Resuscitating Gameworlds

So yeah, Sony sucked me back into Everquest; I should change the about page to remove the “recovering addict” part.

In fairness, they did a good job of coming back from a very bad situation.

From an outsider’s point of view, the game was rapidly heading towards collapse: They’d already had to shut down half the servers, and a good portion of the remaining player base was hoping they’d shut down half of the ones they still had running, just to consolidate people a little more.

There’s not a lot of point in a massively multiplayer game where there’s nobody to play with, after all. Everquest has always been designed to strongly discourage solo play – while most classes can do it, to some extent, it’s generally a tedious affair consisting of carefully picking your fights and then suffering significant downtime between the fights, where you get to watch your character sit in one place and not move.

There’s also the problem that items in Everquest are hideously important to your success – the majority of your in-game persona’s power comes from the gear they’re wearing, and the power difference between a character with average gear and a character with top-tier gear is exponential.

Of course, you can’t get better gear by yourself – you need to loot it from enemies who are designed to require more than one player to defeat.

So, to sum up: To get most stuff done, you need other people, or you need to be playing multiple characters, at $15 a month apiece.

Of course, this leads to a perception that, in order to progress, you NEED to have multiple accounts and play multiple characters at once. This tends to make people who can’t afford to go down that path – or who don’t want to – simply quit, which means less people to play with, and so the cycle continues.

There was, of course, a small percentage of the population that swore that nothing was going wrong, that the game was perfectly healthy, that there were plenty of people to play with, and that they were only running six accounts at once because they didn’t want to inconvenience anyone else.

So, in a remarkable display of Getting It, Sony started backing down from some of their long-standing design philosophies. They made it easier for people to solo and they made it much easier to obtain gear – they didn’t hand out top-tier gear, mind you, but they raised the “average” level to the point where a player in average gear was maybe one-fourth as effective as someone in top-tier gear, as opposed to one-tenth as effective. They made leveling faster, so people who were behind the curve had a chance to catch up, and they eliminated a lot of the sitting around that used to exist in the game.

They also unlocked a lot of content that used to require raiding to access. This made a certain percentage of the playerbase – think of them as the grumpy old guys who had to walk uphill both ways to school – complain. So, they unlocked some more just to make their point.

Oh, and then they gave it away for two months, free, to anyone who’d ever played in the past, and made a point of advertising this.

The end result: Lots of people who’d stopped playing years ago logged in to say hello again, and the existing player base realized that, hey, having more people around wasn’t such a bad thing.

The free promotion period ends later this week, so it’s up in the air what the long term effect might be, but it’s just possible that Sony may have given their game a little more time to live.

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