Category Archives: EverQuest

The Terror of Luclin is Coming to EverQuest

The next EverQuest expansion, the 28th in the series, will be Terror of Luclin as the elder Norrath title takes its turn getting back to the moon.

The Terror of Luclin approaches

The lead in for the expansion says:

The shadows cast by the light of Luclin have been whispering of intrigues. The Akheva are on the move, striving to reassert their power and rebuild their moon-wide empire. Amidst the turmoil of their actions, rumors abound. Mayong Mistmoore has been seen on Luclin. The only known truth is that the master vampire has since disappeared into the shadows and even his devoted followers and sycophants have begun to worry.

Clearly something is stirring on the moon of Luclin. What secrets or magical power was the Lord of Mistmoore seeking? Is he trying to usurp another god? Do you have the strength to peer behind the shades and track down the vampire lord to prevent whatever evil he is plotting?

The Mistmoores on the moon I guess.

The expansion announcement lists out the features coming with it.  This time around there is a boost in the level cap, bringing that to 120 levels.

  • Level increase to 120.
  • 7 Expansion Zones
  • New Raids, Quests, and Missions
  • New Spells, Combat Abilities, and AAs
  • New Collections
  • Teleport Item Key Ring – every character on your account will get a 10-slot Key Ring to store teleportation items! You can add slots with marketplace items as you need them.

A lot of that is what one might consider the standard boilerplate of an EverQuest expansion.  They have been sparing with the level cap increases, doling them out every couple expansions, but the rest is par for the course.  More stuff to do, more places to see.  And when you’re on expansion 28, who is to argue with success?

The expansion is also now available for pre-order and available in the four packages that have become the standard.

Standard Edition – $34.99

You get the stuff listed above and a shadow weapon cosmetic item if you pre-order.

Collector’s Edition – $69.99

  • Standard Edition items plus:
  • Contract of the Stonegrabber (for every character)
  • Umbral Plains Mushroom (for every character)
  • Goblet of Adventure III x 2
  • Terror of Luclin Painting
  • Bloodbound Satchel
  • Zelniak Saddle
  • Metamorph Wand – Lightcrawler
  • Teleport Item Key Ring Slots (5 Slot Packs) x 9

Premium Edition – $139.99

Collector’s Edition items plus:

  • Umbral Plains Scrying Bowl (for every character)
  • Bloodbound Satchel
  • Ten Perfected Augmentation Distillers x 2
  • Shared Goblet of Adventure III x 2
  • Owlbear Saddle
  • Metamorph Wand – Rockhopper
  • Visage of the Akheva

Friends & Family Edition- $249.99

Premium Edition plus:

  • Bloodbound Satchel
  • Shared Goblet of Adventure III x 2
  • Tradable: Terror of Luclin
  • Tradable: Heroic Character
  • Tradable: Zelniak Saddle
  • Tradable: Owlbear Saddle
  • Tradable: Teleport Item Key Ring Slots (5 Slot Packs) x 9
  • Overseer Pack x 30
  • Halfling Heritage Crate x 5

Now, if you ask me, I am going to say that $250 is a tall price to pay for an EverQuest expansion.  I don’t know that there is $215 worth of fluff in that package over what you get with the base expansion.

However, the fact hat Daybreak keeps selling the Friends & Family Edition likely means somebody is buying it… a couple years back it was reported that half of expansion buyers splurge for something above the bask pack… and you don’t have to sell that many to make it worthwhile.

Anyway, that is the expected EverQuest expansion for 2021.  It is already in beta and will no doubt ship some time between now and mid-December.

On Perks and Paying More

While I was away last week I saw a dev post come up in the EverQuest forums (I subscribe to the dev post feed in Feedly and, while it delivers a lot of garbage… you get every reply to a dev started topic… it does pop up something interesting now and then) about a new monetization scheme for the game.

Not being able to write about them at the time, I forwarded a link over to Bhagpuss who put together his own post about the idea.

As he noted straight off these “Perks,” as Daybreak has branded them, are not really perks at all.  “Perk” comes from “perquisite” and is generally something you’re entitled to already, not something for which you have to pay.

Poor naming choices aside, I was kind of interested to see another attempt to bring in more money for an older title, because I was on a bit earlier this year about how the price of just about everything has gone up over the last 15 years, and yet somehow we’re still paying $15 a month for subscriptions.

Daybreak subscriber prices

The response to that was… not positive if you were an MMO developer.  Massively OP picked up the idea and their staff responded mostly against the idea of subscriptions being more (that was back in May, but their answers didn’t change much when they did the same question yesterday), while the comments were vehemently against any such thing, with a theme of “I want more if I am going to pay more” appearing.

And I get that as a gut reaction, but any attempt to go deeper seems to get met by the “greedy developers” trope that is so common.  Think about the answer I would get from the family that runs the Thai restaurant down the road using the same argument.  Twenty years back a standard entree was $6.95, these days it is $17.95.  Should I expect to get more for the extra I am paying?  Are they greedy restaurateurs, pocketing that largess?

We know that isn’t how it works.

There are other factors of course.  MMOs do not exist in a void and, as I mentioned in my post, we have been conditioned over time by the idea that tech should get cheaper and not more expensive.  But even Moore’s Law has to adjust for inflation.  And these days a lot more things are demanding a subscription, from Microsoft Office to Netflix to XBox Live, all of which influence our sense of value.

So when the Perks announcement came along, I was interested to see how they would be received.  These were, after all, optional items that delivered extra value for the price, and very close to what the current darling MMORPG, FFXIV does with retainers.  So who could possibly object?

Everybody?  Is that the answer I am looking for?

I suppose the coverage of the plan didn’t help.  Over at Massively OP they opened with the greed dog whistle by asking, “How can Daybreak milk even more money out of subscribers?”

I mean, unless I am missing some positive connotation for “milking” in this situation.

The comments naturally follow that lead, with a lone outlier mentioning FFXIV.

Over at MMO Fallout the tone was less overtly hostiles, though sarcasm was clearly in evidence at the idea of a subscription on top of your subscription.

The utility, or lack thereof, was barely up for debate.  The news story was “greedy devs at it again.”

Which, as noted, is ironic not only because of FFXIV, but also because this would not be anywhere close to the first time that the company that was once SOE offered and extra subscription option for additional stuff.  Those with long memories may recall that EverQuest II has such an extra at launch, offering access to their special players site for $2.99 a month.  There were also a special GM driven events server that had an extra monthly toll to play on.  And Station Access, the one subscription plan for multiple games, started off life as an extra cost option that offered perks, including extra character slots, which were enough to prompt many of the people in our guild back then to pay the price even though they were not going to run off and play EverQuest or PlanetSide.

Fine, whatever.  If we won’t pay more for a subscription, or even tolerate the idea of optional extra subscriptions, then I’ll just assume everybody is happy with cash shop monetization.  That must be true, right?  People certainly are not out there clamoring for the return to a subscription only model in order to banish the horrors of cash shop monetization.

