Sunday, April 11, 2021

Keep It Bottled Up

A small item buried deep within Wilhelm's March In Review post reminded me of one of SOE's many, long-forgotten bright ideas. At least, I remembered it as something SOE must have come up with. It seemed very much in keeping with the kind of half-baked, back of a napkin, lunchtime lightbulb moments I associate so strongly with the Smedley regime.

In fact, as Wilhelm explains, it was Daybreak who came up with the concept of Experience Vials. Then again, it was only a year or so after the change of ownership and Smed had not yet left the building. His influence lingered for a while.

Whoever it was, they had some help, of course. Wilhelm gave chapter and verse on how the idea had been inspired (as both our imaginary lawyers would no doubt prefer we phrased it) by the skill extractors CCP had introduced to EVE Online not too long before.

As the official press release has it, "Experience Vials will allow players to purchase empty vials off of the EverQuest 2 Marketplace for Daybreak Cash; these vials can be used to “bottle” experience points as you earn them. Once you fill up an empty vial, you will be able to claim a full vial which you can give to a friend or alt, sell on the broker, or even save for yourself for later."

 If you want to know exactly how that works, the same post describes the entire process in quite extraordinarily exhaustive detail. With illustrations. Someone certainly believed in the feature back then.

And, to be fair, it was quite exciting at the time. Five years ago the level cap was still 100. Two hundred thousand xp made a huge impact on the levelling process at the low and mid levels (still does, in fact) and even close to the then-cap it was well worth having.

I remember buying some vials to try them out. I had bushels of Daybreak cash, acquired during SOE's infamous triple-value sales, another of Smed's patented not-so-great notions and the asking price seemed cheap enough. 

What was more, I had capped characters with nothing better to do with the xp they otherwise wouldn't even have been getting. It seemed like a solid win all round. 

And it kind of was. I equipped a vial on my Berserker and siphoned his xp into it while he was out and about doing his normal duties. Then I handed the full bottle to one of my low-level characters and bingo! Twenty or thirty levels at a swig. 

This chart shows just how effective the vials can be in the leveling game. A single vial downed right after character creation would bootstrap a fresh alt into the low thirties. Four would take them within ten levels of the then-cap. They also work for gaining AAs.

I don't remember how many I bought. I know I bumped one character into the mid-high levels just trying it out. I also recall selling some of the filled vials on the broker and making a fair amount of money. 

After a while, though, I just kind of forgot about the whole thing. Partly it was the arrival of new expansions with new level caps that meant my higher level characters didn't feel like selling any of their hard-won xp , let alone giving it away. Partly it was the major changes DBG made to the way xp works after level 100.

If I'd thought about it at all in the last couple of years, which I really can't say I ever did, I'd probably have said it was a feature that had long outlived whatever usefulness it once had. Look at that chart again. To go from 100 to 101 takes 1,666,500xp. That's just over eight filled vials. To go from 101 to 102 takes 139,986,000 . That's seven hundred!

 And it just goes up from there. In EQII's brave new world of unfeasibly huge numbers it now takes almost half a billion xp to do the final level before cap. Not to mention that you can now pretty much only get that xp from quests. There doesn't seem to be any place in the ecosystem for 200k dribbles of xp any more.

And yet...

When I read Wilhelm's post it made me think. I commented "Also, EQ2 xp injectors! I forgot about them. I have some still in the bank. There was a time when I was making good money selling my own blood, so to speak. Seems bizarre now. I wonder how many thousands – or maybe millions – you’d need to do even one level over 100? If it would even be possible. Probably they wouldn’t even work. I should test that and find out."

So I did. Well, kind of.

What I did first was to take a look to see whether anyone was still trying to sell the things. It was the first time I'd visited the broker in what had to have been at least a couple of months. There was a nice surprise waiting for me. I'd sold a level 117 Master spell for three million platinum. I'd forgotten I'd put it up for sale.

I searched "Experience Vial" and it brought back four results. All in a tight range from 980k to 1m. In total there were only about twenty on sale and two of the four sellers only had a single bottle. Not much of a sample but it suggested there wasn't a lot of interest. 

One thing that always gives a strong indicator of demand is how fast people snap up bargains. And it was Saturday. Weekends are by far the busiest shopping time in mmorpgs. Seemed like a good time to test the market.

