One thing that immediately catches the eye is the number of tournaments and the large sums of cash that are being awarded. Competitions have been a regularly featured part of Fan Faire in the past, but the stakes are much higher this year than before. There's over $30,000 in prize money being awarded, and there are both live events and in-game tournaments on the docket. The biggest pot is from the PlanetSide 2's Auraxis Showdown; the first-place winner will receive $5,000, and there's a total prize sum of over $10,000 for the top finishers. The fact that PS2 has the biggest cash prize is notable because there's a growing number of MMO titles that are focused on the e-sports side of gaming, and PS2 is tailor-made for that. In any event, it's nice to see that some players will essentially have their trip paid for them and still have some walking around money after the fact!
A three-part keynote?
SOE Live is going to be so awesome that it needs not one, not two, but three keynotes to address all of the awesomeness that's going on at SOE. That should mean plenty of time to tell us all about EQNext, and if we don't get some details at the convention, I'm going to start plucking wings off the fae until we do!
Vanguard is a game that's near and dear to me, and I was happy to see it featured on the schedule. In the past, it's been disheartening for Vanguard players who traveled to Fan Faire to not hear a word about the state of their game. But the game's now free-to-play, and we've seen posts about some nice changes in the works. As I read the description of the SOE Live presentation of Vanguard, I looked through the list of developers who were going to be on the panel. I was looking for Brad McQuaid (didn't see him) but was shocked to see the name Steve Danuser on the list! EQ and EQII fans will remember Steve "Moorgard" Danuser; the last we heard of him, he was struggling with the difficult crumbling of 38 Studios. Could it be that he's returned to SOE to work on Vanguard?
Vegas doesn't exactly seem like the best choice for a kid-friendly event, but I'm glad that SOE is devoting some of its convention space to its younger audience. Other games are beginning to host kid-friendly events (Roblox and Minecraft come to mind), and it's nice to see studios getting past the fear of the internet bogeyman to let kids have a chance to celebrate their favorite games. Now if only a studio did something on the East Coast for a change, I'd be thrilled!
Taking off the tinfoil hats
There are a few panels that I'm looking forward to not because they involve glitzy game announcements but because they address some of the longstanding concerns and complaints from fans. The panels on Customer Service and Legalese, for example, will hopefully give players a chance to see what it's like on the other side of the fence. And the EQ franchise panel aims to shed some light on how things have fared under the new free-to-play model. I don't think SOE fans will necessarily let the devs off the hook, and I expect some tough questions about both areas, but I'm looking forward to it because I think discussion about these areas goes a lot better when it's not done on a forum.
I'm excited that SOE is letting fans volunteer to host their own panels, and I can't wait to see what my fellow players come up with. There are two panels so far that stand out for me: Dellmon from EQ2Talk is hosting one on podcasting, while Dethdlr and Feldon of EQ2Wire are leading a presentation on the data crunching behind the popular EQ2U site. Both are great guys and longtime players, so they'll bring insightful commentary to the convention for sure. The only thing I haven't figured out is how Feldon is going to liveblog his own panel!
Usually there are lots of fireworks at the EQII panels, but I think the PSS1 panel will win out this year for most contentious. There are still lingering feelings of resentment over the deal, and I'm not sure 100 panels will fix that.
Not on the schedule
What's missing? I was hoping to see a panel on Wizardry Online and maybe even Bullet Run. Granted, these are not the biggest titles in the SOE lineup, but there are a lot of Wizardry fans out there, I'm sure, and I'm curious to see how the game is shaping up. Similarly, I'd like to see what SOE has done with Bullet Run. Hopefully, it'll showcase these two titles on the convention floor with some demos and walkthroughs even though there isn't a panel devoted to them.
SOE Live should be a lot of fun as usual (although I'll be proudly sporting my Fan Faire Forever t-shirt!), and along with the highlights mentioned above, there are some nice activities like Laser Tag, the pool party, and PS2 Boot camp (rawr!). Massively's MJ Guthrie and I will both be there to cover as much as we can, so if you have anything in particular you want us to check out, let us know!
From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to firstname.lastname@example.org.