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Norrathian Notebook: Landmark update highlights the power of players

MJ Guthrie

As a long-time gamer, I have to admit: I never expected I'd really see the day. What day is that? The one where a studio says one thing... and does it!

True to SOE's word, the development process for Landmark has been quite open. Between social media, livestreams, and posts, the devs have been very forthcoming about where they are and where they are going, giving players a pretty clear picture of what's going on. But that's only the half of it. What impresses me most about this whole situation is that player input is actually recognized as a valuable commodity, not a nuisance to be brushed aside and ignored. I'm not just referring to the opinions offered during the various Round Table polls either, even though those are a welcome component to the the mix. I'm talking about the fact that players are a driving force behind the direction of Landmark's development. And yesterday's update really brought that fact home.

Not the update you are looking for

As much as I really wanted to revel in the addition of the caves and water that so many are yearning for in today's Norrathian Notebook, it wasn't meant to be. Though understandably disappointing on that level, Landmark's latest update should still be lauded, perhaps more for the message it conveys than for the goodies it actually delivered. The update itself was not particularly large; the patch notes are fairly brief. What players got in game were glass props, craftable colored lights, a compass on the UI, a new tweak mode for building, and a handful of bug fixes. These are all pretty decent things, though certainly not earth-shattering. What is most significant is the message that comes with those changes.

For starters, it's another blatant example of devs listening -- I mean really listening -- to players. While SOE obviously can't take everything that players want and incorporate it into the game (let's face it, not only can what we want be technically impossible, but we can't even agree on what we want!), but it does implement what it can. The glass props and the UI compass are two very obvious examples of acting on the feedback provided by players.

The addition of the colored lights, however, carries an additional message -- one that is even more powerful. When the new light orbs first appeared, only the white ones were available to craft in Landmark and all the colored ones were put into the store for purchase. Players immediately expressed displeasure at this, and in a quick mea culpa, the devs apologized and promised that the other colors would be craftable in game as soon as possible. This update was a delivery on that promise. How many times have you just wished a studio would own up to a mistake and make it right? That just happened. And it's refreshing. This particular instance isn't the only one, either, as those who follow SOE devs on Twitter can attest.

Boldly going where no one thought to before

Those aforementioned additions, while decent in their own right, are just the frosting on the player-influence cake. In my mind, the most significant aspect of this latest patch is the new building tool. What's the big deal about being able to place a template down without the empty spaces? Plenty if you are a builder, but that is actually beside the point. The real point is the fact that the devs have created and implemented a system that is a direct result of player ingenuity!

Players are affecting the game in ways that no one, not even the devs, anticipated. Just listen as Director of Development Dave Georgeson or Producer Terry Michaels speaks about player creativity: On numerous occasions each has emphasized that players have discovered things in game that devs never even thought possible! Microvoxels, zero voxels -- those were all born out of the efforts of players, not the developers. Yes, there are definitely systems and features that the devs have planned and need to work on as well (combat, caves, critters). But the mere fact that resources are being devoted to incorporating player discoveries on a larger scale shows that players really do have a hand in making this game as SOE said they would when announcing the alpha and Founders Packs.

There's a new alpha in town

Since alpha was announced, some have complained (quite vocally) about the whole idea of paying for alpha access. In fact, detractors bemoaned the crumbling of gaming civilization as we know it, warning that this idea is just the first step to complete ruination. You know what, they may be right. And to that I say, hooray!

If the development of gaming as a whole is influenced by how SOE has thus far handled Landmark, then I say that's a good thing. Yes, SOE asked players to put their money where their armchair-developer mouths were. Yes, people were -- and still are -- actually giving the company cash for the privilege to influence the development of the game. How is that working out? I'm thinking pretty darn well! We are only in closed beta, but I am already certain that the game that will be released will be that much better because of the input that players have given from the get-go. It is already better, and the devs haven't even gotten to all of their features yet! Paying for alpha access, if it truly gives prospective players the ability to help shape the game into what they want to play (as opposed to just a money grab), is good for the industry. Players are invested in the game they want and devs get a game that players actually play.

Does that mean SOE is perfect? Heavens no. Mistakes have been made, and they will continue to happen. But by being open and keeping players updated, taking responsibility for actions, and empowering players to really influence the path of their game, the studio is earning back some of the trust that was lost in parts of the gaming community. Maybe this alpha model isn't for every kind of game. In fact, it may not work well for anything other than a sandbox where players literally control most of the content. But just as SOE has redefined alpha and beta here, it is redefining how gaming studios interact with players. And that's definitely a good thing. I can only hope this phenomenon catches on in the rest of the gaming universe.

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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