I won’t bore you with a dictionary definition of polish–I won’t go into the etymology of the word, its language of origin, whether it was Old French or some other branch of what we call Indo-European.  I will say it seems to be the latest buzzword in the blogsphere of MMOs, and I approve of players demanding a high level of attention to detail, as we called it in the the Marines.  What interested me enough to put my thoughts into print, however, was a recent article on VirginWorlds comparing the MMO market as it currently stands, and EQ2 in 2007.  If you want to skip my spin and go to a broader perspective on the subject, I recommend reading their article.

I primarily pay for an online subscription (two in the case of EQ2, and formerly two with Blizzard) because I expect the developers to continually polish their product.  Let me be more specific: by polish I mean fix bugs, add content, revise/refine character models, tweak performance, balance classes, add new graphics, and generally suprise me and improve my gaming experience on a regular basis.  I have played enough persistant NWN worlds, MUDs, and other “volunteer” administered games to recognize the difference, and know you do, in fact, get something for $15 that is of value.

Everquest II, as has been discussed ad naseum from its launch, may have appeared prematurely, may have gone live to compete with that new MMO of the day World of Warcraft, or for some other reason, unknown to me.  What I do know is the current game is a much more playable version of the original EQ2 of November 2004.  As Wilhelm wrote when he returned to the game last fall, “Echoes of Faydwer!  Holy fae wings Batman, I wish this was the game I purchased in November 2004, not November 2006.  Still, better late than never!” (TAGN “November in Review” 2006).  I also believe SOE would have seen the initial momentum of subscribers retained in good part, rather than squandering that playerbase to other titles due to poor “polish.”  As VirginWorlds reports, EQ2 is looking better than ever in the Spring of 2007.

[…] EverQuest II, which has maintained good subscriber-ship without becoming a mainstream success, has reached a level of polish equal to World of Warcraft, and people are starting to take notice. Fans of EQ2 are trumpeting its merits, and rightfully so. It has great depth of content and nice balance between the fast leveling curve of WoW and the grind of its predecessor.

The current size of EQ2–original game plus three expansions–variety of character races and archetypes, and complexity of play (read, challenging), make it a superior title at this time.  I suffered through over a year of WoW, even enjoying it at times, only to see the expansion, for example, moved back close to a year–which was indicative of Blizzards handling, generically, of “polish.”  I hope SOE can learn from their experience with EQ2 and continue to put some “polish” on this title, and even launch “Kunark” with as little downtime as Blizzard accomplished with “The Burning Crusade.”

As for new titles, we have Vanguard to look at as evidence SOE is not concerned with marketing a playable, polished game at launch.  Lord of the Rings Online has had similiar criticisms leveled against its current state.  This begs the question–why is it profitable to launch a game in this condition?  Do SOE and other companies factor in the loss of subscribers due to unfinished or generally unpolished content upon launch over their long-term run for a game?  I have to believe if EQ2 had been a bit more playable in 2004 we would see a  more populated Norrath–though that is not necessarily a good thing, new players can enhance an existing game, providing they have a quality, polished world to explore.

I do not believe I have a particularly fresh take on this subject, but I am curious if anyone knows why companies are releasing obviously unfinished products.  Does the initial sale of the software net them the profits they need?  Should retention of subscribers have something to do with the process?  Each time I have cancelled a MMO account, the company wants a detailed explanation to “improve our product” for other players, so they at least give lip-service to the idea that retention is important.

What am I missing?


2 Responses to Polish

  1. Kilanna says:

    I think that there is a balance somewhere to be found.

    I accept that Beta will not give you a true representation of a live game. But is just seems wierd for me that a huge title like Vanguard has been released with some basic issues. I have heard a lot about broken quests – that to me just screams not ready to launch.

    I have bought my Vanguard and will install it (I love SOE’s veteran rewards and have to make sure no-one else uses my favourite toon name first) but I wont play it for probably another 6 months or so until things settle down.

    Mind you – I did the same thing with EQII – my current favourite. I stopped playing it for almost a year but now i am HOOKED:)

    I dont know how much the game houses can depend on the continued good will of players to sort out bugs post launch. I know my husband and a few rl buddies wont touch Vanguard because it is SOE and they are sick of SOE consistantly “nerfing” with their games (Can we all recall Star Wars Galaxies Combat Upgrade and NGE?)

    For my husband WoW has really hit a chord. Even though it does not have the depth of Lore (which is what i love even though i never played EQI) – he can log on and play with virtually no frustration. None of the constant live updates and hotfixes to fix the live updates. I still recall a recentish live update where at least some chat chanels were not working properly on my server. Frustrating MUCH.

    With regards to player retention – I also think that game houses should learn one huge lesson from WoW. I would argue that people have basically got an unlimited number of combinations of alts that they can have – so you can REALLY try out ALL the classes, races and Zones. You would never run out of content in years and years even if you are totally hard core.

    I also hope that SOE will take some lessons from the virtually flawless execution of BC. AND PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give us more character slots to enable us to check out all of the crunchy goodness in the next expansion:)

  2. Gaff says:

    You make some very good points–limiting people’s choice of ‘toons seems to be a detrimental factor for most gamers and not one that helps keep a game fresh. That being said, you can only do Westfall so many times before you start to look like a scarecrow–of course that is true of any game. EQ2 is finally, with EoF giving you multiple paths to leveling your ‘toon through the earlier levels. One thing I wish WoW would do is add some bag space.

    I won’t be playing Vanguard either. When I buy a new machine later this year, I just hope to turn up the graphics on EQ2 and move ahead. Thanks for your input!

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