Category Archives: EverQuest

EverQuest Progression Servers – Faster Unlocks! Faster! Faster!

I haven’t mentioned much about the Ragefire and Lockjaw EverQuest time-locked progression servers recently, mostly because I haven’t been playing on them.  But they have also skipped mention because key events, like polls and expansion unlocks, have been spread out.  Not much has happened since the early Ruins of Kunark unlock poll for Ragefire that got pushed by the demands of some players.

The only fully good MMO expansion ever

Still the only fully good MMO expansion ever

Well, the complaints were not done.  While the Ragefire server got Kunark early, Lockjaw was going to be the place that waited the original duration… until people started asking for a sooner unlock.  So Daybreak put up a poll last week that closed out today asking the following of Lockjaw player:

Do you want to open Kunark early on Lockjaw? Future expansion schedules will not be affected.

  • No preference
  • Wait to vote for Kunark on the normal schedule (Voting starts December 1st).
  • Unlock Kunark early (November 2nd), with no vote

The polls closed at midnight PDT last night and the results are out today.  The Ruins of Kunark expansion will open up on Lockjaw on Monday.

Meanwhile, there was a more general poll on the Ragefire server asking if people wanted to speed things up… even more so.  The poll specifically asked:

Do you want the Ragefire server to unlock expansions on a faster schedule permanently?

  • No preference
  • Keep expansion unlocks the way they are.
  • Cut expansion unlock time in half. They will take 3 months to unlock until Gates of Discord, and 6 weeks after that.

The results for that poll asked for unlocks to stay the way they are.  So they got Ruins of Kunark early, but will stay on track for everything else.  The requisite raid content has been cleared and the vote for the next expansion, Scars of Velious, is set for March 11, 2016.

Original Box Art

Just in time for spring… snow!

Maybe this just proves my long standing theory about Ruins of Kunark being the best MMO expansion ever.  People wanted that early.  But the rest of the plan is on track as originally laid out.

Unless somebody gets impatient again.  But Daybreak would never go along with that…

The Perils of PlanetSide and Payment Models

The game is really struggling, and it isn’t just on PS4 to be honest, and we are actively looking at things that can try and help change that in the short term. I hope everyone will be open minded that in order for the game to have a bright future and be supported it needs to not only retain people but find ways to generate revenue to support the team’s efforts.

-Jens Andersen, Daybreak Executive Creative Director, Reddit AMA

The big news item that came out of the Reddit AMA with Jens Andersen was that PlanetSide 2 is “really struggling.”  That is MMO press headline material and fodder for blog posts. and not great news for a game that is just turning three and purportedly had plans for other platforms.

Mental image of my expectations...

Mental image of my PS2 expectations way back when…

That wasn’t really shocking news.  PlanetSide 2 has always had its share of problems, not least the one it shared with its predecessor, the proliferation or aim bots and other hacks in the game, some exacerbated by the F2P business model.  Banned for hacks?  Download an update to the aim bot and make a new account!

Add in the fact that it is a mediocre shooter at best… is anybody throwing over Call of Duty to go play PlanetSide 2… that smacks of pay to win, that also doesn’t really scratch the persistent world MMORPG itch for people either, and so sort of sits between genres, neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat.  All the dubious records in the world won’t fix that.

Clearly I am not a big fan, but my FPS days tapered off back with the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 more than a decade back, so you’ll have to allow for my bias.

Still, not really news at this point.  H1Z1 seems to be the money maker in the FPS MMORPG, selling early access boxes with a cash shop already selling power and lock boxes, and, more importantly, giving people a decent, co-op survival experience.

The interesting bit for me was another quote, which Bhagpuss pulled out and used in his post, which had to do with getting people to subscribe:

You know what is funny? No matter how many things we heap into membership on all of our games, it makes no difference in the appeal of membership to non members. This is something we saw on DCUO for sure. The amount of benefits to DCUO membership is staggering, but people don’t take advantage of it. It’s just not a really good strategy for us to keep trying to lead horses to water that do not want to drink. And the fact is, current members already get huge benefits from the monthly fee they already pay.

Basically, there are some people who will simply never opt-in for your subscription model, no matter how cheap you make it nor how many benefits you heap on.  And, likewise, there are some people who will subscribe so long as some minimum threshold of benefits are given… just “let me just play and not worry about having to buy or unlock anything” in my case… after which diminishing returns kick in pretty quickly.

I recently… on Tuesday if I recall right… cancelled my Daybreak All Access subscription.  As part of that they sent me an exit survey which I filled out.  One of the questions asked me to stack rank the importance of five subscriber benefits.

