Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SOE Live 2012 - After Action Report

SOE Live 2012 - After Action Report

by Fanra

This is a report of my trip to SOE Live.  Obviously, I couldn't do everything.  Some things were scheduled at the same time and I could only be in one place at a time.

Yes, I'm aware it's been three weeks since SOE Live, sorry for the delay :).


Beginning - Registration and Badge Pick-Up:

SOE Live officially began with registration / picking up badges at 3pm Thursday.

For those with pre-ordered badges, the line was relatively short.  I joined the line and soon was asking for my badge.  Since I was on a player panel (and therefore got my badge for free) I was told I needed to go to the VIP / Media line instead.

Ironically, the VIP line was much longer and slower than the non-VIP line.

Once I finally managed to get to the front of the line, the sole person serving it seemed to have some difficulty with the software.  I wanted to get my character name (Fanra) up top in the largest print with the game (EverQuest) under that and then my server name (Bertoxx) and finally my real first name.  It wound up with my real first name, EverQuest, Fanra and VIP, in that order.

The badge has your name on one side and a partial schedule on the other side.  The partial schedule was fairly useless, as it was missing most of the important information.  What was more of a problem was that the badge tended to flip over all the time, so I spent a large amount of time checking to make sure the side with my name was being shown.  Many people had the non-name side showing, making it rather difficult to figure out who they were.

Everyone picked up their "goodie" bag with the phat lewts that SOE gave out.  In the bag was a note explaining that SOE would also be giving out various in-game awards to attendees.  Although it mentioned that, "...all registered attendees will receive the upcoming EverQuest®: Rain of Fear...", it failed to mention that it would be the Standard edition and not the Digital Collector's Edition.  Although I think everyone pretty much assumed that.

More importantly, it didn't mention that for $20 attendees could upgrade their Standard edition to the Digital Collector's Edition, something I asked Brasse about and she confirmed that this is an option.  So if you want the Digital Collector's Edition, be sure to go to your online SOE account and order it now, as the prices may change or bonus items may not be available once RoF goes live.

Kickoff and First Keynote Address:

Rather than one Keynote Address, there were three.  This first one was 99% PS2 (PlanetSide 2, not PlayStation 2).   This would be a familiar theme of the SOE Live, PS2 is the next big thing for SOE and all the stops were being pulled out for it.


SOE Player Studio panel:

More information on the Player Studio.   Not much here that you can't learn by visiting the SOE Player Studio web page.


EverQuest Live Quest:

This was a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) event.  We formed up into groups of six? (I don't remember the exact number) and went to various places in the room.  A Dev or Guide (I think they were all Guides but I can't be sure) would give us a challenge and we would get scored on how well we did.

One was to give the shortest path to a zone.  For example, how do you get from PoK to Katta Castellum in the least number of zones.  Without using ports or the guild portal.

Another was throw some beanbags at a target representing ship to ship combat.  Another was to "train" some "mobs" around a "zone" (all imaginary in the room) while singing a happy song.  Another was to use a rubberband gun to shoot at a target.   Another was an EQ Charades game.   One was to take a Barbie type doll and make some Hero's Forge armor for it out of paper, tin foil, glue and various other items.

This was reasonably fun and it was nice of SOE to have this.

Player Panel: Making Data Sexah - Building Fan and Player Sites with SOE Data Feed:

This is titled a Player Panel but it was more of a SOE panel.  SOE described their service which provides anyone with the raw data from their games.   Currently working for EQ II and planned for EQ and SOE's other games.

Basically, you can request the same information as you get in-game on items, spells and other things.  You can also get information on players.

Known in-house at SOE as "Census".

When it is finally working for EQ, it should enable EQ Players to be reactivated.  It will also allow anyone (re: Fan Sites) to pull the data as well.   So if you have a quest on your web site, you can link the reward directly from SOE.

For those concerned about in-game privacy, there will be an option to "opt-out" of allowing everyone to see your characters.

For EQ, most of this information on spells and items is already available from sites like Lucy's, Allakhazam's, Magelo and other sites.   Census will allow those sites to be more accurate and enable them to get the information with less effort, they won't have to rely on players sending in the information.  Other sites will also be able to get the information without having to build their own database from scratch.

Census will not reveal an item until at least one player has discovered it.

Player Panel: Power to The People - Fansites:

This was the panel I was on.  Linda "Brasse" Carlson, SOE Director, Global Community Relations, was moderator.   Linda discussed that SOE was getting more involved in the "Community".    Besides myself, someone from DCUO Unlimited, EQ2Wire and Allakhazam (or ZAM, as they call themselves) was there.  The ZAM person was only representing EQ2, however.  In addition, someone from Wikia, a wiki hosting site, was there.

