Tag Archives: Polygon

Covering the EverQuest Anniversary

I was interested to see what sort of coverage the EverQuest 20th anniversary would get.

20 Years Ago last month…

At one time EverQuest was a relatively big deal, bordering on being part of the broader culture.  But its cultural peak was brief, small, and a long time ago.  Now it is practically ancient history as a whole generation of kids have been born and grown into adults since it launched.

Where I was surprised was how the level of coverage seemed to be a bit turned on its head relative to the proximity to the topic a publication was.

That wasn’t wholly true.  PC Gamer did a series of great articles about the game, its history, and its state of play these days.

The had an interview with EverQuest Executive Producer Holly Longdale in that first link that unearthed the following gems of information about the game via quotes:

  • “We have more players now than we did in 2015 and our revenue has gone up.”
  • “I’m not allowed tell you exactly how many people have come through the game over the years, but it’s enough to sustain us.”
  • “So we just have an agreement in place that they [Project 1999] don’t launch stuff around the same time we do.”
  • “Our biggest customer service request is people asking what email they used for their EverQuest account 15 years ago, because they want to log back in and play with their old characters again.”
  • “Every three years we do a level increase, and we have changed the way some things work.”
  • A new expansion, The Burning Lands, was released in December last year, and another is on the way.
  • “But fundamentally, we don’t want to change the game. It’s like when we did the New Game Experience for Star Wars Galaxies and everyone quit.”

On the flip side though there was GameSpot, whose cultural relevance peak mirrors that of EverQuest, who just posted the anniversary trailer… early… without much comment and moved on, while Eurogamer, who is often in the forefront of video game reporting, declined to even mention the anniversary.

Then there was Variety, an unexpected source of any information that isn’t strictly a press release, which uncovered perhaps the biggest scoop about EverQuest Next we’d heard in five years, not to mention shining a bit of light on the factional strife that seemed to be going on behind the scenes… a conflict the traditionalists, with Holly Longdale at their head, looks to have won for now.

Adding on that was a post over a Gamasutra, which wasn’t strictly news coverage, by EverQuest team member Luke Sigmund.  But it did lend further insight into the team there while also throwing out a bit of information about why corpse runs stopped being a thing.  Yes, what you believe was part of the equation, but there was also a technical limitation to it as well that made it desirable to do away with this punishing mechanic.  (You do still lose experience on death though, and can still lose levels, something TorilMUD, the template for EverQuest, got rid of a few years ago.)

There was an article up at Rock Paper Shotgun that elaborated on some of the topics already covered, including more detail on the relationship with Project 1999 for example.

Finally, coming in a bit late was an article over at Polygon which started off down the same path as some of the above, about how EverQuest was pretty much set on mining their installed base rather than trying to seek new fans.  But there was a nugget dropped in the statement that one third of the games profits come from “nostalgia” players, which I would read as those interested in the progression server thing that EverQuest has been so good with.

And that was followed by a statement about the current servers they are using, which have four times the capacity of the originals.  This led to some back of the envelope calculation by Bhagpuss in some email notes we exchanged that led to a possibility that peak concurrent players across all servers, given some assumptions such as when server status shows “full” that a given server is at 50% capacity, might be as high as 60K players some days.  That could explain the initial statement on which I based a post a while back trying to compare how many people play EverQuest versus EVE Online.  And since we know concurrent players peak in the low 30K range in New Eden, perhaps that was the basis of the original premise.

All of which made for some interesting reading last month.  Every anniversary brings out some trivia about the game, bits of nostalgia or some form of infographic.  But this year it feels like we learned a few interesting facts about the state of the game and the team that runs it.

Quote of the Day – If You’re Selling it, We’re Reviewing it

If I had paid money for H1Z1, I’d be pretty pissed off right now. Some players have already taken to demanding refunds. And I can’t blame them.

Polygon review of H1Z1

I laughed out loud when I saw that Polygon put up a review of H1Z1 on their site this morning.  But I have to admit that a review is a fitting response to Daybreak Game Company selling the game on Steam.  Not that Polygon hasn’t been on the H1Z1 beat already.

H1Z1Disaster

Yeah, yeah, cry me a river about that “Early Access” disclaimer.

I wouldn’t dream of endorsing a review of a product that was in alpha or beta and testing with volunteers.  But my view, and this is an opinion that I hold pretty strongly, is that once you are charging money and have a cash shop setup, trying to hide behind words like “Beta” (the long time Zynga ploy… do you want to be like Zynga?) or “Early Access” is a bullshit move.

The “Early Access” disclaimer has to compete with the pie-in-the-sky marketing vision about what the game might be some day way down the road when it is finished.

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about the reality of H1Z1 please… I hear it isn’t actually an MMO

A “fully transparent” approach to game design would require the equivalent of “Warning: Lark’s Vomit” on the Steam store page and the SOE web site. (Since there is no Daybreak web site yet.)

And Daybreak Game Company is out there with not one but two early access events, with Landmark having mucked about in some sort of limbo for over a year at this point.  And to echo the quote at the top of the page, after my free time in Landmark I was pretty happy I didn’t pay any money for it.  And don’t get me started on the irony of a company whose motto is “Free to Play Your Way” and has a subscription program called “All Access” that doesn’t actually give you access to all of their games.

Yeah, I am on a bit of a rant here over what is probably a pretty small item in the grand scheme of things.  And it would certainly be fair game to ask how I reconcile this with Kickstarter campaigns and pre-orders and whatever other industry practices I don’t seem to take issue with that share some similarities with early access.  My primary goal in all things of late is the finished game, something I even mentioned in the earlier post about Crowfall.  I already have a day job in software development, I don’t need/want to keep fretting about code when I get home at night.

