Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The EQ2 Battlegrounds No One Asked For

The EQ2 devs have been taking about adding instanced PVP to the game for a while now, and the details finally arrived yesterday. Let's see if we can find a trend in the feedback:
  • Cuppycake: "Is the EQ2 main player base interested in PvP? I really don’t think so, but I could be wrong."
  • Spinks: "So my question is, were any players actually asking for this?"
  • Syp: "I guess that’s kind of cool, but as Spinks said, you don’t usually think “PvP” when EQ2 is brought up."
  • Riannon, my EQ2 guild leader, via Twitter: "I'm not terribly excited about the #EQ2 "battlegrounds" announcement. Just not a PvPer, and not sure it will appeal to a lot of players."
  • Stargrace, via Twitter (having tweeted that she doesn't feel like posting about this on her blog): "I am not excited at all, in fact, I'd say I'm feeling pretty 'blargh' about the whole thing, sadly."
  • Feldon at the EQ2 Wire: "....the rewards are NOT being designed as a progression path, and you will NOT need this gear to solo, group, or raid in the Sentinel’s Fate expansion. However it is conceivable that some raid guilds will expect players to have certain gear."

So, the most positive reaction of the bunch is that it is possible that players who don't want to PVP won't be required to do so, but that we can't be sure yet. Ouch. What happened?

Good idea on paper...
On paper, this must have seemed like a great idea. The only PVP in EQ2 currently is a ganking-enabled world-pvp ruleset that dwindled down to a single server last year due to lack of population. This conceivably harms the appeal of EQ2 to players who care about PVP. Meanwhile, Warsong Gulch is nearing its fifth birthday in WoW, and players are STILL voluntarily queuing up to run it back to back all night.

The problem is, as basically everyone is pointing out, that EQ2 is a five year-old game that has not had PVP for five years. Anyone for whom this was a dealbreaker already left during that time. SOE may be under the impression that it can attract new players with the promise of PVP, but there are a number of challenges between them and victory on that front.

For one thing, the new cross-server battlegrounds will only have a single level bracket, from 80-90, which means that 80 levels of PVE content separate newbies from PVP glory. By contrast, Warhammer offers PVP at level 1, and WoW offers it not that much later. Second, and more importantly, you probably aren't going to fill battlegrounds entirely with newbies, which means that you're going to need to convert some existing players to a system that they haven't needed for years now. This would be the source of concern that the incentives/bribes will be so powerful that they could become required for PVE content.

The problem with imitating WoW...
Personally, I think that having a viable PVP game adds a versatility to WoW that is one of the game's strengths. I also don't have any moral issue with other studios copying features from WoW, much as Blizzard will not hesitate to pilfer any improvements in SOE's version of battlegrounds. The problem is rather that, when you try to attract WoW players by offering a feature that WoW has, they're going to expect you to deliver as well or better than what they already have in Azeroth.

SOE's on the right track, starting with a cross-server (including both US and EU servers) setup. Filling the queues for even three types of battleground matches might have been a challenge on single servers that are currently getting by with zero types of battlegrounds. The next feature that they've hopefully picked up is the "queue for all battlegrounds from everywhere in the world" button. There's a reason why Blizzard immediately copied this feature from Warhammer, and players are not going to tolerate having to travel to a specific location and wait there while the queue is in progress.

Finally, there's the ever so trivial white elephant crab in the room - all the class and incentive balance issues that have made Ghostcrawler the de facto face of the WoW development team. It's not easy building a system where half of your players have to lose any given encounter but still enjoy the experience enjoy to get right back in line to try again. Good luck with that, guys.

Bad idea or the worst idea?
At the end of the day, SOE felt that this project was worth sending its dev team to work on it instead of doing other things. Perhaps they know something about the playerbase (e.g. through surveys and cancellation polls) that the most active members of the EQ2 community (Feldon and Stargrace were both recipients of puzzle pieces in the announcement rollout) do not.

That said, something about this feature feels off. Battlegrounds appear to be slated for the patch that will go with next month's expansion launch. They will effectively require the expansion, in that the battlegrounds will have a single level bracket where level 80's who don't buy the expansion can expect to get steamrolled by level 90's. A thinking person might conclude that battlegrounds are a major feature of the expansion, worthy of at least a bullet point on the box/advertising.

Instead, SOE did not even bother to confirm the feature until a mere two weeks before launch day. When has an MMORPG ever decided not to promote the addition of an entirely new type of gameplay? More than anything else, that omission seems telling, like SOE is well aware that this is NOT something that the existing playerbase is going to be excited about.

All of which begs the question - who exactly DID want this feature added to the game? I guess we'll know when we see if anyone whatsoever bothers to queue up next month, at a time when they could be exploring the new PVE content instead.


Stabs said...

Possibly they're using battlegrounds to test cross-server technology before they try to copy WoW's LFD instance system.

That's certainly a feature I'd welcome.

warhammermer said...

To be honest I really think that if they start wows balancing they will real harm their existing playerbase.

Brian Inman said...

I bought EQ2 at Xmas time, downloaded it, but haven't actually played it yet.

Adding the PvP aspect sounds fun to me.

Yeebo said...

Dead on. It's not a NGE style revamp, but it doe seem to be another instance of SOE being more interested in trying to appeal to users that they don't have than keeping the ones they have engaged.

Sambone said...

I've been playing eq2 for about 4years. I didn't at all like the idea of battlegrounds when I first heard and hated that servers were down longer to patch it in. Now that I've been in the battlegrounds though I'm and sooooo addicted to it. Though I'm sure there's plenty of players that have no interest, personally I think it was a great idea and gladly welcome the addition of another side to eq2.

Anonymous said...

Any free added content is good content. And you have a choice pvp or not you lose nothing, but for the love of all things holy please stop thinking wow invented the wheel. Eq1 had pvp too wow just got popular because they advertised. All mmos are rehashes of another, so pick one you like till it pisses you off then move on.