Oh, wait.

We won’t pay any more for a subscription, hate the cash shop, and complain that studios won’t risk millions to make something new, betting instead on franchises and sustaining already profitable titles.

We’ll see how that works out in the long term.  But I’ll be investing in popcorn futures when Playable Worlds announces the monetization scheme for their metaverse project.  The things Raph wrote about just yesterday don’t come for free.  There is a lot of upside to the thin client idea, but it has to do the processing that the server normally does plus the work you desktop does as well, and somebody will need to play the bill for both.

Of course, it is possible that people say they won’t pay more… until they have to.  It is hard to judge the price elasticity of subscriptions without somebody challenging the $15/month meta.  If a game could go to $20 a month and keep the same number of subscribers, they do it.  They’d also drop to $10 if they knew they would double their subscriber base.  But nobody is willing to bet their game on that just yet.

Dealing with Mudflation

A few weeks back on The Meta Show The Mittani characterized CCP’s attempts to fix the EVE Online economy as an attempt to roll back mudflation.  And that seems to fit the bill as to what they have been attempting over the last few years really.

Mudflation goes back to… well, as the name implies, MUDs and their economies.

Much has been written about the economies of online games, but my early experience with mudflation was around TorilMUD, which was big enough to have a player economy, but not big enough to absorb the faucets over time.

Mudflation generally refers to the growth of both power in online games and the effects of the uninterrupted flow of cash from drops, quests, and what not into the player economy.

In TorilMUD both aspects hit the game.  Power creep was generally part of the introduction of new raid zones.  If somebody made a fancy new zone for players to attack, they would seed it with some desirable gear, a bit better than you could get in some of the older zones.  That made people run the new zone to get the drops that they wanted, but also made older raid zones a bit easier to run.

For example, way back in time, the City of Brass in the Astral Plane was a tough zone for a raid group.  It had some nifty stuff, but groups primarily went there because it had drops for a couple of epic spell quests, including one of the druid spells… creeping doom or moonwell, I forget which this far down the line.  You needed a fire protection item, you needed to have fly cast on you, several of the fights needed very specific group compositions.

As new raid zones came in and gear got better overall, City of Brass became a bit of a cakewalk.  Part of that was the raid leaders learned all the tricks over time, what you could skip and how best to approach various bosses, but a lot of it was that we were all just now over-geared for the zone, so that save for one boss fight a run was rarely in question. (Unless Mori was running the raid, in which case we might all wipe just traveling through the Astral Plane and spend the next three hours recovering from that.)

The TorilMUD solution to this over time was to redo gear, generally by hitting it vigorously with a nerf bat until zones were, if not hard, but at least not a walk over.  Often the devs came for specific things.  There was the great war on haste items.  I remember Meclin lent me a pair of grey suede boots, which were haste items when he took a break and I traded them for some gear that was a big upgrade for me and then, two weeks later the devs nerfed them into oblivion.  I offered to go buy a pair of grey suedes for him when he returned to the game.  They were cheap because nobody wanted them anymore.

Part of the issue for TorilMUD is that it has had a level cap of 50 since 1993, so adjusting gear was the go-to solution.

Then there was the economy.  For some time after a pwipe, and I went through four of those, a player economy would grow and flourish.  I wrote a post about how we used to handle sales by yelling about our wares back in the old days.

TorilMUD was a game of many faucets and few sinks.  As usual, life was hard when you were level 1 and could barely afford the copper needed to buy a ration to eat.  But as you went on and looted every coin and sold every bit of junk to a vendor… we used to race off to the Faerie Forest with every crash/reboot because there were things we could sell available at such a reset… you eventually could cover your needs, then buy a few luxuries, then had excess.

When everybody was hungry, the economy thrived.  When people got fat, when the streets were running with gold, then the economy would die.  Basically, gear had value and coin did not, and who trades something of value for no return?  And when somebody did want to buy/sell something, it was for an obscene pile of coin.

That problem was never solved, save through the community itself.  People were generous in donating gear and when there was no demand, people stopped farming low level gear to resell.  But if you wanted to buy gear, pay money for an item, you were likely out of luck. (Except maybe for that tinker’s bag in the Faerie Forest.)

Both of those aspects of mudflation have carried on into modern MMORPGs.

In fact the experience of early EverQuest was very much a replay writ large, right down to people shouting to advertise their wares in the tunnel in The Commonlands.

The Plane of Knowledge kills all this eventually

The EQ developers had a different way out… a route that actually ran with gear inflation… which was expansions.  If you pile on some levels or some AAs to earn, a bit of story, and a pile of new gear to grind for, then you kick the gear inflation can down the road.  As long as you keep making expansions… and the EQ team was doing two expansions a year at one point… and don’t go crazy, you can sustain this for quite a while.

The economy was still a bit nutty in Norrath.  They had to turn off gravity in the Bazaar, the official player economy center, because you needed to haul huge amounts of platinum coin around to buy things, and woe to anybody who forgot to bank their coins before stepping out of the Bazaar, because you would find yourself weighed down, unable to move.  I’ve done that.

World of Warcraft had adopted pretty much the same point of view, at least up through the Battle for Azeroth expansion.  They did a gear squish at one point, just to reign in numbers, but gear progression through expansions was still pretty much the same; new expansion green gear was likely better than your old expansion purples.

And the team at Blizz made old raid tourism a thing for pets and transmog gear, so your inflated power could be used to go back and collect stuff you missed in past expansions.

It wasn’t until Battle for Azeroth that they started to feel that the “more levels with every expansion” model might be reaching the point of absurdity, so we got the great level squish before Shadowlands hit.  For me the jury is still out as to whether that was worth the effort, though it is hard to judge due to Shadowlands growing stale in the first six months and then the hostile workplace lawsuit hitting the company.

Regardless, I suspect that a level squish like that is a luxury that few titles can afford.  I am sure the EQ team feels the pain of having a level cap at 115 and 27 expansions to sort through.  I am not sure how Neverwinter managed it, though I suspect their plan was not as ambitious.

On the economy front Blizzard has just run with the inflation model, even expanding the gold cap over time.  Each expansion hands out more gold, but they add in a few fancy gold sinks… mounts and bags and what not… to try and offset that.  I am sure that WoW Tokens helped at least redistribute some of the hoarded gold in the game.

But the player economy isn’t critical to the game.  There are servers where the economy is totally screwed up, where the auction house is bad, but you can mostly ignore it.  You do quests, get gear, earn faction, get enough gold to buy from NPC vendors, and go on with your life and adventures.

It has actually been a bit amusing to watch the economy change in WoW Classic with the unlock of Burning Crusade Classic.  We would go out of our way to finish a quest with a one gold reward in vanilla.  In Outland the quest rewards are throwing gold compared to what we’ve been used to, and the market reacted.  People got rich, prices went up, and things moved along.

Still, the auction house it options.

