Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Sky is Wobbling! Run for Your Hitpoints!

Mere days ago, I posted my first entry on this blog in months, more-or-less welcoming myself back to EQ2 after a hiatus. It has very much felt good to be back.

Tuesday's news about Station Cash came as a bit of a shock to the system...

You see, there was a time - back when Station Exchange started up - that I vowed to quit my beloved EQ2 cold turkey if Real-Money Trading (RMT) ever came to my server. I'm pretty sure I posted that on the official forums, but darned if I can't find it now. Oh well, I still know I said it, and I will stick to my word.

BUT, Mr. Smedley makes a good point that Station Cash isn't the same as RMT. A lot of folks are up-in-arms, cancelling accounts, etc. over Station Cash, but much like the Legends of Norrath furor, I think they're overreacting just a wee bit.

That doesn't mean I'm thrilled about Station Cash, mind you, but let's examine the goods and bads, shall we?

I read plenty of posts on the forums, looked at screenshots, and so on, but I wanted to reserve judgement on what Station Cash had to offer until I logged in and took a peek.

A peek is about all that was required. There's not much to see!!

What I did see were two appearance-only outfits, a few house pets, a couple non-house, appearance-only adventuring pets, and potions. Lots of potions.

You know, it was really more underwhelming than offensive. Still, SOE is asking for real money in exchange for specific in-game items, and that can be a cause for concern.

In RMT, the "T" is for "Trading." That's not generally an action performed between developer and player. Those are called "Fees," and RMFs are still the only kind of fees I know of that make sense in this environment. Oh, I suppose I could send Smedley a fine goat in exchange for a few months of game time, but I don't think he'd appreciate the mess in his office.

Trading is between people - RMT IS EQ2's LiveGamer Servers (nee Station Exchange), where players sell virtual items to each other for real cash.

This isn't RMT.

Smed called it "Microtransactions," and I suppose it is, in a sense, but usually when you play a game that offers microtransactions, it's doing so in lieu of a regular fee to play the core game. "You want to get the neatest stuff? NOW you pay us."

I think I'd actually play an EQ2-like game that was funded by microtransactions. I know that there'd be people who blow hundreds of dollars at a time so they can be more uber than me while I spend $10 or less a month, but that's not a whole lot different than the time investment that raiders use to be uber now. Time is money, so I've always been told.

I don't feel put-out by microtransactions enterting EQ2, but it feels somewhat useless. Since they are charging a monthly fee AND have an established path-to-uber, they would be fools to let you buy useful stuff for real money. So instead it's nothing but fluff.

Yes, I said NOTHING but fluff. Even those achievement potions. At best, I think those potions COULD be useful at level 80, when all your adventure exp turns into small amounts of achievement. Prior to that, completing quests or finding exploration points are too long of a process to make it worth spending up to $10 for a temporary boost. It isn't that an extra achievement point or two isn't useful, it's just uneccesary and not worth the cost.

I have no doubt that SOE plans to vastly increase the selection of fluff over time, but for now it's just an unimpressive effort. You don't want a product launch that starts with a whimper, folks!

If there was something REALLLLLY cool (not the current armor sets), I would consider coughing up a little cash for it. I love my beer-mug helm from a previous live event, for instance, but I'd pay money for an appearance-helmet that looks like a red baseball cap with a Pizza Hut logo on it!

(well, I might be bothered by the anachronism of that, but a cloak with a picture of Lucan holding a pepperoni pizza on it? I'm SO THERE)

I did notice that there were 150 Station Credits stored in my wallet upon first login. I hope that's not just a launch gimmick. Since we ARE paying that monthly subscription fee, I think Station Cash could be a bigger success if we got about that many credits a month just for being an active subscriber, and then could spend real cash for more credits if we wanted to get our goodies faster.

I'd also recommend that, instead of straining the depths of creativity for so many MORE toys, SOE should consider taking a robust selection from the Legends of Norrath loot cards and making them available through this alternative means.

About the TIMING of Station Cash: It seems to have leapt out of nowhere at the player base. What in the world was that about??

It is possible that certain focus-groups of players knew about Station Cash in advance. We have no idea what sort of feedback they gave, but frankly, they shouldn't have had to say, "We don't think it's a good idea to spring this on the playerbase so suddenly!" SOE should have known better.

Honestly, whether its the itchiness of people who love EQ2 but hate SOE for various reasons (some childish, some not, though if your reasons are sound you shouldn't be supporting their product), the tendency of gamers to be skittish about change, or the simple fact the internet has the power to turn molehills into Mount Dooms, SOE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.

