Of Monkeys and Magic Bottles
The Digital Download vs. Brick and Mortar approach to EQ2 upgrades.
by Chris "Okooo" Kroebig
First, let’s start off with some simple definitions. By digital download, I will be referring to buying a game online, using a credit card, downloading the software… never having to leave the house. Oftentimes you must create a password and account name, this helps alleviate the fear of paying for something and not owning a hard copy; having some kind of backup, something more then just electronic bytes and arbitrary bits of information. When mentioning a physical store, the brick & mortars, there are many out there, and I can’t be naming them all. Computer stores with the hardware in boxes piled up to the ceiling, aisles upon aisles of software for every OS, games from every company, of every genre, for every age range.
This is a time of fast food, faster cars, computers approaching the speed of light, interconnectivity tying us all together, people just a keystroke away. Many people work exclusively from home nowadays, the need to venture out into the world to do your business or pleasure can now be simply done at home, groceries can be ordered online to be delivered to your front door, bills can be paid via the internet, you can shop entirely online and be mailed your merchandise. This is where the world seems to be heading, even the brick and mortar buildings seem to be on their way out. I believe the gaming industry is seeing this change and trying to help out their brick and mortar brethren by offering incentives for people to step out of the house and visit these brick and mortar stores. With the first expansion to Everquest 2, you would pre-order or simply buy the expansion online and it would be credited to your account information. Then, on launch day, you won’t have to wait in line at the store to pick up your reserved copy. Just sit in your pajamas, enjoy your coffee, and download in the comfy of your home.
Now if you did step outside the house and picked up an Everquest 2 pre-order box, you got a unique code that gave you special ‘in-game’ rewards. Most players could care less about a special coin or an autographed map of an area; even a snapshot of the president of the company drowning in a sea of money won’t satisfy the average player anymore. The folks over at Sony decided that as an incentive for players to step outside perhaps get a little more exercise then they are used to, they’d offer them something completely useless. So along came ‘monkey!’ - it almost makes you wonder if they weren’t influenced by Woody Hearn’s popular GU comic series where the insane gamer, has a random pet monkey (http://www.gucomics.com/archives/view.php?cdate=20040813). Take a browse around the SOE forums sometime and do a search for Monkey (When I did so, there were 145 PAGES of posts, regarding Monkey) you’ll be shocked over the volume generated by this monkey, many didn’t understand that you had to get it from a brick and mortar store to get the monkey, and the misunderstanding caused a lot of tension.
One of the biggest downsides to Digital-Downloads is the confusion. SOE’s online store is not newbie friendly. All of the upgrades are difficuly to find and descriptions are vague at best. The “Desert of Flames” expansion and the two “adventure packs” are easy to find if you know the names, but many are confused by the small difference in name between “adventure pack” and “expansion pack” (adventure packs are under $8 and just new zones such as the "Bloodline Chronicles," and the "Splitpaw Saga," while Expansion Packs ($30) contain many new zones, levels, spells, items etc.).
The upgrade that really gave me problems was upgrading from the standard no-frills Everquest 2 subscription to the 10 character slots, adventure packs included, and access to play the other Sony games. So I go and look at my options; at first glance the only one I was able to find was Station Players. This adds some nifty web functions, like being able to chat with your guild when you aren’t logged into the game and advanced tools for tracking your characters progress. Not exactly what I wanted, but in this age of fast things I figured this must be what they wanted me to have; it was the only subscription upgrade I could find, so I take it. Well, I was right; it’s not the one I wanted. So the search begins! The Forums to the rescue, I went checking around to see if anyone else had the same problem. What I really wanted, apparently, was "Station Access"… now how could I be so stupid? I didn’t care about the other games, all I wanted was 10 character slots. I didn’t see exactly where it said it added character slots, so I took another risk and gave it a go. Tada! Victory is mine! I have beat the confusion and earned my character slots. Now had I needed to go to a physical building, or make a phone call to achieve these additions, it might never have happened… that feels like too much work. I wanted it quick and easy, but I can promise you, if I were talking to a real person in the process I would have activated my extra character slots without using the extra web features.
Among the biggest benefits to visiting the physical buildings is the ability to browse. Peruse among the aisles and racks of games, not knowing exactly what you’re looking for, but looking at the options and trying something new. The best part about the physical building could very well also be the biggest downside to it. The waiting in line, the anticipation after purchase on the car ride home, the wanting to rip that box open get at the sweet data inside, the yearning to look at the manual and decide what type of character you’ll play, weapons you’ll use, items that can be yours for the taking.
Where will this battle lead? Will Digital Downloading become the only way to buy games, will you search the web to find what games you want to play? Or will we continuely head to physical building enjoy the sights and demos available at our favorite game store. Until we hover closer to 100% internet connectivity for the general population, I doubt the brick and mortar building is going anywhere. Until everyone is connected to a high-speed internet connection, the game store will have its needed place in society. But those of us who are too busy oftentimes to go to the store, too impatient to wait in a line, too worried about the price of gas can use the option of the Digital-Download. I’d say “see you in the store!” but I’ll continue to download my updates from the solace of my home. Have a wonderful day and happy hunting!
Okooo the Illusionist
Ten Ton Hammer
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