Join Date: Mar 2003
Large changes coming to EQ 2.
EQ II Producer's Letter
New Beginnings: A Time of Change
It's a great time for EverQuest II. I'll apologize for the length of this letter ahead of time -- when you're excited about your game and this proud of the teams working on it, it can be hard to stop talking about all the great things that are going on, especially when there are so many things.
For starters, let me introduce myself. I'm Scott Hartsman the Senior Producer for EverQuest II.
Those of you who followed the game through its development (or saw the trailers at Regal theaters) would probably have been expecting another name to be next to that title. One of the new beginnings for this year is that our own John Blakely has moved on to being the Director of Development for our little studio here at SOE San Diego, where he still gets to watch out for his baby, and also make sure we're able to concentrate on the part we love the most -- making a great game.
If you'll indulge me for one short paragraph more, I think I speak for everyone here when I say that we're glad he's still a part of EverQuest II. I hope to be able to live up to the incredibly high standards he's set for what a producer of a game is supposed to be. With this team, and this game, at this time, I definitely feel like I'm the most fortunate guy around. From all of us -- thank you.
All right, enough waxing sentimental. Let's get back to the game.
In this first installment, I'll be talking about some radical changes in store for those who primarily solo and play in small groups; how your feedback is important to us, some of what we've already done to the game since launch; and a few of the other changes in store for the game. And I'll answer a couple questions regarding our live game updates and how they relate to our new Adventure Packs.
Making Yourself Heard
When you're playing a game along with a few hundred thousand other people and you have something to say or a problem to report, it's really frustrating to think that you're not being heard. It's even more frustrating when it feels like no one cares to listen in the first place. We've all been there. It's our responsibility to make sure we don't give you that impression. We're a little outnumbered, but we absolutely do care about what you think and what you have to say. I'd like to take a few minutes to explain all of the methods we've set up to ensure that your feedback arrives at the ears of those making the game.
Every few weeks, we will release a major game update, gather up what people think, determine shortcomings and address problems; then we'll start the cycle over again. That's a feedback loop. This was a great tool that we used throughout beta, and it continues to be one of the most important things to us now that we're live. When reactions, observations, and comments make their way back to us (combined with our own observations), a better game will result for everyone.
Early in beta, this was pretty easy for us (and we had a lot of fun with it, too). There were one or two servers for quite a bit of the time, and many of us on the beta boards knew each other by name. Since launching and growing to 30 servers housing hundreds of thousands of characters in different places across the globe, we've had to adapt to this huge onrush of people by necessity. The underlying goal is still the same: "You have something to say that we need to hear."
There are five main ways that your feedback makes its way back to us.
Daily Community Reports. Every day, the community team for both the US and International servers gathers up the hottest issues from all of the forums. It's not uncommon for the biggest issues to result in special broadcast emails to the entire team to ensure that the hot issues are addressed as quickly as we can.
Daily Customer Service Reports and Weekly Live Meetings. Every day, in-game petitions are tallied up. The most common problems and the newest problems are sent over to the development team. Every week, the issues that remain unresolved are gone over in our weekly live meetings. Your interactions with GMs via petitions do make their way back to us, even if there may not be an instant solution to a specific problem.
Test Server Update Threads. Beginning this past week, every time we update Test Server (which will become more frequent), we will post the release notes to the Test Server Forums and start a feedback thread to ensure that everything we said we fixed is actually fixed, and that we don't break anything else in the process. Look for this to be an important tool in evaluating test server updates now and in the future. Our public Test Server is small, but it's growing. And it's importance to us that it will only grow over time.
In-Game /bug and /feedback Reports. These continue to be invaluable. We have an entire QA staff dedicated to evaluating these and ensuring that your reports are verified, and entered into our project tracking system for us to follow up on.
Playing and Participating. We play our own game and participate in the forums as often as we can. One would hope this is obvious, but I'll list it for completeness' sake. There's no substitute for first-hand knowledge and talking with others who play to ensure that the game remains fun.
To sum up: if we open a means of communication, it's our responsibility to ensure that we close the feedback loop by making sure that we use that information and let you know exactly how that information gets to us.
This is how issues in the live game get addressed. Information that you supply down these five avenues of feedback comes back to us. Week by week, you've been helping make EQ2 a better game whether you knew it or not.
Big Groups, Small Groups, and the Group of One.
With the help of your feedback starting from beta and through launch, we like to think that we've created an extremely solid, fun, and rewarding gameplay experience for balanced groups. That's no easy task, but we're aiming higher. There's no reason that an online game like EverQuest II can't be just as much fun for those who prefer to play solo or in small groups, and it doesn't have to be done at the detriment of the group experience.
Playing a game with a small group of close friends that you bring with you, or being the solitary and introspective soul who just walks the earth (Like Kane…from Kung Fu) in an online world around other people, are both types of gameplay that are just as valid as the traditional forms of grouping and raiding. Those forms are more important than they've ever been in this era of past-generation hardcore gamers. People who just don't have the time they used to, but still want a rewarding game experience in the time that they do have.
This generation of gamers is very different from those that have gone before. Many people out there (quite a few of us included) just don't have the large blocks of uninterrupted time that we used to. We still want to be able to come online, have fun, be challenged, and be rewarded for our efforts. Soloists and those who prefer small groups should never have to feel like they're the ones getting the proverbial table scraps, as it were.
EverQuest II is a big game that takes place in a big world. It's big enough to support this diverse set of playstyles in fun and satisfying ways. It's on us to make sure that happens. Grouping should be something that there's a high incentive to do. Choosing to not group shouldn't ever feel like punishment.
