Tag Archives: expansions

Incarna a Decade Later

It has been ten years since the Incarna expansion released for EVE Online and set off probably the biggest confrontations between CCP its customers in the now 18 year history of the game.

Incarna – June 2011

It came at a moment when CCP was at its absolute pinnacle of ambition and hubris.  Before Incarna the company was shooting for the stars, had set their sights on, in their own words, world domination.  Before, EVE Online was just a stepping stone on their path to greatness.

Afterwards… well, EVE Online is really the only money maker they’ve had.

Which isn’t an uncommon story in tech.  It is rare for a company that finds success with one product to be able to repeat that success with another.  Even less common, however, is finding success at all.  So you have to give them that.

I always find it odd that the events around the Incarna expansion get summed up by some as “monocle-gate,” a reference to the  $70 cosmetic item introduced into the in-game store.  People who use the term “monocle-gate” brand themselves as outsiders in my eyes, as the monocle was a side-show at best and, once everything had calmed down, stayed in the in-game store without much further comment.

For many people, myself included, it was avatars and captain’s quarters that broke our faith in the company.

Walking in stations was a bad idea.

Or at least it was a bad idea for CCP as their execution was less than stellar.

After hints and hype and neglect of the rest of the game, to say that the captain’s quarters were underwhelming is an understatement.

What is on Space TV today?

I came back to the game just to try out the expansion and I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for the update.  And to get this feature they had to not only forego working on other more core issues to the game, but pretty much had to rob the World of Darkness team of resources as well.

I’m not sure CCP could have pulled off a World of Darkness MMO, but the diversion of resources from that and DUST 514 made sure we would never find out.

More importantly to many players, the captain’s quarters replaced the hangar view that had been a staple of the game since launch and which had the utility of immediately displaying which ship you were in as it was right there in the middle of your screen.  If you didn’t care for the useless fluff that was the new quarters, your only alternative was a view of a hangar door.  That hangar door was viewed by many as, and I apologize for dredging up this ancient angry metaphor, a slap in the face.

When Hilmar derided requests for a return of the old hangar, dismissing it as “ship spinning” people were pissed.  When he pushed back on growing player complaints about the changes, he hyped up CCP’s technical achievements at their ability to inject solo avatar play into a spaceship game.  He wasn’t going to listen to player complaints.  CCP was going to stay the course.

Not listening to players remains Hilmar’s signature move, as we saw most recently during the Blackout and are experiencing now during the economic starvation plan.

So a useless and processor hungry new feature, the removal of the interface everybody was used to, the neglect of many problems in the game to focus on fluff, Hilmar’s pompous “I know best” attitude, a requirement that 3rd party apps pay a license fee, and even that monocole, had effectively poured gasoline all over the landscape.

All it needed was a match to really set it off, and CCP was happy to oblige in the form of the Greed is Good? issue of their in-house magazine Fearless. (link to it here)  When that leaked… some coincidental timing on that… with its discussion of selling premium ships, gold ammo, and other crass monetization schemes, it was too much for many players.

People speak of the Jita riots which, like the monocle, betrays a simplified view of the event.  A bunch of players did orbit the monument in Jita and shoot it as a show of protest.  But the monument wasn’t a destructible object in the game, so it was very much symbolic.  Did that shift CCP’s view?  I somehow doubt it.

Word is that, on hearing that CCP only cares what players do and not what they say, many players decided to see if unsubscribing was an action that would bring attention to their unhappiness.  I was certainly in that group, cancelling my subscription in annoyance at the company.  That seems a much more likely lever of change when it came to CCP’s view of things.

In a rare display relevance, the whole fiasco gave CSM6 an opening into some agency and they helped harness player discontent at the company into a coherent message.  For a brief period of time the CSM was a voice the company couldn’t ignore, which led to an emergency CSM summit in Iceland, where some accord was reached, though both sides had to issue their own statements on the whole thing as CCP wouldn’t step down from Hilmar’s attitude.  And Hilmar was like Sadam Hussein at the end of the first Gulf War, defiant, shooting his gun in the air, and still claiming victory in the face of catastrophe.

While CCP wouldn’t admit they had been wrong in any of their decisions or attitudes, their actions after the fact played a different tune.  Maybe Hilmar had a point with that idea.

