The Tattered Notebook:  Responding to the Founders Pack fallout
You might have heard about a little piece of EverQuest Next Landmark news about how interested players have the opportunity to purchase Founders Packs. If you haven't (or you missed the resulting maelstrom of responses), the basic gist of it is this: SOE is offering three levels of pre-launch bundles for the upcoming sandbox game, with prices ranging from $19.99 to $99.99. Besides in-game goodies, each pack also adds alpha or beta access to EQN Landmark. Therein lies the rub.

That one little bit of intel set off quite a flurry of comments, from valid concerns to some head-scratching claims. Some folks had questions as to whether these packs have anything to do with EverQuest Next (they do not); there seems to be some overall confusion and misinformation mixed in among legitimate points and vitriol alike, so today I'm going to address some of the concerns that cropped up.

Show me before the money!

Some of the more skeptical folks want to see a product first before laying out any of their cash, and I can totally respect that sentiment. For numerous products in life, I am the same exact way; I appreciate the chance to kick the tires and go for a test drive.

And in regard to Landmark, I have seen the game. I have played it. And even in its "pre-alpha" state, I would drop money right now for the chance to play it again. The Founders Packs offer the opportunity to play a month or more sooner than I otherwise could (and that's assuming I can get into the closed beta from lottery-like sign-ups), and that's totally worth it for me. In fact, I had so much fun in that short session that I would buy into Landmark even if it were a limited-time standalone program that went away after 30 to 60 days, and I'd call it money well-spent. As it is, I know that it is an ongoing MMO, which makes the deal even sweeter.

Not everyone has had that chance, of course. But I think SOE took this into account, purposefully holding off announcing the Founders Packs until after press came and physically played the game precisely so that fans could get a hands-on report of the experience from someone outside the studio.

Some, however, will still insist they need personal experience before playing a game instead of taking the word of someone else who has. That's understandable. But that does bring me to my second thought: How many of the same people who raised a fuss about putting money down on Landmark have bought other games or tossed a few bucks to a Kickstarter before physically playing them first? Have you always gotten some trial time in first, or have you ever just gone on the recommendation of others and purchased a game on the hopes that it will be fun? I dare say most folks fall into the latter category. So why should SOE have to give a guarantee that isn't expected in the rest of the market?

It's vaporware!

Some readers suggested that there is no guarantee that Landmark will be made and that SOE is just mining our wallets, holding up Titan as "proof." There's a slight problem with this logic: There's a huge difference between Blizzard's rumored title and this one. In a nutshell, the existence of Titan has been nothing but speculation built on leaks; contrast that to SOE's world-wide unveiling, complete with plenty of in-game assets and footage to demonstrate development. Yes, the game might not come out -- a meteor could actually destroy the earth before then.

Prices are a rip-off!

As I am a person who is not apt to spend money (even in-game money -- seriously!), the idea of value is an important issue for me. So I listened to the all concerns about this topic, from the thought that the prices are too high to the argument that a free-to-play game shouldn't have any cost associated with it. To that latter concern, here's my question: If the game were labeled buy-to-play, would people be having such a huge belly-aching fit about the packs?

Simple house in EQN LandmarkThink about it: If people knew they'd have to pay once to get the game, then the idea of a pre-order isn't so far-fetched, is it? I don't know about you all, but I had to put money down on pre-ordered games way back in 2004. And with that fee, sometimes I could get the disks and get into beta! In my mind, that's really what these packs are: a pre-order with the opportunity to get in early. And like all pre-orders, it's totally optional; you can do it and be assured a copy of the game (with a few perks) or you can wait. The only difference I see here is that if you prefer to wait, you don't have to spend anything.

As for prices, I think the Settler and Explorer packs are quite on par with the price of a game and a collector's edition, respectively. And any collector's edition gives goodies, often just in-game stuff; this is just a collector's edition for a F2P game. Heck, with the prices I have seen out in the industry lately (remember $199.99 for Marvel Heroes and $120 for MechWarrior Tactics?), the Trailblazer's pack was cheaper than I was actually expecting.

