dsanfte writes "If you're reading this, you may be considering picking up EverQuest. Most likely you've heard from friends how great this "addictive" game is, how in-depth it can become, and how much fun you'll have playing it. As usual, however, you aren't getting the straight deal. So before you pick up that EverQuest box, let me tell you the other side of that euphoric story." The rest of Sanftenberg's excellent article is below.
Everquest is a game centered on rewarding you for how much time you put into it. This is the core design philosophy behind the game, since they charge you by the month and make more money the longer you stick around. What they don't tell you is that taking your money is about all they're interested in. They care little for player complaints, and less about player suggestions and requests. They're in this to milk you for all you're worth, and that's the first thing you have to know.
The second thing you have to know is that the game stops being fun. By that time though, you're so "addicted" to the game, you don't realize it. The game becomes a source of frustration and anger instead of a source of entertainment and fun. It becomes a chore. It becomes a job. You plod away at the keyboard, obsessed and consumed with getting that new item, or finishing that last quest, and while so consumed you begin to hate the game. Vehemently. It's a game that goes on forever, and one that you can never win.
After playing the game for a while, you'll start conversing with other players, and you'll see the one thing all players have in common is that they all hate Sony - the designers of Everquest. (It should be noted that Verant, the original development company, has been absorbed into Sony Online Entertainment -- so will be referred to as Sony for simplicity) This is baffling at first glance, because they send Sony $12.95 every month for a form of supposedly voluntary entertainment, which they enjoy, and yet they despise them! Look a little deeper though, and you'll see that most people who dislike Sony are the ones who no longer have fun playing Everquest. They aren't getting what they want out of the game anymore, and they look to Sony, being the source of all changes and improvements/breakdowns in the game, as the cause. Right or wrong, this is the state of affairs; the consumers hate the company providing them with a service that they think they enjoy.
Let's go back to the part about Sony not caring about their customers. Recently, they changed their GM (Game Master) Customer Service system such that, instead of one GM being assigned to each game server permanently to handle problems, there would instead be a smaller pool of GMs roaming all the servers infrequently. When enough player problems on a server requiring GM help cropped up (around 30), a GM would be sent to handle the petitions (problems) one at a time until finished, and move on to the next server. This had the effect of increasing wait times on getting petitions answered from a few hours to many hours, or even several days by many accounts. This was introduced supposedly as a cost-cutting measure, which would improve efficiency. They'd have to hire less GMs if they pooled them up into a roving band, instead of assigning one for each server. In actuality, while this may have made things more efficient on Sony's side, the players were left waiting for days until that magic number was reached where a GM would log on to the server to help them out.
On Sony's website, there is a link to a feature called Developer's Corner. Over the two years this has been up and running, the person in charge of Customer Relations at Sony, Alan "Absor" VanCouvering, has turned it from a section dedicated to answering player questions, into a simple Press Release box with little useful information. Where there would be several updates per day, now there are perhaps one or two per week. Answers to player questions are few, and replies to player emails are fewer. Since most answers to customer questions are now handled on specific, "class" (ranger, paladin, monk, etc) message boards by the developers themselves (once in a blue moon of course), one is left wondering what Absor is paid to do. Twiddle his thumbs perhaps? The world may never know.
This leads up to a lack of will at Sony to address their customers with any sort of respect. Often, sudden "game-changing" features will be added or removed in a patch, with little or no explanation given to the players, and no recourse for the players themselves other than to submit comments to the black hole at the Dev Corner. Other changes can render a class' or items' abilities weaker, slower, or even drastically altered or removed from the game. Again, the players have no say in the matter officially, and rarely get these changes reversed through massive online signature petitions. It is quite common now for these sorts of changes to come completely unannounced and unexplained, leaving the players themselves to bug test, figure out what happened, what is wrong, and leaving them again to wander off to the Dev Board asking what the purpose of the change was. Far too often in this process, the sheer discoordination and incompetence at Sony is revealed, as the changes happened accidentally or were not intended to occur in the manner they did. The bottom line being, you can go to bed one night with a great character and items, and wake up in the morning to find all that has changed; leaving you holding your member and your opinions mattering less than a pig's squeals in a slaughterhouse.
