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EQ B Gone

July 4th, 2002

Happy 4th of July, everyone. Yes, I'm American, and while I'm not overly patriotic, I have no problem supporting a holiday that celebrates my country's relative freedom and prosperity. Plus blowing things up. Can't forget the explosives.

In the name of laziness at work and getting a new column up, I'll do a quick little news style update here. Once again, I'll be postponing John's letter.

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E-mail Cameron
There's something amusing about an evil druid with a group of pet spiders, isn't there?
 
 
Everquest no more
I've finally cancelled my Everquest account. I probably shouldn't say "finally", since I only played for about 2 weeks. Again.

My reasons for quitting aren't what you'd expect, though, at least to the degree I had thought.

A link I've been sitting on a while (until appropriate) is the link to the Bartle Test. Go ahead, take it. While the test is designed for MUDs, and has been generally scoffed at as being pop psychology at best, it's worth taking.

For what it's worth, I come in as an EAK personality type (explorer, achiever, killer) - 86%, 40%, 40%. The percentages shift slightly, but that's generally my online RPG personality type. I like to wander around and see things - which explains why in the Anarchy Online beta I took an hour and a half run from Newland to Tir, despite having fast travel options - I wanted to see just what was out there. To a lesser degree, I like to achieve - level up, get the "phat lewt", and so on. Same with killer (that percentage is actually up slightly from the last time I took it, and achiever was down - like I said, it varies) - I enjoy the occasional duel and PvP conflict. Socializing isn't much farther down, but while I do enjoy joining a guild or chatting out of character, I'd much rather just talk to my friends on IRC or AIM. There's something mind-dulling about the conversation in your average experience group, where the powergamers limit conversation to such gems as "incoming", "oom" (out of mana), etc.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, it explains in part why I was enjoying Everquest recently. As an explorer archetype, Everquest has a ton of land - last I've heard, they're over 160 separate zones, some of which are Really Big. Moreover, during my playtime, I've seen very, very few of them. There's something about knowing that there's always another area to go look at that appeals to me, particularly when there's a lot of diversity (as with EQ).

Oddly enough, I don't actually do that much PvP in online RPGs, simply because of flawed mechanics or a need to level up to the point where I'm actually competitive.

Everquest's strength - and in a way, its main flaw, depending on how you look at it - is that it a game designed for achievers. Everything is set up for that player archetype. The level treadmill, alternately praised and bemoaned, revolves around killing a ton of mobs to level. The camping creatures for items? It's for achievers who want that piece of rare loot to show off, sell, or expedite further levelling. The end-game? Raid level encounters, where dozens of players work together to take down excessively powerful creatures...it's the pinnacle of achievement (of course, there's more loot for doing this). If you're even into that sort of thing, there's an additional dimension for achievers - selling all that virtual crap.

This may explain the varied reactions people have to Everquest - those with a higher achiever score will be more likely to enjoy the game, because there's a constant progression of things to achieve - a new level (with new spells or skills), new things to kill, new loot to get - and when you're all done, you can do it again with a new race/class combo. It's no wonder people get so addicted - all cynical comments about it being a pretty Skinner box aside.

Everquest's level treadmill was starting to bore me a bit, but I did like the prospect of seeing new things. What halted my play wasn't the treadmill - it was eyestrain. EQ's the first game I've ever played that was actually giving me headaches. It was easy enough to drop because of that.

Interestingly enough, Everquest is still the best MMORPG out right now. Asheron's Call has the best variety of quests, but aside from that, none of the major MMORPGs out now top it. Camelot, while being the genre's new golden boy, is simply EQ Lite - a game that took some problems with EQ and fixed them, yet made a bunch of mistakes themselves. The relationship between EQ and Camelot is interesting in that Camelot, while not a better game, forced the EQ devs to improve their own game - gone are the days of hell levels (bugged levels where it took a LOT more exp than expected to level up), melee characters being unable to bind in cities without mages to do it, asstastic graphics, and so forth.

I also enjoyed my second go-around with EQ a lot more due to something that's not even from Verant - a small program called EQW (Everquest Windowed). It does exactly what the name implies - it removes the arbitrary restriction of having to play in full-screen mode and not being able to alt-tab out to your desktop (the dedicated EQ junkie can even get two separate accounts running at the same time, for purposes of buffing or appearing to actually have friends). Downtime ceases to be as much of an issue when you can websurf or chat with other people instead of staring at your character's ass. As someone I know said, "Playing Everquest no longer means dissapearing for months at a time." Sure, Verant breaks EQW on a fairly regular basis with patches, but it beats the alternative.