My top choice was the rather open ended “Game Specific Benefits,” which to me is the whole “just let me play” aspect I mentioned above.  That is why I subscribe.

I did choose “Monthly 500 Daybreak Cash Reward” as the second in the stack, because I am at least aware of that.  I still barely buy anything from the cash shop… I think I bought a character rename potion this last time around… so the Daybreak Cash tends to accumulate.  But I know it is there and my approximate balance (12K).

The remaining three I ranked as follows:

  • 10% off Marketplace Items
  • Special Member Only Promotions
  • Membership Forum Badge

I vaguely recall that you get a discount as a subscriber, but since I so rarely ever buy anything from the cash shop, that doesn’t really play into anything.  Member only promotions… I cannot recall one off hand.   Maybe some special discount on The Rum Cellar at some point?  And the forum badge… well, I don’t post to the forums, and when I go read them, the special snowflake badges kind of annoy me.

And I suspect that my stack ranking of things is not totally out of line when it comes to how most subscribers feel.  Maybe I lack the insight, but I cannot imagine anything ranking ahead of the “Game Specific Benefits,” at least when it comes to the core games like EverQuest and EverQuest II.

Which doesn’t mean Daybreak could take anything away easily.  They tried to take away those 500 store credits at one point and people blew up because that was actually a tangible item and because they now felt entitled to it, having gotten it for several years up to that point.  So the compromise was that you have to log in and claim those credits every month.  People grumbled about that as well, though at least that had some precedent.  Turbine only gives you your VIP stipend if your account has been active recently.

So where does that leave Daybreak?

Here is where I chuckle a bit at people who were so happy that they were going to be an “indie” studio now, able to do whatever they wanted.  In fact, they are owned by an investment firm that wants their cut every month, so they have to keep Columbus Nova Prime happy in ways that they probably never had to under the semi-benign neglect of Sony’s bureaucracy.

So the emphasis, starting in the latter half of 2015 and likely to continue in that direction for some time to come, will be to make more money.  And it looks like everything can’t be about the cash shop.

As we saw with EverQuest and EverQuest II, expansions are back.  This is most likely because you can get away with charging $140 for a “Premuim” edition loaded up with virtual items, the production of which is probably covered after the first five copies are sold.

Prices

Premium prices for virtual goods

That will likely continue, though I suspect that they will still try to slip in a spring DLC pack as well, bringing us back to the old “one good expansion, one half-assed rush job” that some will remember from the good old days of EverQuest.  This time the rush job will be appropriately priced though.

I imagine that nobody thinks selling early access is going to go away.  Landmark did okay on that front, and by all accounts H1Z1 has been a rousing success selling those on Steam.  Expect more of the same when it comes to any new titles.

The change I do expect is an end to “Free to Play, Your Way” for future games and a return to selling boxes.  Virtual boxes, to be sure, but boxes all the same.  If a million people will pay $20 for a half-finished version of H1Z1, why would you start giving it away for free?  You don’t have to make it $60 at launch.  $20 is fine.  You can work with that price and what a value it is, and that gives account bans some bite… but not so much bite that some people won’t just buy another copy.

Expect the same for EverQuest Next, whenever that should be, and whatever the secret new title is.

Meanwhile, on the classic Norrath front, it feels like reality has set in and the team has finally admitted that the cost of attracting new customers far outweighs the economic benefit they bring.  They won’t say “no” to new players, but  we have seen a renewed focus on the installed base with new nostalgia servers and bringing back old favorites like the Isle of Refuge as both a prestige home and the starting zone on the Stormhold and Deathtoll servers.  I expect that to continue to be the theme going forward.

Despite an unfounded rumor earlier this month, I do not expect Daybreak will attempt to revive any old games.  No Vanguard revival, no reskinned SWG, and no adults only FreeRealms.   What is dead cannot die… it just remains dead.  I also expect that once Dragon’s Prophet is finally shut down, that there will be no more half-assed Asian imports.  You can find an audience for any game, but finding a big enough audience to make these ventures profitable has clearly eluded SOE/Daybreak.

Finally, with Smed gone, I suspect that the original PlanetSide will be shut down and, barring any new revenue stream discovery, support for PlanetSide 2 will dwindle over time.  It is tough to go back and sell access when you’ve been giving it away for free.  And it certainly does not seem like a candidate for conversion to XBox if it isn’t a money spinner on the current platforms.

