EQ2's producer responds to expansion grouping concerns

One of the greatest things about Massively Multiplayer Games is that the dialogue about them isn't a one-way street. With most games, fans wait for the word from on high, and discussion about single-player games tends towards fighting over scraps. With MMOGs, the considered commentary of players make for interesting reading in and of itself. That's the case we find ourselves in today, just a few days after the release of Sony Online Entertainment's Rise of Kunark expansion. Mostly the buzz seems to be positive, but a pair of bloggers have given voice to players feeling a bit put out by the pack's core leveling mechanic: questing. Yesterday Tipa (of the West Karana blog) and Kendricke (currently writing at the Clockwork Gamer site) took issue with the fact that group grinding isn't as profitable as it has been in previous expansions.

Specifically they're raising this objection as it relates to the famed Karnor's Castle, a bastion of EverQuest Live lore and newly revised for SOE's new vision of Kunark. Tipa sums their issue up on her site: "Just doing quests and killing in a risk-free, outdoor zone, beats hunting in a semi-risky dungeon. How is that even possible. Dungeons are supposed to give you superior benefits for the trouble of grouping - better experience, better loot. Somehow that got lost ... When word of this gets around, KC will become a ghost town. People will do the Kylong Plains/Teren's Grasp quest lines, then move to the Fens and just skip Karnor's. SOE, it's not too early to consider tuning this zone. Grouping in KC should be more rewarding than questing outside."

Scott Hartsman, the senior producer of EverQuest 2, took a few minutes today to answer their concerns for us. Read on to see further discussion from the player's POV and Mr. Hartsman's response.

Tipa's concerns continue, in a post wondering about the experience of Beta-testing the game:

Rise of Kunark is a beautiful expansion, but the tuning has problems. Three days in, and I'm stumped as to how the tuning I've seen so far in the Kylong Plains and the Fens of Nathsar was done. In the beta, I saw a lot of soloers, and a lot of people beta-buffing and grouping up for the dungeons. What I didn't see much of, was people playing the game as they would do when the game went live. I've already talked about the problems with Karnor's Castle.

Here's Mr. Hartsman's full response to the the bloggers' initial concerns:

When we decided to make quests pay as well as we did, we wanted to observe it as long as we could, which is why the exp payout rate was in place before the first external tester ever set foot into RoK alpha. It's a pretty big shock for EQ2, having this unprecedented volume of quests in a single release, and as primary levelling content. So far, it seems to have been the right decision to make. We have a bigger jump in concurrency with this release than any previous expansion. As Kunark is a content-heavy expansion, that tells me that the audience as a whole is enjoying the hell out of said content.

Coincidentally, I got a few great IMs from raiders lastnight on the subject, whose guilds pride themselves on being among the first to max level so they can rush straight into raiding. One of them sums it up really well: "This is the first time I haven't had to spend the first weeks of an expansion mindlessly sitting in the same 6x6 room grinding. I'm actually getting to enjoy it. This is fun." Another was more brief: "quest xp = <3"

Comments like that tell me that we've either hit our mark, or we're at least very close to it.

Previously, the best way to level was to stay in the highest-level zones of the previous expansion, and not come up for air. Even the people who do it hate doing it. They're just used to it being "the best way to play." Dungeon experience used to be an amazingly better payoff compared to questing - On the order of 3-10x faster, depending on how good a group was. It remains highly rewarding in terms of getting far better equipment, and there are also more group/dungeon quests in this expansion than previous releases as well. Those pay even better than the solo quests. I think it's an acceptable path to make sure the road to 80 is as fun as it can be, since there's plenty of time at max level for people to come back and do dungeons as long as they like to get better gear.

EverQuest II is not a game about sitting in one place and grinding. You find the activity that defines the core of your game, then you make sure it's the part you polish the most, then you make damn sure it's rewarding. That activity is questing.

The positive reaction to the improved quest xp rate in beta was another reason that we boosted level 20-70 quest experience in the rest of EQ2 along with this release. It's just a far more fun way to play the game. As with any change we make to the game, we'll be observing it over time and adjusting as necessary. If the instances go entirely unused, that would be a good sign that we need to change something. So far, that's not the case. As long as people are in them doing the group quests, and in them again once they've maxxed out (and no longer care about the exp) in order to get the best items like their class armor sets, what we've made is called a "huge winner."

To further clarify thinks, I asked him specifically: "What would you say to the folks who are feeling as though leveling through quest xp disincentives participating in your guild prior to the endgame?"

There's a difference between actual problems, and theoretical problems that people are afraid might happen.

I'd say to read all the way through to the end of their blogs and posts. The part where after talking about what might become a problem, most go on to say things like, "Everyone's having a blast," "best quality expansion ever," and continue to admit that even if dungeon group xp is a problem, it's only one in the extreme short term.

Levelling is a transitory activity. Level 80, on the other hand, lasts a long time. Regardless of whether dungeon xp is tweaked or not, two months from now this entire conversation becomes moot, and people have had a blast in the meanwhile. As for the moment-to-moment participation, "actively grouping with your guild every moment" is only a small subset of activities in the group known as "participating in your guild."

Participating in your guild includes many things that people report that they're doing quite happily - Levelling their guilds, organizing spell upgrades among guildmembers, organizing harvests to make sure their crafters are set, having "priceless" guild chat as people enjoy the expansion as-is, cheering each other's discoveries, and a half dozen others. I don't blame people for being surprised by this. We're coming off of an expansion cycle where we haven't had a level raise in quite some time.

Level 70 lasted forever. Now it's time to move forward.
This article was originally published on Massively.