The Tattered Notebook  Final thoughts on SOE Live 2012
If there's one word that perfectly sums up the spirit of SOE Live, it's family. I don't know how, but SOE always manages to deliver a big gaming event and make it feel like a casual, intimate get-together at the same time. The picture above epitomizes that, and I'll explain the story behind it below.

There was a lot to cover this time around, and I would argue that this year's convention included more titles than ever before and brought more game news than it ever has. It was a hectic pace, but we all survived in one piece. Well, actually, there was that one guy at the pool (a Ranger), but he turned out to be OK too. You've probably seen the many articles that MJ Guthrie and I put together over the past few days, but I'd like to use this week's column to do one final wrap-up of things that weren't covered but deserve a look. Read on for my final wrap-up of a very busy SOE Live.

A return to roots

I definitely left SOE Live with the impression that both EverQuest and EverQuest II will see a renewed focus on content and features that are more familiar to fans. Both games, but EQII in particular, have seen a recent shift toward more innovative gameplay, but the team now realizes that what longtime fans really want is traditional, quality content for soloers and raiders alike. The EQ franchise has been struggling to define itself over the past two years, but I think what SOE has decided is that it needs to go back to its roots and cater to the longtime players who have loyally stuck with EQ and EQII for the past several years.

Business model growing pains

The other big takeaway for me is that SOE is still trying to figure out its business model. Free-to-play is not going away, but the team is still trying to figure out what to monetize, how to monetize it, and what the price points should be. The trimming down of Marketplace inventory is probably a welcome change to many, but will players be willing to sacrifice a little immersion with the inclusion of microtransactions right into the UI? What's the effect of having clickable purchases for things like rezzes built right into the rez window? Will it evoke feelings of a pay-to-win scenario? Or is it a small price to pay for a free game, especially if it's possibly moving away from the expansion model and toward free content updates, something we looked at here not long ago?

Krono

My only reaction to the announcement of the Krono is that it's about darned time!

The Tattered Notebook  Final thoughts on SOE Live 2012
The revenge of emergence

You couldn't turn around without bumping into someone talking about emergent gameplay. I'm excited about that because I want that unpredictability in our games. We actually used to have it in EverQuest, and I'm glad SOE is moving back toward that mindset and away from the handholding and carefully crafted quest-on-rails gameplay that's been a stale staple of recent MMOs.

But we saw a little emergence at the banquet, and it produced some really funny moments. This year, for the first time, SOE set up a poll that allowed the fans to text their votes for the "People's Choice" award at the costume contest. We could see the tallies in real time, and on the big screen we saw the bar graphs set up and ready to go. Before Linda "Brasse" Carlson could even finish explaining the rules, people had already begun sending in texts. So the bars were starting to rise before everyone heard the instructions.

Adding insult to injury, after several minutes, the devs ran into a problem because the letters that each candidate was holding didn't show up on the poll graph, so they had to reset the whole thing. And of course, the instant they did, people had begun texting, and the bar graphs were shooting up while Carlson was trying to explain what was going on. Emergence isn't always pretty, but it sure is entertaining!

ProSiebenSat 1 Panel

Fans who were concerned about the PSS1 deal were probably happy to hear that they have the choice to stick with SOE or make the move to PSS1. What many probably don't know, though, is that those who are running Community Management there are newly hired since the deal took place. I attended the PSS1 panel, and as each one introduced him or herself, it was clear that these were all gamers at heart and had lots of experience with SOE titles. They gave a very upbeat presentation about their plans to market SOE titles in Europe, adding that they're able to put TV advertisements on PSS1 channels and are also working on partnerships to advertise on other European networks. They stressed that development is still in the hands of SOE, and they said that they're in daily contact with the marketing teams back in the States. Overall, I think those that were in attendance walked away with a good impression of the PSS1 team, and I actually wish more could have seen it because I think it would have gone a long way toward repairing the damage from the initial announcement.

The Tattered Notebook  Final thoughts on SOE Live 2012
The last days of fantasy?

Let's face it, these conventions have always been about the EQ franchise. But while the bulk of the attendees were from the two titles, you could feel PlanetSide 2 looming right behind. Next year might still be centered around EQ, especially if we get some concrete information about EQ Next. But I think the franchise will need to share the stage with PlanetSide 2, and there's even a chance that EQ might not be the center of things. Even this year, there was an "Odd Couple" atmosphere at the banquet. What did EQ fans think of "Rum and Cola at the movies?" What did PlanetSide 2 fans think of a Dwarf as an MC? It was an unusual combination, and yet I think it worked well overall.

More than a game

But of all the news, announcements, and fun times, the one moment that stood out for me was while I was judging the costume contest. As the judging was winding down, one of the last entries was Veturika of EverQuest, who was in a wheelchair and assisted by her guildmate. (That's her in the picture above.) She slowly got up, stood before the table, and said that she entered the contest because EverQuest saved her life, and this was her way of saying thanks.

We learned that she was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and given only two to five years to live. The friendships she made through the game and the support she received from players helped her fight the pain and get through some very rough times. She has survived beyond expectation, and wanted to make the trip to SOE Live to meet those friends and guildies she has met through the game. Her guild flew her out so she could finally have that wish granted. When she went up on stage later that evening, she received a standing ovation from the crowd, and it was a truly touching moment. There's a human face in gaming that often gets overlooked, but when you see it, it's an incredibly moving experience.

That moment really sums up my experience with Fan Faire SOE Live in general. I've seen fierce rivals share a beer and a smile. I've seen developers having friendly conversations with the same players who fire off a barrage of criticism toward them on the forums and fansites. For one brief weekend, everyone forgets the in-game animosity and just has a great time.

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 karen@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.
The Road to Mordor: Scratching the surface of Rohan