With no Daybreak equivalent of SOE Live in the offing, I don’t know when we’ll see announcement about the various project going on at Daybreak.  The nice thing about a regular convention is that it does put some pressure on the company to come up with some actual news and details about things.  But that is where my gut says things may be headed.  Subscriptions are good, cash shop sales are okay, but boxes are back.  Get some money up front.

EverQuest Announces The Broken Mirror Expansion

Part two of yesterday’s Norrathian live stream announcements was the big reveal of the upcoming EverQuest expansions, The Broken Mirror.

Mirror cracked... also boobs

Mirror cracked… also boobs

As with EverQuest II, classic EverQuest is moving away from the whole DLC idea that Daybreak put out earlier this year and is back in the long familiar territory of old fashioned content expansions to keep people busy for another year or so.

The copy for the expansion reads:

A goddess wakes and gazes into a looking glass. The reflection of her true nature fractures and breaks. Even as the looking glass shatters and the world around her dissolves, Anashti Sul only looks deeper still into the fragments as they drift away. When her fractured mind glimpses her surroundings, she discovers that she is adrift in an unknown time and place where gods and goddesses maintain direct influence over Norrath. A hunger for power wells within her, having passed many an age with no power at all and an upstart sitting in her place. With a whole new realm before her, she resolves to rule again!

Anashti Sul’s passage through a rift into this reality caused her to split into the two most dominant aspects of herself – life and decay. Fully aware of each aspect, she knows that both must command a plane of power lest she weaken entirely and crumble into the nothingness of The Void. And so she crafts a plot to infect the planes of Norrath with a war that threatens to collapse the balance of all life! Are you brave enough to face the might of a goddess who is ravenous to rule? Will you prevent the chaos she would unleash in all of Norrath?

The Broken Mirror is the 22nd EverQuest expansion. This expansion features new zones and dungeons, and must-have in-game items.

I think 22 expansions in, the team at Daybreak probably has their system down pretty well, so the content looks pretty standard:

  • Level Scaling Raids – Instanced versions of Plane of Hate and Plane of Fear that scale for level 75-105 raids.
  • 7 Expansion Zones – 4 completely new zones and 3 revamped zones.
  • Illusion Key Ring – Access your illusions in one easy location!
  • New Quests, Heroic Adventures, Missions, and Additional Raids
  • New Spells and AAs

Again, no new races, classes, or levels, but I am going to guess those are more labor intensive.  You do what you can with the resources you have.

The pre-order page is up, so you can give Daybreak your money today if you so desire.  And, as with the EverQuest II expansion, there are three options ranging from reasonable to outrageous.

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

$35 is at the fairly reasonable end of the spectrum for an solid MMORPG expansion, while $140 wanders well within the bounds of greed as far as I am concerned.  But, as with the the EverQuest II expansion, I am no longer invested in the game, and that Premium Edition is clearly not targeted at idly nostalgic players like myself.

They also have a Time Locked Server Adventure Pack offer as well, and like the EverQuest II version, I assume it includes the expansion, since the bag and potions clearly are not worth the $35 they are asking.

I have not seen a launch date listed anywhere, but I would predict it will be go live on a Tuesday in November that isn’t the 17th.  If I had to pick a date, I would go with November 10th.  We shall see.

Enforced Raid Rotation Ends on Ragefire and Lockjaw

It was no surprise a couple months back when enforced raid rotation reared its head on the Ragefire and Lockjaw time locked progressions servers.  It is one of the rules of EverQuest that this must happen because one of the unsolvable problems of limited, contested open world content is that it will turn people into assholes, or at least strongly encourage those who are already assholes to remove all restraint on that aspect of their personality.

I would go so far as to contend that such an act on the part of SOE is fully in line with the whole EverQuest nostalgia experience.

No Casuals!!!

To be here, first you must defeat other players in a griefing contest

Anyway, nobody would care except that it is bad for business.  There is a whole code of conduct (where, among other items, you’re still specifically disallowed from impersonating an employee of Verant Interactive) and players complain about other groups behaving badly and it becomes a matter where the company generally has to intervene or suffer through the torture of a thousand tickets.  Better just to nip the whole thing in the bud than to let things fester.

The surprise came this week when Daybreak announced that they were no longer going to enforce the raid rotation schedule.

They didn’t say raid rotation was bad.  In fact, they praised the cooperation of the guilds in sticking to the raid rotation and encouraged them to continue and to play nice in the spirit of the community and that whole code of conduct thing.  Daybreak just won’t be bringing down the hammer by suspending whole guilds for the actions of one member if there are problems with the rotation.

