An Attempt at Economic Stimulus in Everquest II

Posted: March 12, 2009 by Kendricke in Everquest 2
Tags: ,

You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves. 

  –   William J. H. Boetcker, 1916 (often attributed to Lincoln)

In case you’ve missed it, SOE is considering giving away Master level spells to any player that wants one:

 All research requires a base amount of information to work with. In the case of the Research Assistants, this manifests in that they require you to have the previous tier of the spell being upgraded before they can begin work for you. So, in order to research that Master I, you’ll need to first know the Adept III version, though it doesn’t matter whether that Adept III version came from researching or from your friendly neighborhood sage, jeweler or alchemist. The time required to research a spell increase will vary based on the level and tier of the spell. A level 20 Adept I may only take an hour, while a level 80 master will likely take a month or longer. 

 –   Jennifer “Kirstie” Gerull, Mechanics Supervisor, Everquest II

There’s a couple of restrictions they’ve announced, but the one thing they haven’t yet conceded is an actual cost.  That’s right, no cost other than your monthly subscription and a little bit of time.  Since you’re required to have a subscription to play the game and since we all earn time at the same rate, this is no cost at all.  No gameplay required, just tell your research assistant you want X master spell, log out and come back in a month or so and you’ve got a brand new master level spell.  Even CCP requires you to pay for the skills you earn in real time in EVE Online. 

On the surface, I have to hand it to SOE, though:  it’s a truly noble idea.  It’s a way to provide master level spells to every person in the game – at least the important ones.  It’s a way to make sure that you’re never held hostage to the random number generator or the greed of plat farmers.  From a player’s point of view, why would anyone possibly be against such an idea? 

In a word:  standards. 

Several years ago, I was involved in a discussion with some friends over an article we’d read regarding Bill Gates’ total worth.  At the time (this was the late 90’s, mind you), he was worth around 64 billion dollars.  Over a couple of beers on a perfect Minnesota summer evening, we bandied around some “what if” scenarios on how to spend the vast Gates fortune.  One of the ideas that came up was a way to eliminate poverty.  One of my friends came to the sudden realization that Bill could single handily “wipe out” poverty in the U.S. if he would simply give away $100,000 to the 600,000 poorest Americans (there were around 260,000 Americans below the poverty level that year).  After all, my friend reasoned, f the reason they were “poor” was simply because they didn’t have enough money, just give them money.  The problem I saw in the issue (and apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice this) was that the moment you put that much new money into general circulation…you simply raised the bar of what that mimimum standard was defined as. 

Now, we could get into a much more detailed debate over that beer fueled discussion I held with my friends a decade ago, but I still stand by the general logic I based my conclusion on:  if you give something away to everyone in order to equalize the playing field, you get exactly what you pay for – a more equalized playing field.  Is that a problem?  You bet it can be, especially in the context of an economy. 

When Echoes of Faydwer launched, the standard for spell quality for the average player was only Adept I.  Rare tradeskilling components were still sufficiently rare that not everyone had immediate access to crafted Adept III spells and transmuting had not yet artificially increased demand for the dropped Adept I spells.  This meant that while Adept III spells were relatively expensive to acquire, Adept I’s were cheap and plentiful.  For those which weren’t, the Adept IV was considered a viable alternative, since the content in the game world was still designed around an Adept I standard and Adept IV’s were close enough to the standard that skilled players could still get by without anything better.

Sometime during Echoes’ lifecycle, SOE increased the rate of rare harvests while the transmuting secondary tradeskill was itself released with Echoes of Faydwer.  This lead to less cheap Adept I’s on the broker since transmuters were snatching them up as fast as they could while simultaneously increasing the supply of rare tradeskill harvests which meant more access to affordable Adept III’s.  In the short run, this meant an overall easier experience for the casual player, since content seemed to be designed around that Adept I standard.  Besides, more players were grouping at the higher levels of the game (which capped at level 70 at the time), which meant that even underskilled players were able to hide more of their personal flaws by allowing better skilled/geared players to handle the lion’s share of the work in their nightly groupings.  Week by week and month by month, the average spell quality began to creep higher and higher till more players had access to more Adept III’s. 

When the beta buffer was introduced in Rise of Kunark, I was surprised to see that Adept III’s were the spell quality we were being asked to test with right from the word go.  Right away, I could see a significant difference in difficulty between the hardest solo content in Echoes of Faydwer and the easiest solo content Rise of Kunark.  Though several tunings occured throughout the beta, it became apparent to many of us that this new expansion would be based around a new Adept III standard.  The result of easy rares was revealed as a generally raised standard.  In other words, we’d simply raised the bar of what that minimum standard had been defined as. 

