Category everquest II

Understanding The RMT Economy And Sparkly Ponies

AT-AT in SWG

It's pretty! I'll take it!

I am really glad for all the interesting comments I received on my last entry, and in case you’ve read them I’d direct you over to the Buzz-version of the thread where a couple of other MMO-bloggers (including Tobold, Spinks, Chris and Pete) chime in on the subject. Thanks to everyone! I have been giving this a lot of thought ever since the sparkle pony was released for World of Warcraft, and it’s great to take part of other views on RMT in subscription MMOs.

But I thought that I’d take an entry to explain why I believe this is happening. The reason for this is that I believe that partly the item shops are misunderstood, as I see the word “greed” thrown around a lot by critics. Ark pointed out, again, that there might be a difference of opinion depending on political standpoint of the viewer, and I am starting to agree with him. Because I don’t think it is about greed at all, except for the greed inherit in the capitalist system. It’s all about the money and how economics work.

Disclaimer: I am not an economist. I have never studied economic theory. This entry is based on my understanding of economics through the very limited reading I’ve done on the subject, including books like The Undercover Economist and various books by leftist economic and cultural theorists that would drive the more right-bent readers nuts if I mentioned them by name. If you are an economist, or have studies the subject, or just happen to know more than me – please comment and enlighten me. Economy is fascinating and I would love to learn more. Neither am I saying I am the only one, or the first one, to bring this up.

There are a couple of scenarios that I believe are bringing this change to MMOs. They have nothing to do with greed, at least not from a developer standpoint. Some have pointed out that they’d support the cash shops much more if they knew where the money goes – if it is invested back into the game or to the money-men at the top. The answer to that is complicated, as the money goes straight into the pockets of the company itself. But the company have to give money to a lot of people, including the ones on its payroll, investors, shareholders, etc.

Despite being highly critical of the highly overpriced mounts (subjective, I know), these reasons make sense to me. They are legitimate, even though I don’t condone them. But in an economic reality, we’ll probably have to accept them – especially when it comes to games like EQ2 and WoW.

Cataclysm goblins

Improved goblin graphics are not free, you know.

Reason 1: Development costs go up, while the subscription price stays the same. Stargrace (and someone else, I can’t remember who right now, sorry) names this as her reason to support this RMT over on Nomadic Gamer. It’s a perfectly fair point. Development costs do go up, a new MMO is much more expensive to develop now than it was 10 years ago (or even five, or two). Cataclysm is probably much more expensive to produce than The Burning Crusade was, for example. SOE is developing at least one new MMO (DC Universe Online), which is probably even more expensive than Cataclysm (since developing a game from scratch takes a larger team and more tech than a live team working on an expansion). And we know that Blizzard is working on a “next-gen MMO”.

At the same time, we can probably expect operation costs to go down – bandwidth gets cheaper and cheaper, and storage space gets cheaper by the minute. That’s not to say these costs evens out, even though most of the development investment is returned by box sales at launch. The live team, which then will keep the game updated (new content, squash bugs, QA, etc), is normally a lot smaller than the development team so the running costs become smaller again. These are all columns on a spreadsheet, but they do lead us on to the next point…

Reason 2: World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 are not making as much money now as they did. This is not to say that they are dying or anything of that nature. World of Warcraft is alive and kicking, and Cataclysm is bound to make Blizzard a crap-ton of money. Everquest 2 seems to be doing alright as well. But they are not as big as they used to be. People keep throwing around the 11 million subscriber number for World of Warcraft still, despite the fact that it’s been a long time since they published official sub numbers (which is enough proof for me to draw the conclusion that the game isn’t growing anymore). Also, there is all the trouble Blizzard has had in China – that’s a huge loss of revenue, and a lot of lost players. There’s also the simple fact that the games are aging.

New Halas housing

Fluff items cost a lot of money to develop. Housing included.

World of Warcraft is still making Activision Blizzard millions of dollars each month – the large Western player base is enough to secure the game’s future for many years to come. But that doesn’t matter, especially since the two companies merged (Vivendi culture was a lot different, trust me). What does matter is that it isn’t making as much money as last year. If we put last year’s earnings, and this years earnings, next to each other it will produce a red number. And God forbid we compare it to two years ago! In this economic system, what matters is growth. Not subscriber number growth, the shareholders don’t care about that. Economic growth. You might have made us a billion dollars, but last year that number was 1.2 billion! Disaster!