Which brings me back to EVE Online, where started about a thousand words back.  CCP has been doing something that I have not seen before in an online game.  CCP has been trying to stuff the economy side of the mudflation genie back in the bottle.

After introducing all the changes that led to the current situation, epitomized at one point by the Delve Time Unit, CCP had a change of heart/staff and started down a path to reduce the wealth being accumulated in New Eden.  Rorqual mining was repeatedly nerfed as was supercap ratting.  Taxes on commerce were raised.  Anomalies were nerfed some more, then the whole ESS nerf was put in place to put income at risk.

CCP then got serious and went after mining and minerals, the core of the manufacturing economy, reducing ore yields, limiting where some minerals could be found, reducing the number of asteroids, and generally trying to starve the New Eden economy.

Most recently CCP redid industry.  Ship prices were already on the rise due to mineral prices, but CCP made certain ships, battleships and above, much more expensive to produce which saw a large downturn in production back in April.

A lot of effort has gone into throttling the economy, though after all that CCP threw some ISK at people for an event when they unlocked the ESS reserve bank keys.

July 2021 – Money Supply Over Time (with highlight)

While the money supply is down a bit from the June 2019 high, that last injection seems to have undone much of what they were attempting to achieve.

And CCP has promised that the starvation economy will be ending with changes slated for Q4 of 2021.  We do not know what those are yet, but I am very curious to see if there will be any tangible change resulting from these months and years of squeezing the economy.

For example, CCP loves when null sec goes to war.  Big battles with expansive ships set records and make headlines that help promote the game.  But this big economic squeeze has clearly impacted the war.

Yes, PAPI is claiming that the tax changes killed off their Tranquility Trading Tower revenues, which meant they could no longer finance the war, but that feels more like an excuse than major factor.

That said, making capitals and supercapitals more expensive to produce means that both sides in the war were much more careful about putting hard to replace assets on the line.  The tax change may not have ended the war, but the production change loomed large over how it was being fought and made those big battles CCP loves less likely.  Nobody wants to risk their big toys if they can’t be sure they can replace them.

CCP is in a tough corner, I will admit that.  If they think the economy is getting out of hand they cannot just add some more sinks in with the next expansion, a spiffy new mount or some such.  And the economy is vital to EVE Online in a way that few other games have ever managed.  Life goes on in New Eden because you can go to Jita and buy a new ship to replace the one you lost.  ISK has value in the economy.  Screw that up and the game breaks hard.

But I am still wondering if this effort will end up being an object lesson to other developers about how to, or how not to, deal with mudflation.

Enad Global 7 Q2 2021 Financials and Concerning News

I keep having to remind myself that Daybreak’s parent is a public company once again, and a small enough one that Daybreak’s products aren’t hidden in the numbers but are big enough in the company to get highlighted at every report.  EverQuest is a big name at Enad Global 7.

Enad Global 7

Fortunately I have a Google alert setup for Enad Global 7 which, unlike some of my other alerts, has proven effective at catching updates about the company.  So early this week I got the nod that their Q2 2021 preliminary financials had been announced.  The statement was short and sweet:

During the second quarter, we delivered a net revenue growth of 179%, EBITDA growth of 360% and meanwhile having successfully integrated the acquisitions we closed in the first quarter of 2021. With our rapid acquisition growth, we have digested, integrated and built up the necessary processes to continue our strategic focus. I am delighted to announce that the relaunch of MechWarrior 5 was profitable already after a couple of weeks. It was a testament of the collaboration power between the subsidiaries of the group.

There was also a slide deck investor presentation to go with the announcement. (The income statement covers much of the same ground.) Quite a bit of the deck was information previously shared.  They did note that Daybreak’s seven titles account for 50% of the company’s revenue.

Daybreak, owner of 7 IP’s that are live and account for 50% of the revenue, mainly PC and Console.  Distributed mainly through our own platform.

Elsewhere in the presentation they say that live games make up 50% of the revenue for 2020, which includes My Singing Monsters as the 8th title, so I am not sure how that breaks out.

And, as always, the like to talk about the strong IPs and long running titles that came with Daybreak.

This slide from March was re-run, featuring 6 Daybreak titles in the highlights plus My Singing Monsters

Compared to that 16% of the revenue comes in via Innova’s 4Game platform which hosts titles licensed from other companies for distribution in the EU and CIS including Lineage II, Aion, and Ragnarok Online.

The presentation wasn’t big on news.  The previously announced plan to migrate all their titles onto the 4Game platform was reconfirmed.

We’ll all play on 4Game

Not a big news day for EG7 really.  A good financial report, some rah rah, and back to work.

As I was tracking down the financials I found that the same day a bomb dropped at EG7.  Robin Flodin, the chipper, young, and enthusiastic CEO of EG7 that gave us all such good feels when the Daybreak acquisition was announced, was being given the boot, with Ji Ham of Daybreak stepping in to fill the role as acting CEO.

The Board of Enad Global 7 AB (publ) and Robin Flodin have agreed that effective immediately Robin will transition away from his current role as CEO of EG7 and will be replaced by the current CEO of Daybreak Game Company, EG7’s largest subsidiary, Ji Ham. During this transition Robin will stay on for six months to assist Ji as he assumes his new role within the EG7 family of companies. Ji will be appointed acting CEO of EG7 as a search for a permanent CEO has been initiated. Ji has an extensive background in both gaming and finance and has for the last six years been the CEO of Daybreak. During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company.

Of course, this made hearts sink, and not just because some of us had crushes on Robin.

Ji Ham should have an entry on the IMDB given his ongoing acting roles.  After Smed got the heave-ho from Daybreak, long time SOE exec Russel Shanks took over for a bit.  But that did not last long and Daybreak quietly updated its information to indicate that Ji Ham had stepped in as acting president of Daybreak.

Nobody outside of the company was quite sure who he was.  His profile over at Bloomberg, which has since been scrubbed from the site (classic Daybreak move), indicated that he was with Columbus Nova’s renewable fuels group, working closing with the Russian Renova Group, which owned Columbus Nova.

The profile probably disappeared during the 2018 panic when Daybreak tried to gaslight everybody , though “gaslighting” implies some subtlety and skill that was not present in the act, into believing that the company had never had anything to do with Renova, Columbus Nova, or any other Russians that might be facing sanctions from the US government.  And that is what the Daybreak era reminds many people of, a regime of obvious lies.

So why is Ji Ham in and Robin Flodin out?

I suspect we’ll never know the real dynamics of the situation, but looking at the slide deck from the quarterly numbers, Robin didn’t own a lot of the company.  The combined management and board of directors own 49% of the company, broken out like this:

EG7 board and management ownership stakes

I have pasted in the total ownership stake in the company for each individual (you might need to click on the image to view it full size to make those numbers readable) and in that mix that represents 49% of the company, Robin holds just 3.504%  That is a lot of shares, but not enough to maintain any sort of control

Meanwhile our old Columbus Nova friends, Jason Epstein and Ji Ham, own more than 9% of the company.  Add in the fact that Daybreak is responsible for 50% of EG7’s revenue and it probably isn’t a huge mystery as to how Jason Epstein and his partner Ji Ham got themselves in the driver’s seat again.

