Is Bigger Better?
Small Updates vs. Expansions, Which do you Prefer?
Ahh...The universal debate of whether or not bigger is indeed, better. I have a love of most things bigger. Bigger cars (I drive an SUV), bigger men (I'm a tall girl, they need to be at least as tall as I am), bigger televisions (projection screen TV FTW!!). But for my gaming content, I'm not so sure if I'm a fan of the idea that bigger is better.
EverQuest II has always been particularly fabulous regarding a constant flow of content. Between live game updates, 3 adventure packs, and just about 3 expansion packs over the last two years, we have had more content being added than many of the MMOs currently on the market. I've always loved that about EQ2. But which kind of content do we love more, or more importantly, what kind of content gives us what we want, for less?
Live Game Updates. Who Doesn't Love Free?
Man o man, when it comes to live game updates, we've had some doozies. I think a lot of players have come to fear game updates because historically, they have meant nerfs all around. But we tend to forget the good things that come from these updates.
Some of the better things that come from live updates have been holiday events, a few smaller instance zones, combat revamps, PvP, and hordes of fun little add-ons that make gaming life nicer. All these things the developers work on continuously, and add in as they go along with fixes and needed tweaks. I love the updates, but since they don't get all the hoopla of APs and expansions, all this work tends to go unnoticed and the developers that work day in and day out on these updates, get very little glory.
As great as our live updates are, they cannot support the game alone, and while EQ2 has been fairly generous with the free content adds, this is a company that is looking to make a buck (or millions of 'em) so they WILL charge for what they think they can get away with charging for, hence the invent of the adventure packs...
Not Quite an Expansion, but Almost?
Yes, I own all of the adventure packs, but how often do I use them? To be honest, the only adventure pack that I have gotten real use out of is the Splitpaw Saga. I happen to love soloing in there with my lower level toons, and I continue to do so often. It's just an easy way to burn through some mobs without much thought or need for actual strategy. I don't particularly like the Bloodline Chronicles, and I got a little bit bored with the Fallen Dynasty (after I wore out my welcome at the pig races).
These were all good bits of content, but I'm not currently convinced that adventure packs are really the best way to go about adding mini content. It seems like a nifty way of adding zones and items, but for some reason, I don't think it clicks with the playerbase all that well. Once the initial Ooohs and Ahhs wear off, how many people actually continue to use this content on a regular basis? Not as many that should, judging by the wasteland that is the Village of Shin. To be very honest, it all feels too modular to me. It's like Norrath is a lego land, and they just add a couple more legos (via bells) and call it good.
I'm not sure what could be done to make adventure packs more interesting, but something must be able to be done, otherwise these end up being more of a waste of money than a innovative addition of content.
Expansions. Bigger and Better.
Expansions are the bread and butter of any MMO. While I don't believe that good expansions can make an already crappy game better, I do think that bad expansions can very quickly kill a game. Once the large majority of the playerbase has exhausted the main world content of any game, if content isn't added in a reliable pace that will entertain us for long enough to keep those subscriptions going, you will see drops in subscription rates between expansions. While some gaming companies might be okay with intermittent customer subscriptions, the mark of a truly successful MMO is a playerbase that cannot bear to allow their subscription to drop for any amount of time.
Does EQ2 make that mark?
We've had some very good expansions, and in fact, I'm quite impressed with Echoes of Faydwer, and it's broad range of content for everyone. It doesn't do all that much for high end gaming, but in a perfect world, all different types of gaming would be focused upon for every expansion. Unfortunately, there was a serious lull between Kindom of Sky and Echoes of Faydwer where we saw many high end players drop the game temporarily, waiting until the next expansion arrived to give them something to do. But since, as I said, EoF isn't really for those players, I'm willing to bet we see a rather large dip in those sub rates soon after the new content is used up and there really isn't anything left to do. But alas, the last two expansions were for the big boys, now it's time to toss some love towards the lower end players. I'm okay with this as I'm just as happy casually playing my alts as I am hitting dungeons with my level capped main.
The downside of expansions is, well, you have to pay for it, and peoples opinions as to whether or not the content is always worth the price, will always be up for debate. But without that content, higher end players would run out of content to play, and lower level players would never get a change of scenery, making expansions a very needed part of MMO gaming.
So which type of added content is better? None of the above. A balance of all different kinds of possible added content is extremely important. We need to feel like we are getting our moneys worth from our monthly subscriptions with regularly added (free) live updates, and we need the big bang for the buck with semi-annual expansions. Without both of these, we miss out. With EQ2, we happen to be lucky that our developers (and the suits that own them) seem to get this, and have been steadfast in their dedication to providing all kinds of content on a reliable basis. Kudos to SOE for that.
If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, or others, please feel free to e-mail me.
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