Sunday, February 13, 2005

The "Man" er Bitch.. Cries Wolf: John Smedley's, Dear Diary

"Oh Noez! Smed's royalties down for the first time in 4 years, penis envy of Rob Pardo and forget about the Christmas bonus this year! A jab at Brad McQuaid and much, much more." Check it out if you haven't, if you have all ready, keep on reading for my take on it all. And maybe, just maybe Smed might read this and actually get an unbiased opinion from someone that doesn't kiss his ass and tells it like it really is.

Instead of trying to be cool like a lot of the other bloggers and posting this early like it's breaking emergency news, being the true candy-ass that I am, I waited and actually read through almost 20 odd some pages of replies from the man's people, which I didn't learn any revolutinary ideas from, but it was nice to actually get an overall response on the feedback, which I will discuss towards the end as sort of post wrap-up and save you the time, the pain, and the tears of having to read it all for yourself.

First, I want to respond to a few things in the letter directly. If you don't want to read the tirade, even though it's a doozie, than skip below.

"Certainly some of those expansions were better than others, but I think our goal has always been the same… to entertain our players."

What's your personal goal Smedley? For fuck-sakes, if you really think your goal is to really entertain your playerbase, in a meaningful manner, you should step the fuck down. I would have to say a lot of the shit you put out is piss-poor entertainment. (this is a knock on the coporate dipshits that rush the development teams). You have
had your chance, time to retire and move on and let someone else have the reigns. You really don't deserve the right to be speaking for the real developers that work on these worlds, President of SOE or not.

"With the launch of EverQuest II, our goal was to refine EverQuest… to distill the things that made EverQuest great, but also to add its own flavor and gameplay style. I think it's fair to say we also needed to aim for a more casual gamer… and make the game appeal to people that may not have the same amount of time they had when EverQuest first came out. As a company we needed to also appeal to a wider base of people."

Refine Everquest, well you pretty much fuckin failed. You ruined the Everquest IP, level design is shit, the lore is shit, the game mechanics are shit, the itemization is shit, the whole game is pretty much shit. Fuck, give me a 25 million dollar budget, same time frame and all those development resources and I could of put out a much better product based on the Everquest IP using the same god damn game mechanics.

You wanted refinement and polish? No wonder your busy playing WoW. EQ2 is far from refined and it's your own fault for releasing early instead of having a longer beta process where that fuckin thing called refinement happens. Karma, mother fucker, you reap what you sow and YOU even fuckin knew how polished WoW was and what you would be going up against. Can you really be that surprised? You didn't even utilize a playerbase you could of trusted early-on as testers, the Everquest Guide Program. Bad move.

"Over the years, we've learned a lot. The biggest thing we've learned is that our players care very much about everything we do and the changes we make to their world. I can also assure you that our game teams really do care about the changes they make. Remember... YOU, our players, write our paychecks.

We've certainly made our share of mistakes over the years… but overall, we've tried to stay true to our primary goal of entertaining you.

That's our job description."

Once again we have more bullshit, I'm sorry cries and sucking up to the playerbase. You probably have 800,000 prior SOE customers that are jaded and never want to touch another SOE product again. I wouldn't be surprised if you had some jaded developers that don't like working for you, but do anyway so they can keep on making a living, Good job.

"Now what's been interesting from our perspective is what really serious competition is doing to the online gaming space. World of Warcraft has come on the scene and is doing awesome. Kudos to Blizzard on what I think is a spectacular game. I've played the heck out of it, and I love it (as have many people here at SOE). To a game developer, having another game developer play your game is the ultimate compliment… so to the folks at Blizzard we say "Nicely done".

But don't think for a second that we don't see WoW as both a great game AND Blizzard as serious competition.

Personally… I'm glad they are out there. They keep us honest. They keep us focused and they force us to play with our 'A' game. They've certainly opened some eyes in our company to styles of gameplay that are different than we would have come up with inside SOE. We need to be about larger scale mass-entertainment… because that's what online gaming is slowly becoming. Our games just need to be fun… and easy to get into.

In the United States there are around 2 Million paying online gamers (this is after WoW btw). That's up from 250,000 back before EverQuest was released... and I'm only counting the MMO's.. if you start to add in the Pogo's of the world we're probably talking about 3-4 Million online gamers... and I have no idea what scary numbers some of these online poker places are bringing in.