As for what it means… well, I am skeptical.  The press release says this about Ji Ham:

During his tenure at Daybreak Ji has overseen extensive growth and profitability of the company

That seems to be, from the outside, counter factual.

From the outside Ji Ham’s tenure was one of cancelling new titles, shutting down old titles, laying off staff, and tarnishing the reputation of the company with outrageous historical revisionism.  The company may have seen profits, but it wasn’t due to growth.  Growth didn’t enter into it.  Profits came by cutting costs and not investing in anything new, it came from maintaining the status quo at the cheapest possible rate.

Is that the future now holds for EG7?  Have they finished with their growth through acquisition phase and moved to consolidation and profit seeking?  Is Ji Ham being put on the throne to do to EG7 what he did to Daybreak?

Yes, I know he is “acting” CEO, but he was “acting” President and CEO at Daybreak too, and he had a long run in that role. He has recast his LinkedIn profile in the Daybreak tradition to indicate that he was CEO of the company since the date of Smed’s departure.  There was no Russell Shanks, only Ji Ham.  He did a modest attempt at downplaying the fact that he was deep in Columbus Nova, that company that never had nothing to do with Daybreak ever.

CN? What is CN?

I suspect he hopes people think he worked for Canadian Northern Railway and not a Russian oligarch investment front.

I might be borrowing trouble here, taking the dimmest possible view of events, but back in December, when EG7 announced their acquisition of Daybreak with a vision of growth and investment, a lot of optimism bubbled up for the future of the company and its titles.  That optimism came from the grim times that the Daybreak era represented, so bringing back the same actors to run the new show can hardly be expected to be received with enthusiastic applause.

Of course, some of that December optimism was likely misplaced, especially on the LOTRO front.  Making a console silk purse, as the initial announcements hinted at, out of the sow’s ear that is LOTRO now… and that, honestly, LOTRO has always been… would require an investment in funds that would likely never see a return.

And who knows, maybe EG7 is still looking to expand and grow.  Maybe Ji Ham will be given resources and instructions by the board to go in directions he could not when he was at the helm of Daybreak.  Hey, maybe the “acting CEO” bit isn’t a lie, maybe the company is really looking for a new CEO and Ji Ham will be just a caretaker… though why he needs a six month transition from Robin Flodin raises some questions on that front, though likely it means Robin gets paid as CEO for another six months while not having anything to do after a week or two.

But it is concerning.  It smacks of a return to the habits of Daybreak writ larger as they now apply to even more studios.  As I said with the initial burst of optimism about EG7 I will now say about this dark turn; we will have to wait and see.

Addendum: As pointed out here in the comments, Robin Flodin apparently had problems during an interview he was giving on Swedish television where he couldn’t explain the difference between sales and revenue.

That Tweet, which I also linked in the comments, points to an article about the interview.  Google translates the headline as, “Robin Flodin is forced to leave the position of CEO of EG7 after a high-profile interview.”

So the ascension of Ji Ham was perhaps not premeditated, though we have yet to see what it will mean in the long term.

Related:

Friday Bullet Points From the Empty House

Summer must be coming to an end because the new semester starts for my daughter next week.  She and my wife left Wednesday morning to drive up to Oregon to get her moved into the dorm and settled, while I stayed behind.  It took about a day before working from home and having nobody to sync up with on meals before all structure fell away from my existence and I began to live like the cats.

My wife will be back tomorrow to help return me to a more normal cycle, but until then it is time for another nap.  But before I snooze, a few items that came up of which I wanted to take note.

  • Designing Virtual Worlds

On Monday this week Richard Bartle announced on his personal blog that he had asked for the rights for his 2003 book Designing Virtual Worlds to be reverted to him and he has now made it available as a free download in PDF format.

Something like the book cover

I actually found out about this via a tweet from Raph Koster:

Naturally I grabbed a copy as soon as I could.  Even if you are not interested in the design aspects, the book includes a run down of the history of virtual worlds from MUD1 up into speculating about the launch of EVE Online.

As is noted constantly, the whole thing predates the launch of World of Warcraft, but is still remarkably relevant 18 years down the road.

  • Men Who Play Women

Nick Yee’s group, Quantic Foundry, emailed be about the release of a new publicly available report on the genders people choose to play when they have an in-game avatar.

home of gamer research

Among the findings were that while only 9% of women play male avatars, 29% of men play female avatars.

The report goes on to try and explain why men play female avatars and comes up with some good points.  But I suspect that the fact that so many games hyper-sexualize female avatars plays into it a lot as well.  The game designers are very much in on the objectifying of the female body.  I would be interested to see if there was any variation in the numbers between games that are all in on boob bounce physics and titles that don’t go down that path.

  • Esports in Asia

Niko Partners, which covers the video game trends in Asia, has a new report on the size and trends in esports across Asia, which makes up 54% of the global market.  While the full report will set you back $5K, the intro page has some tidbits about the market that you might find of interest.

  • EA Making Loot Boxes Suck Slightly Less

In their quarterly earnings call EA said that they were seeing more engagement and more spending when they let players peek at what was in a loot box via special “preview packs,” which you could open before committing to buy.  These were apparently received very well by the community and a lot of players who otherwise had not purchased loot boxes spent money on these new packs.

EA has literally discovered that if you tell people what you’re selling, more people are likely to actually buy.

  • More Bonus Skill Points in EVE Online

A quick one to slip in because it is time sensitive.  CCP has a skill point login event going on this weekend.  For Omegas that log in  and claim the rewards on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there is 50K skill points in it for you.  For Alphas, it is just 15K, but that is still better than nothing.

  • Reminiscing About EverQuest and EverQuest Next

Finally, last week aLovingRobot had Jeff Butler, one of the original EverQuest team members, on the show where they chatted about EverQuest Next, EverQuest, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, the early days of SOE, and the MMORPG market.

aLovingRobot’s channel has more than a few videos dedicated to the history and lore of EverQuest and related titles, so if the subject interests you, then you can certainly find some more to watch.  There are a number of names from the past that appear in the series.

Hat tip to Feldon for finding this.

Immersion on the Bad Linoleum of Norrath

Having done what I consider the easy immersion study with Lord of the Rings Online… easy both because I can identify the hooks that get me and because I have played it seriously as recently as 2018… it is time to move on to the next time.

It is time for EverQuest.

Classic EverQuest

EverQuest is going to be a tougher row to hoe for a few reasons, the first of which is that I haven’t played it seriously in ages.  I think the last time I played for anything like real was in the run up to the 20th anniversary, and that was a bit of a lark because they had bonus XP going to I made it up to 50 in a couple weeks of short daily sessions.

