Why we love and hate Tutorial Island in our MMOs.
Progress on the EverQuest Next Landmark alpha marches on, the Roadmap is turning into real metaphorical roads, and all the while we are showered with news and updates.
Life is good for the Landmark enthusiast, but what of those people who are here for the promise of a return to Norrath? News from the new world has been thin and far between, by design, but we did have a Roundtable response that gave some insight into the newest incarnation of the world.
So here we are, discussing EverQuest Next. Though I would strongly urge those people who have dismissed Landmark to take a look at the longer term goals of the game, I'll be needing gladiators for my arena when the time comes.
The question was deceptively simple: Should there be multiple starting areas? It's a good question to spark discussion as the conversation will naturally branch into ideas of factions, starting areas, new player experience and so on, but the question itself turned out to be a bit of a trap.
The forum population, and those who vote on the Roundable polls, is heavily seeded by those who are already invested in a new EverQuest experience, so when a question comes up, you can bet the top response will be whatever EverQuest did. There are people asking for a reskinned EverQuest, so it's no surprise.
What we didn't know was that the designers of the game had decided to go against what the vast majority of the players that voted, as is absolutely their right, and wanted to explain why. To be fair to SOE, the designers were interested in the discussion of what a starting area could be and how it could fit into the world, hinting that they might be going in a new direction could have derailed the discussion before it started.
The long and the short is that making starting experiences is not easy as they need to be finely tuned. The first few minutes in a free game is absolutely vital, especially these days. Back in my day we had to walk 15 miles in the snow for a quest to kill some rats, and we were glad to have it, not like kids these days.
Speaking of kids these days...
It's easy to forget when playing MMOs that a fair amount of people running around are not only experiencing their first MMO, they weren't even alive when you went on your first raid. This goes double for a free game; they don't need to save their allowance to jump in.
This disparity is what game designers are up against every time they are faced with creating a new user experience. They have to assume that the player is only vaguely aware of what an MMO is while catering to veteran guild leaders who already have officers working on a new DKP spreadsheet. This is a seemingly impossible task, but one in which we ask designers to repeat around eight times for every game.
You can't make a good MMO without compromise. Anyone can think up of a ton of features that 'would be cool', but how many of those features can be worked on before the game suffers? The line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think SOE has made a tough call that will turn out to be the right call.
Taking so much time and effort out of the new player experience means that they can spend more time on it; focusing on one instead of eight allows them to refine that one much more, while still saving time to work on other features.
When push comes to shove, I would rather SOE spend more time and effort on what we're all going to be doing every day, with the added bonus of gaining quality and polish in our first experience.
I understand why some people will miss the added flavor of specific starting areas, the feeling of being from a specific place in the world as opposed to washing up on a beach can add to the sense of adventure when we go out into the big wide world.
Think about the other side of that coin though, when we've lost everything, we're free to do anything. We can create our own homes and alliances in the game; we're not bound by our birthright, though we are free to stay loyal to it.
While I hate tutorial island as much as anyone else, and roll my eyes when I hear 'it gets good after 20 hours', I'd rather the experience was as painless as possible and didn't take too much away from the meat of the game. As far as compromises go, I'll take that one.