What this means is that making future online games is a big business that is going to be increasingly competitive. I think that's good for you, and good for us. It's going to insure great games get made… and I can tell you we're in this for the long haul."

And here you have it, this is where you show your true bean-counting ways. I really do appreciate it, it takes balls or just total stupidity, now everyone knows what your really all about. You don't care about these games or virtual worlds, you care about the money first. Everquest was a success in the first place because the developers cared about what they were doing and you didn't have them by the balls.

Your developers may still care about the projects they work on, but it's guys like you behind the wheel, that have really lost the true-vision. You're becoming the evil empire of virtual worlds, maybe that gives you a fuckin hardon, but you don't own every damn IP out there and I think WoW is stirring some shit up and it's only the beginning of the end for you Smed. Right now, the only thing really holding your foot in the door is the All-Access-Pass.

Next you will have the king of tolkien-esque virtual worlds entering the market, Vanguard. Better get some shit done on EQ2 fast, otherwise I don't see EQ2 gaining any new subs or resubs for that matter. You think a huge chunk of those players WoW brought into the genre will eventually play one of your games, not that many at all would even consider it because SOE's games are a shitty juxtapose with all the cards laid out on the table. Better hope NCSoft or Turbine doesn't follow in your footsteps and start their own All-In-One subscription plans.

I'll list a few points on why WoW is really beating everyone's ass, it's not revolutionary game ideas either mother fucker.

* They succeeded in doing what you said you were going to with Everquest 2 over a year ago.

* They brought an established fanbase, IP and converted it into the genre. There's no way you can compete with millions of Blizzard fans, if you try and beat them in subs game vs game, I hope you have an established IP that is more popular than the Warcraft universe! Everquest doesn't even come close, although it can be a really good one if used correctly, which it wasn't in it's reincarnation. Ironicially, Vanguard is really going to be the true-Everquest sequel.

* They work better as a team, there development team shows much more passion. This shows throughout the whole game world in the design. Their PUBLIC testing process, lasted for more than a year, which allowed for a lot of that polish. Shit takes time, Smed, you have to bite the bullet when developing these worlds.

"I hope they're also opening up the eyes of other MMO developers that the 'old school' probably won't cut it any more. I'm glad that we went in the direction we did with EQ II because had we stuck with making an even "harder core" game, I think bad things would have happened.

It's only obvious this is directed towards Brad & the vision at Sigil Games. Old-school is over generalized, how do you know hardcore wont cut it any more? Once again, you're judging how good these games are based on retention and subscription numbers. If you want to be ignorant and look at it that way, take a look at FFXI, more hardcore and solo unfriendly than any other game out there in the market and just so happens to be an all around a huge success number wise, and it also has huge pitfalls, especially in regards to the UI and community boundaries, it could be far more successful than what subs it has garnered to this day, while still retaining its hardcore elements.

I can understand now why Brad & company really left SOE, he wants to focus on making a good game--virtual world first and foremost. Whatever playstyles they target, I'm sure they will develop a much better product than SOE has and will be rewarded for that, even if they don't beat WoW in subs and I dobt they will considering they have a niche in the Asian market established all ready. If EQ2 was more casual-friendly, it may be better, because it woud actually be somewhat tolerable, but the game would still be shit and far from refined.

"Where are we going? What are we going to be doing to revolutionize this business? Well let me throw out just a few of the things we're thinking about here at SOE.

What if you could have families in MMO's? Virtual Children… What if your characters could have children and pass on the family name…

What if players could build fantastic dungeons that become part of the worlds we create with tools we give them? How would that work exactly?

I mention these things to be provocative. I want to make sure we're going to take what we do to the next level… and that's going to mean putting some next generation ideas out there and seeing the kinds of things you actually want… but I at least want to start this dialogue and stir the pot a little. We're very interested in your ideas about where things go from here."

First of all, I personally like the fact you're interested in hearing revolutionary ideas from the players. However, this is why you have paid developers and most of all Raph Koster. He's the most qualified person in this industry for designing revolutionary systems and fleshing out ideas.