Before that I played through to about level 20 with a couple of characters when the Vox server launched, which has to be six or seven years ago at this point.  And before that it was when the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server launched, when Potshot and I played seriously as a duo for a few months, until the PlayStation/SOE hack turned off all their servers for a few weeks, which kind of broke our stride.

There were a few runs before that.  I went and played when they launched The Serpent’s Spine expansion, which promised a new and soloable quest path.

But all of those runs, they were based on the memory of the game when it launched, the sense of immersion I felt way back in 1999 and 2000, when I was logging on every night and had some friends to play with there regularly and it was the place to be.

So the immersion factor is something from way in the past, before most of the key points in my adult life, like marriage and parenthood.  Going back to play keeps the ember of the immersion I felt in the game alive after all these years.

Second, if I was bitching about the UI being a problem for immersion in LOTRO, how the hell do I explain it with a UI that looked like this?

Out in the dark night

I lifted that screenshot from the web ages ago because I have no screenshots left from that era, but look at that UI.  And that was all crammed onto a 17″ monitor running at 1024 x 768 resolution, a size so small that I could easily lose a window of that dimension on my current monitor.

Third, the whole thing looked pretty primitive, even back in 1999.  Being an early 3D rendered title in an age when cards that could render 3D could only handle relatively few polygons and textures of limited size, the landscape could look like it was fractured from some opaque crystal material that broke into a myriad of sharply defined triangular surfaces.  I’d played Delta Force before EQ, which used voxels, a rendering tech that at the time gave a much more realistic surface texture.

A swimming pool in Qeynos

And each giant facet colored by a texture that looked more like bad linoleum than grass or dirt or rock or whatever.  The trees looked like cardboard cutouts.  The character animations were minimal and the running animation was always just a bit off from the movement.

Never an immersion breaking name in EQ!

That was kind of rough looking, even in 1999.

Finally, EQ didn’t even have the things going for it that LOTRO did.  If you look back at my LOTRO immersion post, I list out the elements that I felt helped me on the immersion front, which included the following:

  • Familiar lore
  • Good adaptation of the lore to the game
  • Mechanics are familiar but not identical to other fantasy MMORPGs
  • Familiarity with the game
  • Well done landscape that feels like Middle-earth

None of those five apply to EQ.  I’ve already dispensed with the quality of the landscape, and familiarity wasn’t really a thing, being the first 3D MMORPG I played.

And the lore of Norrath?  Here is a dirty little secret; for all my years of pining for the game and singing its praises, I know diddly squat about the lore.  I was never a raider, so if you listed out all the raid boss names I might recognize five or six.  I was also a bit of a “roll player,” one who was into the mechanics and optimization as opposed to being immersed in the lore.  I still am that way to a certain extent.  I prefer my own story to the one the game tries to overlay on my adventures.

There is, however, one item from the LOTRO list that EQ did have, and does have still.

  • Feeling of place within the game

When I go there I feel like I am somewhere in a way that a lot of games struggle to capture.

I suspect that the primary through line of this series about immersion is going to end up being a sense of place, a feeling of being somewhere alive.  So I can’t just drop that “place” bullet point and keep going.  I am going to have to justify it every time I bring it up.

So what made Norrath in 1999 feel like a place despite the limitations of the tech at the time?

To start with it was an interconnected world.  Even chopped up into zones it all still felt connected.  You could travel overland and by ship from one end of the game to the other and it took time and could be quite dangerous depending on your level.

And then there is what they did do well with the tech they had, like light and the day/night cycle and fog.  I know Bhagpuss is going to complain about the fog, but I felt it gave the game atmosphere, texture, and a sense of foreboding.

Barbarians in the fog and snow

I remember looking up into the trees in Surefall Glade where my first character, a half elf ranger, literally the worst combo I could have chosen, and seeing them rise up into the mist, disappearing into it so you could only imaging how tall they much be.  And, after exiting the tunnel that led into they Qeynos hills, having the medium distance fade into a fog.  I felt considerably apprehension the first time I went all the way down the road to North Qeynos because the zone line had nothing but fog beyond it.

The fog filled a role beyond atmosphere of course.  It was there to limit how much your video card had to render.  It was a common trick in the early day of 3D.  I remember it from Starsiege: Tribes as well, the middle distance fog and firing my disc launcher into where I thought somebody might be and seeing my rounds disappear into that mist.

The fog went away later.  Video cards improved and the poly count of the early game was ridiculously low just a few years down the line.  I missed the fog when we were playing on Fippy Darkpaw.  It took some of the mystery out of the world.

But night remained, and it was an entity all of its own.  I remember waiting at a guard tower in West Karana in the night because visibility was greatly reduced… at least until we all discovered the gamma setting… and you couldn’t see dangers that might be waiting for you if you went traveling alone.  You could see distant lights and light sources on players and the occasional NPC.  The jack-o-lantern heads on those scarecrows were lit up at night.  But a wolf or a bandit might be invisible in the dark until you stumbled onto them.  And worse things might loom out of the night suddenly.

Froon!

The first time I saw Froon march out of the darkness towards me I about wet myself.  It was amazing.  Mobs wandered the zone.  It wasn’t a static world, but one with a rhythm.  It wasn’t a complicated cycle and you could figure it all out with a bit of patience, but you had to put some effort in.

And, speaking of effort, there were no maps.  We had to draw our own.

West Karana all on One Map

I grabbed any decent map I could and printed them out at work and annotated them as I played, something that added to the experience.  It was a hassle, another impediment to play, and something I am not sure I would put up with today, but I was younger and more adaptable back then.

Finally, while I didn’t know anything really about the game when I went down to Fry’s to buy it on launch day, I did quickly discover that Aradune and company had cribbed much of the mechanics of Norrath from TorilMUD, so there was a bit of… diagonal familiarity I could leverage.  That didn’t help with the world, but I knew up front at which levels you got new spells, which came from TorilMUD, which had borrowed the pattern from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition.  That wasn’t much to hang your hat on, but in a big new world even a tidbit like that can sustain you until you get on your feet.

A lot of what worked for me in EQ was very much rooted in the time.  I was both younger and more invested in some games.  The raw and primitive nature of the game wasn’t so stark compared to its competitors, such that they were.  It was also something of a bridge between MUDs I had played for most of the 90s and the MMORPGs that would come to dominate the first decade of the 21st century.

Still, there was some bit of magic involved.  Even now, more than 22 years later, if I log into EQ and wander around Qeynos Hills and West Karana, I can still find traces of the emotions that first gripped me back when the game was new.  Maybe I am more attuned to nostalgia or visualization than some, but I can still get there today.

And even when I am doing something not from 1999… I have to admit I do like the tutorial they put in… and struggling with the complexity of all the features and skills and spells and AA abilities, there is still a bit of the original that shines through.

Anyway, that is a lot of rambling memories and what not, and I could probably keep on going, but I want to try and wrap this up at some point, so lets get to some bullet points.

