Thursday, February 20, 2014

There Can Be Only One : EQ Next, Landmark

Yesterday's Landmark Livestream wasn't particularly interesting. It goes on for over an hour and I skimmed through it in about twenty minutes so I may well have missed a lot of important details. Feel free to watch it for me and point them out.

One thing I did not miss, however, was the part around 32 minutes in when, during a short discussion on whether Landmark will allow multiple characters per account, Terry Michaels says:

"...we've talked about it in both games, where having one character is really what we want to see people doing".

So, there you have it. Current thinking for EQNext is one character per account. That single design decision probably tells you everything you need to know about where the MMORPG genre is going and why so many long-time players are so uncomfortable with the direction of travel.

In the comment thread on Liore's post on $60 Level 90s at Herding Cats Electrolux observes "It’s bizarre how far we’ve come. We used to have fierce values. I guess we all grew up and realised it didn’t matter because it really doesn’t." Yes, it is bizarre and no, it really doesn't matter...except, of course, it does.

Electrolux goes on to conclude, possibly with heavy irony, possibly with the fervor of a Pauline convert, it's hard to tell, "They should just make vendors that sell BiS epics for RMT gems and be done with it. It doesn’t matter anymore. Just give everyone what they want for money. Sell all of the things. Do it!"

I understand his resignation or his despair or his glee, whichever it is. It's a nuanced situation, a slippery slope, a boiling frog, a welcome return to sanity. It's all of those. When you think of an old love, as Jonathan Richman asks, "Do you long for her or the way you were?" Cue Four Yorkshiremen sketch.

Insert thumpingly unsubtle illustration of pillars here - Ed.

We all have our own lines but the ever-shifting sand makes it harder and harder to see where we drew them. Twinking isn't a crime when it's heirlooms, Bottom Feeding is a healthy diet when you mentor down, if multi-boxing was bad why is hiring a merc good? It's Game Developer's Jenga - every last RPG brick pulled from the bottom, turned over and balanced on the top. Watch the MMO tower wobble. When will it fall?

When I heard Terry Michael's throwaway insight into the development process for EQNext at first I was incensed. One character per account for an Everquest MMO? Deal-breaker! I went straight to the Landmark Alpha forums, where I post as Thatdarncat, and began a protest thread but even even as I typed I felt my back-brain in motion.

An obvious workaround : EQNext will be F2P so if we can only have one character per account, why then, let's just make many accounts. Implications spiraled. Didn't I once object strongly to the whole account-bound ethic anyway? Didn't I argue that these are characters who have never met, who can never meet? Wasn't I against the Cox and Box life-share model from the get-go?

Good, then! Let your own deeds be the seeds of your destruction, SOE! You could have sold me character slots but now I'll just take them for free and have something closer to the gameplay I wanted in the first place. See how you like them apples! Thus do we rationalize away things we are powerless to affect.

Except, of course, in this case we aren't powerless, are we? Not according to SOE. In Alpha, every man his own developer, so we are told. Our opinions matter.

If the Landmark alpha/beta process is deemed a success, and there seems every chance it will be, EQNext will follow down that road. Who will be first out with the wallets, clamoring to be allowed to pay to test the next Norrath? Everquest fans, that's who, and while I'm sure the great majority will be happy with a game in which everything is bound to the account not the character, I just can't hear the roar of Everquest fans cheering for their bondage to a single character per account.

Either way, I will be making multiple characters in EQNext. If SOE have any sense they'll work out a way to let me give them money for that privilege but if not, well I'm pretty good at playing F2P games for free and my powers of both pre- and post-hoc rationalization are off the scale, yo!

Stickin' it to the man, 21st Century stylee!


  1. I have never played more than one character in any MMO during the last 10 or 12 years. However this sounds rather daft. Why would they limit you from having more than one character in EQNext? As you say they can make money by selling character slots so why are they going down this route? I don't understand this decision.

    1. Well, it's not a decision as such, yet. More an indication of the way they're thinking. We're still a long way out from Next but when it comes time to release the payment model and show us the cash shop I find it hard to believe they'll turn down money from people who want to play multiple characters. They have made dafter choices before, though.

  2. In EVE Online you can have up to three characters per account, but only one can be doing skill training at any given time. Since, as far as I can tell, nobody has ever gotten close to being "done" with training (except to make single purpose characters) EVE effectively limits to a single character per account.

    Which is why so many players in EVE have multiple accounts.

    If EQN, when it becomes a thing, is akin to EVE and allows a single character to "be all the things" when it comes to skills and talents and whatnot, I could probably live with a single character.

    But if there are any limitations based on race, starting class, or whatever, then the single character thing won't fly, because lots of players like to play the different routes.

