements that the new system is a severe punishment to innocent casual guilds that are high level while still carrying a roster with significant numbers of low and mid-level characters. BUT, what's done is done, and it seems we're just going to have to learn to live with it.

That said, when I loot a status item now, I can't help feeling that it's nowhere near as useful as it used to be. Most of my characters (of any level) don't need huge pools of status points, and they have more than they need anyway thanks to Heritage Quests (which I adore). Only my level 70 main has the ability to possibly win status items that can give us Guild Exp after Kunark launches, and last I checked, the market for selling lower level status items was pretty yawntastic.

My point in all this is that we should get back to considering what these status items were originally intended to be: REVERSE WRITS

What do we get from completing a normal writ? We get Status Points, Guild Experience, and Faction with a writ-giving sect of your home town.

What do we get from selling a status item? We get a few Status Points, and sometimes Guild Experience if you meet the criteria.

What happened to Faction? From a roleplay perspective, status items are worth whatever they're worth because they hold value as a trophy or recovered treasured from an enemy of the city. Writs have us killing enemies of the city; status items are the result of killing enemies of the city. They're fundamentally the same, except that writs provide you a directed goal.

And so, this leads me to my proposal:
Give faction for status item sales!

This should, of course, be tied to character level just as regular writs are, and mentoring can't let you turn in lower tier items, just as it doesn't let you get lower tier writs.

It would be a fine balancing act to make the status items worth turning in without making faction TOO easy to get, but for starters, let's say 1 point of faction per item per tier. So if my level 57 Inquisitor finds a Cobalt Relic on a mob, we have a Tier 6 character selling a Tier 6 item for 6 points of faction.

For those calculating at home, that would be 1667 Tier 6 status item sales to gain one full faction rank with one city sect. On paper, that doesn't look too easy to me, and could possibly even stand to be doubled (we do have to think ahead towards future tiers being worth more, though it's also likely that the higher level players get, the less meaningful the city faction system will be in its current form).

Normal players that don't buy out entire markets-full of items would find this to be a handy booster to their faction efforts, perhaps saving them a few writs-worth of work while pushing for a faction title. And it would make Reverse Writs a little more meaningful!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Sins of the Uber Are Not the Sins of the Rest

Guild Levels in EQ2 are supposed to be a sort of status symbol. In truth, this system gives you only very few useful items in the long run - fast mounts, for instance - but lots and lots of toys, titles, and clothing, along with money savings on housing and horses. Considering that the absolute fastest mount in the game costs 14 platinum more than the 100% FREE quested carpet from Desert of Flames, yet is only 25% faster (50% vs. 40%), levelling up a guild rapidly shows itself to be a wholly optional part of the EQ2 experience.

Still, for most of us, levelling a guild is hard work, and the toys are just fun enough to keep us reaching for more. There's a great feeling of accomplishment when you hit the next plateau every 10 levels, especially now that such achievements are broadcast to the whole server as well.

So what about the guilds that didn't work quite as hard? And, in fact, did they not work hard? Some guilds have managed to bring up their levels with wondrous rapidity, and the big secret to their success has been quite simple: "status items." If not the official name, that's the term I'll be using here, at least, to indicate the corpse-looted relics/amulets/documents/scrying stones that can be sold to special merchants in exchange for status points.

I remember when Kingdom of Sky launched. Back then, the amount of guild experience you received per block of status points (from any source) was based on the number of people in your guild. Guilds with 6 or less members received the best conversion rate, and guilds with 24 or more members received the worst. Now, on paper, this was actually an advantage for very large guilds. If you had a guild of 48 members, for instance, where everybody was gaining status points, your overall levelling would basically come twice as fast as any guild from 6-24 members.

Again, that's assuming everybody pulled their weight, but still, a nice potential advantage. Unfortunately, this wasn't good enough for SOME guilds, who saw the loopholes in the system and decided to exploit them. If a large guild pooled thousands of status items into their guild leader's pocket, and then temporarily deguilded, leaving the roster at the 6-or-less mark, their status items would all be worth 4 times as much as if they'd each turned in their treasures individually, as the devs intended them to do. Personally, I like being able to show how long I've been in my guild, and how much I've contributed over time (deguilding clears your status contribution records), but for some, being the first to max out their guild level was far more important.

This practice led to the meteoric ascension of a handful of guilds come Expansion Launch Day - I believe for both Kingdom of Sky and Echoes of Faydwer - and in turn really pissed off members of the community who were trying to do things the "right way." No matter which side of that debate you fall on, there's NO debate that SOE clearly didn't intend for guilds to fill up all 10 new guild levels within hours of the cap increase!

I have very little to say in support of this practice, but I will grant one minor point: Buying status items take money, and money comes from SOME form of work and effort, be it adventuring or tradeskilling. That's all I've got in defense of this practice, and I don't think it's anywhere near enough to justify keeping the full status quo.

