Toldain Talks

Because reading me sure beats working!


Toldain started as an Everquest character. I've played him in EQ2, WoW, Vanguard, LOTRO, and Zork Online. And then EVE Online, where I'm 3 million years old, rather than my usual 3000. Currently I'm mostly playing DDO. But I still have fabulous red hair. In RL, I am a software developer who has worked on networked games, but not MMORPGS.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Top 10 Reasons

Here they are, the top 10 reasons I prefer Everquest II to the original Everquest.

  1. Mentoring means I can play with lower level friends and not be bored silly.

  2. Faster out-of-combat regeneration means very little downtime between fights.

  3. Tradeskilling (With bells and whistles, whee!) is actually fun!

  4. I have my own ROOM! With a cat!

  5. Some of the guards in Qeynos now salute me!

  6. I can speak gnollish! (They say silly things, too)

  7. Book quests make soloing grays fun.

  8. No 30-hour-plus camps for the Shiny Metallic Robe in Guk.

  9. A new spell every level!

  10. No bards pulling the whole zone and then training them on top of you!

There are some others, too, but that will do for now. Coming soon: top 10 improvements I'd like to see to Everquest II.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Patron Math

In its original form, accumulated guild status (and consequently levels) would decay over time. The idea was that a guild with a certain level of status could not become an asset created by a few, or just one player which then lasted the duration of the game, with no further inputs.

The idea is that a guild has high-status and levels because it is actively engaged in advancing the interests of its home city. In other words, "what have you done for me lately?"

This idea proved unpopular with the players, primarily since the rate of decay was quite fast, and people didn't want to spend their whole time online doing writs. Rather than tweak the decay rate, they changed the system to not have explicit decay whatsoever, which is where it stands today.

Let's review the basics of that system. First of all, there's personal status. This is gained by completing heritage quests and by doing guild writs, which any member of a guild at any rank, including initiate may perform. Writs are special quests handed out by one of 5 factions within each city, roughly corresponding to guilds for mages, priests, fighters, scouts, and tradeskillers. Tradeskill writs usually involve making something rather than killing things as the others do. Completion of the writ awards status points, which can be viewed on your personal info window.

Heritage quests may be done by anyone, but writs can only be done by characters that are a member of a guild. Personal status can be used to purchase specialty items, typically decorations for residences, decorative armor or clothing, and reduced prices on houses and clothing. However most of these items are only available to guild members.

A guild member can become a patron for his guild, pledging to contribute a fraction of his earned status to the guild in order to level up the guild. What fraction? Well, that's where the interesting math begins. The simple answer is that the status gained is divided by the number of patrons, and the result is the number of status points that are contributed to the guild. However the number of patrons in the guild is considered, for the purposes of the calculation described is considered to always be at least 12.

So, if 5 patrons each do a writ worth 1200 points, the status gain for the guild is 5*(1200/12) = 500. If we add a sixth patron, who does the same writs for the same value, the contribution to the guild is now 6*(1200/12) = 600. Adding that patron helped.

Now consider the situation where you have 18 patrons who are doing writs/heritage to the tune of about X status per week. The status contribution is now divided by 18, since there are more than 12 patrons, and the total contribution to the guild is 18*(X/18) = X. So let's add another patron, who does the same amount of writs as all the other patrons. This should help, right? It doesn't. The formula now is 19*(X/19) = X. To my mind, this is a big problem with the system. Adding new patrons doesn't help unless they accumulate MORE status than the average patron.

First off, heritage quests pay status at a much better rate of return for time invested than writs do. So they are the key to leveling up ones guild. And besides, people find them fun, not a grind. But there's a problem lurking there. Actually, a couple problems.

Once you've done all the heritage quests, there's nothing that a patron can then do to add to the level of the guild at the rate that they have been, and that the other patrons still working on heritage quests can maintain. So effectively, they cap out their contribution level and slow everyone else down.

Let me explain this. Suppose Alfred does all his heritage quests, worth a total of 1,000,000 status points while the guild is still kind of small, and there are only 12 patrons. Alfreds guild status contribution for those quests is 1 million divided by 12, which is 83,333. Now Allyson comes along and is added as a new patron and does the same number of heritage quests for the same amount of status. But since there are now, say, 20 patrons, Allysons contribution to the guild is 1 million divided by 20, not 12, which is 50,000. It doesn't really seem fair, does it?

Let's suppose that Alfred has, after finishing all the heritage quests and gaining level 50, becomes bored with the game and ceases to do anything that gains status. He now becomes a drag on the further leveling of the guild, but his status contribution is such that removing his patron attribute would probably result in the loss of several levels of the guild. So they don't really want to do that. Eventually, though, Alfred will cancel his account. I don't know how SOE will manage this but let's assume Alfred will be deleted and the levels will be lost.