    1. Next does use the "one character can be all the things" model that I personally dislike (FFXIV uses it too), so they have a strong argument for us not needing more than one character. However, it's hardly in a game company's interest to try and restrict players to what they "need", most especially when they are operating a F2P model funded at least in part by a cash shop.

      Most of what we know about Next is written on water at this point but I have heard that not only can each character be all classes and have all skills but that there will be only a single starting area and a single line of progression. The idea, apparently, is that the world will constantly change so there will be no need for anyone to start new characters because any content they missed will have gone and they can experience all new content with their existing character regardless of level.

      The problem with that is it's exactly what ANET said about GW2 pre-launch and it turned out to be, at best, wishful thinking. And of course it completely misses the point that quite a lot of people want to play different characters because, y'know, they are DIFFERENT CHARACTERS!

      If they stick with this (I doubt they will) then my plan is to get in there in alpha and bitch about it on the forums along with all the other disgruntled altaholics for which the EQ franchise is rightly famous in the hope that they eventually throw us a bone to keep us quiet. In the end, though, they hold all the cards. It's not like I'm *not* going to play EQNext whatever they decide...

    2. Well, as we know, SOE has never been short of odd or conflicting ideas. This is the company that gave us EverQuest II with 24 character classes and shared bank slots, which seemed designed to feed the mania of those of us who cannot get enough alts... and then limited us to four character slots per account at launch.

      That still made me burn nearly a decade later.

      Your statement about Anet though seems bizarro world odd. The various classes in GW2, while not my cup of tea, did feel different. And the races.

      Well, I have sat in enough product design meetings in conference room where we apparently used up all the oxygen so as to cause us to make decisions that, in hindsight, seem really weird. You can get the right small group hyped up in the same direction as long as you remove all external stimulus.

    3. "makes me burn"

      My fingers have an auto-complete as annoying as any iOS or Android device.

    4. My comment on GW2 is a bit confusing. I just meant that ANet made a lot of claims about how the combination of horizontal progression, auto-leveling and a world that was both dynamic and ever-changing meant you'd both never run out of content nor outgrow an area. The implication was there that you could do everything on one character but as you say the classes are radically different and so are the races so even Anet didn't suggest they *wanted* you to do it all on one.

      In fact, they gave you five character slots, just right for the five races and their five starting areas. And GW2 became a game where even people who don't usually have alts have alts and I'm sure ANet have sold a lot of character slots along the way. I expect Joao Carlos will be along soon to tell us how EQNext is going to be GW2 only done better and he's probably right, so lets hope SOE take note of that part of ANet's success, too.

  3. That does indeed sound like a very strange choice for a F2P game; I wonder what their reasoning behind that is? Limiting players to one active character makes some sense for a subscription game, so people will pay multiple subs if they want alts (SWG, EVE) but I really don't see the benefit here...

    1. If it isn't pure hubris on the part of the developers (it does smack a little of Jeff Butler's messianic fervor for knowing how an MMO should be played) it's probably due to the technical constraints of having an account-based set-up. I imagine it will be both simpler and cheaper to produce systems for a single character.

  4. "That single design decision probably tells you everything you need to know about where the MMORPG genre is going"

    ...back to old values?
    am not sure I follow your implications here ;)

    1. I was suggesting that account-based progression is the complete antithesis of the character-based progression that used to mark the direct line of descent of MMORPGs from the tabletop RPGs from which they originated. Regardless of the player's desire or otherwise, the mechanics of the games themselves ensured that every character remained formally discrete and unique. Attempts by players to circumvent this (twinking, multi-boxing etc) were often considered to be socially unacceptable by other players and even treated as exploits by the gaming companies. (ArenaNet actually still takes a very dim view of multi-boxing even now).

      The current orthodoxy makes the Player paramount and regards the Account as the basic unit of identity. It's unarguably convenient but convenience isn't a universal good, nor even a virtue. I prefer MMOs that help me in resisting my own lazy, self-indulgent nature, ones that encourage me to live up to what I would like to be my standards, rather than those that that pander to my vices and encourage me to let my own standards slip.

      If you were alluding to the belief some people have that tying the player visibly to a single, recognizable account in some way recreates those mythical days when "your name counted for something on your server" that's something else entirely. I neither believe that nor would I welcome it even if it were to be true.