The final aspect of the will at Sony to disassociate from the customers is how they handle disputes between players. In the Everquest game world, you can find yourself in competition with other players for the ability to play the game. Yes, in EQ, you compete with other players for the right to kill the monsters. It's massive artificial scarcity. If you aren't online early enough, or if you don't move fast enough, you lose. MOBs (as monsters are known) spawn at predictable intervals; and the design of the game itself, added onto the times that Sony resets its servers for patches, means that if you don't live in Europe or on the east coast, you and your guild (an organization of players) are provided with less game content than any other time zone or area. You get to have "fun" as another guild of players in another part of the world kills a mob required to advance in the game while you're in bed, or at work, and nothing can be done about it. Often, players will do this purposefully to keep you from killing other, stronger mobs, so they can keep that part of the game to themselves. The GMs will not help you, the Guides (volunteer player GMs) will tell you they can't do anything (and that's true, they are impotent for the most part), and you and the 60 people in your guild are left holding your collective members for six months while you wait for said east-coast unemployed or European guild to take pity on you and let you have the mob. Fat chance.
Sony of course doesn't mind these situations in the slightest; because you see, this is their high-end game. Where in the lower levels you'll spend your time getting great items by fighting mobs that take seconds to prepare for and a minute to kill, at the high end you are required to spend multiple hours (sometimes up to twelve hours) with a "raid force" of 60 or more people just killing useless, annoying mobs (which drop little or no loot) put there as obstacles. Finally, when you reach the boss mob, the fight may last perhaps 30 minutes or more. This 30 minutes of combat is certainly not fun, as all you do is point your character at a mob and press a single button to auto-attack. Many melee-classes go watch TV for the duration of the fight. Your clerics (usually eight or more) cast the same healing spell in a long healing chain to keep your warrior alive, and your wizards all cast the same damaging spells for the 30 minutes of the fight. This is to kill a single mob (in this case, named Aten Ha Ra), which drops four items for your guild.
These situations are 'lovingly' referred to by the players as timesinks; gameplay traps intended to waste your time and keep you playing longer. There are hundreds of them; others incredibly longer than simply getting to a mob. Several quests required to advance in the game require you to spend 100+ hours sitting in single locations, killing hundreds of mobs in 12-hour stretches for a "rare drop", such as ore in the ssraeshza mines, which you use to create "bane" weapons; or the shissar commanders for key pieces; with which to fight the boss mob of the zone. Unlike the other parts of the game, these timesinks are required for advancement, and there is no getting around them unless you wish to stop playing. This is of course not fun at all, but as said above, by this time you'll have long stopped having fun with EQ. You'll do it anyway though, as thousands of others have, because you, like them, are addicted. The quest to kill the shissar Emperor of Ssraeshza is one of the most vicious timesinks in the entire game, but it is merely one example among dozens. To even reach this area of the game requires months of non-stop raiding with your guild; sometimes up to a year of raiding. Only then will you be powerful enough to enter.
Expansions to the game are put out about once per year. These cost around $30 to buy when released, and are required to visit new zones, gain new levels, and so forth. For anyone just entering the game now to be on equal footing with others, they will need to buy the original game and all four expansions at retail price. Of course, no expansion yet released by Sony has been complete when it hit the shelves. Often the final zone in the expansion would be left unfinished, or in such a state of bugginess that it was unplayable. Other zones will be incomplete or have bad pathing for the mobs. Items and monsters will not be "balanced" for difficulty, and players will sometimes stumble onto great equipment for their characters, only to have Sony later decide it is too powerful, and "nerf" it. When an item is nerfed, it's reduced in effectiveness or power, often to the point of absurdity, or it simply stops entering the game world. This rewards players who gun through the new expansion as fast as possible to get the upper hand over their competition on the server, and punishes anyone who cannot put 12+ hours of EQing in per day. The problems with expansions highlight another aspect of Sony which is decidedly underwhelming: their playtesting (or lack thereof). Many bugs in the new expansions are left for players to discover themselves and work around; fixes are often delayed by as much as a week while Sony tries to find a solution. In Everquest, you pay to be a bug tester, and receive no feedback or acknowledgement that any bugs you report are fixed, or even looked at, unless its fix shows up in a terse (bi-) weekly patch message. Most bugs are left unfixed due to their overwhelming numbers.
