Thursday, March 19, 2020

Make It Go Right: EverQuest

I wasn't really expecting to post anything more about the Overseer system in EverQuest, at least not this soon but I spotted a news item on the launcher about upcoming changes to the system. Makes me sound very observant, doesn't it? In fact it was several days before I noticed.

I'd been logging in to set my five daily missions but only when I remembered, which wasn't every time. I'd been expecting to drop them altogether as soon as I go back to work for reasons of there not being enough hours in the day and I was already not really paying attention.

Don't you wish your passport said "Free Diving Limnologist"?
The headline talks about "changes" but if you replace that neutral term with something more dramatic, like, say, "massive, swingeing, gamebreaking across-the-board nerfs" you'll get an idea how well the course correction has been received, at least by some members of the community. To read to some of the comments on the forums, you might assume that tinkering with a new, fluff system in the first week it's been live marks the death knell of a game that's lasted twenty-one years. Overeact much?

Much of the detail, when I read it, seemed rather notional to me. I don't play EQ either regularly enough or at sufficiently high levels to understand what was so great about the aspects of Overseer that have been taken away and I hadn't taken the trouble to go look at what you could buy with the currency before it was changed.

Leaving aside all the arcane detail that neither I nor, I am guessing, anyone reading this understands (or cares about), the gist is that whoever designed the Overseer system was either comically naive, embarassingly uninformed or, most likely, both.

The thread announcing the changes opens with an excellent explanation and a pretty fair apology from Community Manager Dreamweaver. Among other things, including a major bug in quest success rates and an error in the cost of DBC for accelerated completion, both quite serious enough in themselves, the initial iteration of Overseer in EverQuest had some flaws that sounded disturbingly familiar to me:

Unfortunately, we made several miscalculations with what and how much was offered. We believe it is important that this system is supplemental to gameplay and that it does not replace it. Some of the rewards offered were either too easily attained or greatly devalued items that are granted through gameplay.

Quests can go down as well as up.
In short, they introduced a system that offered large rewards for zero risk. Let me think... now when have I seen that before? Oh yes, all the frickin' time!

Monster Missions, introduced in the Depths of Darkhollow expansion, way back in 2005, for example. That would be one. Mrs. Bhagpuss and I stopped playing EverQuest over that one. We liked the expansion in and of itself but the Monster Missions, which we did not like at all, were swiftly adopted by the community as the be-all and end-all of leveling. They gave so much experience that pretty soon you couldn't get a group for anything else.

In MMs you had to do that thing I was complaining about in my recent posts about Guild Wars 2, where you spend all your time playing not as your own character but some half-assed NPC with idiotic abilities you neither understand nor want to learn. Plus they were deathly dull.

But they gave huge rewards so people gritted their teeth and did them anyway because if experience tells us anything about MMORPGs it's that lots of people will do just about anything, no matter how tedious, dull or annoying, if the upshot is faster progression or better loot, At least, they will until they snap, uninstall the game and spend the next five years telling everyone they meet how terrible it is. Even though the reason they came to hate it was entirely down to their own utter lack of self-control.

Excuse me? Who asked for your opinion?
Oh, and some very poor design decisions. EverQuest II did it with the Dungeon Maker, an excellent addition to the game for roleplayers and decorators, which some bright spark thought would work better if it also gave adventure xp. That worked out almost exactly like Monster Missions, with everyone piling into player-made "dungeons" that turned out to be single room mob abbatoirs, optimized for minimum effort and maximum reward.

In both cases the developers' response was far too slow and far too cautious. There were multiple attempts over many months to "tune" the systems, all of which failed dismally as players worked out new ways to circumvent the restrictions. In the end they both had to have the rewards completely removed or something very close to it. After which no-one ever used the features again and thousands of people felt they'd had their candy snatched.

Being a gnome should always be a bonus.
This time, thankfully, action has been both prompt and severe. The prices of items on the vendor have been hugely increased, the formerly tradeable currency has been made Heirloom, the reward that gave guaranteed collectibles has been altered to give merely a chance at collectibles and tradeskill materials for the current expansion have removed from the reward list altogether.

