Friday, April 3, 2009

Size Matters

Does size matter? When it comes to the size of a player’s inventory in an MMORPG, the answer is yes. Last week I wrote a post pointing out how much more “stuff” EverQuest 2 characters can own at one time than World of Warcraft toons. The question I did not answer was: what are the effects of this inventory design decision on the games?

The first effect I see is that WoW players are more likely to delete items from their bags than players in EQ2. From my experience in Vanilla WoW, I would start an adventuring session with one 16-slot bag empty and perhaps a few slot free in another bag. In EQ2, I never leave town without at least 30 free bag slots and often times with 50 free bag slots. So how does that affect the games? Well, WoW players can either have to delete items or they have to travel back to town a lot more often, especially since items like ore and plants only stack to 20 while similar items in EQ2 stack to 200. Not only do the inventory limits lead players in WoW to make more trips to town than in EQ2, but the decision also affects the economy in the games. Not only is it harder to gather lots of items to put up for sale on WoW’s auction house, but players can only list the item for sale for 24 hours before it is emailed back to the seller. Players not only can gather more stuff in EQ2, but they can list the items on the broker for as long as they have space in their sales crates and log in once a week.

The second effect I see is the greater use of mules in WoW than in EQ2. Mules are characters whose sole purpose in life is to serve as extra inventory slots. I didn’t use mules when I played WoW, but I know a lot of people who do. I know I had some issues with items at level 60; I can’t imagine all the things I would just sell to the vendor if I had stayed in the game and reached level 80. Of course, if I had used mules I could have kept more things. But mailing items to your mules has its own drawbacks. When I asked the mage at work if he wanted bigger bags, he told me no because managing his belongings was already such a chore. He also said he didn’t like putting items for sale on the auction house because his mail is already clogged with items he has mailed his mules and he doesn’t want to deal with the unsold items the auction house would send him.

In EQ2, I don’t need to create alts for extra inventory space. Yes, I do have 8 characters, but they are all mid-to-high level crafters. The items I put in their bags and banks are items they need for crafting. My alts aren’t mules; they are characters in their own right. They may not be able to fight very well, but my little crafting family can make almost anything I need in game. The important thing for me is that I don’t have to log in and out of my characters just to manage my inventory. I log in to play the character, not to sort through my bags and put items in the mail.

The question you may be asking at this point is why doesn’t Blizzard increase the inventory space? Two words: cost and performance. Quite frankly, Ron Pardo does not need to worry about competition from EverQuest 2, so Blizzard can worry about maximizing profit and ignore the competition from SOE. But the developers do need to worry about newer games like Age of Conan (don’t laugh!) and Warhammer Online coming onto the scene. In those battles, WoW relies on better game performance and faster executing SQL calls help capture market share more than giving players more inventory space. Also, because WoW keeps the SQL space used by each character to a minimum, the devs have the freedom to quickly add features in reaction to a competitor. For instance, WoW was able to add the Achievement system in response to Warhammer’s Tome of Knowledge.

I’ve mentioned the positives for WoW making the design choice of less inventory space. So what are the negatives for EQ2? The one that really bugs me is I only can have 7 characters on my account in the game. Seven? WoW players can have a total of 50 characters, with a limit of 10 characters per server. Think about how ridiculous only being able to have 7 characters in EQ2 is. EQ2 has 24 character classes and 14 character races! I guess I should be thankful that WoW beat EQ2 so badly, because at launch EQ2 players could only have 4 characters. With all the SQL servers going unused, SOE was able to give players 3 additional slots through the years.

I will have to admit the limit irks me more because I want to have all the crafting classes rather than the fact I can't have all of the adventure classes. As I mentioned previously, I have 8 characters, lacking only a carpenter. But I can have all my crafters on one account, if I pay more for the privilege. If you purchase the Sony Station Pass, not only do players get access to games like EverQuest, Vanguard and Pirates of the Burning Sea, but an additional 5 character slots in EQ2 as well. I have dabbled in Vanguard and PotBS, but I never made it past the newbie areas, so I guess that SOE has used the character limitations imposed by the large amount of inventory slots given to EQ2 toons lead players to try other games on the Sony Station Pass. At least it worked in my case.

So which approach is better, large or small? I'll let you decide.

Note to self: Aren't there 19 races? Failure to proof-read for the loss.

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