For quite a stretch CCP tread very lightly on the monetization front.  They learned that moving slowly, drawing tentative lines, and laying smokescreens (i.e. lying) was the way to go.  So we went from skill injectors and a promise never to introduce skill points directly into the game to skill point packs in the cash shop over a few years.  It took time, but they got there by making each step small enough to not generate outrage until we got to the destination.  The slippery slope demonstrated.

On the bright side, CCP did also show a renewed interest in actually fixing things that were bad or broken in the game.  We didn’t always get what we wanted and CCP has had some strange ideas on what is good for the game, but they have at least kept focus on it.

And then there was walking in stations.  Player reaction made it a feature that was pretty much dead on arrival.  They did introduce a few different captain’s quarters to match the different empires, but it was never seriously worked on after Incarna.

CCP demonstrated that they did not have the resources to make walking in stations a feature of the game and keep the flying in space aspect of the game evolving as well.  What we received with Incarna was hardly more than a mock up of a real walking in stations feature.  Making it viable, useful, and multiplayer would have required CCP to essentially build a new game, ignoring the old.

Flying in space won out over walking in stations.  You don’t ditch your paying customers for some theoretical new customers.  The history of tech is littered with the wrecks of companies who tried that.

The captain’s quarters lingered in game, with barely 10% of the player base opting to use it.  Then came Upwell structures, new code that did not have the captain’s quarter’s integrated into it.  Given how long it took CCP just to get insurance available within citadels, integrating the captain’s quarters was clearly not in the cards.  Usage of the feature declined further.

Game time spent in Captain’s Quarters

Then came the drive towards 64-bit, which was being held back by the code.

One of the first things that we want to investigate is to release a 64-bit EVE client to better utilize your available system memory when playing. Compiling a 64-bit client has been held back by the outdated middleware that was needed by captain’s quarters.

That was the death knell for the feature.  It will never return.

In the end, Incarna did at least focus CCP on what was important to the current player base, and we have gotten a lot of improvements over the years.  It hasn’t stopped them from going in on VR or believing they can make a successful shooter, but they don’t neglect flying in space as much.

It also made CCP more wily when it came to monetization, pushing them to boil the frog slowly.  But, as the frog knows, we still get boiled in the end.

Related:

The Next EverQuest II Expansion?

A little over a year ago I wrote up my vision of the as then unannounced EverQuest II expansion.

My vision then was Kunark.

And, when it turned out I was right, nobody was more surprised than myself.

So I am going to put down my guesses for the next EverQuest II expansion again.

I have two reasons for doing this.

1) Remind everybody I was right last year!

2) Prove that being right was a fluke

So with my goals laid out, and half way accomplished already, let me dig into my prediction.

Nostalgia Again

As Indie Rock Pete will tell you, nostalgia is one of the strongest forces in the universe. The linkage between pre and post cataclysm Norrath has been successful enough that it has actually begun to flow both ways. Meldrath the Mad, who appears in the current EverQuest expansion, Secrets of Faydwer, began his career as a ghost in EverQuest II in Klak’Anon.

When it comes to playing the nostalgia card, I see no turning back now.

So the first aspect of my prediction is that it will be another location from pre-cataclysm EverQuest, brought forward and updated.

Some Deviations

The past two nostalgia infused expansions, Echoes of Faydwer and Rise of Kunark, played similar hands from different directions. Both were islands that introduced new races and new home towns, EoF concentrated on Qeynos aligned content while RoK was Freeport slanted. They both raised the level cap as well.

The second aspect of my prediction is that the EQ2 team will break from that pattern this time around.

No new races, no new home towns, and no raise in the level cap.

The last one is going to be hard for people to swallow. On the other hand, after what seems to been more of a brisk stroll than a race to level 80 in RoK for some who claim not to be hard core, it seems that levels alone are not the way to ensure a deep expansion. Plus, with EQ2 seeming locked into 10 level increments, level cap increases could quickly approach the absurd if used every expansion. I have decried the gap between new content and new players when it comes to EverQuest, I would hate for that to become a big issue in EverQuest II. Starting off and looking at 90 levels might seem daunting indeed.

Plane Geometry

Rather than levels, I think this next expansion will be based on the idea of expanding your character in other directions. There are different ways this can be done, one of which is to offer some serious meat for the raiding community.

And since have the gods back in post-cataclysm Norrath, I think it is time we paid them a visit.

So I think the next EverQuest II expansion will be throw back to The Planes of Power.

Raids. Progression. Equipment.

