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!


Anne de Siecle said...

Hey Al,

This post is ingenious and so well-thought out, and I hope that SOE takes notice of it. I too have had an issue with how status items work, and now that the Guild has hit the pinnacle at Level 60, player motivation to press on appears to be at an all-time low.

I think Yitzhak said it best when he asked me last week: "Well, does this mean that if I do a writ, or turn in items, it doesn't help my guild anymore?" Apparently that's the case temporarily, even if it DOES continue to build his character's personal status! I'm also under the assumption that SOE is not exactly capturing the status item statistics to apply to our guild level if and when the new levels are added ..... whatta bumm-ah!

The trend that I see, and I don't like, is that EQII is certainly mirroring real life in that it's a game for the rich. Want a cool mount? Several plat will get you one. Want to level your guild quickly? Go to the broker and buy what you lack! Want stuff that few people get? Don't forget to buy several packs of all-new Legends of Norrath on the off-chance that you MIGHT get a slick /claim item to put on your character! (Just ask Yitz about the lure of the 'Packs'!!!)


Almeric said...

In EQ2 and other MMOs' defenses, games need money sinks or money becomes worthless.

In theory, the top speed mounts available for purchase would naturally be used by the top level adventurers as well. As such, they cost quite a bit.

That said, 14 plat is a pittance for many high level folks. Broker sales aside, just spending a lot of time grinding out exp/achievements or running instances for loot will give you a steady flow of cash from corpse loot, worthless notrade, or otherwise un-brokerable items.

It's GOOD to have things to blow money on, and I expect we - as a casual guild - will feel a major crunch when guild houses are released next year, for instance. But on the other hand, an uber guild with more money than it knows what to do with will finally ....well, know what to do with it. If SOE can keep a steady flow of money OUT of the economy, the economy stays healthy for years to come.

Comparing EQ2 3 years in to EQ1 3 years in, EQ2 has done amazingly well in this regard so far.

Anne de Siecle said...

Thanks, Al, and yes, I agree, being that I tried EQ1 for two days, hated it, never looked back, but was warmed up quickly to the ease of play in EQII.

I am curious to see if, with the introduction of Guild Houses and such, if the term 'casual' will remain next year, or may slowly become a thing of the past. I wouldn't think that there would be any rules or restrictions on it, but the player base may become so "spoiled" by the toys that growth for new guilds without these items might be a difficult. In other words, candidate pressure might come in the form of 'Why should I join your little guild, when I could walk into X Guild tonight and have X, Y, and Z?' Not an imminent threat for CoS, but stuff like this has a tendency to trickle down in other ways.