Your examples do more harm than good, even if provocative, ultimately to the players, they just make you look like you really don't have any fuckin idea of what you're doing and give out a scare-tactic impression more than anything. You can't even get your current games--worlds done the way they should be, how the fuck do you expect to be revolutionary? If you really think that you can lead the way, you should jump in front of a moving bus.

What a lot of your marketing decisions have amounted to is de-evolution. You can't even accomplish evolution, until you show me that you can handle evolution, and not on paper either, than you can focus on some new revolutionary game mechanics and ideas. I'm all for revolution in this genre and innovations, but why jump to step 3 when you can't even get onto step 2, or won't allow your development teams to actually accomplsih step 2 for once?

Revolutionary mechanics and systems in this genre take far more time and refinement than what actual evolution requires. They are new systems, ideas, and concepts that need to be experimented with and combed over before making their niche or foray into the mass-market.

Awhile back, I came up with 10 rules (only) on what I think makes a succesfful mmorpg. The premise is basic common sense from a hardcore player.

1. The vision must stay in focus.

2. A development team that knows how to work in a cohesive environment and function like a well molded clan.

3. There must be meaningful content for all levels of play.

4. All classes need to have a defined role and bring something "benefecial" to all playstyles in the game.

5. Events need to be ran on a regular basis that shape and change the story of the world.

6. Quality of content is far superior than Quantity.

7. Pacing of progression is very important. There must be objectives that players can complete in 1-2-3 hour time frames in solo, group, and raid situations.

8. Developer and playerbase communication -- relations is very integral to the whole process. These worlds are not just games,
they are communities and the leaders need to communicate. EQ2 does do a better job of this than other virtual worlds.

9. Developers must actually play the game on a continual basis. (I mean really play it, not this bull shit of playing every other game out there looking for new ideas or they can't hack playing the game becasue they understand it all ready and feel it's wasting their time).

10. Making money is not the #1 objective. Making a fun game--world is, if this is accomplished the players will gladly open up their pocket-books.

10 is your personal biggest problem.

All right, enough roasting, Smed doesn't even deserve all that vast knowledge. Time for a recap on some of the player feedback. First of all, the one thing that I really noticed about these replies, is that the general impression the EQ2 playerbase is far more mature and intelligent than the wow playerbase.

Some of the most things players want in Everquest 2 or in future mmorpgs.

Dynamics, general dynamics in the game-world, this is a given.

* Specifically, a dynamic weather system is the most required system I saw, nor is it by far a new idea. This would be revolutionary in itself, if implemented correctly.

Top Requested

* More solo content. I'm not really going to debate this, but this was probably first on the list.

* Advanced player housing--cities was probably the second if not first most requested system.

* PvP was top 3 on the list, players want SOME form of PvP in their playing experience.

* The ability to sit in chairs and laydown in beds. This is common sense, even WoW does this. The fact SOE decided not too include this, is basically like having the chance to fuck the prom queen and blowing it because you have to be at home before midnight.

* Character customization, particularly with armor and a variety of items. Lots of complaints on how everyone looks the same and has the same items.

* There were more requests for a game based off some of the systems in UO and SWG. Add those systems in with a general tolkien-fantasy world and you will have a success. However, it looks like Vanguard will be borrowing the premise of some of these systems. SWG's spawning system, advanced trade--harvesting system and some concepts from UO as well. There were not a lot of requests for older EQ concepts and systems.

Honorable Mentions

* Humor, something EQ2 is sorely lacking.

* Level--World Design sucks.

* There were about a dozen requsets for an implementation of built-in voice chat.

* More skills, less levels.

* Improved NPC AI.

* Bazaar system is shit and needs to be changed.

* Classes are far too watered down and not distinct enough.

* Voice-Overs suck and are annoying.

* Players want games within the virtual-world.

* Better lore and storylines.

* Some new type of combat.

* Eliminate real-life cash for items sales. (Unrealistic)

* Bring back massive raids. (Ala EQ1) Amusing, considering all the requests for solo content.

Overall, most of the feedback doesn't even revolve around revolutionary ideas. Just constructive criticism from the players that want SOE to focus on fixing what they have implemented (huge outburst from artisans) and adjust that content accordingly while adding solo content instead of even thinking about "the revolutionary future." I can just see it now, "I can't join the group because I can't find a baby sitter for my son, damn why did I sleep with that barmaid." GG!



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