I have some sympathy with whoever set the vendor prices. Getting the pricing wrong is forgiveable. A tuning issue for sure. On including crafting mats for the current expansion, that could predictably have been anticipated to cause problems and probably never should have passed testing, but crafting is a thorny issue at the best of times.

The issue over collectibles is a poser for me because I didn't even know EverQuest had collectibles. I'm going to have to look into that. Given that it did, if they're anything like the ones in EQII, messing with the supply chain could have major implications for the economy.

Story of my life...
The part that really threw me, though, was learning the currency, tetradrachms, was originally tradeable and that you could get it on a free account. Wait, what?

I didn't even realize you could use the Overseer feature without being a paid-up All Access Gold Member in good standing. I think I said as much in my last post. Seems I was wrong, because last night I logged in my unsubbed account and ran through the Overseer tutorial on my level 93 Magician.

Not only does she have access but she can use it while standing in the Guild Lobby where buffs never fade, her veteran Lesson, which doubles xp, running indefinitely. I am uncertain whether xp bonuses apply to Overseer-gained character experience although I am doing my best to find out.

It's diffcult to quantify because there's currently a 50% server bonus for the anniversary and Overseer quests can critically succeed. I got 2.025% of level 93 from a critical success on a quest with a nominal "0.9% of level" reward and 0.75% from regular success on one with an expected reward of 0.5%. That looks like the 50% server bonus is in effect but the Lesson's 100% mark-up isn't. Not sure though.

I used the "Finish Now" button to pay DBC to, well, finish now so I could test. And a few more times becauase it's kinda tempting. The cost is genuinely microtransactional at 14DBC for a six hour quest, 28DBC for a 12 hour one and 50DBC for the full twenty-four hour marathon. Since I have more than 17,000 DBC on the unsubbed account I'm happy to find something to spend it on.

That's not going to break the bank.
Annoyingly, you can still fail a mission even though you paid. Money has no impact on success. Mostly, though, I succeeded. I've done something like 7% of level 93 so far. Auto-finishing the quests seems to bypass the five-a-day limit, although I did eventually run out of agents for some reason I couldn't fathom. It said they were ready but they wouldn't appear as options.

It's not amazing xp but it is literally xp at no risk and at almost no time cost, either. You could, theoretically, buy your way to the top using it but it would cost you a great deal of money. Or you could, if you had some self-discipline, just log in every day, do your free quests and slowly drift upwards. It's not much but it's not nothing.

I was sure I wouldn't carry on with overseeing in EverQuest but that was when I thought I could only use it for the Heroic 85s I have no real intention of playing on the All Access account. Now I know I can slowly level up my Magician it could be a different story.

The sweeping changes may have reverted Overseer to the "supplemental" feature it was intended to be, thereby placing it beneath the interest of regular players, but I'm happy enough. I'm happy to see that, for once, it appears someone has actually taken the lessons of the past to heart and done something to patch the leak before the ship begins to sink. It helps that I was only ever interested in the xp anyway and that hasn't been affected. Yet.

I hope all of this has filtered back to the EverQuest II team as they prepare for their own Overseer upgrade. There, at least, they do at least have the dubious benefit of the feature not being all that popular already.

I like it, though.


  1. It isn't five daily missions, the way it is 10 daily missions in EQII. The limit is five concurrent missions, but if you run just six hour missions you can get in many more than five a day if you are diligent.

    1. Aha! Is that how it works? It's very poor on giving feedback on things like that. While I was pumping DBC into it, the missions kept refreshing and it looked as if I could keep going indefinitely - which I guess, if it's only checking concurrent missions, I could. But after a while, even though I had available missions and suitable agents marked "ready" the buttons just stopped working. I might let everything clear off and come off cooldown and then see how many missions I can do, while paying more attention. I'd be happy to spend a thousand DBC or so testing it since I have nothing much else to do with it.

    2. Yes, the system seems to get plugged up if you run too many missions. After a while the rewards window stops popping up (again) until you log out and log back in again. But I can't tell if they are trying to slow you down by doing that or if the system is just backing up because too many people are using it.


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