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Norrathian Notebook: What EQN Landmark's business plan says about you

MJ Guthrie

As surely expected by all involved, EverQuest Next Landmark's proposed business plan ruffled a few feathers. After all, it's a given that you can't please everyone. And also just as expected, some folks are crying foul; you can't have SOE say boo without someone screaming doom and gloom. But has the studio laid a big goose egg with this monetization plan? I say nope. It may appear a little scrambled in an aspect or two, but the majority of it seems to sit pretty well with players.

In a nutshell, the strategy as currently outlined focuses on selling cosmetic items like outfits and pets, shortcuts (like potions, paying upkeep, and renting market space at the hubs), additional claim flags, claim music/sound packs, and raw materials. We know what the actual plan itself says because it was posted front and center on EQN Landmark's alpha forums, which are viewable by the public. But instead of dissecting what the plan is, today I'll focus is on what it says. It's more than just the sum of its words; the plan says something about SOE. And did you know the plan also says something about you?

Your first thought right now may be, "How can a business strategy of an MMO say something about me personally?" In order to delve into the answer, I need to first define you. For this discussion, I am going to separate you into various categories -- SOE, alpha players, etc. -- that have a common denominator. You might see yourself in one (or more) of these groups, but they are not all-encompassing.

If you are SOE

The plan definitely says a few things about Sony Online Entertainment. And for the record, it's pretty positive. For one, it speaks volumes about keeping your word. CEO John Smedley was the first to proclaim that the development process would be open when he first introduced EQ Next at SOE Live, and that goal has been reiterated on numerous occasions. After the fiasco involving the initial changes to the All Access subscription benefits, Smedley made it clear that his goal was to make sure that the studio made the reasoning behind its decisions clear. When Director of Development Dave Georgeson laid out the business strategy last week, he also included the why behind the ideas, fulfilling that promise.

Even more than that, presenting the proposed plan to players and requesting feedback reaffirms that the studio meant what it said when declaring that not only would players be kept in the loop of the development process but that their feedback would also help determine its direction. We saw that SOE listened when the All Access plan was revamped, and we can see that SOE is actively listening this time; Georgeson remained active in the business plan thread answering questions. That's not to say that what players want will be what players always get (since there's often so much disagreement!), but players know they are being heard. A very nice touch was adding links to Georgeson's replies to original post for easy access.

This is especially good because there are still plenty of folks who are gun-shy with MMOs -- and SOE in particular -- folks who need a reason to trust the words of devs again. It's understandable; I was right there through various MMO missteps that seriously affected my gameplay (the CU and NGE in Star Wars Galaxies quickly come to mind). I can totally relate to once bitten twice shy. Players have been burned plenty of times by the industry as a whole, which is what makes SOE's sticking to its word so important. Losing trust is easy, but gaining it back is hard. This presentation of this plan is just another step on that road to redemption, one that players do appreciate.

Are there still questions to be answered? Yes. Definitely. We don't know what the All Access pass will include for Landmark. (The sooner we get that information, the better.) And some players are still leery of the idea of selling resources; we've read the reasoning, but we can't really see how the implementation will actually affect the favored pastime of gathering and selling resources in game. If it does destroy the viability of this in-game economic activity as feared, will SOE remove it? At this point, because of its actions leading up to this, I am willing to believe the studio will listen and consider it. Will anything be changed about the plan as it stands now? That remains to be seen. But the studio is attempting to address concerns through communication. An example: Thanks to this keeping an eye on feedback, we know that there will be a limit to how many claims can be purchased in the store.

If you are an alpha player

Wondering how the plan can say anything about the players? Easy -- it's all in the reaction. And there certainly has been reaction to the announcement, though not necessarily what you might have expected. Here's an example: A non-alpha player made the observation that discussion on the forums about the proposal was probably the most civilized he'd ever seen from an MMO community. Did you know MMO players could hold civil discourse, even when they disagree with something? I'd wager that many wouldn't believe it unless they saw it. Well, you can see it! And it's these actions that speak louder than the words themselves, trumpeting that alpha players are a decent lot.

The fact that only alpha players can write in those forums allows us to get a feel for this community that is passionate enough about the game (and has the means) to jump into alpha. Here we have a forum where players are expressing their opinions, but by-and-large in a constructive way. People aren't mindless fanboy sheep, rather folks expressing concerns in a clear and well-thought out manner.

Forget the fact that by engaging in a civil discussion we are definitely more likely to have our voices heard (a concept these alpha testers understand), but it's a testament that gaming communities are not just the the negative stereotype we hear about -- and ourselves often believe -- so much of the time. So kudos to you! I am happy to know that there are folks like you going in the game; you make a community that I'm proud to be a part of!

If you are anti-F2P

I can relate to this group as I prefer to subscribe to my games rather than have pay walls to content, so hearing "free-to-play" is pretty much an automatic check in the con column when I'm tallying up my interest in a new game. I'm definitely not one to spend in a store, either (which puts me in the majority, according to Georgeson). That actually drops me into the first of the two factions of anti-F2P discussed here.

When Landmark's business strategy was revealed, what resounded from this first faction was good old-fashioned skepticism. With so many bad business models out there, you skeptics are leery that this one would be detrimental to the in-game economy, would promote pay-to-win, etc. You are against how free-to-play is implemented in the majority of games, and you are definitely against being nickel-and-dimed. You are not a group to be easily won over, as so few games have done a F2P model right. Will SOE get it right? This group will have to see it to actually believe it, but folks will entertain the possibility that it can be done.

Through their comments and sharing their concerns, this first faction of anti-F2P have left the door open to be proven wrong in their anti-F2P-for-Landmark ways. It just won't be easy! Perhaps when Georgeson's remarks about building a community, building a game that last decades, and aiming for a few purchases occasionally from players to "keep the lights on" come to fruition, this group will become believers. You get that the company is trying to do something different, so you will wait and see if it succeeds. Of course, if the payment model doesn't deliver, then credibility goes out the window.

On the other hand, the second faction consisting of rabid anti-F2P folks are against the practice in any way, shape, and form no matter what. This group will be discussed below.

If you have a vendetta against SOE/F2P

Now we come to folks who obviously aren't in the alpha and don't even have any interest in the game, but someone/thing somewhere did them wrong and they have to let everyone know by lambasting anything and everything about the game. This is the lot of folks who have an insatiable hatred of SOE, F2P, MMOs, or something else entirely who come into threads and spew their vitriol all over everyone and everything just because. This plan says something about you as well: It says you are a cranky child who has stayed up way past your bedtime. We hear loud and clear that you can't be bothered with rational thought or pesky little things like civility. Believe it or not, you can be passionate and argue passionately against a game's mechanics without being a jerk. Instead, all you're doing is making yourselves look bad and SOE look better.

Don't be that guy. This is a game that's being built brick by brick on player input. Join the discussion, not the flamewar, and maybe you'll actually make a difference.

The EverQuest realm is so big that sometimes MJ Guthrie gets lost in it all! Join her as she explores the franchise's nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running biweekly on Thursdays, the Norrathian Notebook is your resource for all things EverQuest Next and EverQuest II. And keep an eye out for MJ's Massively TV adventures!

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