In a sense, this is status decay. Though it would still function if a fixed fraction of status were contributed to the guild, rather than dividing by the number of patrons.

But there's another perverse incentive to this system. It's debatable whether it's a good idea to have more than 12 patrons, but it's downright inefficient to have lower level guild members become patrons. Level 10 characters can do writs, but they aren't worth much status. And they can't do heritage quests.

This feels wrong to me. Even though they are not able to contribute as much, it seems like wide participation is a good thing, not a bad thing. I'd like to see all contributions to leveling the guild welcomed and encouraged. That's a critical step in building a guild and a community, and I'm inclined to think that the best policy in the long run is to welcome regular contributors, even if their current ability to contribute is small.

People whose lives or inclinations do not permit for regular contributions to leveling the guild need to recognize that they are holding the guild back, and bow out when the resulting status loss won't be too great. But I'd like to welcome any regular commitment to growing the guild, no matter how small. But the math doesn't support it, and that's a shame.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

My Guildies Keeper

With Live Update #7, the new guild tool was released. It was kind of shaky at first, as were many parts of LU7, which definitely seemed released prematurely.

We really needed that, and I suspect that they were deluged with requests to add notes to characters in the guild tool, just to keep track of alts. Since that feature was included in the Everquest guild tool, it's a bit puzzling that it was left out of the original tool.

I figure that this was due to the usual software reasons. The person who developed the EQ2 guild tool wasn't the same as the developer who did the original one. There was a severe schedule crunch, and stuff had to be left out. Poof! There went the notes.

I note that there appears to be no code reuse whatsoever between EQ1 and EQ2, which makes the problem even worse. Developers get this way, there's even a nickname for the attitude behind that -- Not Invented Here (NIH).

The guild tool also has many more guild ranks, though honestly I don't know what to do with them all, and more detailed permissions, which are tied to guild rank. So I guess that's the point. Guilds have the ability to customize the names of guild ranks, too. That could be fun as well.

The biggest surprise, though, was the guild event notification system. A broad range of accomplishments can now be tracked, filtered, and announced automatically to all members of the guild. This includes logins and logouts, level ups, writs completed, and heritage quests. This is a very positive development for those of us trying to build an online community.

Building a community requires building up a history of predominately positive interactions. The combat locking system in EQ2 prevents powerleveling, which is good, but it also prevents the "drive-by" buffing, and buff station form of interactions. These "acts of random kindness" build up a store of goodwill, and are sorely missed from EQ2. These days, to have a positive interaction with someone, you need to group with them, or perhaps make or have made an item specially. This involves a fairly large amount of risk and commitment.

However, by tracking accomplishments, we can create some more opportunities to know each other. Let's say that Frieda is a patron and completes a writ. With writ notification turned on, all online guild members know that Frieda has done this and has helped the guild. She doesn't have to feel like she's boasting about it, yet everyone knows, and can thank and congratulate her. Level ups are more personal, but still provide the opportunity to know and to be known by others.

I've said before that SOE understands, at least to some extent, that communities are important to the long-term success of EQ2. The enhancements to the guild tool, while perhaps taking longer than we might have liked, will continue to enhance the role of communities within the game.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Toldain Takes a Vacation

It's been a while since my last post. Let's try to catch up on some of what's been going on.

  • The new guild tool was released. The ability to make notes about characters is valuable, and it's puzzling why it was left out. More on that in its own post.

  • There's been more discussion about "an alternate form of combat" which will be used to implement arena-style PVP. After my last post about this, it looked as though it was an April Fool's joke. It wasn't.

  • The most recent live update had a lot of quality problems, there were notes about it, and it seemed to break most quests

  • Many more mobs are solo-rated now, even within dungeons. In particular, many of the mobs needed for writs are solo-rated, which is both a boon and a failure. The failure is in cooperation between players. Server populations seem down, or at least more spread out, and most players, when they find themselves needing the same mob as others, leave or start competing, ignoring the fact that the game facilitates and rewards cooperation.

  • Prices are doing some very strange things. Tier 1 harvestables can demand a premium, because so very few new toons are joining the game, and consequently the supply is low. But certain high-level quests require tier 1 items, and the folks doing them would rather pay a gold piece than go do it themselves.

    In addition, the price of rares still seems to be climbing. Palladium clusters have nearly doubled in price during the last two weeks, as more folks on our server level up, have more money, and really want to finish the heritage quest involved. But the price of other rares is up as well. What's really surprising is that the price of Tier 1 Adept 1 spells seems to be around 1 gp. This seems like really bad news for new players, and I would expect some intervention on the part of SOE in this arena.

    On the other hand, you can only get these drops in tier 1 zones from chests. So maybe this also represents opportunity for these players. The main problem is that the tier 1 market isn't very liquid at all, and the tier 2 market is headed that direction.

  • Those are the major things I can think of for now.