So what have we got?  Let me throw a few out there.  Like the game itself, the list of possible bullet points is longer and deeper than you might expect.

Pro immersion:

  • Feeling of place within the game
  • A connected world that required travel
  • A feeling of different places in that world
  • A simply huge world at this point
  • A freshness that has somehow remained with me
  • Night/light really changing the feel of the game
  • A sense of danger in the world
  • Mercenaries if you can’t find a group now

Immersion breaking:

  • Looks primitive today compared to even slightly newer titles
  • Can feel simplistic, unguided, and grindy
  • Layers of systems in the UI can be difficult to decipher
  • Level cap has gone all the way to 115
  • Level boost only gets you to 85 and lands you deep in confusion
  • Figuring out your spells for any casting class past level 30 or so
  • Really not that enjoyable solo, the tutorial being a promise unfulfilled

This is one where I encourage you to suggest further items as my short term memory isn’t capable of juggling all the possibilities at once.

Aside from my emotional attachment, my ability to find the seeds of immersion in some nostalgia haze, Probably  the biggest single plus is the game world itself, which is much more expansive than you probably dare imagine. (Except you Bhagpuss, you’re way ahead of me on that front.)  Travel, even with the Plane of Knowledge and portals and what not is still an adventure because there is simply so much world.

27 expansions over 22 years have expanded the game world beyond imagination.

That is a lot of walking

The last time I was trying to do something seriously in EQ I spent most of my time just trying to get places like the Scarlet Desert, which is on the moon.  That in and of itself was a fun adventure and very much got me into the zone.  There is probably a challenge in just visiting every single zone.

It is just a pity that even the best and newest stuff looks old.  The company has gotten more out of the EQ engine that they probably ever imagined, but one of the many reasons WoW took off was Blizz had the tech and the knowledge to make a much better looking world just five years later.

Meanwhile, the biggest weight around the game’s neck has to be the fact that SOE, Daybreak, and now EG7 have added so many new systems to the game that figuring out how to do something, how to get somewhere, how to find some tidbit of information you need, can be quite taxing in and of itself.

Read that Scarlet Desert post I linked above for a sample.  I am talking about an EVE Online level of hidden features and “I didn’t even know about that” potential.

And then there is the downside of the sprawling world, which is less getting places and much more knowing where you should even go.  The game throws hints at you, suggests zones when you level up, gives you advice, but a lot of it was accurate when written but out of date five or ten years down the road.

It is a game where I want to join a regular group to explore the world and yet wouldn’t even begin to know where to go or what to do.  There are two sides to that whole dynamic.  Exploring and being able to get lost or having to find your way carefully can be very immersive, but being aimless and unguided is not.  Even if the journey is the reward, you still need a destination to plan your route.  And fog.  I miss the fog.

It is a Bartle explorer’s paradise in that it has much to explore beyond just the massive world, but the weight of 22 years of expansion and additions makes it the Winchester Mystery House of MMORPGs; cool and interesting, but it seems like living there would also be a lot of work.

I am not entirely happy with this post, here at the end, largely because I kept straying off the immersion aspect and delving into what feels like rating the game itself.  There is certainly a connection between the two at some level, but they are not one and the same.  But that is also the danger of trying to explore through words a game that is this old and sprawling and to which I still hold considerably emotional attachment.

Still, the post went well enough that I already have the next title to discuss in mind.

The Immersion Series So Far:

Friday Bullet Points from a Leading Smoke Exporter

Fires have begun burning on the west coast of the US as predicted, thanks to droughts, record heat, and dry lighting strikes.  But the smoke from the fires, which in past years has settled in on top of the SF Bay Area where I live, has decided that it too wants to travel this summer and has been hazing up sunsets back east.  So while we’re sending out smoke I thought I would cover another set of things that I didn’t want to work up a full post around.

  • Blizzard Blows Up

Already foundering for being unable to bring home a win with retail WoW and the 9.1 update, causing many players to head for Final Fantasy XIV, the company took another body blow this week when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Activision Blizzard for creating a hostile work environment.  While Activision got most of the headlines, the complaint is full of examples of how Blizzard specifically let a wide range of egregious behavior go unchecked and failed to respond to complaints.

Singled out in the complaint was Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who had been with the company since 2004 and who had left quietly last summer.  He is referenced in WoW in a number of places, including as Field Marshal Afrasiabi out in front of Stormwind.

Welcome to Stormwind baby!

The disturbing nature of the issues detailed in the complaint was topped by the company’s response to the suit.  With the Blitzchung affair they didn’t seem to know what to say, but this time around they lashed out immediately (text at the end of this post) at the state agency, decrying government overreach and complaining about unaccountable State bureaucrats driving companies from the state, very much politically motivated talking points.

Otherwise the company statement claimed that while some of the things detailed may have been true in the past, the company is all better now, everything is fine, and nobody needs to be held accountable for anything.  They want to have it both ways, saying both that the state is wrong and that they’ve fixed everything in any case.  It is usually better if your statements don’t tend to contradict each other.

Any adult that has worked for a big company knows that corporate culture doesn’t change quickly.  It takes a lot of effort, and the word is that the company hasn’t gone there yet.  That references to Afrasiabi remain in the game is a testament to the lack of progress they have made.  And the internet is compiling testimonials about the company’s problems.

Anyway, the Q3 2021 Activision Blizzard financial report ought to be a real charmer after this.  Massively OP, in their coverage, rehashed the litany of problems the company has been facing in recent years.  It ain’t pretty.

  • A New World Beta

Amazon’s MMO New World went into what is supposed to be a final, pre-launch beta this week.  I don’t think they’ll yank the game back from the precipice this time around, but you never know.  I have been interested in the game and was in one of the big early NDA protected test runs a couple of years back

Just how new is it at this point?

I liked what I saw back then… it seemed like what H1Z1 ought to have been before they went all-in on battle royale, but I guess John Smedley being at Amazon Games now might explain that.  I did not pre-order, so no beta invite for me, but Bhagpuss seemed happy with how things looked.

The one thing that seems to be dominating the press coverage is a problem where high end video cards seem to be failing in the beta.  We’ll see how that works out.

  • EverQuest and the Ghost Collector’s Editions Past

EverQuest pretty much lives on nostalgia, with their retro and special servers keeping a good portion of their players invested in a $15 a month subscription.  But they have to farm the live servers as well, so they get an expansion every year an a cash shop that is always looking for something new to sell.  Now they are trying to farm a bit of nostalgia from the live server players by offering a pack that features items from the collector’s editions of no longer available expansions.

Missed out? Fear not!  But act fast or you WILL MISS OUT!  AGAIN!

For just 7,999 in Daybreak Cash, which is about $80 in real world cash depending on your purchase quantities, a selection of no longer available items can be made available to you.  It is like nostalgia for fear of missing out!

  • Path of Exile Expedition

I have something of a checkered past with Path of Exile.  On paper I should enjoy it, and I am always into it when I start out.  But something… network performance, bugs, no knowing what to do next… always seems to stymie me.  But I think about it every time the offer up a new expansion, and one if launching today.