I have to wonder what caused the change of heart at Daybreak.  I know it wasn’t any sort of “open world content is the best content” feeling since, as I have pointed out, they’ve been down this road enough times to know the folly of that idea.

It is possible that, a few months into the lives of the servers, that the raiding community has settled down and Daybreak feels that the point of crisis has passed.  Or perhaps the opening of Ruins of Kunark on Ragefire has spread people out enough that the problem has been reduced.  Or it could be that the customer service team, no doubt whittled down during the post acquisition layoffs, doesn’t want to have to spend time dealing with this particular issue.  Certainly having players resolve their own disputes was a theme in the announcement.  Maybe we will see them demanding an EverQuest version of the Drunder server so they can just banish their annoyances without having to actually ban their Daybreak account.

And, of course, people both cheered and complained when rotation enforcement was announced and they are both cheering and complaining now that it has been suspended.  I suppose we shall just have to see how it all turns out.

EverQuest and EverQuest II Plan New Expansions

Holly “The Hero” Windstalker was out with a new EverQuest II Producer’s Letter which announced that this fall EverQuest II would not be getting some DLC, or an adventure pack, or a campaign, or a campansion (whatever that entails), but an actual, old fashioned expansion.

The Adventure Packs

Remember Adventure Packs?

Though the decision seemed to be one of degrees rather than a hard barrier.

Our next expansion release is right around the corner! Yes, you heard me right – expansion! The team has been churning away and when we looked at the amount of content we created, we decided to call our next release an expansion rather than a campaign…

Enough content to call it an expansion isn’t perhaps the most solid endorsement ever, but it is something.

Color me pleased.  I am one of those people who thinks that DLC or content packs or live updates or what not are just fine, but an expansion is an event, a point in time that changes things, where there is only a before and after.  Or some such.  Syp had the bullet points for that.

Back in April I was declaring the circle complete.  SOE started off back in the day with adventure packs then dropped that to go back to the tried and true EverQuest style expansions.  Then, back in April, during the Daybreak post-acquisition hangover phase, it was announced that there would be no more expansions, that something akin to adventure packs, starting with the Rum Cellar, would be the new way of things, with a promise that the overall content over the course of the year would be about equal to an expansion.

Now though the circle is… um… re-complete?  We’re chasing our tails or running in circles on indulging in non-Euclidean geometric progression?

Also, is this expansion Cthulhu themed?

Also, is this expansion Cthulhu themed?

Further details on the expansion are promised for October 1st, which I assume will include a launch date and, perhaps more interesting to me, a price.  Expansions are worth more, so they will charge more no doubt.  But will there be a digital collector’s edition to skim off money from the faithful?  The last report I recall was that half of those who purchased the current Altar of Malice expansion went for the deluxe package.

And, as these things have gone in the past, buying the new, as yet unnamed expansion will also get you all previous expansions, including the Rum Cellar.  I told you that was a thing.  It is also something of a discouraging factor for the 50% off sale for Altar of Malice and Rum Cellar that they are running through the end of the month.  I can get all that for free with the next expansion… but for how much?  At least there is the option to buy it with Station Daybreak Cash as well.

Meanwhile, there was also an EverQuest Producer’s Letter and hey, guess what, it has the same news!  An expansion will be coming our way this fall.

We are excited to announce we have an expansion on the way – that’s right, expansion – not “campaign.”  As we’ve been toiling away this year, the content we’ve been working on evolved and grew more than we expected.

And, as with EQII, details to come on October 1st.

This sounds less like a coincidence or “whoops, we made too much content!” and more like a plan to keep Norrath viable and making money with the expansion cycle we have come to expect over the years.  What does this say for DLC, campaigns, or campansions?  And what about the other games in the Daybreak portfolio?

Anyway, Norrath keeps on rolling.  Expansions for everybody!

Ruins of Kunark Unlocked on Ragefire

Back at the launch of the EverQuest time locked expansion servers, the unlock plan that was voted into place by the players asked for a six month gap before the first expansion unlock vote would occur.

And then the usual drama happened, with restless raiders, complaints about multi-boxers camping all the good spawns, and a feeling in some quarters that everything would be better if Daybreak would only open up the Ruins of Kunark expansion.  That would raise the level cap and open up a bunch of new low level areas.

The only fully good MMO expansion ever

The only fully good MMO expansion ever

So Daybreak put up a poll asking if they should unlock the expansion early.

Vote early, vote often, vote all your accounts

Now, three months, or six month

In the end, the original rules got the most votes.  However, it did not win a majority.  A majority voted for now or three months.  So in one of those compromises where nearly everybody feels a bit cheated, Daybreak decided to change the unlock time frame on Ragefire only to 30 days.  The Lockjaw server would remain at 60 days.