All of those in enough measure to keep the high end guilds busy for a long time. Perhaps all of these aspects in enough measure for some EverQuest guilds to take a serious second look at EverQuest II.

The Same But Different

While I expect that the basics of the new planes will be the similar to how they exist currently in EverQuest, which is to say instanced versus wide open, there will have to be changes. The gods will no doubt have revised their defenses. Of course, they won’t go overboard, as you can only have 24 people on an EverQuest II raid, unless they chose to change that as well.

And I will also predict that there will be no repeat of the Plane of Knowledge. There is no reason for it in EverQuest II, there already being a game wide sales and broker system available that is superior to that found in EverQuest (if only because you do not have to stay online to sell), so the Bazaar (I know, it was a Luclin zone, but it is attached to the Plane of Knowledge) is not required.

And a travel hub, such as the Plane of Knowledge would only have the same effect in EverQuest II that it had in EverQuest, which would be the almost complete depopulation of the traditional home towns. (Though in EverQuest today, it does help concentrate the remaining population.)

That does not mean that there will not be a plane of that name in the expansion, but it will not serve the same purpose.

Show Some Class

What about the rest of us? Well, there will certainly be non-raid sections of the planes, but we’ll need something else to get us excited, something that will make us start new alts.

I said no new races above, and I stand by that. But a new playable class, now that might be a different story.

And the class I think we will see is a pet class that handles and tames animals, like the beastlord in EverQuest. However, I think this class will be more akin to the hunter in World of Warcraft. Some will moan about this, but since the hunter class is one of the most fun to play in WoW, it will end up being an asset to the game over all.

This will, of course, screw up that whole “Magic of 24” thing, the mystical guiding number for EverQuest II, but I think that is inevitable at some point.

I actually see this pet class being showing up as two classes, ala Fury/Warden or Troubadour/Dirge, with one very, offense oriented, with ranged weapons figuring prominently, and the other very much focused on defensive skills and aggro management. They will show up in the scout category, which will give them tracking, a natural fit for a hunter, but they will not get stealth or evac.

Obtaining pets will be on the model of WoW, where you will actually go out and tame the creature of your choice. However, it will differ from the WoW model otherwise, with creatures having their own “classes” with skills that will be available in the EverQuest II skill model for players, with advanced versions of the skills being available via player crafting, with the appropriate trades picking up the skill production.

This addition to the game will get a lot of people rolling up new characters and exploring the dynamics of the various pet and skill combinations. The main complaint about the class, at least initially, will revolve around the limited number of animal types that can be tamed. Bears, wolves, spiders, and scorpions will all be appreciated, but some people just won’t be satisfied until they can have a pet badger.

Fleshing Out Options

Of course, with no new levels to conquer, there will have to be some place to channel experience for those who choose not to roll up an alt. This will likely take the form of a new tier of alternate advancement, accessible only after a certain level (I would guess 70) and only after you have spent a given number of points in the currently available AA trees.

Also, with the addition of the planes, you can bet there will be more deities and related quests for players to choose from.

And, finally, the planes won’t be solid, level 80 content. The expansion will serve up both the high end raiding content as well as widening the experience path from levels 65 to 80.

Summary

So here is what I claim will/will not be in the next EverQuest II expansion:

  • No level cap increase
  • No new race or home town
  • Content based on the Planes of Power
  • Lots of raid content
  • Expansion of level 65-80 solo and group content
  • New pet based, hunter-like class
  • New, third tier AA tree
  • More deities from EverQuest brought into the game

You Make the Call

My reasoning behind choosing the Planes of Power as the model for the expansion has to main arguments. The first is that SOE has been to the well twice in a row for terrestrial expansion based on EverQuest. A third  run would be a mistake, in my opinion. The second is that, of all of the remaining EverQuest expansions, The Planes of Power I think was the most anticipated by people I knew. That was the expansion that turned people into raiders. For good or ill, it heavily influenced the game going forward. And, as much as I am solo Joe, I think EverQuest II could use some of that influence as well.

There are other expansions in EverQuest that have had influence on the game, but none that I would consider worthy of the next expansion.

Luclin went boom and Velios was good, but no Kunark. And after those and Planes of Power, EverQuest stopped introducing quite such influential zones. The penalty for doing two expansions a year, no doubt.