While Activision Blizzard expect to make up for the investment for Cataclysm this year, we have to remember that they are working on their next MMO which probably has a long way to go before it is released. That’s a pure expense, it is making them no money at all right now. And as development ramps up, the cost will do nothing except increase. Saying that it will make the company even more billions in 2012/2013 doesn’t really cut it today.

SOE is developing DC Universe Online, which is another cost on the already pressured games company. The last game they released was Free Realms, and despite all the news we hear about registered accounts, we know nothing about how much money they are making from it. Insider sources, and with that I mean people in the actual MMO industry, have told me that Free Realms has been a disaster for SOE. Take that with a grain of salt, as with any unnamed source, but personally I have no real reason to doubt this person. More red numbers, more money that must be gained elsewhere.

I think that’s the whole reason why Blizzard introduced the pet shop, the reason why SOE started to dabble in pretty small scale RMT (not sure we can call the virtual card game small scale, though). With that success came the sparkle pony and with its success followed the prowler (I subscribe to the theory that SOE’s price point is not a coincidence). Not because they necessarily wanted to. Not that a developer thought it’d be a cool service. Not because they are greedy, or because they believe it gives the player more choice (the amount of mounts in both games are quite enough to give the player a lot of choices, with more or less grinds involved). But because they simply had to.

Free Realms dog

If you're lucky, you might be able to pick this up in Vanguard soon!

The price point – $25 – was with great certainty not picked out of a hat at a Activision board meeting. There’s probably a lot of science behind it, just like the 1200 point price for the Stimulus Package for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It’s all about perceived value, and similar economic buzz words. That’s what they figured people would pay, and that’s what they needed to sell it for. And they were right, with the sparkle pony being a huge success (we still don’t have numbers for the prowler, do we?).

The other alternative would be to raise sub-prices, as Tobold mentions in the Buzz-thread linked at the beginning of this entry. And just like the $25 for mounts, I believe that only Blizzard can set that precedent. Expect a higher subscription fee when their next-gen MMO is released, or at least a pricing model that will be radically different from what we have now that will make them more money every month. Then the rest of the genre can follow suit. Otherwise, you risk having potential customers stay in whatever game they are playing now.

You know what? I can kind of buy it, if this theory is right. It doesn’t mean I condone this form of economic system, it causes a lot of problems, but I’ll accept is as a sad part of modern life right now. If this is what it takes to keep old games rolling (let’s face it, WoW and EQ2 are old), then it might be worth seeing 200 000 people rushing to buy a sparkly, flying pony the second it is released. It will sting in my eyes, but if the prowler keeps EQ2 out of trouble for a bit…well, I’ll accept it. I guess that’s where the choice comes in – more MMOs on the market is a good thing.

For now, this might be the price we have to either pay (and get a mount) or simply accept to keep our favorite games alive as they grow older. Let’s face it, a lot of us have rosy colored glasses on when it comes to what MMOs used to be back in the “good old days”. Many of us play games that were released 6 – 7 years ago (which includes World of Warcraft). If we don’t want the shareholders, or CEOs, or board of directors, give the developers we love trouble we might as well just pay the $25 when a sweet mount is put on sale. I know my gnome would look awesome on a proto-drake (preferably without the sparkles, please).

I can’t be bothered to be upset anymore. I’m just gonna go “meh” and move on. If they truly try to screw us completely in the future and the slippery slope we’re worried about becomes a landslide, I’ll be back. For now, I think I’ll just stop caring. Buy a prowler, support your lovely developers, and be happy.

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The Norrathian Museum

If you’ve never played a MMO that includes a lot of sandbox-options, do check out the video below. It’s from Stargrace, who has put a lot of effort into her Norrathian Museum in EverQuest 2. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. Be sure to watch at least until she gets to the library, which contains not only books from the game itself, but more than 100 books written by players. Awesome stuff.

I truly hope that MMOs will return to implementing things like this, since it brings so much immersion and personality to a game. Looking forward to seeing more videos of EverQuest 2 from Stargrace, since I don’t enjoy the rest of the game very much myself.

(It seems like YouTube managed to mess up the sound of the video a bit, so it doesn’t synch all the way through. Not a big deal, though.)