    2. I am surprised at SOE's move here but then, I am the last player to complain about one character. to me personally, alting is directly linked to things like twinking and multi-boxing and the type of self-sufficiency that we have only got to known in MMOs since WoW. alts can impact a great deal on the community and economy in MMOs. that's why I associate the old times with account-centricity a lot more than you seem to do.
      I also think 1 character makes a lot more sense for me in terms of 'narrative' but we've had that topic already....

      in any case, I am not hurt by the decision - at the same time, I agree with you that it doesn't make much sense to keep more players from wanting to play this f2p game. which was also my point exactly about why creative mode for Landmark would be nice. not everyone likes the same things.

  5. So the folk with Alt-itis and the RPrs are next to be thrown on the bonfire of convenience are they? I'm so sorry, I love you guys. Many of you railed against LFG when I needed you to. It doesn't help of course, which really was the essence of my post on Herding Cats,.My demented pleas there were the pleas of a man who really just wants to get it all over with now.

    The tentative creep towards the total abandonment of every facet of Evercrack is 90% done with now but the nervousness with which we get there is starting to drain me; at 0.1% a game I'll be going through this angst another 100 times. Just give me the Mother of All Crapfests to try to justify to myself once and for all.

    (FFXIV let me down with it's Triple-Rewards for Solo-Queue madness and I'm still kind of smarting about it)

    1. I sympathize, I really do. It's long past the point where I want to fight against any of this stuff any more and honestly there's as much about the newer ways of doing things that I like as that I hate. More than that, which things go in which category changes according my mood and circumstances.

      The relationship between the first and last three letters of MMORPG was always fraught but now it seems to have broken down irretrievably. Probably best just to accept this is now an entirely different genre and enjoy it for what it is. Until some of these retro Kickstarter projects make it to market, perhaps...

  6. Hm.... my reaction to this isn't quite the same.

    Now, personally, I'm an RPer that has always focused on a single "main." Over the years I've hardly done any alt-ing at all, so this means that I look at this through the eyes of someone that doesn't quite get the attraction of running a dozen characters at once. But... given that they have already said that:

    1- Character names will be unique to an account, and the account name will be part of adding friends and the like...
    2- We get to "do everything" with any given character, and that we are never locked out of doing things because we are such-and-such a class...
    3- There are no "levels", just skills that you develop...
    4- The content is all or mostly dynamic, and so isn't repeatable across multiple alts anyway...

    I'm not sure exactly how much you gain with having an alt, verses other games. OK, you get a different character model. And, as an RPer, maybe you want to have multiple characters with multiple backgrounds -- that makes some sense. But it seems to me that this game you get less value out of alt-ing than in any other game out on the market. This is especially true if they chose to not use the offline skill queue feature that EVE has, so you would really be locked to a single character progressing no matter what.

    Here's a thought, pointing at the cash shop concerns -- as an RPer, are you OK with buying cosmetic outfits at the cash shop? Isn't that generally considered an OK thing, since it has "no gameplay value"? If that is the case, and most players don't alt because alt-ing brings nothing to the table, is having an alt as a cash shop thing really a bad thing?

    Taken a step further -- what if you can only have a single character, and that character gains skills and classes and stuff and whatnot. But you could buy from the cash shop a second "identity" -- a second race / appearance / name / background writeup tab, and you could swap between them with a /camp command. Would that be wonderful, OK, not as good as alt-ing but tolerable or horrible?

    1. It's always hard to explain how I feel about characters in MMOs. I'm not a roleplayer in any meaningful sense but I am a character player. To me, they are all individuals with their own personalities and those personalities are not ones that I give them, the way a role-player would.

      I like to get to know my characters in the same way I'd get to know characters in a novel or a movie. It always makes me sound slightly demented when I describe it, but I think it's really no different to how some authors experience writing fiction or actors experience workshopping plays. You find out who the character is by writing him or acting him, in real time, as it happens, and that's a lot of fun.

      Old-school MMOs made that very easy and natural. Play a Troll in Everquest back in 2000 and a narrative for your character would develop whether you wanted it to or not. Many non-roleplayers players found it natural to fall into the character of an Ogre, a Dark Elf or a Gnome without really trying because just about every mechanism in the game encouraged it.

      Nowadays everything is based on the player. That's enormously more convenient but also, for me, enormously less involving. The thing about having one character, even if the game provides a whole range of ways to change that character's appearance, even the race and gender, is that it can still only be one character and one character only has one story. What's worse, that story is basically the player's story, my story, and I already know that.

      It's very hard to explain but the simplest way of saying it is that all the characters are different people and a lot of the fun is seeing what they'll do next. If there's only one of them, there's a lot less fun.

    2. I guess that's fair - an emotional reaction. But still, it feels very, how can I put this, very much to me in the same bucket as vanity items in a game where having a single character is in no way a limitation.