Ease us into the idea, devs. Tell us what you're planning, get feedback on the notion of fluff for cash, find out what people think of putting exp potions into the mix, etc. etc. You don't even have to phrase it at a question, "What do you think of us adding in microtransactions?" Just tell us, "We're working on a project to add a small number of non-game-changing microtransactions to EQ and EQ2," and watch the feedback. Did I mention you should have known better?

Also, tell us what the plans are for the future of such a project. How often to you hope to add new fluff? Will you ever consider going free-to-play with some non-fluff? Are non-fluff items on the table at ALL?

Don't tell us that now, after that launch, because now everyone feels stunned and won't believe you. Tell us this BEFORE the launch.

Y'all really biffed the communcation on this one.

But Station Cash, at least in its current form, is not a threat to the integrity of the game. I, for one, don't feel the need to break up my happy little home and quit the game forever to make a moral stand.


I'll be watching closely. Smed, Froech, please don't disappoint me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Becoming a Functional Crackhead

Forgive me, Karana, for I have strayed; it has been 9 months since my last EQ2-post.

Fact is, I went a long time without playing it at all. I even cancelled my subscription, which is something that I hadn't ever done since EQ2 went live. Cancelling was a strange feeling, but it had to be done - new baby, new house, slightly longer commute, lots of unpacking and housework to do.

I spent some time playing LotRO, too, I must admit. Some of my rl friends were playing and invited me to come along. Since I was unable to get many of them to check EQ2 out, I tried to be a good friend and joined them on their turf for a while.

There was a distinct advantage to being in a tiny guild of nothing but 6 people who know each other: No pressure to do X task by Y date, nor to be on for hours and hours every night! That helped a lot in terms of playing a little while my real life revved up, but LotRO - while very well done - doesn't have as good of a game system as EQ2, and my attention started to wane.

Now, I've written about my guild many times here, and even one lengthy article in the last issue of EQuinox Magazine. "No pressure" was supposed to be my EQ2 guild's mantra, and yet I felt the need to get away. What went wrong??

What I found was a large disconnect between what people acknowledge reading, and what they decide on their own. My guild very clearly communicated the notion - both from recruiters and from our [now defunct] website - that the only thing we were hardcore about was being casual, and had no intentions of changing that.

I was all for occasional coordinated events, don't get me wrong, but whether it was natural for the size we had grown to, or just a handful of discontented individuals in the crowd, pressure started to mount to do more more more bigger better faster RAWR. It didn't work. If I do my research, I can lead a successful raid with the best of them, but my heart won't be in it and I think that shows.

It wasn't the mounting pressure that made me cancel, exactly, it really was the real-life flurry of activity, but with that flurry on the visible horizon, I had to decide what I was going to do with this guild during a time when I would be heavily inactive at best. At the same as my life heated up, the same happened for nearly my entire officer corps. We were running rudderless.

I decided to turn leadership over to someone else, someone to pick a new leadership circle and carry on the vision of our wonderful online family. I was a little surprised at how hard it was to find someone who would take the job. In an attempt to summarize, here's how it went down:

1) I gave leadership to a guy I know and trust and - for someone I've never met in person - I consider a great friend. For various reasons that I considered to be generally unfair to him, quite a few guild members disagreed with my decision. Some left the guild, some made his life difficult. He stepped down (and out, actually) for what he saw as the good of the guild.

2) I then gave leadership to a motivated up-and-comer who I didn't know as well, but had been in the guild for a long time and was very supportive of the atmosphere I'd always tried to nourish. It was shortly after this transition that my cancellation took effect. I don't know if I'll ever know the full story of what happened, but there was a shocking amount of drama and the guild fragmented 8 ways from Sunday. That leader has since retired.

Near the end of SOE's Living Legacy promotion, I decided to poke my head in and see how the guild was doing. When I logged in, I was greeted by virtual tumbleweeds and a whole lot of dust. There were maybe 1 or 2 people on during peak hours, but for as much as I love their dedication to the guild, I don't know why they stayed.

At first, this made me very sad...a guild that once boasted over 200 accounts with 80+ being regularly active (being a casual guild, we had a fair number of members who only logged in once in a long whole) was now down to 75 accounts with 2 or 3 active. That sucked!

I feel differently now, though. Coming back to a tiny guild turned out to be exactly what I needed! I'm hooked again, but able to be the extremely-casual player I used to be. I must be some sort of magnet, too, because a few inactive faces have popped back out of the woodwork since I returned.

Now my guild feels like it should; like it once did - a smaller group of people who just like to relax and have fun! We've already gotten a few new recruits, but I plan to be careful not to grow too fast or too large.

It was a huge step backward in some ways, but a tremendous relief in others. I'm now able to help administrate a guild again without feeling like it's a 2nd job that I just don't have time for. I can login for just an hour or two, and not even have to be there EVERY night, and people are OK with that. I can have my crack and smoke it, too - gaming life is right where I need it to be.