Saturday, September 25, 2010

How an MMO lost its fan

I never got into WoW.  Never liked it: hated the art, hated the controls (felt like I was steering a cow through water), hated the camera, really hated the UI, and didn't particularly enjoy the community.  Such is life.

But for me, there was EQ2.

A guy I dated for a couple of years (still a good friend) sat me down at his PC one day very late in 2004, when I was visiting (long-distance relationship) and he had to go to work.  "This is EQ2," he said. "Roll a character.  I think you'll like it."

When he came home from work nearly 9 hours later, I was still at the PC.  I'd gotten up once to use the bathroom but had forgotten to eat or get dressed.  But what I did have was Freeport citizenship.

For my birthday, two months later, he bought me a high-end video card and I bought myself the game.  Thus my main and I came to share a birth date.  I jumped in, feet first, and level by painful level eventually ended up at 50 -- then the cap -- with a guild and a horse and some low-level skill at raiding.

He played on Test and so I, too, played on Test.  I loved the small community, the low server population, the deep sense of all being in it together, and especially the direct interaction with the QA and Dev teams.  We could make suggestions directly to the people who changed the game, and see our thoughts appear in later patches.  We were the ones trying out the new zones and the new quests, the ones who had to figure out everything for ourselves because the walkthroughs hadn't been written yet.

18 months later, he and I split up.  EQ2 and I did not.  By then I was the leader of my small guild, after it had been through some serious drama.  (The guild's founder got hired by SOE as a GM, and so couldn't play with us any more, though we did sometimes still chat.)  I played in several apartments, in several cities, and into my next serious relationship.  I leveled to 60, to 70, to 80, lost friends, made new friends, found my old friends again.  I took a few months off, came back, felt like I had never left.  Patches always changed mechanics, of course, and sometimes very significantly (tradeskilling March 2005 vs. tradeskilling March 2009? no comparison!).  Some changes were for the better, some for the worse, but I was willing to ride them out.  Something, after a few weeks or a month or two, always made me want to go back to Norrath, back to my 5 -- now 6 -- room house in Freeport, back to wearing Assassin blacks and stealthing around and hoping Cheap Shot would take.  (Even after discovering with my Fury and Shadowknight that Assassin was EQ2 on Hard Mode, I always went back to my main.)

Until recently.

Each expansion has been more linear than the last.  The most recent, Sentinel's Fate, is 100% linear.  There's a specific A-B-C solo progression, an A-B-C group progression, and an A-B-C raid progression.  I leveled my Fury on totally different content than my Assassin from 1-80, but from 81-90, that wasn't going to be an option.  Then, on adding free-to-play, they changed the look and function of the interface rather significantly, and suddenly five years' worth of muscle memory was out the window.

I know, now, why I miss EQ2 the same way I miss college.  Because they each were significant for years of my life, and they each don't want me any more.  College is great when you're in it: you start as a freshman and the school tells you it's all about you and they love you.  Then you're a senior, and you're graduating, and it's all about you and they love you, until you realize on your way off of campus for the last time, that they're already cleaning up after you and hanging the banners to welcome next year's freshmen.  You loved the experience, but going back five years later won't be the same.

So I don't know.  I hate leaving everything I have there -- the people, the history, the character -- and walking away.  I've let my subscription lapse a number of times in the last 6 years but I always knew I'd re-up eventually.  But I took the $4.99 3-day re-up option last weekend, logged in for under an hour, and fruitlessly logged back out.  The game changed, and I think it may have lost me for real this time.  Maybe I'll go back a month or two after the 8th expansion comes out, as if for Homecoming weekend.  But SOE has decided that a different population -- a newer, fresher population -- is their target demo.  And that's cool.  Really.  I'm not one of those gamers who thinks a publisher should be in any business other than the one of making money.  I'm just sad that it regressed while I grew.

So, for the first time in many years, I'm installing other MMOs on my PC.  (I did beta-test or 30-day-trial several in the last few years, but never ended up subbing to any long-term.)  There are other shores for me to explore, and my guild and two sister-guilds are all cross-game groups.  So perhaps I shall find my friends again.  Perhaps I'll start by looking in Middle-Earth.


  1. I a bit confused as to how you got from 70-80 on different content in Kunark, since that was pretty linear. Maybe you waited until the next expansion came out?

    I have a similar arc to yours, though I didn't come to the game the same way. I played at launch, but I had played Everquest beforehand. I played Everquest because my wife played (I bought her the game for her birthday, IIRC). Then I got a try and I was hooked. My own account followed soon, and the red-headed high elf enchanter was born.

    I started EQ2 at launch, just 4 days after my heart attack, which itself happened on the Saturday following Dubya's re-election. It was a nice way to rehab, that's for sure.

    Now we're playing some DDO, on the Ghalanda server. Look me up some time if you're interested. I'm Toldain there, too.

    Oh, and by the way, you also know me as Doctor Jay.

  2. @Toldain -- Overlapping level content. And the fact that they came along between my toons and patched in new quests and group zones. ;) Since my Assassin sat at every level cap, new things got added in behind her that I used to level my Fury. The main went into the Moors of Ykesha already at 80, having progressed in Kunark, but my alt leveled there.

    I tried DDO at launch but didn't particularly enjoy it. Might be worth another look now, since the free-to-play era makes these things easy to demo. :)

  3. @Toldain -- and also, Kunark had enough room to hit 80 and then go back and decide what you wanted to do with Epics / factions / grouping / etc. Even after my main hit 90, I was backtracking and wrapping up some RoK content I missed the first time, because I was running groups instead.

  4. K - if you happen to check out City of Heroes, let me know, that's been my stomping ground in MMO land for the last 6 years (aside from brief forays to 80 in WoW).

    I've just started dabbling in the F2P LotRO because I have a friend there, but the visuals leave me incredibly bored, so I think that's going to be a pass. I hadn't heard that EQ2 went F2P... I was just looking for a good F2P to try triple boxing in so I mayyyyy check it out.

    (Andy from TNC)

  5. Hi - came over from TNC's (you mentioned a game review in a comment). I know this post is a few weeks old, but wanted to say "Thanks" for perfectly hitting how I feel about WoW. I miss WoW like I miss college. And now I know how to describe it so that my friends stop being afraid that "miss WoW" = "going to start playing again".