      If you want to bring a different character sheet and mini to the table today, I'm cool with that. But (as a player) I'm interested in playing with *you the player* not with your character. This is one reason that I love the friends list in GW2. I'd very much like the ability to change my "character" but leave my skills and gear available -- that way I can team up with my friends regardless of what content they are running, and bring an RP background and personality that works with whatever we are doing.

      Note: I actually agree with you on having what the character does shape his outlook on the world and his overall feel. If you could do what I suggested (and hasn't been suggested at SoE as far as I know, this is just me making stuff up) I'd want to keep faction seperate for each "identity". I'll have to ponder this some more.

      Here's a question: how much does ability/character progression fit into your feelings about your alts, as opposed to what actions/quests they have taken?

    3. On the "playing with the player" thing, we used to manage that just fine by talking to people. If someone wants you to know that he's Joe Paladin as well as Jill Shadowknight, well, he'll let you know. I certainly never expected to be able to find that information out without a player's consent.

      For me though, even with players I spent dozens, even hundreds of hours playing alongside, it was their characters I knew, not the players behind them. Back in the day when much of my play was in groups and conversation was a big part of the attraction, very little of it was purely out of character, about things outside the game. We used to banter roughly in character all the time, typical gnome-punting ogres, sneery dark elves, nothing very elaborate or original. We'd discuss the tactics, strategies and mechanics of the game in nit-picking detail constantly. Sometimes we'd even talk about the storyline or the lore. No-one ever said we *shouldn't* talk about our lives outside the game but generally we just didn't. That's how I liked it.

      On ability and progression vs actions and quests, it isn't really all that much about either, although they do all factor in somewhere. It's about getting to know the character as a person. Some of them you never get to know at all - they remain blank cyphers that clearly aren't anything more than my avatar in the game. Those tend to get shelved and forgotten quite quickly. Others develop a basic personality that never really develops. The best ones become as real imaginary friends or familiar characters from much-loved books or films. And sometimes they spin right out of control and have to be retired - I have a scout n the mid-teens in EQ2 that I literally had to stop logging on because her personality infuriated Mrs Bhagpuss so much it led to arguments. I wasn't role-playing that character - I almost never roleplay. She just turned out to have a really annoying voice.

      As I said, it's hard to explain without it sounding like I'm describing a psychotic episode but it's just whimsy and playfulness at root. It does happen less and less because MMOs used to structurally support and encourage it and now they actively oppose it. If MMOs had been like they are now when I discovered them in 1999 I very much doubt I would still be playing them today.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Heh -- no, doesn't sound like a psychotic episode at all, just a set of very different experiences than mine.

    Like you, I play with my wife, we've been gaming together since the early '80s. Our first MMO was World of Warcraft. She ran a Holy Paladin while I ran a Warrior to tank with, and we did everything together, both from a mechanics and RP sense. We "dinged" level 60 on the exact same mob during an instance run in Blackrock Depths in classic, and we stayed linked together throughout the Burning Crusade. Each of us created an alt or two, but none of them ever made it past level 20.

    Until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, that is. We joined a guild while raiding Ulduar, and stayed with them until we left the game post-Cataclysm. They were already good on tanks and melee DPS, though... they were great folks, and I don't regret joining them, but I did end up parking my warrior. I spent six weeks leveling up a Dwarf Hunter just to catch up. I enjoyed him, and I liked the game bits, but I was never happy that our "joined at the hip" characters were split up. I would much rather have had what they are talking about for EQN, where he could have just swapped classes and carried on.

    Just a matter of perspective, I think. Where you see "the freedom to experience the game in different ways" I see "being forced to re-roll and lose my place just to see everything." Two sides of the same coin.

  8. It really is very hard to explain. I don't RP, not in the Storytime in Stormwind Cathedral sense. The attitude that I present changes when I play different characters. The things I say are different and how I say them. And the things I do. Because this chap is a Warlock and this lass is a Barbarian.

    I imagine reading this it all sounds really deep and intense and must be the dominant thing that is happening when I play. It really isn't though it's subtle, abstract, non-functional and sub-conscious because I've been doing it for 30 years; it's my nature and not my 'interest' as such.

    All of these pragmatic fancy developments are exactly that, pragmatic. Almost impossible to argue against them rationally. The beautiful phantoms that lived in the cracks between the bricks and mortar of MMOs have gradually been expunged and we're all poorer for it whether we know it or not.

    1. I agree with every word of that. Beautifully put.

    2. Same with me, been involved with RPG's since the 80's and subconsciously I talk, write and play differently with different characters, with each of them having their own 'sensibillities'.

      Good to see I'm not the only one who is familliar with this phenomenon :) (which btw may make a nice subject for some graduate studies)


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