And who knows, the whole early access thing might work out.  I’m just not convinced right now that paid early access is a good thing for the industry, and it is Smed’s handiwork with Landmark and H1Z1 that has pushed me in that direction.

Anyway, cheers to Polygon for having a policy about reviewing early access games so people know what they are getting for their money.  How do you feel about that?

Was Anything Learned from SimCity? Should Anything Be Learned from SimCity?

…and remains one of the top 10 highest Metacritic-rated MMOs.

Mark Jacobs, in reference to Warhammer Online

I could list any number of reasons why I did not buy the latest SimCity.  I could go on about EA itself, or the Origin store, or the price, or always online issues, or the estimated lifetime of server support.

SimCity in 2013

SimCity in 2013

But in reality, when the game was announced, I realized that I have never quite gotten around to purchasing its predecessor, SimCity 4.  Despite having spent many hours with the first three versions of the game, I think it was clear that I was no longer as big a fan of the idea as I once was.  So I was probably not going to buy the new version in any case.

However, a lot of people did buy it.  It is (or was, or might be again) a huge and popular franchise.  And the pre-release reviews were overwhelmingly positive.  This was a game to have.

For example, there is the review over at Polygon.

I am going use their review, because they are pretty up front with how things played out.

Great Game – Score 9.5

Their initial, day before launch review, based on pre-release play time review gave SimCity a 9.5 out of 10.  The review praises the game mightily.  Addiction is mentioned in the opening sentence.  And the only real caveat about online play was a side bar that had to do more with the reviewers home router configuration than the game.  There was a caution that you needed to have a reliable connection to the internet to play the game.

Good Game – Score 8.0

Then came launch day.  Polygon, to its credit has a review policy that allows them to update review scores.  The old score remains, but an update gets added with a new score if something changes.  And the change was that a lot of people who bought the game couldn’t log on to play, even those with reliable connections to the internet.  And since there is no offline play option, lots of people were unhappy.

Due to these first day problems, Polygon changed their review to 8.0 out of 10.  The issues were likely temporary, but they felt that they could not keep the 9.5 score.

Bad Game – Score 4.0

Two days later, things had gone from bad to worse.  EA was behaving like a real city government and turning off what it deemed as non-essential services.  Leaderboards and cheetah mode were gone.  Yet there was no change to how the game was behaving.  So Polygon again updated their review.  SimCity was now rated as 4.0 out of 10, which I am pretty sure we all recognize as a “do not buy” recommendation.

Which, of course, was too late.  Part of the problem was that too many people had already purchased the game… well, too many people relative to the EA server infrastructure at least.

And there the review stands nearly two weeks later.

Meanwhile, EA began to consistently and repeatedly piss people off.  It told players they could ask for refunds, failing to mention that their policy is not to issue refunds for products purchased via digital distribution.  No refunds for Origin customers.  EA danced around issues like how long server support for the game was likely to be around and whether always online was just a DRM ploy.  And they outright lied about why online only was a requirement and that significant engineering would be required to allow the game to be played offline. (Even mainstream media is on their case about this.)

Meanwhile, the more hardcore fans were discovering that the simulation itself was not all it seemed on the surface.  Sims seem somewhat dim, and the depth of the game doesn’t seem to be up to past standards, not to mention the simple things, like saving a city then unleashing disaster to see what happens, while still being able to restore and return to your city, are no longer an option with the online model.

And amidst this, EA’s Maxis Label General Manager Lucy Bradshaw came out to tell us that in many ways they had built an MMO.  I guess if you consider an asynchronous experience like FarmVille an MMO, then SimCity fits the bill as well.  Or if you just want to count bad day one experiences as part of the MMO experience, it certainly fit in that regard.

So it was a disaster.  The Metacritic score sits at 65%, and is only that high because they only take the first review score and not revisions.  So Polygon, as an example, still shows as a 95% score on the list.  But enough sites waited that at least it won’t be the same situation as I quoted at the top of this post.

Amazon, where the game has a 1 star review average, stopped selling the game and has not resumed as of this time.  EA issued a directive to its sales and marketing channel to stop promoting the game.  EA ended up offering people who purchased SimCity a free game from their back catalog… which really costs them very little… but it was something.  The best bit or irony in that though was SimCity 4 appearing on the list.  There is your offline experience.

Well, there was one part that wasn’t a disaster.  The money part of the equation for went well for EA.  More than a million people sunk $60 (or more) into the game to play it.  So, financially, EA probably did pretty well.  And since all they need to do is sell the box to make their first big financial gain, there seems little incentive for EA to spend much right away on fixing issues.  As Lucy said:

We’re hoping you won’t stay mad and that we’ll be friends again when SimCity is running at 100 percent.

Whenever that is.  Because at that point I am sure EA will have some DLC to sell you.  Like the definition of MMO, I am not sure that Lucy is using the same definition for the word “friend” that I do.

Of course, I am not Lucy’s friend in the first place, since I did not buy her game.

All of which leads me back to the headline.  Was anything learned?

Does anybody think that the launch of the next big single player, always online game will be anything less of a disaster?

Will anybody think twice before purchasing that game if it is the next title in a big franchise?

Will reviewers hold off on their reviews for such games until any first day issues are apparent?  Or should such issues even be considered?  And should reviews change as they did at Polygon?

What should we take away from this event?

What will people take away?

What, if anything, should change?

Addendum: Another input. You can log in and play now, but is it worthwhile?