An Open Letter to SOE
This is one of your longtime fans. I play only one of your games, but it is your flagship product, EverQuest. Well, it should be your flagship product, but quite frankly it is feeling a bit neglected, and that is the reason for my letter today.
I’d like to offer my condolences (or whatever is appropriate) for the suffering you’re going through right now thanks to the malevolent hackers who led you to taking down your entire gaming network. That makes me sad, and not just because I haven’t been able to play EQ for over a week now. There are millions of people who are suffering as I am, wanting to play whatever their favorite SOE game is but cannot. When the attack’s effects are finally mitigated, when the security holes are patched, when the games finally come back online, you’re going to have some other problems to deal with. I am sure one or two of my EQ friends will vanish into the ether, but for you there will be a lot of former SOE game players who will not return.
Not all hope is lost, however. I have heard rumors you’re offering everybody a free month. That will be costly, but it will help keep a few folks around. I am sure you’re also lining up gifts and bonus experience times and other such things to please the folks who do, in fact, choose to return to your games. To this end, I have a few ideas.
I will confess, my ideas are biased. They are all about EverQuest. The simple fact is that you have, in my opinion and I believe the opinions of quite a few others, neglected this game, the game which, as I see it, launched an entire industry of games. Something like EQ was inevitable, I suppose, but it was specifically EverQuest that made the online gaming revolution happen. World of Warcraft and its clones and pretty much every online game out there owes their success to EverQuest. Sure, WoW probably would have happened anyway, but the folks at Blizzard–no few probably former EverQuest players–learned from your mistakes and successes. They took the best elements of EQ and a few other games, added their own little spice and called it good, and in short order it was very popular.
You’re aware of this last part, I know. WoW competes against a few of your games. EverQuest may never reach the popularity it once had, much less overtake WoW, but that doesn’t mean it can’t gain a little ground. Devote some more resources to your flagship, and great things will happen. EverQuest is a dozen years old, and in the gaming world it is showing its age. Give it a makeover. World of Warcraft’s biggest selling point over EverQuest is, sad as it may be, eye candy. Yes, I know, that means creating a new graphics engine, and that’s rough. However, there’s a lot of play-for-free WoW clones out there who have amazing graphics. If they can do it and then let people in without a cover charge, surely you guys can do that and better.
Going deeper into this, there’s a few improvements I’d like to see. I’d like to have greater ability to customize my appearance. You’ve got ways to change the looks of our weapons and shields, and we can change our character’s looks to some degree, but we want more. There’s a lot of ways appearances could be refined to be more individualistic. You could also make more worn bits visible. If I put on a powerful necklace or ring, I want people to see that necklace or ring. I also want to be able to change the looks of the existing visible pieces beyond changing their color. I want to choose from different styles so that when my wood elf bard meets another wood elf bard, people can tell us apart just by the appearance of our armor. For that matter, I would prefer armor styles be different from one level of armor to the next. I have a screenshot of when my bard was level 15 and had just completed her first armor quest and guess what? Except for color, the armor looks exactly the same as what she wears now at level 90. Yuck.
The guild hall is overdue for an overhaul. There’s doors upstairs which can’t be opened. Put some big rooms up there. Maybe a big dining room and some sleeping quarters. It won’t affect game play, but would be cool. Put a yard in, attached to a new door in the back. Put dummy targets in the yard for characters to practice their damaging skills (spell or melee) on. You have other damageable objects in the game, after all. Maybe even put a small arena in the yard for when guildies want to duel.
This brings me to another long-overdue improvement: Zones and zoning. I’d like to see windows in the aforementioned upper floors which look out over the Plane of Knowledge and can see people running around it. I hate to put it this way because when I think it, it sounds whiny, but: Other games have seamless zoning. Free games have seamless zoning. Surely EverQuest can do better.
Now let’s look to the future a little. There’s going to be another expansion, or so I’ve heard, and I have a couple of ideas for it. The first is: No new levels. Don’t raise the cap again. Doing that every-other-expansion is tiring enough. Second, while you’re adding new AA’s, add a few new group and raid leadership abilities. There’s more than a few folks who at least have the group stuff maxed out plus 8.99 points towards the hopeful day when something new is added. And finally, here’s a unique idea: Aim for lower levels in a different sort of way. You did shrouding in an earlier expansion, but the shrouded classes were weak imitations of the real thing. Make a zone or maybe a few instances where our class isn’t changed, but we are (while in these special zones) reduced to, say, level 50. Our gear gets appropriately weaker, we can only use lesser spells or songs, etc. Don’t make us weak imitations of our class, just reduce our abilities and gear to that level and keep our class the same. It’ll be a challenge for us.
I know, I know. All of the above would be one hell of a lot of work. You’d have to spend quite a bit to make any of it happen. But I feel it would be worth it. Done right, not only would you retain more players but you might actually attract new ones. Market the hell out of EverQuest with a couple of these changes as highlights, and you’ll draw a crowd. Do it because, in my opinion, it’s worth it.
Shakatma Dulcinea, the Golden Bard, Officer of Circle of Prophets, Minstrel of the 90th Level