13 July, 2006
So, yeah, I’ve been a bit quiet recently. A few friends started playing EverQuest 2 after getting bored with WoW. They tricked me into playing. Unfortunately, I’ve taken to the game a little too well, especially given the other obligations I should be observing.
Such are the occupational hazards of a game developer. Oh, the misery.
It’s been very interesting playing EQ2 after playing WoW for quite a while previously. Read below to see some of my observations.
I told you I was hardcore
It’s very interesting to play EQ2 after playing WoW for most of last year. Whereas WoW is rather easygoing, EQ2 is much more hard-core. There’s so many more bits of information involved in playing the game. More equipment slots, more names to remember, everything. EQ2 definitely feels like the older type of games in the industry, like Meridian 59. Very interesting to get immersed into a new game like this and see how much WoW really did change expectations and perceptions.
Perception is reality
Speaking of perceptions, though, it’s interesting to see the attitudes people have about EQ2. The game had a very reasonable launch, something that would probably normally have been considered a success. But, then WoW happened and Blizzard kept bragging about the millions and millions of players in the game. Suddenly, EQ2 wasn’t quite so glamorous. (The same thing happened to SWG; after WoW their numbers were disappointing given the strength of the Star Wars franchise.) The perception was that WoW “won” and EQ2 “lost”. Unfortunately, perceptions like these have a way of becoming self-fulfilling. According to the latest numbers, EQ2 has lost a lot of players over the past year. I’m sure that part of this exodus is because people view EQ2 as a failed product, even though it’s peak usage of nearly 350k was very respectable.
I tend to be a bit sympathetic to this problem, since people level the same accusations against M59. “Oh, not many people play it, so it must suck.” Sure, it’s not for everyone, but it’s always easy to find a reason not to like something. As the old saying goes, nothing ensures popularity quite like the perception of being popular.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
It’s no secret that after WoW’s launch and obvious success, Sony knew that it had to play catchup. There were a lot of changes made to make the game more friendly and interesting. I think one of the biggest changes in EQ2 compared to EQ1 is the group dynamic. No longer were you forced into groups. I’ve been merrily soloing my way on my character, never having been in a group. A few caveats: I am playing a pet class (are they ever not BS?), and I plan to group with my friends once I get past the newbie stuff. But, it’s very interesting to see soloing as being viable when the original game was notorious for not wanting people solo.
Unfortunately, I’m still very new to the game, so I’m not sure what all has changed since launch. One of my friends playing now did play back near launch, so I might have to get more information from him. But, it’s interesting to see a game change even a little in order to match what people like in another game. Is this catering to the customer, or being wishy-washy?
It seemed like a good idea at the time
But, EQ2 hasn’t just been following the leader. No, it’s made a few mistakes on its own. The most interesting thing is that a few of the high-profile changes were things that people thought were great ideas. The two biggies are the class system and the crafting system.
Originally EQ2 had a system where you picked one of four basic classes: fighter, mage, cler…er, priest, and thie…er, scout. When you got to 10th level, you chose one of 3 different paths. Perhaps your priest wanted to focus more on nature spells, or dealing with spirits, or healing the mana sponges in the group. At 20th level, you picked one of two specializations and you had your final class. In theory, players weren’t bogged down with too much information before they started. In reality, however, most people knew what they wanted to play. So, players who wanted to play a BS pet class had to wait through at least 10 levels of being a generic “mage” before they got a pet to hide behind. If you knew you wanted to play a specific class, you had to find out what main class and first class choices to make.
The other system is crafting. People lamented how crafting was always boring in online games. Pick some items, push some buttons, blah. Rather boring. Why not make crafting detailed and active like combat? Well, EQ2 picked up the gauntlet and ran with it. The team has some pretty interesting things (Lum has a link to the primary source) to say about crafting systems. As mentioned in the previous link, the active system really kills socialization. It really sucks to be grinding out items, find out you gained a level, but have to wait a while before thanking your guild because taking time to respond to them could mess up your item. (The cool kids only want pristine things, ya know.) So, the system which requires constant attention wasn’t quite as much fun as people thought it would be.
The crafting system was also much more complex from what I have been told by my friends. Currently you combine a bunch of stuff and get a final product. I guess before you had to combine raw materials to make components then combine those together to form the final item. It was, in a word, tedious. Deep and perhaps “realistic”, but still tedious. Few people were sad to see that go.
The only constant is change
One problem with major changes is keeping the documents up to date. This doesn’t just cover the internal documents, but the stuff that players find useful as well. More recent games have had the benefit of having network sites keep track of the changes and keep their information up to date. However, when I was looking for class information, no major network had any information about the new class system linked from their main page. All the documents were for the old system. This did me no good, since so many things changed for each class. Even the manual in the install directory for the game was out-of-date.
The reality of the situation is that network sites thrive from advertising. It’s obvious that you should focus on sites that get more hits, and I’m sure the WoW sites flooded the networks with lots of advertising impressions. I mean, people looking for information. So, the WoW site gets constant updates while the EQ2 site on the same network gets some half-assed editorial on rare occasion.
In the end…
In the end, I’m playing the game for one main reason: because my friends are there. One of my long-term college friends just moved up to Alaska to be closer to his family. So, the plan is for us to get together and have fun in EQ2 since we can’t get together to play paper RPGs anymore. Should be cool, especially with the EQ2 mentoring system. It seems they have one system that WoW doesn’t that works pretty good. :) But, I will also be playing because I develop online games for a living; I want to see what Sony has to offer.
We’ll see how it ends up. :)