That's an easy enough thing to say, and talk is cheap. (Typing promises on a web page on the internet is, arguably, cheaper.) Here's what we've done already, and what's going to be going on to get us closer to the goal.
What's the Plan?
Since launch, we've added dozens of new quests and hundreds of new NPCs all over the world, aimed at providing soloists and small groups with more interesting things out there to do. The overall goal has been to reduce the time it takes to find something enjoyable to do if you're in a less than ideal group. Expect the steady stream of additions like this to continue over the coming weeks and months. Whether you have a half hour by yourself or all night in a group, we want to make sure that EQ2 has something fun for you to do.
In an update scheduled for tomorrow, expect significant solo and small group experience boosts across the board that allow for advancement that feels much more visible and satisfying. In the following weeks' updates, there will be new classes of creatures added to the game that present an increased challenge to soloers and small groups. Specific details will be posted in the notes accompanying the updates. Soloing shouldn't feel like a grind; it should be an exciting and fun style of play in its own right.
In those same updates, brand new item rewards will be added for soloists and small-groupers. Some of the rewards that have been reserved solely for groups will also make their way, though more rarely, to the solo and small group encounters in the world. At the same time, expect group rewards to improve as well. The chances for some of the group-only ultra-rare drops will be increased.
In the weeks following that, expect new dungeon instances to be made available for those who solo, duo, and trio. Exciting dungeon crawling is a core part of what people love the most about online games, and it shouldn't be reserved solely for those who choose to play in full groups.
Essentially, the way it should work is like this:
Soloing and small grouping should be a way to advance at a satisfying rate. You should be able to earn good rewards that are exciting in their own right. Soloing and small grouping should also provide a chance at the great rewards that people might not expect in anything except the traditional six-person group.
Grouping will still provide the fastest overall experience gain, but the advantage won't be as drastic as it is today. Grouping will also provide better chances at the spectacular ultra-rare rewards. This isn't a knee jerk reaction: After our designers measured what's been going on in the world, it is far from over-stuffed with ultra-rare rewards. There are actually fewer out there than we'd have expected, so making them appear somewhat more frequently than they currently are is just the right thing to do.
You Mentioned New Instances. Is That the Adventure Pack?
One natural question that occurs to people when we talk about making these kinds of changes to the game, especially when we start talking about new places to adventure, is that they assume we're talking about doing this for just the EQ2 Adventure Packs. That won't be the case. These instances will be available to everyone as a part of the live game, just like the others we've introduced for everyone over the past month.
Answering that question provides a good opportunity to take a minute to talk about the live game in general. One question that's come up repeatedly in feedback is how the Adventure Packs will affect the live game of EverQuest II, and concerns that we'll be focusing less on the live game in favor of doing these packs. As Smed's already posted out on the boards, that's not the case.
The Adventure Packs were an idea that our team proposed as a way to add places to see and things to do above and beyond the standard live game. One condition of this proposal was that we would receive additional team members so that we explicitly wouldn't have to dip into the EQ2 live or expansion teams to work on them, which was granted to us. The EverQuest II live game is our team's lifeblood, and everyone up the line is in complete agreement on that.
Adventure Packs (and eventually Expansions) are cool additions to the world and its game systems. It is in no one's best interest -- yours, ours, or the game's -- to add premium elements without paying proper attention to the heart of the game.
Speaking as a gamer, I like this approach because I play a lot of different online games and I prefer those that are well maintained, where the team responds as quickly as they can to problems and concerns in the world; where I get the feeling they're taking their live game as seriously as I am. Speaking as a developer and producer of online games, it just makes sense to keep your customers satisfied in the long term.
When the heart of the game is cared for properly, everyone wins.
We get it.
What else has been going on?
In addition to the changes I talked about above, you can also expect the next weeks' updates to include other new and interesting things in the world and changes to the game systems. Our goal with live updates is to make sure there's always something new to see or try, every week or two, in addition to sending forth a steady stream of fixes to the things that bother you the most (as we've been doing sometimes daily). We want to make sure you can plainly see that we're committed to keeping EQ2 as fresh as possible.
We've already introduced our first free instances aimed at level 25-30 characters, The Condemned Catacomb and Gobblerock's Hideout. These instances are available to everyone who subscribes to EverQuest II, with no additional downloads.
If you haven't been keeping up with the weekly updates to our official website (such as the article describing Guild Advancement), they're a great way to gain a deeper understanding of some of the things in the game that not everyone may be readily familiar with.
We'll also soon be adding the ability to name your house pets, and will be following up on our commitment regarding Vitality in EverQuest II by adding easy to understand UI elements that will show you more clearly when it is that you're earning this bonus experience.
Also coming up in the next few weeks will be a limited time offer to transfer your character to our new Test Server. For those who have played on Test Servers in other games and prefer both the more dynamic environment and being able to comment on and contribute to game changes in the weeks before they hit the rest of the live servers, we'll be offering you the chance to move over and come play on the more wild frontier of EverQuest II. We'll make sure to let you know on the boards when the time gets closer.
Thank you very much for continuing to give our team the opportunity to prove our dedication to you. As always, without you, EverQuest II wouldn't even exist.
Feel free to add your comments regarding this letter to the discussion thread on the official forums. I can't promise that all comments will be addressed, but as always, we're interested in hearing what you think.
Scott Hartsman (aka Gallenite)
Senior Producer, EverQuest II
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