Most of the panel was about how SOE is partnering with Wikia and will encourage the wikis there and provide them with some information.

The Wikia person was very friendly and eager to help out.  Unfortunately, Wikia itself is user and administrator unfriendly and very hard to manage.   Based on the open source and popular MediaWiki software (used by Wikipedia), the extreme customization that Wikia does to the software makes it difficult to use and adapt to individual wikis.

I can understand why SOE has partnered with them, as they most likely provide the largest single source of eyeballs.  But the actual wiki you get is what happens when you design by committee.  Overcrowded, difficult to understand, difficult to navigate, and things are changed for no reason other than to be different.   Administering them is a nightmare.   Things are bolted on for no reason, unless you consider crowding pages to be a reason.

Strangely, the huge number of advertisements is not the reason why I can't deal with them.  It's more the fact that things are changed for no reason and you have to jump through hoops to do things, if you can do them at all.   25% of the page is wasted blank space, for no reason.

Other than that, the panel went well.

I asked about the lack of communication on several issues.  One was the return of Dragons, Dragons, Dragons! and Giants, Giants, Giants! without any notice.  Even more annoying was the ignoring by SOE of several requests on the SOE forum asking when they would go away.  It was clearly hinted that the return of those quests was an accident, which explained the lack of notice.  Still didn't explain why no one at SOE would say when they would end.

I also asked for separate forums on the SOE forum for players reporting bugs and asking for features.  That would be best with some kind of database, so that players know that the bug has been already reported or the feature has already been suggested.  It could also contain a comment by SOE that they are working on the issue or the feature has been decided not to be included, etc.

I understand the database part would be a lot of work, but separate forums would be easy.  We could at least start with the forums and think about the database later.  I was told that SOE would "think" about it.  Which is either a true statement or a very nice way to tell me "not going to happen" :)

SOE Keynote Part 2:

This Keynote Address actually discussed EverQuest!  Not much I remember that isn't already covered in many places elsewhere.

Pool Party:

It's a party.  At a pool :).   Free drinks (although I did tip) and sit around the pool.  The music was, as usual, too loud.  I never understand the idea of gathering with your friends to drink and talk, and being unable to talk because the music is too loud.

Very few went swimming (October in Vegas is not as hot as July), but yours truly did.



EverQuest Death Death Death! Tournament:

I did not attend this.  My guildmates who wanted to do so found out too late that you had to be there to sign up at the beginning, the program guide did not mention this.  As a result, they were unable to do this.

EQ: Rain of Fear - Don't Get Wet!:

This is the big panel on Rain of Fear.  Most of what was said has been already released to everyone on the EQ web site.

Not mentioned much is that there will be a easy quest to get your Alaran up to 100, for those who still haven't gotten it to that point.  This seems to be only for those who continue to play in VoA, as I don't think Alaran will serve any purpose in RoF.

Some other highlights (as best I can recall, don't quote me on this:):
  • Chapterhouse of the Fallen zone is a previously hidden part of Befallen which is inhabited by The Burning Dead, which is a necro cult.  Expect this zone to be very popular with paladins.
  • The Breeding Grounds is a revamp of Dragon Necropolis.  It will have some new types of dragons, Terrorwing and Fearwing dragons.  There should be no see-inviso mobs there, but will have traps (which might knock off your inviso)  Lava there will hurt.
  • Temple of Veeshan is a revamp of NTOV.  13 Boss dragons.  It is an instance.  12 of the dragons will be T2 VoA raid level and Vulak is a T4 VoA raid level encounter.  There will be no faction hits in the zone.  And, yes (I asked), these guys will dispel your buffs.
  • Shard's Landing - This is the starting zone and the hub of RoF.
  • Valley of King Xorbb will be the end zone of RoF.

EQ: Drawing Death - Design a Mission:

Design a mission with a Dev.  This is where we broke up into groups of around six and each group sat with a Dev.  We then tried to design a mission.

This was pretty straightforward.   My group wound up with Elidroth.  He's exactly like he seemed from the time I saw him answer questions in a webcast.  Rather dour, does not suffer fools gladly, stubborn, but interested in improving EQ.

We designed a quest which he said would likely make it into the game, he was rather taken with it.