Most of us simply adapted to the new, more challenging content.  Frankly, without immediate access to viable grouping pathways for advancement, we had to adapt.  The new world order was decreed to be the path of the solo quester and you either adapted to this new world or you found yourself in the tar pits of inflexibility.  Even today, when players first complain about the difficulty of those first Kunark encounters, the advice they are almost always given invariably includes “make sure you have all of your Adept III’s”. 

…and now SOE wants to increase the standard to Master I.  Oh, they’re not saying they want to increase the standard to Master I.  However, what other possible message could we possibly take from this new concept.  If everyone has access to free Master I spells, the standard over time will inevitably once again raise the minimum standard.  The average spell quality will continue to raise from Adept III to Master I across the board – not just for raiders and 40 hour a week players, but for everyone.  After all, there’s no cost being referenced by the SOE proposition thus far, and without any cost save for time, there’s no real cost at all. 

That’s right:  if time is the only cost, there is no cost.  It’s not a contradiction.  It’s a truism of logic. 

Time is a currency we all earn (and spend) at the same rate.  The next 60 seconds I have available to me is the same 60 seconds available to everyone reading this.  There is no difference between a Minnesota minute or a New York minute (regardless of what popular cliches may state to the contrary).  There is no difference between an American hour or a British hour.  German hours, Russian hours, Swedish hours, Australian hours are all earned and spent at the exact same rate.  Casual minutes and hardcore minutes are identical.  There is zero difference. 

So while it’s true to say that time is a cost, it’s ingenuine to claim that time as a cost requires any effort at all.  It does not.  My expenditure of time does not speed up, slow down, or alter in any way when I am sleeping or running a marathon.  A hardcore player may do more during the same amount of time than a casual player (or not – some of the most serious players I know spend less than 10 hours a week in-game and some of the least achievement oriented players I know are online at least 4 hours each day), but the amount of time both earn and spend is identical each week – regardless of what those players actually do during that time.

Time never stops.  It keeps moving.  It keeps flowing.  It keeps spending itself for us, whether we choose to spend it or not.  In that way, it could be said instead that we dont’ really earn time and we don’t really spend it, either.  Frankly, it spends us. 

Over time, Master I spells become the new standard for all of us.  This means that just as there were casual players who found themselves frustrated by the new Adept III standard, there will be players who find themselves frustrated by the new Master I standard of the future.  It’s not merely a possibility, but an eventuality if Master I spells are allowed to be so readily available to any and all callers.

The short term gains would be outstripped by the long term difficulty standards.  Players who feel the game is too difficult today – the ones who seem most attracted to the idea of “free masters” would be the same ones upset in a year or two that the game is suddenly even harder than before.  Those players who today feel the game is very challenging with all Adept III’s can at least increase their spells to Master I quality over time, through effort and coin gain.  In a world where the Master I is itself the standard, there is no way to improve upon the spell quality – casual players will have no additional upgrade path in that regard. 

So, while the goals of a new, less capitalist “research assistant” are themselves noble, the results would be anything but.  Instead of “rewarding” players for their monthly subscription, we’d end up penalizing players who had not played enough to gain the masters everyone else already has access to.  Now, I’m not against the idea of a research assistant to help us find master spells.  The idea is not a bad one unto itself, but so long as the only “cost” is time, there is no cost at all.  There is no meaning to the rewards.  There is no effort.  There is no value.  At that point, master spells are no longer a reward…but an obligated standard which we are all due.

The only way to have any kind of meaningful reward is through effort.  Add a cost.  Add ANY significant cost and you change the rules completely.  You add meaning.  You add effort.  You add…a reward.

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Comments
  1. rao says:

    I agree completely. When I first heard about this, my first thought was, “Way to over-simplify one of the only challenges left.” I am by no means an elistist. I am a very casual player in the Revelry and Honor guild. I have VERY few masters myself, so I’m not standing up and waving the flag of, “I did it the hard way, so it is unfair that anyone else can have an easier path.”

    I am just opposed to this system as it currently stands. There needs to be some effort put in by the players and by “effort,” I don’t mean having to wait for the automated process to complete.

  2. […] up… here’s your reward. There has been a lot of discussion in my guild and in other places about the proposed alternative path to obtaining Master abilities that Sony has kicking […]

  3. Pantheros says:

    I’m definately in support of adding a true cost to the research assistant. Now, don’t take me the wrong way, I don’t mean as in real world money, but instead some sort of in-game cost. Otherwise, it would, over time, completely trivialize all the time that myself and my many guildmates have spent gaining our masters. Whether we have done so through dungeon grinds for drops or coin, quests, working the broker, raiding, selling harvests or tradeskilling, we have all spent a lot of time doing these things for the goal of obtaining masters.

