Monday, September 6, 2010

The Bronze Life In EQ2X

I don't know that I've ever seen an entertainment product designed to elicit buyer's remorse quite as aggressively as EQ2's Extended Free to Play service.  So why, then, did I use $10 worth of Station Cash that was sitting on my account to pay for the silver upgrade?  EQ2 Extended offers a great value to well-informed players who understand the service's numerous restrictions, even if this is very much NOT the path that the game's developers would like to encourage.

Starting Out Bronze
My EQ2X character is a Half-Elf Inquisitor named Vaneras Sorrowdusk (after the capitol city in Runes of Magic and a popular adventure area in DDO).  Half Elves have the highly useful tracking racial ability, and Inquisitor was on the list of classes I'd been meaning to try anyway, so I was able to get off the ground without spending any Station Cash up front.  I made a point of not upgrading from the entry Bronze level initially to get a feel for how the basic option works.

Surprisingly, the bronze level isn't nearly as restrictive as might be expected. You are somewhat locked out of the economy, but the only real "must-have" in the long term is some form of larger bags if you're going to try and get by on two bagslots.  Stabs has a great guide on how to deal with this problem without having it cost you large amounts of real money.

I chose to go with the Sage tradeskill class to make my own spell upgrades, in large part because Sages are the easiest trade to level.  The downside at the Bronze level is that you cannot use Mastercrafted Expert quality spells, but at least the Research Assistant is available to upgrade your Journeyman spells to the Adept level (effectively two tiers of spell upgrade for your crafting troubles).

Probably the biggest annoyance for Bronze players is having the quest log limited to 20 slots.  EQ2 is fond of handing out quests that are intended to be completed by farming drops over the long term, such as the "legend and lore" line for each type of mob and NPC language quests.  You also need four or more slots in your quest log for "writs" that are used to level your guild, so 20 slots will fill up very rapidly.  You would need to really need to work hard to clear or abandon your old quests if you wanted to get by on the bronze quest log, and even then you might struggle with room.

Upgrading to silver and moving on

Once I'd gotten my feet wet, I went ahead and upgraded to Silver.  The upgrade comes with one bag slot, one additional slot in your character's personal bank, and access to two slots for shared bank storage between your alts.  I am now able to scribe Expert level spell upgrades, which adds a bit more potential mileage to my crafting profession.  The quest log doubles in size, and 40 slots is far more manageable.  The gold cap also quadruples (from 5 gold per level to 20 gold per level), and the your account goes from two character slots to three (which could mean a bank alt, who would also have 3 slots of bag space and 3 slots of personal bank, plus two or more slots of housing vault space).
My bags, bank, and shared bank, after the upgrade. The large main bag and the harvest bag come free with a new character, and I crafted all of the others myself.

Overall, the jump to Silver is a pretty substantial improvement, and really leaves the solo leveling game fully playable in my view.  I might spend $1.50 for a stack of 10 broker tokens if I'm feeling too lazy - perhaps I might even want *gasp* TWO stacks for $3.  Given that I still have $7.50 in Station Cash that I didn't have to pay for on my account, there's a good possibility that I won't pay SOE anything whatsoever out of pocket for my second level 90 character, if I end up sticking with it that far.  For now, I'm sitting at level 22 Inquisitor and 30 Sage with 35 AA's (thanks to the forced use of the AA slider, way higher than normal for my characters in this level range) and the holiday bonus exp. 

Tricking new customers?
So what, then, is the problem with the new service?
When you buy the "silver" level account upgrade, you have just upgraded to the highest possible non-subscription account option.  Minutes later, you will be subjected to pop-up ads every half an hour or so telling you why you should subscribe (making the $10 upgrade - which the very same ads were promoting until the moment you bought it - obsolete).  Between this and the prohibitive restrictions on group content, SOE is going out of their way to tell EQ2X customers that the subscription is the "real" product. 

The problem is, they're sending the message that they're more than happy to pocket as much money as they can from these potential customers before they figure it out.  For example, the Station Cash store will happily sell clueless newbies a single 24-slot bag for a whopping $7.50. The thing here is that, as I mentioned above 40-slot handcrafted bags sell for 14 gold on the broker. A player who only learns this after they've gotten more experience with the game is going to feel swindled, which does not seem like the best plan for converting them into a long term customer.
The available station cash bags - the $15 versions at least double as cosmetic items that can be displayed on your back, but the $7.50 version is flat out inferior to easily obtained in-game items.

I hope that SOE finds some way for this product to succeed.  EQ2's latest expansion feels really small compared to previous efforts, and it sounds like the new producer is hoping that additional revenue will help him make the case that his people shouldn't be pulled off the team to work on other products. 

Even so, I think the way that they have structured the model is a real challenge.  Selling additional content for money is easy to understand.  By contrast, I've seen way more in-game complaints about the business model - in particular the restrictions that remain on non-subscribers who are willing to pay - than I have ever seen in any other open access game I've played.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, they're giving away so much of the game that I happily spent the bonus exp weekend in the free service instead of resubscribing to the live game. 

The point of taking an existing subscription game to an open access model is to leverage the large amount of existing content and make more money.  Time will tell whether EQ2X ultimately pulls that off.  In the mean time, for better or worse, EQ2X appears to be worth my increasingly limited gaming time. 


Shannara said...

When I downloaded this the same day as release, it was too buggy to run. The char creation screen kept crashing every time. Once I go into the game, I could not move around.

I haven't tried it since, but it looks like they fixed all of those bugs. I'll have to give it another try.

Green Armadillo said...

The character creator crashed precisely once on me the first time I tried to run it. It worked fine the second time. Other than that, it's been pretty peaceful - sometimes the client "crashes" instead of closing peacefully when I leave the game.

Carson 63000 said...

Hey how's things in the Ebon Tribunal? I saw a post from them on the EQ2X guild recruitment forums, and after reading the website though I might get in touch and see if could join up, if I decide to stick around in EQ2X.

Green Armadillo said...

I've had a good time in Ebon Tribunal so far - seems to be a reasonably well populated guild, with multiple folks on at all times. People seem generous with the stuff they're not going to use, which is also always a plus. We won't be the first to a fully stocked guild hall, but we seem to be moving along at a reasonable clip.

Also, it's home to other bloggers - Ardwulf is in charge, and I've seen Yeebo online.

Yeebo said...

I'm still having a good deal of fun in EQ2X and in the new guild. I think silver was a great buy, but it doesn't look like I'll be spending much more cash there in the future unless they open up some more options. Still, 80 levels of solo content for $30 or so is a steal.