The idea I came up with was, since Rain of Fear was sending shards of fear everywhere, that a previously brave creature was suddenly struck with fear.  I proposed a clear rip-off (or homage, if you prefer) of the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz.  A creature that used to be brave was now afraid of his own shadow.  The players would be tasked with helping him recover his courage.

Under Elidroth's direction, the group proposed ways to construct the quest and fit it into the Rain of Fear.  It was tentatively titled, "The Timorous Dragon", and hopefully makes it into the game.  Should you like it, I'll be happy to take the credit and if you don't like it, you can blame everyone else involved :).

EQ/EQII: The Business of the EverQuest Franchise:

There was a great deal mentioned here about the future of EQ, EQII and LoN.

I got the chance to mention to Thom Terrazas, the EQ Producer, that the way to get new players into EQ would be a brand new client, with improved graphics.  This would also help solve many problems, especially crashing.  What I heard back was what I expected: it would cost a huge amount of money and take up a lot of programming talent.  In other words, SOE isn't going to invest that kind of money into EQ.

Thom Terrazas also had no idea about the crashing in EQ, which might not matter, since it is the job of coding to deal with it.  Still, it was a strange disconnect.   I let him know some small details in the hopes that, as management, he could look into allocating more resources into fixing it.

About halfway through the panel, they invited up the Marketing guy for SOE, who should have been there from the beginning.  He was asked about the lack of advertising for EQ.  He said they were advertising, mostly with web ad boxes in FarmVille type games.

He said that advertising for EQ was mostly aimed at people looking for nostalgia.  I didn't get the chance to tell him he might be better off marketing EQ as the game for hard core gamers.  Think WoW is too easy for you?  Looking for a REAL challenge?

There was a great deal covered by SOE in this presentation about the future of EQ.  I can only hope that SOE can post at least the PowerPoint presentations online for everyone.

Here are some highlights of what I can remember:

  • Less Marketplace Focus.  SOE wants fewer employees working on the Marketplace and more on the games themselves.  The Player Studio is part of this, to get the players to do more of the work, so fewer SOE people are needed.
  • More Free Content / Less Expansions.  SOE said they want to shift from only providing new content once a year during the expansion (and charging us for it) to providing new content year round for free and more content in general.
  • They plan to make Marketplace items cheaper.
  • Move Marketplace "Appearance Items" to Tradeskillers.  Appearance Items would be created using tradeskills, with a rare mob dropped item needed.  The rare mob dropped item could also be purchased in the Marketplace.  I'm not sure what exactly "Appearance Items" include.  It will be seen how rare the drops are to see if this actually changes much as far as needing Station Cash to obtain them.
  • De-Clutter the Marketplace UI to make it easier to find items.
  • Krono.  Which has been explained by SOE on their web site.
  • PoN - Point of Need .  This involves having a window pop up when you need something in the game and offer it to you for sale for Station Cash.  For example, when you die, while in hover mode, a box might appear offering you a rez for Station Cash.

I also mentioned regarding the PoN plans that some players (like myself) don't ever expect to use them, so that we would like an option to avoid the advertising for them.  I pointed out that the current SC button in the game can not be removed without using a custom UI modification.

I stated that I understood the concept, as far as SOE revenue was concerned.  But I did suggest at least offering us the chance to check a box, "Don't offer this again for a month", since I knew it was unlikely they would offer us the ability to remove these things permanently (with the ability to bring them back if we change our mind).

There really needs to be an option that we can choose whether or not to see these advertisements, considering we pay them a subscription fee.

I was told this would be "considered", for what that is worth.

Player Panel: EverQuest - A Player Perspective:

I just popped into this panel, which was supposed to be about veteran players discussing the inner workings of the game.  I didn't stay long.  The beginning didn't start well, as the members of the panel seemed to have no idea what they were supposed to talk about, and seemed to have done zero preparation.  I even heard one of them remark that he just signed up for this for the free pass, an intention I totally understand since I did that myself, but which doesn't excuse a failure to actually contribute to the proceedings.  Maybe things improved once I left, I hope so.

Geek Out With SOE Coders!:

This is the panel where I annoyed the SOE programmers.  They discussed a lot of things and answered some questions, but I only remember those that I was interested in and asked.

All my questions were about EQ, as I don't really care about the other SOE games.

Crashing:  I really beat the dead horse on this issue.  I kept repeating that VoA has been out for about a year and we still are crashing.  Although most of the crashing relates to a patch around the time that Free-to-Play went active.  Still, there are people who have been crashing entering Valley of Lunaryn since VoA first came out.