    If we no longer needed to do these things toward that goal, we could spend our time doing any number of other things, yes, but a large chunk of our gaming time has already been spent towards this goal. As Kendricke said, time marches on, we cannot turn it back, cannot regain time past.

    Above all this, I feel that this would take some of the true excitement out of the game. No one can truely tell me that when they are grouping, soloing or even raiding, that when they see that exquisite chest drop, they don’t get a little nervous as to what is inside. Is that a master for me? Is it a master that one of my groupmates can use? Is it a master that one of us could sell or give to a guildmate?

    I know that I was extremely excited, and a little beside myself when I was grouped in Evernight Abbey one day, and I believe that Kendricke was in this group, and we had just killed one of the named mobs in there and we got an exquisite drop. Either myself or one of the other scouts disarmed the box and it was popped open. What was inside was my ranger offensive stance master I. I did a double take, I stammered in voice chat, and I ensured my mouse click landed on the “Need” button. I don’t know much about other classes, but for rangers, this is one of the most sought after and most expensive masters in the game.

    All of this would have been much less exciting and rewarding if I just had to go to my house, talk to an NPC, request the master and wait for a month. Yes, that exquisite chest could have just as easily held a master for another member of my group, or one that we could sell, but still, the excitement and wonder is there.

    One last point I’d like to make. Right now we are concentrating on just the Master I version of spells in this discussion, but I offer you this: What about the harvesters that have spend hour upon hour hitting nodes, in search of those rares that they need for their adept III’s, or to sell for others to make Adept III’s while they save the coin towards their own masters? They will be truely affected by this as well…

  4. necrotherian says:

    I, being a Necromancer, am obviously in favor of the idea, but with some heavy restrictions, such as I listed on page 39 of the post at the Official EQ2 Forums. (For those not wishing to swim through 45+ pages of posts, the text can be found at my blog in the post “Much ado about….RAs” over on http://necrotherian.wordpress.com )*

    The gist is that there should be a cost, and that it should take items of the level of the spell or higher of the “quality tier” of the spell. IOW if a M1 of a given level is desired, as M1s are of Fabled quality, then it should require the sacrifice of 2 Fabled items of that level or higher. Alternately, twice as many items of the previous quality tier could be used. So in the previous example, 4 Legendary items of that level or higher could be used. This offers a significant cost to players, in effect making them earn their Master spells, without being held at the mercy of the RNG or Plat Farmers.

    I offered some other restrictions, such as: a) the time element including a reuse timer twice the length of the research time, b) allowing it to be used by one character per account per server per time frame, and c) an actual gold cost calculation (using the formula I listed would have T8 M1s costing 40p96g).

    The purpose behind these restrictions would be to make it where an effort actually would have to be expended to earn the M1s, but that would make it easier to get than trying to raise 300p for the M1 T8 tank pet spell or other such price gouging.

    *Because of my shameless plug, I will be sure to link back to this blog in a post so that the traffic isn’t just one way. Of course, I already have the CG link on my blogroll, but that is beside the point.

  5. […] I posted about this particular subject over on Clockwork Gamer’s blog on March 13, 2009) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Colic TipsAnother fun weekend. […]

  6. Alik Steel says:

    “I work for nothing but my own profit—which I make by selling a product they need to men who are willing and able to buy it. . . . we deal as equals by mutual consent to mutual advantage and I am proud of every penny I have earned in this manner.” ~ Atlas Shrugged

  7. Kendricke says:

    @Necrotherian: Thanks for the link. I’ll be sure to add Altaholics Anonymous to our own blogroll. I’m less concerned with the specifics of cost as I am with the concept of cost itself. So long as a significant cost is introduced, I’m not against the idea of a Research Assistant.

    @Alik Steel: I don’t always agree with Ayn Rand, but I think for gaming worlds, her ideas are definately more in-line with my thinking – I’m absolutely more capitalist and less socialist in my online gaming views.

  8. dave says:

    This move means players will continue their monthly subscriptions even when taking breaks from the game.

  9. Sean says:

    Why not just make Master II’s craftable and REALLY expensive?

  10. Rushka says:

    Makes me glad I canceled my subs recently.

    Not much more to say really – RMT on all Vanguard servers and this – wtf is SOE doing?

  11. Shannon says:

    Adept III’s have been the standard since launch for level-cap’d toons.
    Adept I toting toons are nubs.

    Spell progression is closed; there’s nothing better after M1 (M2 choices are nailed down and limited). You can’t keep upgrading your spells by pooring money into them. That is very different from the poverty example. You’re conclusion in the poverty example is basically sound, but the analogy doesn’t hold, at all.