While I'll rely on NWN for my online gaming fix in the short term and eagerly await Star Wars Galaxies, I have to say that EQ isn't as bad as I remember - or as it used to be. I don't know if I'd recommend it, per se, but if you're the type of gamer who really likes to accomplish things when they play, you can certainly do worse.

 
MindArk's got balls, that's for sure
You've probably heard me talk about Project Entropia before. Derisively.

Entropia is the MMOG with the gimmick (well, more of one). It's free. Costs nothing to download and install.

OK, it's not free. You pay cash to Mindark, which gets you in-game currency. You use the in-game currency to buy things for your character. Similarly, getting items from critters and selling them nets you more in-game currency. In theory, you can eventually make money from the game - when you have enough PED (Project Entropia Dollars), you can get Mindark to give you money.

Is it just me, or does this sound like a really bad idea? The theory. I mean, on one level, it's not that different from going to the store, shelling out money for the game box, and then paying a monthly fee. Except it's a more constant thing. Die, lose your items? Go buy more. Someone on the forums posted that $10 bought them 100 PED, which was 95 PED after taxes - and that buying a rifle, ammo, and a few pieces of armor used up almost all their money (Hint: If you want to spend that kind of money on firearms, save up and go to Wal-Mart.)

The insidious part of this is that a stealth nerf suddenly becomes more than an inconvenience for players. Relatively minor increases in monster power and decreases in item drops mean more money is going in, and less is coming out.

Moreover, Mindark is a company. They need to make money. With no money coming from a publisher or box sales, the money comes from somewhere. The players. A chimp could probably tell you that basic economic theory dictates that to stay in business, a company has to at least break even, if not make money. So they need lots of people to be buying things, and not be paying much back to the players.

One side effect is that the newbies are funding the economy. It's probably safe to assume that higher level characters will be able to bring in more PED from hunting (if not just farming lower level critters), and will die less. So the influx of cash has to come from the characters with less PED to spend, and more chance of dying.

One odd thing is that people in beta aren't just testing the game. They're paying money to play. A beta? Huh? Shouldn't this be free? Oh, wait, it's a "Commercial Open Beta". MMOG rule #23 - DO NOT PAY FOR A BETA.

Of course, it doesn't matter if getting money back from Mindark is as simple as performing a root canal on yourself.

Of course, Mindark has bigger issues at the moment. Such as getting raided for using pirated software. Not content to deal with the raid, they're counter-suing. They're claiming that Entropia has Microsoft worried. These people must be on drugs.

Keep your eye on Entropia, folks. This could be a bigger clusterfark than Anarchy Online.

What is it about European developers and MMOGs?

 
Only 9 months late! Maybe.
In the latest news from Camelot, it appears that Alchemy and Spellcrafting will finally be in-game. Next month. They hope.

This was the game that was supposed to make crafting a really important part of the economy. With the exception of high level quest items, crafted items were supposed to be the pinnacle of quality.

"9) New system for object enhancements will be added to the game. This will include magic items of all types such as charged items (power me up and away I go), potions, etc. Object enhancements also include making focus items for mages much easier to understand and use. " - Marc Jacobs, 1/15/02, plans for the next 30 days.

To their credit, they stopped giving dates after that. Still, considering crafting was supposed to be such an important part of the economy, why wait so long? Long-suffering crafters watched as dungeons full of incredible dropped items were added, while they got a few tiers of material people generally didn't want nor could readily afford.

Now assuming that it gets put into the game in early August - and assuming it works properly (quite a leap, I admit), it'll be a good thing. It'll give crafters something to do, and a market for their goods.

Is it too little too late, however? It might fix the economy, somewhat, but it's not enough to make Camelot truly competitive in the near future.

It's arguably the most important tradeskill in a supposedly crafter driven economy, and it's 9 months late, at best. I have no further comment.

 
Closing Thoughts

Send letters, please, and don't blow off your hands with illegal fireworks. Might make it harder to type.

- Cameron (tortolia@rpgfan.com)

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