Daybreak did eventually open up the ability to buy a character transfer between the two servers so players could theoretically be on the unlock plan they desired.  However, those transfers stopped last week because the unlock vote on Ragefire hit, because if the two servers get out of sync on expansions, transfers will not be allowed.  You can’t be carrying Kunark loot to Lockjaw.

And transfers will stay locked because the Kunark vote passed.

The Ruins of Kunark expansion is now officially live on Ragefire.  Holly post a picture of people waiting at the dock for the boat.

Ragefire Kunark line

Ragefire Kunark line

About the same size crowd as was waiting for the expansion back on the Fippy Darkpaw server in 2011 I suppose.

Now will people be happy with Kunark for a full six months?

GuildWars 2 and What Free Really Means

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…

Me and Bobby McGee, most famously sung by Janis Joplin

ArenaNet seems to be hitting some sour notes with its installed base.  First there was the announcement that anybody who purchased the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion for GuildWars 2 would get the base game for free.  At least there was that free character slot goodwill gesture when people were unhappy.

GW2HeartOfThornsLogo

But then there was the second hit of the one-two punch, an announcement that the base game would be free in and of itself.  Thanks to everybody who forked over $59.99 or more at launch, but now we’re just giving it away.

Strange times in the Buy To Play corner of the MMORPG market I guess.  Certainly ANet never felt the need to give away the original Guild Wars base game back in the day.

But that was then and this is now.

Here I suppose we see an interesting intersection of the realities of the current market.

The problem of expansions… at least the problem with multiple expansions… is an old one at this point in time.  EverQuest, EverQuest II, and World of Warcraft have all had to address the “too many damn expansions” problem as the games progressed, which ended up with all of them giving away some content for free.

In Norrath the plan after a while was that buying the latest expansion would roll up all the previous ones as part of the price.  There was an interim period of roll-up packages with names like EverQuest Platinum and EverQuest Titanium, but eventually that became too cumbersome.  EverQuest II went straight to the “all previous expansions” route with Echoes of Faydwer if I recall right.

eqplatadPeople who bought every expansion at launch still paid a lot more money, but it simplified the task for those just jumping in, or those returning to the game, in getting all the right software on their drive.  There was an era when you had to buy all these in box form from your local retailer.

In Azeroth, Blizzard’s plan has been to stack expansions at the other end of things, giving you a range of expansions with the base game while leaving the latest and greatest for sale separately.  Again, those who waited long enough got stuff others paid full retail price for.

So giving away some content for free that was previously available only at a monetary cost has been established as something of an industry practice, or at least a reflection of industry reality.  Not everybody has doe this.  I think Turbine has held the line for Lord of the Rings Online, where you have to buy each of the expansions individually and in the correct order.  But part of their F2P plan is to sell content, so giving some away would seem counter-productive I suppose… though that is probably why their insta-level option is limited to level 50, as beyond that requires expansions.

But I haven’t heard of anybody making the base game free upon launching an expansion nor doing a bundle deal, base + expansion with just the first expansion.

Expansions for free, sure thing. EVE Online has been doing that for more than a decade.  It was also a thing in Lineage II and a few more games.  Content keeps people subscribed.

So giving away the base game after building your business on B2P is new. Yes, there are some restrictions that come with free, many of which sound somewhat familiar to those who watch the F2P side of the MMO market, as laid out on this chart, though others, like things locked until level 30, are interesting.  You can ask how free is free with that, especially when you can still buy into that sort of odd middle group of players, like myself, who bought the base game at one point but who likely won’t buy expansion.  And where are they left in the grand scheme of things?

I suppose they could have decided that they aren’t going to sell many more copies of the base game without letting people play first.  After all, they’ve cut the price and then discounted even that by as much as 75% at times to get every last interested customer to buy in.  So maybe that cupboard is bare, but they see potential in the now somewhat standard F2P “free with annoying restrictions” model.

Of course, the base game has also lost value over time.

If you bought the box on day one, just about three years back, at full retail price you were looking forward to a couple years worth of special events as part of the deal.  All of that, save maybe the Super Adventure Box, is in the past now, never to return.  If you joined the game today, you would not get to experience any of that.  Perhaps it is too much to ask that people buy a game where much of the content is done.

Or maybe ANet just doesn’t want anything standing in the way of selling their new box.

If only that were sole issue stirring up GW2 players.  Where is that theory in which developers should listen to the customers who paid the most money now?