    If you’re concerned that you won’t be able to make phat plats off ninja need’ing a dispatch master, you’re correct. Suck & Die.

    You may as well argue the cotton gin broke the American Economy.

  12. […] hate to make a very very long post even longer, but now Clockwork Gamer has chimed in: An Attempt at Economic Stimulus in EverQuest II by Clockwork […]

  13. Unknownsoldier says:

    Poorly written and not well thought out. Adept I was NEVER the standard. And there is no Adept IV , I think you meant Apprentice IV, which was also never the standard or even remotely considered acceptable. No one buys those, no one sells those and beyond level 20 no one even uses them.

    The standard , the goal to which all players have aspired is “fully mastered”. We heard that before DoF, and we still hear it today.

    The idea that time is not a true cost is an amusing one. Ever tried watching a kettle to see when it boils? Also bear in mind with the RA taking more than a month to Master a spell, the average player can cap out his level and become mastered in the oh-so-short time frame of about 2 YEARS.

    When SOE increased the rare drop rate, you neglect to include that with EoF came a massive influx of new subscribers, demand increased significantly and for a time you had ebon clusters selling for 25-45 plat on the broker – clearly a sign that the rate was far too low.

    By ignoring that aspect, you pretty much negate your supposition for the increase in rares.

    The concept of a “standard” is a relatively new one, not something even remotely discussed with any frequency in past expansions. Dont impart a revisionist history.

    The “Reward” for the game effort is changing. It used to be about loot, and now its about defeating opponents and encounters. That, dear author, is the standard that has changed.

    A slanted and one sided analysis of the problem, imho, poorly stated and expressed.

  14. Kendricke says:

    The standard I refer to is the standard used by developers to balance content. Developers have not used the Master I as a general standard for non-raid content aside from a couple of exceptions here and there (Nizara, etc.). The easiest and quickest way to know what the standards are is to see what spell quality the beta buffers provide. For Echoes of Faydwer, the standard spell quality from the beta buffer was the Adept I. The standard for Rise of Kunark and The Shadow Odyssey was the Adept III.

    The standard you claim we’ve “heard about” since DoF is a player based perception, not an actual development standard. Even then, you’re not really talking about a standard, since you’re referencing the standard that “all players have aspired to”. If that’s the standard, then all content in the game should be designed around the idea that players are level 80 with 200 achievements, full T4 armor sets, mythicals, 400 tinkering, and fully adorned with fabled/legendary adornments. After all, that’s basically what “all players have aspired to”, yes?

    Another claim you make is that the idea that time is not a cost is amusing. You illustrate this claim through an analogy of watching a kettle boil. I’m not sure that’s the best comparison to make since you don’t have to watch a kettle boil once you put it on the heat – it’s going to boil eventually. In a similar way, you don’t need to watch the research assistant. He boils whether or not you watch him, and he even tells you exactly when to expect him to start boiling. Don’t worry about whether or not you need to watch to see if the kettle is boiling – once you’ve passed the minimum amount of time necessary, the kettle waits for you.

    That isn’t a cost. The concept of cost implies choice. There’s no choice in the proposed system. You don’t have to decide how to spend your time. Once you finish speaking with the research assistant, you go about your merry way and do whatever it is you’d normally do. You don’t alter your gameplay to get that master. You’re getting that master no matter what. You don’t need to be logged in to the game. You can play other characters. You can play other GAMES. It doesn’t matter what you do because what you do can’t affect whether or not you get that master. That’s not a “cost”. That’s a gift.

  15. […] In completely unrelated news, SOE has introduced Research Assistants into EverQuest II. […]

  16. Geoffrey says:

    Oddly I find myself agreeing with you on all points Kendricke.

    Those who say “fully mastered” is the standard are incorrect. “fully mastered” is the IDEAL to which we aspire. And what is aspiration?

    1. To have a great ambition or ultimate goal; desire strongly.
    2. To strive toward an end.
    3. To soar.

    Hailing an NPC is not “striving” thank you very much. I have worked hard to farm the cash for my masters. I have wheeled and dealed, traded and borrowed and spent DKP to make my character the best she can be. Now though in the great spirit of instant gratification anyone who pays their monthly sub gets a master just for being around.

    Great. Way to devalue the efforts of those who have busted their asses to master their characters out. And yes, I get that only 1 master per account per month or so isn’t going to ruin the game any time soon. It’s still a dumb, chicken-shit way out for SOE to get masters into the game and stop people from bitching about the annoyance of the Random Number Generator rather than adjusting drop rates.

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