I popped a couple of my vials on at 750k. It seemed a big enough discount to bait the hook but still expensive enough to deter chancers. If they sold over the weekend - or even in the first week - it would suggest some genuine level of demand.

This morning, when I logged in to collect and set my Overseer missions, I remembered to check if there'd been any interest in the vials. There had. Both had sold.

I'd say that confirmed it... if it wasn't that the buyer was the same player who'd been selling the previously cheapest. He'd had ten for sale yesterday and now he had a dozen. He'd clearly bought mine to kill the competition and make himself a few hundred thousand profit into the bargain.

If they sell, that is. It's still too early to say what the end-user demand is. While debated with myself  whether to put some more up at a less-snipeable price, I thought it might be an idea to see just how easy it would be to re-supply. 

I bought the smallest pack of vials in the cash shop. Three for 500DBC (actually 450DBC with my 10% Membership discount). After a bit of fiddling about getting them equipped and switched on (that pictorial guide came in handy, even after all these years) I took my Berserker to The Blinding, where there's an infinitely repeatable quest to kill a dozen mobs about ten seconds from the questgiver.

At max level it takes all of thirty seconds. Killing the mobs themselves nets around 2,000xp, total. Handing in the quest gets you just over a billion. 1,054,813,997xp to be precise. Okay, I did have full vitality. And 120% veteran bonus. However you want to cut it, that's going to fill all the vials you want.

I had my three vials on auto-consume so it filled all three instantly. It opens up some intriguing possibilities. If we posit a regular market for these things at the 750k price point, that would allow me to convert my monthly stipend of 500DBC into 2.25m platinum at a time investment of less than five minutes. 

I'd feel a little more confident about those figures if I'd actually sold a vial to someone who was likely to use it.  I just put a couple more on for 850k each. If the reseller buys those I'll go to 950k for the next two. That should stop him. Then maybe we'll find out if there really is any market from people who'll use them for the purpose intended.

However it turns out, though, it certainly looks as if xp vials may have been one of the team's better ideas after all. There's clearly interest of some kind five years on. Can't ask more than that.


  1. Hah! 700 vials! Well, I suppose there is always a market for people who want to get to 100 or there abouts. And, as I recall, getting from 101 to the level cap wasn't a huge effort, at least if you put in the time on a bonus XP weekend. But it does feel like a classic SOE thing, a feature added and then left neglected.

    Still not as bad as the level 85 heroic boost in EQ though.

    1. As with most things in ageing mmorpgs, a lot of the pieces don't fit together as smoothly as they could. For a few years there was a very long and slow spot in the EQ2 leveling process around 92-95, which was when someone had the bright idea of making every 20% of a level (those yellow bubbls) feel like doing a full level. That's no longer an issue but I have a suspicion the slowdown now is 100-110, where you still really have to do one or more of the long signature quest lines at the old xp rate before you get to 110 and can do Blood of Luclin withthe hugely increased levelling rate.

      The xp vials would still be a genuine option to do 1-100 in a matter of minutes, though. Certainly it would be vastly more practical and economical than buying the actual xp-boost potions from the cash shop. I really don't see the point of those any more.

    2. On the flip side, I am going to guess that filling those vials is a lot quicker if you're at 110.

  2. The whole XP-drain thing makes a lot more sense in EVE, which is one of the few games where XP growth is pretty linear and outside of the users' control. Allowing it in a game where XP growth is exponential and users can earn it near-instantly is kind of nuts.

    1. I've never really understood why mmorpgs do it that way in the first place. It never really made any sense. I think it's a legacy from the days when the developers had no idea how long the games would be around for and were trying to come up with ways to keep players locked in and playing for longer. Now they have the opposite problem, trying to get new and returning players back up to where everyone else is. If they'd just gone with linear progression in the first place it probably would have worked a lot better but it's too late now.

    2. I suspect it's a hangover from 1st edition AD&D, where the XP needed for each level went up exponentially. The designers of early MUDs/MMOs grew up playing AD&D so they made their games in the same vein, and from then on MMOs continued to do it 'just because'. Half of the world's problems are caused by people who are thoughtlessly conservative and carry on doing crap things because that's the way it's always been. The rest of the problems are caused by people who are thoughtlessly radical and charge in changing things before they realise there's actually a reason they're done that way...


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