Now, with Game update 38 looming (next Wednesday, perhaps?), and Rise of Kunark right around the corner, we high level guilds find ourselves at a crossroads: SOE plans to nerf the living crap out of status items, incorporating a tier system that only allows you to gain guild experience when selling status items commensurate with the level of your guild; e.g. a T5 Ebon Relic gives ZERO GUILD EXP to a level 60 guild. This, frankly, sucks eggs and needs to be stopped.

Just because my guild is high level doesn't mean all my MEMBERS are high level. We got to GL60 the casual way, and we're quite proud to have done it! To this day, we still accept true EQ2 newbies, and help them get their sea legs. Even at low levels, those status items can add up quickly into a couple thousand points of guild exp contribution, which is a good feeling for them and ties in directly with our ranking system. And let me make it clear, 2000 guild exp for a level 55 guild is a drop in the bucket and certainly not game-breaking.

There's *3* ways to gain status points: Status items, quests (writs/heritage), and killing epic mobs. Low level characters do very little epic-killing, and now you're taking away their ability to contribute to mid-to-high level guilds via status items. All that leaves is questing, and grinding out writs at low levels means missing out on a lot of other excellent content!

The casual-but-venerable guilds of Norrath are about to punished because of the exploitative behavior of a small handful of twinks that need to be first at anything and everything they can get their grubby little hands on.

SOE, if you feel status items are broken, fine, but the solution you've thrown onto the test server is NOT the way to fix it. I don't want guilds going from 60 to 80 in a day either, but punishing MY guild isn't the right way to stop this from happening! Let's talk solutions:

Proposal #1: Eviscerate the drop rate of status items. I've shopped for status items before, and the numbers of them available on the broker is nothing short of STAGGERING. The up-side of this is that we have a market for the ubers of the world to put money back into the economy by buying status items off the little guy. The down-sides are that the ubers can use the status items to level much too quickly, and that quite a few of the status sellers aren't little guys, but rather plat farmers. So if the drop rate of status items plummets by 50% or more, there's not as much loot for the ubers to buy up, and the plat farmers lose a lucrative source of income. (note: this proposal won't stop guilds who've already stocked up for Kunark, but we need to think long-term as well)

Proposal #2: Put the VALUE of the status items on the ol' chopping block. Maybe guilds level too quickly with status items because they're just worth too much, especially in higher tiers! 1 platinum could buy me enough T5-T7 status items to equal hours of writ-grinding madness. Cut the amount these items are worth in half and you hamstring the Kunark problem while keeping the system useful and fair to EVERYBODY.

Proposal #3: Make status items NOTRADE and, perhaps, subject to Trivial Loot Code. After all, the whole point of these items is that they're trophies recognized by my home city for defeating enemies, so why should I be able to trade them to an undeserving schlub who didn't do the glorious work? This step would obliterate the status item market, of course, but it would be the most effective long-term solution to the problem at hand.

Finally, if the above are all unacceptable, how about a tempered version of what's currently on Test?

Proposal #4: The value of status items SCALES based on your guild level. If you sell an item of lower tier than your guild's level, it's worth - let's say - 10% less per tier. From a roleplay perspective, it seems only fair that city officials would be less impressed over time if a reputable guild is hunting weaker foes, but to cut off the status completely just ain't right from a gameplay perspective. How about if on Kunark launch day, a guild member selling T2 Coral Scrying Stones on behalf of my T7 guild only gets 5 Guild Exp per stone instead of the current 10 or the ZERO on test?

I can live with a compromise, so let's have one! Please SOE, be reasonable!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

On Whining and Entitlement

I am so proud to be a gamer, and yet frequently so disappointed in the behavior of certain members of my ilk. What we often seen on the forums that is expressed in whiny rants appears to be a form of steadfast tunnel vision that renders people totally incapable of forming reasonable conclusions about many topics. Legends of Norrath is scheduled to launch today, last I saw, and I'd like to hit a particular issue that's been driving me batty.

What I want to talk about are LoN's "Loot Cards." These are the rare-ish cards that occasionally show up in your booster packs that give you the ability to redeem and claim spiffy little items in EQ1 and 2.

The whining takes different directions, but they generally boil down to a few arguments:
  1. People getting special access to items that should be available in EQ without playing LoN
  2. People spending real life money for in-game items
  3. The items are overpowered

#1 actually crosses over to another thread I noticed yesterday, regarding a cloak in EQ2 that's only available to attendees of the recent Fan Faire.

The notion is that people who invest money in Trip X or Game Y are getting perks that others feel entitled to. I could understand the "unfair" argument if the special prizes involved Fabled equipment, Master 3 spell upgrades, or the like, but they don't. They involve TOYS. In almost every case, the prize-factor of the items gained from attending events or participating in LoN are based on visuals.