I was told (which I already knew) that they have fixed a number of crashing issues.  I replied that I was aware of that but people are still crashing a lot.  I mentioned that Thom Terrazas, the EQ Producer, was unaware of the crashing issues, but I also mentioned that maybe he didn't need to know it, as long as the programmers were on the case.

Jen Chan, EQ Lead Programmer, soon left the panel, whether because of my constant harping on these issues or because she was scheduled to also be on another panel at the same time as this one, I'm not sure which.  A bit of a mistake there by whoever was scheduling.

I asked about druids and bards being able to sort tracking results, like rangers can, since someone at SOE once posted a while back that this was a coding issue, which made no sense.  SOE coders confirmed that it is a Dev choice, not a coding issue. 

I hope to post more on this later, as I think this is one of the most misguided Dev decisions ever.  How a UI option becomes a class skill boggles my mind.  Apparently only rangers understand the alphabet and sorting by alphabetizing.  We need Sesame Street on Norrath, it seems.

I asked about if merc tanks could leave push rooted mobs alone when more than one mob was on aggro, so we can use push root for crowd control, as it is designed for.  I was again informed this is a Dev decision, coding can work it out if requested of them.

I mentioned that the Universal Chat Server (UCS) sucked, with it going down constantly.  I was told that a new UCS was in the works, with, as usual, it coming to other SOE games first, then coming to EverQuest, Soon™.

I also mentioned that no one uses the EQ Voice Chat since it sucks.  I asked if it would be fixed and was told that since no one uses it, they don't see a need to fix it :).  I was also told that an improved Voice Chat was on the list to be done, Soon™.

It was not outright stated but implied that the new UCS and Voice Chat are likely to be years away from implementation, due to the many other higher priority issues.

Grand Banquet:

Not much to say about this.  There was some food and prizes and the costume contest. 

They decided to have voting for the costume contest be done by texting, which left me out of it, since I don't have a phone with texting.  That was fine, as I really didn't care too much anyway.   Of more importance was that the voting had to be redone, as the first attempt was marred by a failure to properly identify who you were voting for.  In addition, sitting in the back it was hard to read the screens showing how to text for each contestant, they need to work on making the numbers larger and improving how it was displayed. 

Not all of us are 18 years old with 20/20 vision.  It also did not stay up long enough.  Still, it was a good attempt to improve older methods of just trying to judge who got the most applause.

As mentioned above, once again the sound system was not up to snuff, but we could make out most of what was said. 

Still, the poor sound system turned out to be of a benefit when the "Planetside 2 Meth Partners" (as I call them) were doing their show.  I'm not sure if it was during the Grand Banquet or before, but everyone at my table; not being 15 year old kids into First Person Shooters, calling everyone obscene names while T-bagging them, and generally being too cool for skool; found them very annoying.  I'm sure they were doing their best to hype PS2 and try to bring some enthusiasm to it, but I think everyone in the room became dumber from having to endure it.

Also, for some reason the air conditioning was way too high during this and most of us were freezing.

Still, it was well worth attending and SOE did their best to put on a good show.  Brasse was in full regalia with her dwarfish accent as M.C. and kept things moving, with some help from her Server Hamster assistants.

Suggestions for This Year / Next Year:

Make the badge software easier to use.  Print the person's information on both sides.

Do something about the sound in the "Bally's Event Center" (Keynote room).  It is too loud and echoes.

Make the DJ lower the sound at the Pool Party.

Make sure the Program Guide mentions that you must be there at the start of the EverQuest Death Death Death! Tournament to sign up or you can't participate.

All the Panels had a sign outside saying what the panel was.   However, the poor person in charge of changing them when a panel ended and a new one began was unable to get to them all quickly.  It would be a better idea to have all of the signs for the day on the stand, so anyone there could just take the old one and put it in the back and show the latest one.

The Raffle needs to be done differently.  The way it was done involved certain times (usually twice a day for an hour at a time) that required people to form a line to the wheel of prizes.  Waiting on a line for 30 minutes to reach the wheel was not cool.  The line stretched through the entire room, winding back and forth.  Because I was unaware of how it was done, that some of the times were the same as the time of panels, and the fact that you could only redeem one ticket at a time, I only managed to use one of my three raffle tickets.  I got a string of beads on a bottle opener, about the worst prize you could get.  I can't complain too much since I got a free pass, though.

All the "PowerPoint" presentations should be made available online after the SOE Live is over (or during it).  This way people who were not there can view them.  Also, recording all sessions and showing them on the TwitchTV channel would be nice, but I'm not sure how practical that would be.  

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