Play the Expedition Expansion Today

This one is interesting in that Grinding Gears Games has decided to try and roll back player gear and power in an attempt to revitalize the feel of the game and to give it an overall more satisfying experience.  But it is always a risky move, taking power away from players.  Destructiod’s headline about the expansion is an illustration of that risk:

Path of Exile is nerfing everything, and players are unhappy

We shall see how it plays out I suppose, but a power reset might be a good time to jump back in.  Maybe? I took a look at the patch notes, which are a freaking book, but can’t tell either way.

Down the Rabbit Hole of Immersion

This could be the first of a multiple post thread on the topic… or it might all end right here.  I am not sure yet.

Last week I wrote about immersion from my usual point of view, which was trying to pin down what it is while trying not to become the pedant that cannot see that it can be different things to different people, that getting there and getting pulled out of that state are very much things that vary from person to person.

In reflecting for a while on things I found immersive, games and moments in time from those games, I came to the not all that startling in hindsight conclusion that there is very much a pattern of immersion when it comes to games I have enjoyed, played for long stretches, or for which I feel a great deal of nostalgia.

More of a “that makes sense” discovery than a “eureka!” moment, and yet I feel that there is, perhaps, a “eureka!” to be found if only I could approach this from the right angle.  It feels like if only I could somehow parse through the games that I liked because I achieved some tipping point level of immersion in them that I might find a pattern, some common thread… or maybe several parallel threads… that links those games together.  If immersion is truly a key aspect that dictates how much I like a particular video game, then discovering what factors lead to immersion might not only explain my video game preferences, but help me find games more likely to get to that immersion point.  To figure that out I need more data.

But how do you even go about compiling data for what is, at its heart, a very subjective and often transitory experience?

My initial thought is to simply list out all of the games that I have really enjoyed, that series of special titles that rise up above the rest, and explore, one by one, what worked for me within each.  Call that “The Immersion Files” and we are probably talking about a minimum of 50 posts exploring various titles through the years.

That can’t be enough though.  I have to at least spend some time with titles that, for whatever reason, did not hit the nebulous and indefinable immersion threshold, but perhaps should of due to their similarity with titles that did.

Why, for example, did EverQuest II and Lord of the Rings Online cross into immersion territory, but Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 never did?  That comes close to trying to say why World of Warcraft succeeded and Warhammer Online failed when somebody like Richard Bartle says that they are, with enough distance, pretty much the same game; an exploration guaranteed to make somebody angry!

Not that such would stop me.  I’ve already had people shout “willing suspension of disbelief” at me like it was an answer on that front, I can handle that.  Plus, I would be exploring my own likes, which need not feel obligatory to anybody else.

Also, any such exploration depends on my own recollection, and memory is notoriously faulty in most people.  If I go through all the possible titles I am going to have to dig way back.  Literally the first really immersive video game title that comes to my mind was from the mid 1970s, somewhere between Pong and the Atari 2600, when a friends dad brought us into the office while he was watching us one weekend and let us play Star Trek on the mini computer in accounting.

Star Trek in vt52 emulation

The source code for a variation of that in BASIC is all of 425 lines long.  We were so into that game we had to be dragged away and we went on to create a board game version of it so we could play it independent of the accounting department.

But this very early title brings up some important… to me at least… questions about the relative nature of immersion.

First, how much has what triggers immersion changed for me in almost 50 years?  I found this very deep at the time, but I was also 10 years old.  I suspect I wouldn’t find the same level of immersion in it today.

Second, how much does the state of technology at the moment affect immersion?  A 425 line BASIC program was pretty spiffy back then, but today it hardly makes the cut.  I was playing much better Star Trek games in the 80s and 90s, and even those games seem somewhat primitive by today’s standards.  I don’t need AAA photo realistic titles to find immersion… I can find it in un-modded Minecraft for Pete’s sake… but it seems likely that my experience since that game would make it less likely to hold my attention.

And third, how much does the associated theme and/or IP affect immersion?  While I practically need rose-tinted binoculars to see that far back in time, I do know that part of the appeal was that my friend and I were very big fans of Star Trek and this gave us an opportunity, simplistic though it was even at the time, to sit in the captain’s chair and fight Klingons.

This is not a throw away idea, either.  I suspect, could I fully explore my subconscious, that I would find that part of the reason I found, and continue to find, LOTRO compelling and immersive is its association with the books I read not too many years after my friend and I were playing our board game version of Star Trek.

Does my love of EverQuest at launch stem from it being a great game at the time or from the fact that it was very much a translation of TorilMUD, so I came in with some familiarity of what was going on?  I would argue that it was more of the former, but the latter was not absent.

How much impact does familiarity have?

Then there is playing with others.  That is always a big draw for me.  I am pretty sure I put up with WoW at first, which I didn’t like all that much at launch, because friends jumped over to play.  What impact does that have?  Does it improve the chances of immersion?

And given all that, how do I explain Star Trek Online?  I was into and familiar with the IP, wanted to play, and was there on day one with friends… and yet it never grabbed me.  Was it lack of immersion?  Was it just not a game made of of elements that appealed to me?  Or were expectations that the stars would align on such a combination of factors so high that disappointment was inevitable?  Does hype, anticipation, and high expectation impact the possibility of immersion?

Then, let me pile on top of all of that the “me” factor of how I felt, thought, and reacted to the world at various times over the last half of a century.  Leaving aside the tech aspect, there was a time when I would play NetHack all night long… I had the source code and would throw in my own tidbits at times just to see if would run into them… and then there was a time when I would no longer find that interesting.

Did I change?  Did something better come along?  Did I just wear out the possibilities of the game?  I suspect it was all of those combined and probably a couple other items as well, but there was a point when immersion was possible, and then that passed.

So is it even worthwhile exploring why Tank was immersive and Pong was not?  Why the Atari 2600 games Air Sea Battle and Pac Man were dull but Adventure and River Raid would keep me up past my bed time?  Why I played so much Wizardry and Ultima III?  Why WoW Classic is immersive now, and much more so than retail WoW, while early WoW wasn’t terribly immersive for me back in the day until around Wrath of the Lich King? How far back does the exploration of immersion remain valid?  What applies to me today?  Does TorilMUDEverQuestWoWLOTROValheim?  Where do the answers to this lie?

Perhaps the study of a single title that has both immersive and non-immersive aspects for me?  We shall see if I get to that.

What are the Prerequisites for a Retro Nostalgia Server?

The whole retro nostalgia server thing has gone from something those weirdos at SOE did once in a while to a idea that has helped sustain the profitability of titles as large as World of Warcraft.

Classic is as classic does

The idea has officially been part of the EverQuest business model since 2015 and has spread to other Daybreak titles and beyond.  Old School RuneScape has a life of its own, Aion just launched a classic server last week, and the Lord of the Rings Online team is launching two new legendary servers next week and has started hinting about a real “classic” server.