For instance, you can get a cloak that gives you a featherfall-type ability and, depending on which cloak, lets you breathe water, turns you into a box (illusion), or a couple other things. Featherfall and Water Breath are handy powers, but nothing that can't currently be obtained in game, just on different items. Turning into a box is a very unique illusion that can't be obtained elsewhere (yet), but it's JUST an illusion, and therefore a toy.

You can get a few different mounts that have 50% runspeed boosts. This equals the fastest mounts currently available in EQ2, and anything coming out with Kunark isn't likely to be more than a couple percent faster if faster at all. At worst, people who aren't in Level 60 guilds can RARELY pull a card out of LoN that lets them get a Guild Level 60-quality mount. Once again, the only distinguishing factor about these mounts is that the graphics are currently unique to LoN rewards. These are very nice toys, but toys nonetheless.

The most polarizing of the Loot Cards seem to be the items (one in EQ1, one in EQ2) that give/gave a whole ton of mana/power back to the user, but could only be used about once per REAL LIFE day. These aren't toys, and they certainly aren't visual, but with a 20-24 hour recast timer, AND being extremely rare, you wouldn't think they'd be that unbalancing. But we'll come back to that...

Argument #2 has a bit of feasibility to it. Yes, I can spend oodles of RL money to increase my chances of getting a cool EQ2 item. But there is a difference between spending a set amount of cash to get UberItem Q transferred directly to me, versus spending potentially infinite amounts of cash and possibly never getting the item I want.

And alternatively, there WILL be a few lucky punks who never play LoN, one day stumble upon a booster pack drop while adventuring, and redeem it only to find one of the most sought-after items out there. That'll totally happen, and because it can and will, I think #2 loses its steam. Spending money is for the impatient who "need" their cool items NOW.

The impatience factor is, as a general rule, the same factor that drives the RMT market, but with three key differences: You're mostly getting toys, you aren't guaranteed to get your toys, and the toys you get don't come from exploits/duping, theft, scripting, accounts funded by stolen credit cards, etc.

So as much as I'm against RMT, and even though I feel the purchasable card packs are way overpriced, I still don't see a problem here.

But that leads us to Argument #3: Are the items overpowered? Firstly, anyone who argues the illusion items or featherfall toys are overpowered can take a flying leap. Toys toys toys.

The 50% runspeed mounts - Overpowered? I don't deny I'd love to get one, but because of the visuals, not the power! My guild did recently hit Guild Level 60, so I have 50% mounts available to me anyway, and in a plat-to-dollar conversion, it'd be cheaper to buy the mount directly than to buy pack after pack looking for one. While it's true that this mount allows players to skirt the normal guild level requirements to get the top speed mounts, this is, once again, a very rare item. Besides, there's lots of high level guilds that accept members of wide level ranges, so it isn't really that hard to use a guild just to get a mount if you don't mind being a twerp about it. I've certainly known quite a few people that have done just that!

The big item causing controversy, as mentioned earlier, are the power/mana recovery items. In EQ2, this item has already been nerfed, but did it need to be? In EQ1, the item sounds to have retained its original form, which should be more or less a full mana heal once every 20 hours. What this has led to - amazingly - is raiders complaining that these items are destined to become standard, required gear for raiding guilds.

Will a power heal make a raid easier? Sure, of course it will. Will it make impossible raids possible? Once in a long while maybe, but not commonly! There's two main steps to raiding that we need to consider:
Step 1 - Get the baddie under control.
Step 2 - Sustain healing AND DPS until the baddie is relieved of his burden of life (or unlife).

Step 1 is extremely important, very difficult, and all the power heals in the world won't save you. This is the step where most aspiring raiders fail. Pulling, placing, and setting-up a raid encounter requires a great deal of patience and timing, NOT mana.

Step 2 is the tactical phase. Keep your DPS up without falling to AE or adds, and keep your tank alive without running out of mana. Here is where the LoN recharge items can help you. YES, if you have a team of 6 healers and all 6 have one shot 100% power recharges, that can win a raid for you.

But for gods' (plural 'cause it's Norrath) sakes, that's ONE bit of victory assistance PER DAY. If you use it help you clear a zone, then you won't have the oomph to beat the boss. If you use it on the boss, congrats, but you still did all the hard work to get to him in the first place!

At worst, you could use the new persistent instance rules (EQ2 only, so far as I know) to have these power refills help you on 5 nameds in a zone over a 5 day period, but that dooms your no-doubt amateur raid force to one really SLOW, BORING week. Is it worth it? You still need the pull and setup, you still need the tactics, ALL this item does is get you over a hump that's probably caused by not being equipped or tactically-prepared for the raid you're trying.

Was it really worth all the bitching and moaning that led to a nerfing on the EQ2 side of things? Had I gotten one of these items in my boosters, it might have been nice in my non-raid, casual play once in a while, you know. Nothing to imbalance the game, just an occasional get out of jail free card. Not that the nerfed item isn't still useful, but not quite the same level of emergency lifesaver. Thanks for ruining it for the rest of us, whiners. Have fun protecting your elite raider status.