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Transparency and the Way Forward

Victor Barreiro Jr. Posted:
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For as long as I’ve been writing for MMORPG.com and, in fact, long before that, I’ve had a keen interest in transparency and openness. It’s why I’m a fan of Square Enix’s Naoki Yoshida and his handling of Eorzean matters. It’s also why I wanted desperately to to discuss some recent goings-on on the Planetside Reddit, which basically struck all the right kinds of goodie-goodie feels in me regarding Everquest Next: Landmark’s future.

That said, I’m going to level with you. I was unable to discuss Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley’s remarks last week because I was dealing with some issues connected to carpal tunnel in my right hand, among other things. While I was still able to use the computer, I was more or less on autopilot due to painkillers, so I’m going to make up for last week by consolidating a lot of thoughts in a small space. Bear with me if my thoughts seem muddled, as there’s a lot to go through.

Smedley and Transparency

To recap, SOE President John Smedley addressed some concerns regarding the All-Access Pass. SOE’s original changes to the subscription plan were to essentially remove the 500 Station Cash (SC) stipend that players got monthly and replace it with the the ability to get a free item of up to 2000 SC in cost a month.

This plan met with considerable resistance, with part of the backlash stemming from people not having any worthwhile idea why the change was being implemented (for lack of a quick way of summation).

The turning point occurred some 8 or 9 days ago on Reddit when Smedley explained a reversal following how people saw the upcoming change and reacted to it. Pending some formalizing from SOE’s side, Smedley said the company would now lower the cost of all-access subscriptions to US$14.99, maintain the 500 SC stipend with the proviso that players log in to an all-access connected game monthly to claim it, and give members a 10% discount on the marketplace.

During the discussion on the above-linked post, it seems he realized people didn’t get why they made the earlier decision to offer a 2000 SC item monthly, and he replied to a Redditor, explaining where SOE was coming from with their proposed change. In a separate reply, Smedley also linked to a reading explaining where the company was coming from in terms of accounting as it relates to virtual items.

He then made a separate post with a declaration of his philosophy moving forward. He believed “a lot of this rhetoric is the result of us not being transparent enough,” addressing the issue by saying the following:

So I therefore am going to make it one of my personal missions to explain the thought process behind our business decisions. I want to be able to have an honest enough dialog that I can actually tell you "yeah this is important to our bottom line.. that's why we did it"... and have you at least not question whether that's the real reason. You may disagree with it, but at least you'll be able to make a reasonably informed judgement as to whether or not we're the greedy company some of you seem to think that we are, but at least you'll hear the why.

My hope is that by doing this we can at least get people to say "ok. that makes sense.. I don't love it but it makes sense and I'm ok with it". And if you don't, then we have work to do.

Why this is good

Some of you may think the entire thing was bollocks. Heck, some of you may think this is a terrible conspiracy pointing to a long-term plot to fund EQNext. You can choose to remain skeptical about all of it, but I choose to see it as one of those understated, yet great moments in the game industry.

When the president of a major game company sees (for lack of a better term) how he has to think from the mindset of a company executive and of a gamer who may or may not be cynical about the industry, and then realizes he has to relay information diplomatically to gamers so they can better understand why a company needs to do something – even when that information may not be taken well – that takes a considerable amount of stones to do.  I salute anyone who is willing to be more open, even if being open isn’t in one’s best interest.

We may not like what this openness shows us, but working from truthful knowledge is better than raging over conspiratorial bits of unsubstantiated rumor. Provided that SOE moves forward with being open like this, and they can expect more people to respect them and, in all likelihood, support their games.

Questions on Claims

Aside from the above discussion, one big thing that happened recently was a 56-minute livestream on Twitch. There were a lot of points of discussion here over the livestream, but I’ll sum up some of the more important points.

  1. An interesting feature called DevTalk Mode will be available. Think of it as developer commentary mode, where you can point to a feature and there will be some information on it, as well as the dev’s plans for a particular feature moving forward.
  2. Claim sizes are currently set to be 70x70x100 meters, and are set to prevent people from building above or below a person.
  3. A lot of different permissions and toggles are going to be set up to allow people to build without being hassled, and allow people to build with you or use items on your claim.
  4. There’s an escalating cost to owning multiple claims. In addition, there’s an upkeep to maintain, creating a practical limit to owning multiple claims. You can combine adjacent claims you own though.
  5. Failing to pay an upkeep saves what you built, though you lose the claim. You can build on top of the same place after losing a claim, provided no one else has taken that spot.
  6. There are ways to see if a location has been claimed, and you can actually add tags, search for, and rate claim types in case you want to visit them.
  7. You can sell (via Player Studio) or transfer your claims to others.
  8. Claims have inherent storage, called chests, and are local to a claim. So personal inventory, vault space, and chests are part of the storage systems in the game. Resources gathered on one server and are in your personal inventory stay in your inventory when switching servers.
  9. Claims are wiped at closed beta’s end. But after open beta, there will be no wipe.
  10. There are navigational aids, such as a map and compass, and a form of fast travel, called ley lines.

My personal takeaway is I like the idea of a DevTalk mode for Landmark. It seems like something that a game should have if it doesn’t have its own formal lore component since it adds to the world.

Of course, the other stuff is fun to read too, but I certainly think a “Producer’s Notes” added on to a game makes a worthwhile addition that makes me want to grab everything just for added lore.

That said, let me end this week’s Landmark write-up with some Super Marioness. Here’s a recently released video of the Chomper plant monster, the second video of the Building Blocks series. Cheers!

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the ArcheAge and Everquest Next columns (and formerly the Devil’s Advocate column) for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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Victor Barreiro Jr.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and The Secret World columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.