So I started wondering what it takes to make one of these sorts of servers viable.  I came up with four… I’ll call them “common threads”… that seem to be involved with successful ventures of this sort.  They are, to my mind:

  1. Player versus Environment Progression
  2. Expansion Based Content
  3. Multiple Server Architecture
  4. Some Past Era of Fame or Success
  5. A Monetization Scheme

Player versus Environment Progression

The first item on my list, PvE, is probably the most controversial.  I mean we only have to look at how many PvP servers Blizzard stood up for WoW Classic to convince just about anybody that PvP is not necessarily a detriment to the nostalgia idea.

But I am going to argue that even on a WoW Classic PvP server that PvE progression, doing quests and killing mobs and getting to the level cap, is the primary.  Getting ganked in Stranglethorn Vale or coming to an uneasy truce with somebody from the other faction when you just want to finish up a quest out in Un’goro Crater, that is some extra spicy topping on the PvE game and not an independent PvP experience.  It is PvP in a PvE framework, and that PvE framework is what you need.

Which isn’t to say that PvP can’t screw things up even with a PvE framework.  The story of PvP in EverQuest II basically consists of a few brief moments where a PvP server was fun… under very specific circumstances, like leveling locking yourself at a specific point in progression and sticking to low level zones… and most of the rest of the fifteen years of the game trying and failing to recreate or recapture the magic of those moments.  They keep breaking PvE progression to make it work, which makes it otherwise unsustainable.

Expansion Based Content

This might not be as critical as the first item.  It is more of a factor as to how long your nostalgia experience can be expected to last.  EverQuest, with 26 expansions, is the poster child for this.  You can unlock an expansion a month and still keep the party going for a couple of years.

But you might not want to drag people through every expansion.  The Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server for EverQuest ran for nine yearsEverQuest was only seven years old when they rolled out the first such server.  Nine years is long enough to feel nostalgic for the good old days of the launch of the server.

For World of Warcraft it feels like there is an argument to stop after the second expansion, if only for the sake of simplicity.

And, of course, having expansions where the game changed all in one go gives the company and the players nice, clear markers as to where the nostalgia is.  It is handy.

Multiple Server Architecture

The MMO in question ought to support the idea of multiple shards, servers, realms, or whatever you want to call them.  This seems like a bit of a gimme, but it does leave out EVE Online, where not only does everybody play in a single version of the game (except those in China), but the game itself is a success based on the critical mass of players.  Splitting off a nostalgia based New Eden would be a non-started for this reason alone… but it also doesn’t have PvE progression nor expansion based content.  No retro server for EVE Online ever.

Anyway, you should be able to roll up a new, special rules server and not kill your game or over-tax your staff.

Some Past Era of Fame or Success

Can you have nostalgia for a game nobody has heard of?  Sure, why not!  Will anybody else come and play?  No.

A big part of the retro server plan is farming your installed base, appealing to them with visions of the “good old days” when the game was new, they were young, and everything seemed much simpler.  While those who missed out on the original launch might show some interest, the success of your server is largely based on how many people have fond memories of your early game.

EverQuest does very well on this front because, while the game never achieved anything like WoW level subscription numbers, in the five years between its launch and WoW‘s launch a lot of people came and played for at least a little while.  Brad McQuaid said at one point that there were a couple million former EQ players before WoW was a thing.  These are the people who will be tempted to come back.

And then, of course, there is WoW Classic, where Blizz had to roll out about 150 servers to handle the nostalgia overload.

Even Lord of the Rings Online, which never met Turbine’s grandiose visions of popularity, did score a lot of players over the year.

On the flip side there is EverQuest II, which launched just weeks before WoW, and never achieved the kind of success its older sibling had, or Anarchy Online, 20 years old this month, which had such a bad launch it became the first title I knew of to go down the free to play path.  Both games have dedicated followings, but neither has the depth of installed base that makes the idea of a retro server a big deal.  EQII has had a few of those at this point, but they tend to launch quietly and shut down even more quietly.

A Monetization Scheme

The company isn’t doing this for nostalgia, it is doing it to farm the installed base for money.  And to get that money, they have to have a plan.  WoW Classic has the simplest of all plans.  Since you still have to subscribe to play WoW, they just included WoW Classic in that plan and they were set.

EverQuest and other Daybreak titles, which still have a subscription plan as an option, just put their special servers in a special “subscribers only” room.  Not too tough, that.  (Though can we get LOTRO and DDO on the Daybeark All Access plan now that we finally know Daybreak owned them before EG7?  or How about an EG7-wide all access plan?)

Aion Classic has… a monetization plan of sorts.  If I am reading things correctly, it consists of a special pay to win cash shop and an optional subscription for benefits, but at least that is a plan.

But I wonder if a game like Guild Wars 2 could ever pull off the nostalgia server idea.  It seems like there might be a market to re-roll the event experience of the game from scratch.  Maybe?  But their business plan is buy the box and cash shop items.  I guess they could have some special cash shops items, but I am not sure they would bring in the money needed to make a classic server worthwhile.

Anyway, those are my somewhat off-the-cuff thoughts this morning.  I am sure I missed something in the mix.

A Shift in the Breeze for EverQuest

The problem with advertising is that it isn’t magic.  It won’t make people who were not otherwise inclined buy your product… except maybe your grandparents when they see something and think you’ll like it.  We know how that works out.

So spending money on blanket advertising for a niche product… like an MMORPG… is generally a waste of money.  Your ad budget is more wisely spent trying to target people who might otherwise be inclined to be interested in your product.

For video games that used to mean full page ads in gaming magazines… though it was always better, and cheaper, to get the magazine to advertise your game for free on its cover.

Firiona Vie in all her mounted glory

Certainly, that cover was probably a lot more effective than some of SOE’s own attempts.

What exactly was the message here?

These days video game magazines are pretty much online or a distant memory.

Advertising online started off as very much a mirror of print advertising, and was done just as badly by SOE at times.

Tell me why you think these colors are cool, NOW!

That was actually an SOE ad, the details of which are at the link above.

And that sort of blunt force ad is still a thing, but since the SOE days ended and the Daybreak era began, I hadn’t seen much advertising for their games.

So I was a bit surprised to see some promoted tweets on Twitter about the new Mischief server for EverQuest.

In my feed

I mean, my experience over the years has been that you have to be pretty proactive to figure out if anything new is going on with any of the Daybreak games.

But then I remembered that we are no longer in the Daybreak era.  Enad Global 7 has taken over the reigns and I guess their team is a little more open towards advertising.

I am actually kind of happy to see their stuff getting promoted into my feed.  It is certainly closer to my interests than a lot of the stuff that appears as promoted content.  And, if anybody is in the right target demographic, it is certainly me.

I don’t know if this will be a big win for them, but it is nice to see some effort being put in after so much time of no effort or bizarrely directed effort.