I can see, for example, something like Lost Dungeons of Norrath making an appearance in EverQuest II. In fact, my guess is this is the sort of thing that they will re-use the raid content areas for, as Scott Hartsman alluded to in an interview a while back. But I would guess that would be put in as “between expansions” content.

Now here is where I invite you to take issue with what I have presented.

Tell me how I am wrong. Tell me what you think the next expansion will be.

Just remember my stated goals at the top of the article!

No Rise of Kunark at Fry’s Today

Rise of Kunark… and Secrets of Faydwer, for that matter… are live and potentially available today. 

There is an SOE press release and everything.

However, the Fry’s ad yesterday said that neither box would be on the shelf before Thursday.

So we’re hardly getting off to a Burning Crusade-like start here for the latest expansions of the two main EverQuest franchises.

Still, both expansions were actually IN the Fry’s ad this time around.  Go team! At least in that regard.

Last year’s expansion, Echoes of Faydwer, which also wasn’t on the shelf at Fry’s on release day, as I posted back then, did not make the Fry’s ad until a few weeks after its release. 

And The Serpent’s Spine, the EverQuest expansion last November, was digital download only.  It went pretty well unnoticed outside of the EverQuest community.

So while the release of these two expansions are not exactly an event, at least there was acknowledgement of their pending availability.

EverQuest and the Fall

What is it with the coming of the rain?  Why do the clouds in the sky and the wind in the trees make this happen?

Why is it that every year, when the weather starts to cool off and get a bit gloomy, I get the urge to run off and play EverQuest?

Well, maybe it isn’t just the weather.

Fall is also, traditionally, when an expansion comes out for EverQuest.

Last fall it was “The Serpent’s Spine,” an expansion that lured me back into the game yet again.

There was a promise of a better new user experience, a quest path that could be followed to the level cap, and even some very much needed improvements to things that affect every user, like the out of combat health and mana regeneration rates.  All of these things were clearly designed to help bring new players into the game.

I took their offer, created a new account, and started playing.  I wrote about my experiences here.  I still get hits on those posts every now and again from search terms like “Drakkin” and “Crescent Reach.”

And, I must say, that SOE did make the experience better.

I was able to follow quests.  I picked up equipment.  I was able to solo.

Compared to April of 1999, standing in front of the gates of Qeynos, with little more direction than a sword and a view of a field of rats and snakes, it was a huge leap.

It was even a decent addition to the tutorial that was put in a few years back.

Still though, in the end, I gave up after 14 levels.

I did not give up because of the clunky interface, the dated graphics, the strange key-word based NPC interaction system, or the crude map interface.

I gave up because the game is still too damn hard.

The information about what a new player should be doing in game is too sparse.

The quests are still too few and far between.

But, underlying any other issue and undermining any other attempts to improve the game, there is the experience curve that is simply too steep.

Seriously.

So now it is fall again, and a new expansion is coming out, this time called “Secrets of Faydwer.”

It sounds cool.  I always look at EverQuest expansions.  My post last Friday wasn’t just another goof, I am actually interested.  There is even some lore involved that crosses over between EverQuest and EverQuest II with Meldrath the Malignant. 

They’ve even learned some lessons from the EQ2 team, like putting a box on the shelf that rolls up all the past expansions so a new player does not feel lost in a sea of buying options.  In the package, on the shelf, and you have the whole game.  It was smart when the EQ2 did it and with 13 past expansions to worry about, it is a past-due requirement for EQ.

So I am keeping my eye on “Secrets of Faydwer.”

It is just too bad I will never see any of it.

I have friends who will be playing it.  But if getting to level 14 wears me out, then there is little hope I will get into the level range required to play with them.

Meanwhile, a little north of SOE HQ, a competitor is having its own thoughts on a similar subject.

Blizzard is apparently worried that people who come into their game will be put off trying to get to level 80.  They are taking action now to ensure that a raise in level cap will not be a disincentive to joining the game. 

They want to be sure that somebody who has never played World of Warcraft won’t say, “Level 80?  I’ll never be able to catch up.”

Blizzard has announced said that, among the features of their next major update, they will be speeding up levelling from level 20 to 60.

They want to put new people into their new content.  And in a level based game, the new content is primarily at the top of the level curve.  So Blizzard wants to accelerate people into the new content.

Let us recap.

Blizzard is worried that World of Warcraft’s levelling curve, decried by some of the hard core as too easy already, is actually too steep for new players entering the game.  They want to push their new content, which will presumably also be their best, and they want that content to be attainable.

