In a recent post to the official forums, EQII Producer Holly "Windstalker" Longdale posted the following:
Howdy Norrathians! The team has been brainstorming ideas that would ease the re-entry back into the game and soften the learning curve for returning players as well as creative options for a Refer-a-Friend program. What would float your boat if you are, or were, a returning player at some point? Creative suggestions? And do you have ideas that would make you excited to not just refer a friend, but play with them too?In past columns, we've looked at a few ways to attract new and returning players, but in this week's Tattered Notebook, it's worth looking at the topic again. What would get you to come back to EQII (or try it for the first time)?
EQII has a pretty long track record when it comes to promotions. Current fans are probably used to the regular dose of bonus experience weekends and Station Cash deals, and there's also been an ongoing Facebook quest to get more people to "like" EQ and EQII. But longtime fans will recall other marketing tactics like Recruit-a-Friend or even /pizza, which I still miss today.
The current promotions are fine, but I'm not sure they bring in new and returning players as much as keep the current ones sticking around. The Station Cash promotions are attractive only if you plan on purchasing something, but if you're on the outside looking in, you might need a little more incentive to get you through the door and browsing the market. Similarly, I'd wager that the bonus experience weekends are actually most popular with the most active players, those who are working on their umpteenth alt and want to get it leveled up fast.
EQII needs something more unique to get it to stand out in the crowd and attract players. If EQII were a store, the current promotions would certainly help convince people to spend money and play, but there needs to be something in the front window to get people through the door. One that I've written about before would be a reverse-mentoring system, similar to City of Heroes' sidekicking. Right now, for a new player, and probably for many returning players, the hurdle of getting 92 levels and 280 AAs is daunting, and even though longtime players can get speedily get alts up there, it's a lot harder to do without the benefit of things like experience potions, two-boxing, and bonus experience based on level-capped toons on the account. Players who bring in friends want to be able to play together immediately, and that doesn't mean mentoring down and essentially being a tour guide through lower-level content.
Mentoring is a great system, but it would be even better to have a second system that lets low-level players temporarily increase their levels (and have their gear scale up accordingly). It's not a shortcut because they still have to earn the levels in the end, meaning they also can't equip high-level gear that drops while they're mentored up. What it does do is bring friends together doing something that's fresh to both of them. It also means that when EQII announces new dungeons and zones, new players know they needn't grind through old content first in order to see the new stuff -- it's immediately accessible to them as long as they find a friend to take them there.
Another thing I'd love to see are servers with unique rulesets, similar to those featured by EQ. It would be fun to play around on a permadeath server, or even better, a progression server where expansion content is unlocked over a period of time. There are still plenty of posts asking for the return of the starter islands, and I bet there are quite a few players who would enjoy a trip down memory lane to revisit the Fire and Ice quest or take on Darathar.
I do think a currency system similar to EVE Online's might also make the game more attractive to new and returning players. If players could buy game time cards a la EVE's PLEX and then use them to purchase plat, they'd have a little walking around money to help make gearing up at the lower levels easier. Tradeskillers would probably make out better since there's more coin in the hands of those who are most likely to buy crafted items, and longtime players can earn game time for the coin that's probably just sitting in a bank piled high. SOE, meanwhile, would make money from the sale of the game time cards, and the system would help ease complaints over the removal of Station Cash as a valid currency for purchasing subscription time.
The community added many great suggestions, like letting returning players play for free with the gear they have on instead of forcing them to pay for gear unlocks. Others asked for a revival of the RAF program, which gives perks to both the new player and the referrer.
Why it's complicated, particularly for EQII
For EQII, I think this is a really difficult subject to tackle, particularly because it's a very different game now than it was when it launched. I'm certainly no marketing guru, but I would think it's hard to find the target audience for this game right now because it's branched out into so many different styles of gameplay. Is it a game for the old-guard, dyed-in-the-wool EQ-junkies? Is it still appealing for the number-crunchers who love combing through parses, stats, and data logs? Is it a sandbox-style game with an emphasis on user-generated content? Does it look attractive to social gamers, who love the minigames like holiday events and the goblin tickets? You could probably add even more to the list of ways to market the game, and I'm not sure which would be most effective in bringing players into the world of Norrath.
The variety of playstyles also complicates things when you do pick a certain aspect to market. I'm sure that for every person who says "speed up leveling" or "add mentoring upwards," there will be someone who soundly rejects the suggestions as a "dumbing-down" of the game. If someone argues that EQII needs to get back to its roots and stick with a more hardcore game, there will be someone who argues it needs less of that and more of the user-generated features. So it's difficult to figure out how to promote the game without alienating at least some of the current playerbase. In the end, maybe EQII has to figure out what kind of game it wants to be and then decide on a way to promote that.
What about you, Massively readers? What would convince you to try out the game or come back to it from a hiatus?
From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to firstname.lastname@example.org.