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Prove me wrong, EverQuest II?

usurperWith all the SOE-talk recently (Free Realms, EQ3-talk, discussions on Twitter), I’ve considered giving EverQuest II another chance. I played it on and off for about a month last time and liked what I saw, but I didn’t stay past the free time I got with the Shadow Odyssey-box. I wasn’t surprised when I found myself considering a re-sub and up until today I was just waiting for a free evening to start playing again.

Then I started to think about the reasons why I never did stay in the first place. I only did get to level 19 with my shadow knight, so I didn’t get very far, but if I really did enjoy it that much I probably should’ve kept my sub running (right, Tobold?). So I took a look at my old screenshots and tried to remember my impressions of EQII. Why did I leave?

  • The PvE seem rather bland. After 19 levels, the PvE-content in EverQuest II seemed like a long series of classic MMO-quests. Go to place A, kill Y, fetch X, etc. Say what you will about World of Warcraft, but at least the quests in that game are rich and varied – Blizzard has learned a lot of lessons since launch. Maybe I’m just a bit spoiled after playing that game for so long. Then again, reaching level 19 in WoW – except for perhaps in the draenei and blood elf starting areas – isn’t all that fun either…
  • The graphics look rather old. Again comparing EverQuest II with World of Warcraft, the graphics in the former haven’t really aged that well. The more realistic style of EQII ages much faster than the more cartoony style of WoW – a good, Trinity-style graphics update would be rather nice to see (and will probably never happen). The dark elf starting area, Darklight Woods, didn’t really help show the game at its best side either, even though I really enjoyed Neriak, the dark elf capital.
  • The character design can be rather crap. Using the alternate models did help a bit with that problem. Without them, I’m not sure I would’ve made it past character creation. I’m just that picky. Or I’d end up playing a froglok.
  • Zoning. I hate zoning, I truly do – especially when it’s done between two zones on the same continent. It’s a rather minor nuisance in EQII, as the respective zones are rather large, but zoning inside Freeport did not sit right with me. I guess I’m spoiled after playing Vanguard and World of Warcraft. I just prefer large, persistent worlds. Zoning breaks immersion.
  • I don’t feel at home in Norrath. I know that Norrath is filled with lore and that players that come from EverQuest have lived in that particular world for the last ten years. I just thought it was a bit too…much. Too much magic, too many races, too much weird stuff going on. “Tacky” might be the word I’m looking for. If you’re from Sweden and played pen-and-paper RPGs as a kid, you might remember the campaign setting Ereb Altor from Drakar och Demoner. As much as I loved that particular setting growing up, as a fantasy world it’s not very believable. Coming from someone that really likes the lore of Warcraft, that probably says a lot…
  • The community is already in place. Without bringing my friends with me from WoW, it would be hard to find a brand new guild to join. I joined up with a rather large and old guild after a few levels of play that already owned a guild hall. Even though the hall was impressive, I felt like a big part of the experience would be to buy your own and help decorate it from scratch. Reaching that point would probably take a long time, getting involved with the community and getting to know enough people to make that a possibility – something that’d probably take a long time, since most players have probably already found a guild they call their home by now.

My emo Shadowknight in Everquest II. Yes, I use the alternate models.

Those are the points I remember thinking about during my (brief) time in EverQuest II. There was a lot to like about the game, so I’m still considering giving it the benefit of the doubt and another try. I love the housing system, the combat was fun and the shadowknight class seemed promising.

But what I really loved about playing EverQuest II was that I had no clue what the hell I was doing. When picking quest rewards, I wasn’t sure what stats were best for me – I had to try to do some form of noobish theory crafting instead. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, how to gain the most AAs or what areas would net me the most XP or the greatest rewards. I did not know how the system actually worked, I was shocked when I heard shadowknights complain in guild chat about their power running out when mine never seemed to. I didn’t know what abilities I would get the next time I leveled up, nor what skills to improve, even what role my class was expected to fill (at least at first). When picking up collection items I didn’t know if I should vendor any spare ones or put them up for auction. Then again, I had no idea what the best way to sell items to other players was.

All I knew was that I was a lone dark elf in a large world, owning a crummy apartement in Neriak that only contained a table, a mirror and a lamp. I didn’t even have a bed, since I couldn’t afford one. And I remember that it felt great.

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Pop goes the Thorax

Now you see it, now you don't.

Now you see it, now you don't.