SOE on the other hand, a year ago, put out an expansion that was clearly designed to bring new players into the game.  They made mistakes with that expansion.  One that jumps to mind is making it available for digital download only.  Sorry, boxes on the shelf matter, especially when trying to attract new players.  Digital download is only for players who ALREADY KNOW ABOUT a game.

But it seems, following Blizzard’s logic, that SOE’s supreme folly was thinking that the experience curve in EverQuest was fine as it stood.  The prime mistake was thinking that it was okay to let new players bang their heads against the wall that is the levelling experience in EverQuest.

And given the relative successes of the two companies, I am going to have to back Blizzard’s thinking.

If content is king, then the ability to access that content is key. 

And what EverQuest says to any new player looking at that “Secrets of Faydwer” box on the shelf is, “Looks nice, doesn’t it?  Too bad it will never be yours.”

So my title actually has two meanings.  At the top I wrote of the season.  But really, I mean the fall of EverQuest.  All of its new content is for naught if one cannot hope to access it.

SOE, look what Blizzard is doing.  Learn from it.  Leverage that content that you have.

The Next EverQuest II Expansion?

I was thinking in the shower the other morning, that being about the only quiet time in my day when I can just think, about what the next expansion for EverQuest II will be.  If Echoes of Faydwer ends up as successful as I hope it will, Sony may seek replay this success.  That will mean sticking with a few main themes.

Nostalgia

It will have to be a place from EverQuest.  This has played so well for EoF that they will have to repeat it.  That is the purpose of making a “2” game, to be able to draw on lore.  There is no lore like old lore, and EverQuest is the mother lode of old MMO lore.  There is so much there to pick and choose from that the hard part must be deciding what has to get put off for later.

A New Home Town

Getting people the hell out of Qeynos and into a new home town with a different newbie experience has been huge.  That cannot be over looked.  Something nice, with no crappy racial slums, in the middle of an adventure zone that will get you to level 20 would do the trick.  That is just what the doctor ordered ordered for EoF and I am sure Sony will want to refill that perscription.

Qeynos Hostile

The good side got  a second home town this time around, so the next one will have to go to the Freep faction.  Freeport is a dismal place, so over done, under populated, and hilly.  The suburbs are horrible and downtown is just unpleasant regardless of how easy it is to find parking.  I think people betray to Qeynos from Freeport just because Freeport is so annoying to navigate.  You only have to have that little glowing “follow me” line go straight up a sheer wall a dozen times or so before you say “the hell with it, I’m outta here!” and you betray.

A New Race

Of course, if you have a new home town, you will need people who live there.  This will be tough because EQ2 really played the race card, so to speak, very heavily on day one.  But the world of Norrath is full of interesting races, so it need not being something playable from EQ.  After all, the Fae were not in EQ as a playable race.

An Island

The EQ2 lore is all based on the shattering, so everything is an island now, right?  That means another nice, self-contained set of zones and another boat.  I hope they will just give up service to Butcherblock from Nektulos Forest and run the new boat from there.  And I hope it will be a new boat this time.  No, really, Sony, a new boat.  I mean it.

Prognostication

At this point I have to borrow the prognostication hat from Brent at VirginWorlds and take a guess.

With all of this was all rolling around in my head looking for an answer I read Loral’s post on Mobhunter titled “Everquest’s Two Year Outlook.”  At the very end were some guesses about the future, and in those guesses was the word for which my brain had been searching.

Kunark!

That will be the next island, the location of the next home town, the next target in EQ2’s fight to make it big.  Loral was right in thinking Sony will revisit Kunark, but wrong about which game will get it. 

That still leaves out what race they will introduce.  The Iksar are already available, so while new Iksar will no doubt be able to start there, there has to be a new race in the bargain.  I will have review who lives on Kunark in EverQuest before I venture to guess on a race, but I feel strongly about Kurnark.  It was the first EQ expansion and it was a success.

I do get the feeling I might be off by an expansion, that there may be another level cap raising expansion in between Echoes of Faydwer and what I am now calling Return to Kunark.  Something like the Planes of Power to sate the raiders and to give everybody a tier 8 to which to aspire.  But after that I feel sure it will be Kunark.

Remember what I wrote and when I wrote it.  And remember where that last spark I was looking came from.  Thank you Loral! 

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling I am right.  But I have that feeling every time I buy a lottery ticket, so we shall see.