Class balancing is an on-going project of Sony to try to make sure each class (warrior, cleric, wizard, ranger, etc) has its own niche, and feels useful and meaningful in the game world. They seem oblivious to the fact that items are just as much a part of the game as classes though, and it seems they let their zone (game area) developers run wild with items, creating more work for the developers. If you're keeping a tally, the Mrylokar's Dagger in NToV was one of them. The Mistwalker from Lady Vox was another. These weapons were both nerfed because they were too powerful, and made the classes who could use them much too strong versus the mobs of the time. There is no feedback to the players on what the "visions" for the classes are supposed to be (beyond the vague three-line descriptions in the manual), and no way to for the players to venture a guess of what might be "too powerful" and in line to be nerfed next. Playing EQ is a lot like playing in a casino; you can see your winnings vanish in the blink of an eye out of sheer bad luck. It is not a game where you can ever feel secure.
All this pales in comparison to player harassment, of course. From sexual-orientation insults to other players spamming your chat bar, EQ has it all. There are other forms of harassment too: Often when in competition with other guilds (as you will find yourself quite often if you play long enough), you will see them employ tactics such as "training" mobs onto you to keep you away from the contested mob encounter or zone. A "train" is typically a large number of powerful mobs (10-20), which the other guild will gather up from the zone and dump onto your raid in order to kill you. The GMs will again do nothing about this, nor will the Guides, unless they are there to witness it. Being that there are typically only a half-dozen GM/Guides on a server of 2500+ players at any given time, and that trains are completely unpredictable and random, there is of course almost no way for them to witness these events. While server logs exist that can prove this malicious player harassment occurred, they will usually refuse to even take a look, because it constitutes work, and simply dismiss the problem outright. Your guild is then left holding their collective members once again. Do you see the pattern forming here?
Everquest is a game full of people who want to "win" and "be the best" at any cost. This includes griefing you and your guild, making your gameplay miserable. Why not simply quit then, you ask? If the game isn't fun and sucks this badly, why would anyone play it? Well, because they are addicted. They are addicted to the mobs, to the loot, and to the social atmosphere with other people in their guilds. They have invested so much time in these characters (often hundreds of days of play time, sometimes more time than they spend at their jobs), that they can't will themselves to give it up. They play on instead, hoping things will get better, and nursing a great and deep hatred for Sony and the game itself. If you play long enough, you will see this as the universal truth. People who quit are viewed as giving up on their guilds; they are ridiculed, denounced, and hated. There is massive peer pressure to keep playing. Often people you thought were your friends in the game were simply using you to advance, or improve their characters. Online relationships between people in EQ are fickle, and are only good as long as everyone's getting a good dose of the drug (loot, advancement in the game, and good social relations with their guild).
Perhaps now you've begun to see the other side of EQ: The buggier side, the darker side; the side of despair and anger, fear and frustration. The game will absorb your life if you let it, while the days and weeks melt away into oblivion. I have barely touched on the repetitive gameplay you must endure to reach the top levels of the game: killing mob after mob, hundreds upon hundreds in an endless non-challenging stream to gain experience. I have not said anything about linkdeath (losing your connection) from Sony network problems, or server crashes where you lose any experience or items recently attained (and for which you are not compensated by customer service). I have not said anything about the Legends(TM) subscriptions, where you get to pay $40/month to get the customer service that you should be receiving anyway. There are many other problems with this game that I did not go into here. Before you get into EQ, realize what you're jumping into. Look before you leap.
aka Dolalin Bonewielder
62 Necromancer of Lanys T`Vyl