About an hour ago, I decided to head up to a nearby patch of low sec space in EVE to check out the rats, perhaps make some fast money before down time. The only ship that I had available in the area was my trusty Thorax, I haven’t had the time or energy to move up any other ship to my new home yet, and it’s been known to take quite a beating from rats because of my skills so I didn’t really think twice about it. A few quick jumps later I was in a 0.1 system, alone in local, and I headed for an ice field to see what I could find.

To my great happiness I found a battleship spawn and three cruisers, which I decided to take on. The battleship went down pretty fast, but just as I had started to work on one of the cruisers and seeing my drones doing good damage to it I notice that I am no longer alone in system. Space is usually quite blue in our area, but the thought to warp out straight away did hit me. I decided to recall my drones just in case, which is about the same time as I see a Myrmidon warp in on me…

A second later, I’m scrambled and can’t get out. The cruisers are still shooting at me, my shields are more or less gone, and then the Myrm starts eating away at my armor. I try firing back, but at this point I’m in a panic – I haven’t been in a PvP-fight in EVE for a very long time, so I notice that I am still firing at the rats. Things go downhill fast and my beloved Thorax is soon blown to space dust. Luckily, I manage to warp out before the Myrm can target my pod.

Me and the Myrm pilot exchange pleasantries, including him pointing out that I didn’t even fire on him (thanks for noticing), and then I jump out of system and make my way back to high sec before logging. It was a good wake up call for me – never, ever, go unprepared into low sec space. You will get in trouble. I behaved like a naive newbie and paid the price for it. My own Myrmidon is 26 jumps away, I hardly have the money to reinvest in a new Thorax and fit it out the way I had. Stupid, Petter. Stupid.

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Eurogamer dings level 10…twice

My emo Shadowknight in Everquest II. Yes, I use the alternate models.

My emo Shadowknight in Everquest II. Yes, I use the alternate models.

Eurogamer MMO, which just gets better and better, published what is the first article in their Ten Level Test-series today, where two MMOs and their first ten levels are pitted against each other to see which one comes out on top. It’s a great idea, similar to something I had planned doing myself for Gamereactor (if any of my editors decided to buy into my idea), and it’s great to see other games than the Big Three (World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online and EVE Online) get some time in the spotlight.

First out is Everquest II and Vanguard, two games I’ve been playing myself. Both are SOE-games and both are from the fantasy genre, so it’s quite fitting to see them go up against each other. The write-up is a great laugh, especially the comments about the Ratonga wizard they create in EQII. Almost makes me want to re-roll, but I still have an aversion against small races because of my gnome in World of Warcraft. I’m quite satisfied with staring at crotches in one game, thank you very much…

Oli Welsh has written down the rules for the whole test in his blog, noting that

Ten Level Test isn’t an infallible test of a game’s quality. That’s what reviews are for. While we firmly believe World of Warcraft is the best MMO out there, its first ten levels could quite easily lose in a fight with LOTRO, Warhammer Online – or even Age of Conan. What’s more, a round could be swung by factors that are completely out of control of the game’s designers and support staff; it will work in a game’s favour if we end up in a great group or make a new friend. And then there’s raw luck; a game’s fate could rest on a roll of the dice, a random loot drop.

which I personally find really exciting. This test isn’t based on reviews, it’s purely based on the writer’s experiences during the first ten levels – like a gonzo new games journalism-kind of thing (if you excuse me using the old NGE-term), applied to MMOs. That approach is great for MMO-reporting, considering that the genre is horrible to write traditional reviews about, something most game journos have noticed when they are suddenly faced with the task.

Vanguard? Bugged? I have no clue what you are talking about.

Vanguard? Bugged? I have no clue what you are talking about.

Upcoming matches are Lineage II vs Final Fantasy XI, Guild Wars vs Dungeon & Dragons Online and Star Wars Galaxies vs City of Heroes. I’m especially psyched about seeing how D&DO stands up to Guild Wars, as I’ve been considering picking it up just to give it a spin. Guild Wars is a good PvP-game, but I never found it immersive enough to start playing it again, even if I still got it installed on my hard drive.

I am looking forward to see how things develop from here. When the first batch of matches are done, the winners will be pitted against each other for level 10 – 20, until a single game remains. I am happy to see that the winner of the first round is Vanguard, which is a really underrated game that never managed to get over the initial bad reputation it got (even though it was well deserved at first, since it was a buggy piece of crap at launch). It almost makes me want to switch over my current EQII-sub to Vanguard…

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