SOE Live 2012: Dave Georgeson on the business side of the EQ franchise

SOE Live 2012  Dave Georgeson pulls back the curtain on the business side of the EQ franchise
There were many terrific panels this year at SOE Live, and as usual, there's a very good dialogue between the players and the developers on a variety of issues. Among them was one that looked at the EverQuest franchise from a different perspective than usual. Instead of discussing expansions, class balance, game mechanics, or itemization, it addressed the business model behind the games. Over the past two years, both EQ and EQII have seen enormous changes, but even if you go further back, you'll see a dramatic transition away from the traditional subscription model.

Dave Georgeson, Director of the EverQuest franchise, gave a talk that shed some new light on the philosophy behind some of the changes. In addition, he outlined some upcoming changes to the SOE update cycle, marketplace, and other areas of monetization. We've got all the details below, and some of the changes are not at all what you'd expect!

Georgeson began by diving into some of the data related to EQ and EQII's marketplace. While the devs can't give exact numbers, they did reveal percentages that show what's most popular in each game. In EverQuest, players tend to buy Hero's Forge items and large bags the most, while in EverQuest II, the top categories are appearance items and prestige housing. He also explained the philosophy behind the current free-to-play membership plan, saying that it puts the burden on the developers to make quality content and entertaining gameplay. Instead of the "pay to hope" model behind subscription plans, SOE is going with the idea that players will vote with their wallets and that if SOE creates great content with variety of options, players will be willing to pay for it and stick around longer as well.

Prom dress syndrome

However, Georgeson admits that the current model isn't perfect. The first problem is with appearance items, which are often nicer-looking than in-game gear, and that shouldn't be the case. On top of that, he points to what he calls the "prom dress" syndrome. Players buy an outfit they like, but as soon as they see others wearing it, they're less likely to continue to use it. There's a lack of an emotional connection, and often, these purchases are temporary.

To fix this, SOE wants to move many appearance items off the Marketplace and instead turn them into recipes, so tradeskillers will be able to craft them. In addition, the team hopes to make a new section of the Marketplace in order to feature those crafted appearance items. When players click on an item, it will direct them to the broker, and they can purchase it from tradeskillers there.

Splitting resources

The second issue is the lingering concern among players that any developer time spent on creating Marketplace items is time lost on making the actual game. Georgeson agrees that resources need to be spent on the game, rather than split between it and the Marketplace. The above solution should actually address this as well because the team is able to focus on creating loot and tradeskill items and aren't forced to design specific items just for the marketplace. Georgeson added that Player Studio will also help with that as players will contribute lots of new items that are available for purchase. In other words, the team will have to fill only two buckets instead of three.

SOE Live 2012  Dave Georgeson pulls back the curtain on the business side of the EQ franchise
Point of need items

The third problem is that many useful items get lost in the Marketplace because of the sheer volume of inventory for sale. Players might not always see things like health potions, rez scrolls, or port clickies because they're hidden behind things like vanity gear, housing items, and mounts. In addition, it's a hassle to be out adventuring and have to interrupt that to open a marketplace window, search for a utility item, and then retrieve it.

Georgeson's solution is what he calls "point of need," and what he proposes is to take these items off of the Marketplace and move them right into the interface. For example, if a player dies and clicks "revive," she'll still have the same choices of revive locations, but she'll also have a small icon at the bottom of her screen to allow her to pay a small transaction and revive where she died. This allows for one-click purchasing and less clutter in the Marketplace.

A side benefit of putting these point of need items into the interface is that it reduces their overall price and makes them true microtransactions. He recalls that SOE priced the first mount very high because of the price point of the sparkle pony in World of Warcraft. (He jokingly added that this shows how copying WoW is always a mistake.) By working utility items right into the interface, devs can drop the price down to pennies rather than dollars, so the price of a rez is 25 Station Cash instead of 150. The goal is to get the gane more in line with arcade pricing so that because it's easier to find, more people will use it.

The last expansion (maybe)

Next, Georgeson talked about expansions vs. regular updates. SOE has been trying to get away from doing large expansions and instead move toward smaller and more regular game updates. The problem was that over the past year, the team has been working hard on shoring up the core of the game, like revamping the PvP system tuning the Dungeon Maker. The devs can't charge for those, so they had to turn to an expansion as their revenue source this year. That means Chains of Eternity should be the last official expansion pack. Players will still get new content, but it will be as part of free game updates, and it will arrive on a more regular schedule than the yearly expansion cycle. In short, the goal is to give the content away for free and let you pay for the entertainment you get from playing.

Lastly, Georgeson explained how the Krono fits into the newly revamped business model. This new currency allows coin-poor players to instantly make purchases on the broker, which helps tradeskillers as a side benefit. It also allows for more flexible membership options, since each Krono is 30 days of gold-membership game time. It's a fair replacement to using Station Cash for subscriptions, something that was recently removed (Georgeson explained that SOE was losing its shirt over the practice). Lastly, the Krono undermines the gold farmers, which is always a nice benefit.

Overall, there are a lot of changes planned for the EQ franchise, but Georgeson stresses that everything is still tentative as the team continues to look at what will work and what won't. Either way, the panel was a refreshing look at the business side of SOE, and it'll be interesting to see how things evolve down the road for EverQuest.

What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas, at least where SOE Live is concerned! Massively sent intrepid reporters MJ Guthrie and Karen Bryan to this year's SOE Live, from which they'll be transmitting all the best fan news on PlanetSide 2, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, and the other MMOs on SOE's roster.
This article was originally published on Massively.