Here's another way to look at the value of the packs. Just think about an entertainment venue -- say, a concert -- that has the following ticket options:
  • Pay up front for not only a good seat at the show but early access that gets you in four hours before the main event to listen to a special pre-concert show.
  • Wait to see whether you are a lucky winner of a lottery that will enable you to catch two hours of the pre-concert show.
  • Wait until the doors open and get in for free for only the main event.
Depending on the band, I might be perfectly content to just be one of those waiting for the raffle, especially if it didn't really matter all that much to me either way. But for a group I really and truly love, I would want to get that seat up front and extra show! And to me, that is exactly what a Founders Pack is. Is it worth it? That's a personal question; for me, Landmark is.

In response to those saying they shouldn't be forced to pay for a free-to-play game, I say this: No one is holding a rabid Kerra to your head and forcing you to spend a single cent. It's optional, meaning you can if you want, or not. But if you end up liking a game, why wouldn't you end up spending some and supporting it -- you know, to ensure its continued development?

Pay to test

Some folks are dubious about the whole "pay to test" philosophy and ascribe that to Landmark. I can see where some of those concerns come from. But I have some information that might help clarify that matter.

Think back to the olden days when an alpha build was bare bones and had a loooong way to go before it was even looking like a game. I was in alphas back then, and they were pretty rough. On that same note, even betas still had plenty of glitches to report and bugs to squash, but they were smoother and gave testers a vision of the upcoming polished game. I've been in those betas too. And I can tell you right now that as of my play time, the state of EQN Landmark is further ahead than both of those. By the time we reach alpha (an industry phrase now more commonly used just to denote "before the actual launch") for Landmark, the game is going to be light years beyond those test stages. I am convinced we won't be alpha testing as it was known in days of yore; we're basically testing server load that used to come more in open beta (and getting a headstart to get to know the tools in the bargain).

Mining in LandmarkYou might ask, why even use the alpha term? During my hands-on, game director Dave Georgeson himself shied away from using the alpha/beta terms. He told me, "The first time people will be able to touch the game publicly will be soon after the beginning of the calendar year." When I asked whether that meant beta, he responded, "We're still debating what it's going to be called... but [it will be] the first time they can get in and play." I think the devs knew this wasn't a typical testing phase, but ultimately the best way to get the message of early admittance across to most people is to use a common term. Just read through the Founders Packs and you'll notice that at no point does it actually say test. That's right. We are not paying to test. Not that paying a fee to test in beta is all that new; been there, done that nearly 10 years ago for Lineage 2.

Paying to make their game

This complaint made me scratch my head a bit, although I chalked it up to some misunderstandings about EverQuest Next and Landmark. First, folks need to realize that Landmark is not just a feature of EQN; it is a game unto itself. And second, everything people build in Landmark is not heading into EQN, not by a long shot! Devs explained that they will hold contests with specific criteria when they are looking for something specific, and if one of those contributions passes muster, it might land in EQN. Players submit creations, but devs have the say over what -- if anything -- is used. And there are plenty of players who would love to see a piece of their work become a part of a game world.

On the flip side, players can be paid for creating in Landmark. Folks who make interesting things can sell the blueprints on Player Studio and actually make some cash. So actually, SOE could be paying you to play its game.

Unfair advantage

Still other gamers are up in arms about founders buying into a mega advantage over others by getting in early, specifically expressing angst that all the best plots of land will be gone before those who opt not to pay can even get in. I'd like to assuage the fears over this one. The post-wipe headstart is only 48 hours, and Landmark will have numerous maps/servers (that players can travel between) in order to provide players plenty of space to explore without having that downtown-urban-congestion feel. As such, there will be lots of land still open for others to get.

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all. Join her as she explores Norrathian nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running every other Saturday, The Tattered Notebook is your resource for all things EQII and EQNext -- and catch MJ every 'EverQuest Two-sday' on Massively TV!

This article was originally published on Massively.