SOE spiked the punch. It’s the only logical reason for why 60, somewhat bitter, EverQuest players walked away from the recent Guild Summit feeling, well, happy about the game. They either spiked the punch or did a great job at listening to their customer’s concerns. While there was enough beer flowing at the evening events to drown a dwarf, it’s the latter as to why they were happy.
A few years ago, SOE had a stranglehold on the market because there just wasn’t enough competition. Right now, though, there’s some games that give EQ a run for its money, and with World of WarCraft looming on the horizon, SOE has reason to be concerned since that $13 that walks out their door isn’t going for beer money, now it’s going to a competitor. If things were ducky in EQ-land, SOE would not see the need to fly 60-odd (no pun intended) people across the country, put them up in a decent hotel, take them to a baseball game and listen to them while they tell where the product is flawed for ten hours.
Among the cynics visiting was Woody Hearn, the cartoonist mentioned in my previous editorial, who launched a boycott of Omens of War, the next EQ expansion. Woody was even wearing a t-shirt that read “The first marketing or PR person that talks to me get’s hit” [sic]. Class and guild representatives were likewise skeptical; especially those from high-end guilds that have essentially been paying to beta test the latest expansions. In the end, they walked out of the meetings with guarded optimism – a far sight better than the lynch mob it could have been.
Two weeks ago in my column I outlined several initiatives I felt were key to SOE turning the game around. Let’s take a look at them and see how they fared during discussions at the Summit:
- Stop catering to the uber-guilds and put content in casual players can do in small chunks: Most of the summit revolved around issues high-end guilds are having. To be honest, they have been feeling the pain of broken and poorly tuned encounters for a long while, and those issues need to be higher on the to-do list, for now. All was not lost for the casual player, though. Soon to come are solo, instanced encounters tailored to your class, similar to the Lost Dungeons adventures.
- Reduce the time sinks by having ways large groups of players can get access to keyed zones without needing to have very long camps to get pieces for each and every player that needs them; there should be a way that when one person gets the piece, all group members get the piece: About 50-50. The big thing coming is a way for guilds to get flagged for the PoP zones, instead of requiring each individual member to get the flag. This will help tremendously as back-flagging is a pain for guilds who have seen attrition from their core membership, and are forced to go back and get these flags for new recruits.
- SOE has to make the content fun. Vex Thal, the Luclin keyed zone, requires ten shards to get only part of the key. Each of these is a long, boring as hell camp, with the pieces being very rare. An informal survey of guild members getting the keys reveals that most of them didn’t have much fun getting the pieces, but the reward of getting into the zone was worth the effort: No change on this front. It’s a larger issue that probably won’t show up for a while, if at all, for the existing quests. My plea still stands: please, Sony, make future key quests fun, and explore the idea of a guild getting flagged for these zones as well.
- Instead of getting the top 50 guilds into a room to discuss the needs of the few, SOE needs to focus their attentions on the mid-range of players, who while they may be level 65 and have 200+ AA points, aren’t having any fun getting the goals accomplished. The ability for guilds to get flagged as a whole will be a tremendous boon to the mid-range player who wants to get to that content. Right now, high-end guilds have membership requirements that read like a post on Monster.com. They expect an applicant to be flagged up to a certain point so they don’t have to help the person get them. If that requirement goes away, then the guilds can relax their requirements and allow more players in. Also, the solo LDoN stuff should be fun and a great way to get something done in short time.
There were some other interesting tid-bits to come out of the Summit as well. One of the chief criticisms of Gates of Discord was how hard it was. It turns out there’s a reason: SOE expected to raise the level cap to 70 as part of the 5th Anniversary festivities, and then raise the cap again when Omens was released. The content in GoD was tuned assuming players would be hitting level 70 during the progression. SOE apologized during the summit, but it’s still a shocker to hear GoD was so rushed out the door that a big mistake like that happened.
In the end, I share the same guarded enthusiasm the Summit attendee’s left with. There are already a few small things from the summit up on the Test server. This good-will won’t last forever, though, so SOE is going to need to act quickly on the bullet items, or the situation will reverse itself. It’s clear that SOE has gotten the message, but actions speak louder than words.