Slapping the Chimp Around - by Julie Whitefeather
Jul 31, 2007 12:02:20

If the Blizzard Corporation is the 800 pound gorilla, a lot of people spend a good deal of time slapping the chimps around. In this particular case the chimp would be the Sony Online Entertainment Corporation (SOE) - if, that is, you can call any multi-national corporation a "Chimp". The attitude seems to start with that such as espoused by Richard Bartle in the Guardian Unlimited. (Mr. Bartle is the author of several books on the gaming industry including "MUD, the first multi-user dungeon".)
"I'd take over World of Warcraft and I'd close it. I just want better virtual worlds. Sacrificing one of the best so its players have to seek out alternatives would be a sure-fire way to ensure that unknown gems got the chance they deserved, and that new games were developed to push back the boundaries." - Richard Bartle
But John Smedly, President of SOE is one chimp that won't be slapped around. SOE seems to have learned the lesson that many in the mmo industry, or at least its critics, have not. Just because a game doesn't have Ron Pardo as its lead designer or the words Blizzard Corporation stamped on the front of the box doesn't mean that it is doomed. Back in undergraduate school I had a theater history professor that pointed out that art is not done for critics. The truth of that gem of wisdom is constantly borne out in the mmo industry.

In other words how much money does an mmo have to make in order to be a success? As Bud Fox said to Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street "How may yachts can you water ski behind?" Even if you dismiss the fact that SOE's products are obviously paying the bills and then some, the work the devs put in to their games shows.

Case in point - Everquest II. The difference between the last time I played EQ and when I logged on this last weekend for the first time in years was like night and day. Yes, admittedly graphics have taken steps by leaps and bounds since the EQ I days. But take away the amazing graphics in the "Echoes of Faydwer" and what do you have left? Just that amazing gameplay. I logged on expecting the worst from my EQ I days. I expected to spend time scrounging for food only to run out in the middle of nowhere; only to be told by the system that I am "starving to death". I expected a game that was so grindy it made the Korean Imports I have played look like a fast ride to the level cap. I was able to look at EQ II through fresh eyes and I was very pleased with what I found. I will admit, that when I went to Freeport for the first time my initial impression was "wow for an evil dictator this guy sure doesn't clean up the place much does he?"

Then I created my first fae character. When started out I encountered a "matron" that talked to me like I was 2 years old. At first it was a bit irritating, then I saw the name of where I was at - the nursery. I completed the initial quests, feeling a bit guilty killing anything called a "shrumbler". I soon realized the days of the grind to the top were long gone. Back in the EQ I days I felt like a beggar on the street trying to get together money for a bit of armor. Not only did the quests give out the armor I needed it looked great. And the gliding? Fae have wings to glide with. Gliding was just fun. No doubt about it. I spent a good deal of time just jumping off high places and gliding to the ground. As I leveled up the quests were more than just about go kill 10 rats (or in this case shrumblers). They told about the lore of the Fae, which was well written. The combat? The combat with my druid was just a blast - literally. Blast someone using a heroic opportunity and you will see what I mean. It felt like I could level a city.

EQ II may not have a seven figure subscriber list, but it still makes money. John Smedly and SOE have literally taken that to the bank. It may be fun for some to engage in a bit of Sony Bashing. However,

John Smedly and his people can still bring an innovative and fun product to the market without even touching the WoW player list. Log on to the latest expansion of Everquest II some time and "Play the Fae" - you will see what I mean.

See you online,

- Julie Whitefeather

Submitted by Brent on Jul 31, 2007 12:02:20 CST (comments: 4)


'WoW made EQ II into the game it is.' by Scott
Submitted on 2007-07-31 13:06:02 CST
I was a closed tester along with select friends and EQ II was a travesty up till its launch with the typical smedly vision of MORE EQ and MORE hardcore (said with the same passion in the forums at the time as he did during Vanguards development). The original EQ players only made it worse by vehemently shouting down any notion of doing away with tired 'hardcore' game elements that had simply weren't a fun part of the experience.

A few very tiny changes were tweaked, added, removed, and before we knew it the game was lauched too soon in our opinion and with the game elements we railed against.

Many of us in the EQ II test were also in the WoW test as well and the difference in pure fun between the two were night and day. Even those that hated WoW's cartoony style couldn't dismiss it was the better of the two. Even Sony's own dev's were playing WoW at the time rather than their own game.

In the end after WoW's runaway success and failing numbers EQ II had to acquiesce and adopt much of what made WoW great and evolve their game to recapture the market as its needs had changed.

So before you give Smedly and SOE too much credit for EQ II you might want to give a nod to WoW for driving them to make a better game.

'Spelling Issues' by Kanthalos
Submitted on 2007-08-01 13:58:59 CST
I think it's worth pointing out that you misspelled both John Smedl(e)y and Ro(b) Pardo's names. I do agree that EQ2 has made leaps and bounds in improving their game, and I'm having a great time with it now.

'thanks all around' by Moorgard
Submitted on 2007-08-03 10:44:12 CST
"So before you give Smedly and SOE too much credit for EQ II you might want to give a nod to WoW for driving them to make a better game."

You should absolutely thank WoW for inspiring the whole MMO industry to make better games. :)

However, Smed can neither be praised or cursed as the sole reason EQ2 was what it was at launch. Even the president of a company can only influence a game he doesn't directly work on so much. Frankly, one of the decisions made before EQ2's launch was "Be different from EQ1, lest you steal away all its players."

So the emphasis was on grouping, on having a different style of combat, on gating content that you had to earn your way to enjoying. In short, locking a lot of the fun of EQ1 away in little boxes that you had to go to a fair amount of effort to open.

Not a great decision for a couple reasons, which WoW's presence emphasized in a big way. First, it became obvious that a lot of people were going to keep loving EQ1 and would stay there no matter what we did on EQ2, so worrying about the elder game dying was nonsense. Second, locking away the fun is dumb. Yes, you want to retain a sense of progression by giving people ever cooler experiences as they advance, but you should let the challenge of the content be what keeps them working toward the fun rather than putting roadblocks in the way.

The changes that Hartsman and the rest of the EQ2 team worked on after launch aren't rocket science. They've been steadily breaking down barriers to the fun and making the game feel more accessible and gratifying. It's a long process because MMOs have so much depth to them, but every live update has made huge strides toward that goal.

But this article is correct: Smed is no chimp. He's honestly one of the smartest guys I've ever met in this industry. Despite Blizzard's dominance, only a fool would count Smed out of the game.

So yes, thank WoW for making EQ2 a better game. But thank EQ1 too, and every MMO that has made its mark on the industry.

'Thanks for the comments' by Julie
Submitted on 2007-08-06 19:08:29 CST
Thank you all for the comments. Yes, I realized the spelling errors after the article was sent. At that point there was no way to correct it. That will change. As to giving WoW credit for their influence on the gaming industry. Not only do I agree with your point. I wrote a series of three articles with that in mind for another web site. Thanks for pointing this out. And thank you especially to Moorgard for such an in depth response.

Still, I stick by what I said about too much SoE bashing. Yes I played EQ1 and I also play EQ2. SoE has changed and much for the better.

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From the desk of Julie Whitefeather


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