Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Confessions of a Grey Shard Runner: Justification

The reaction on the official EverQuest 2 forums to Kiara’s statement that running the shard missions in The Shadow Odyssey instances with the mobs grey is an exploit has been interesting. Instead of adding to the storm, I’ll post my comments here.

My first comment is I really don’t like the way SOE has handled the whole grey shard issue. I’m not talking about Kiara’s statement or the decision to declare using the mentoring mechanic to make mobs grey in the TSO instances to make getting shard easy an exploit. My problem is the statement was not made four months ago. If the devs didn’t know about the situation before TSO launched in November, that means they weren’t listening to their beta testers. Seeing the s***storm that has erupted on the forums the past few days, I think I can fairly say, “Epic fail, SOE, epic fail!” I really want to see how SOE will clean up the mess.

Why would I be upset with the developers waiting over 4 months to declare grey shard runs an exploit? Because I did them. Why would I engage in an exploit? Back in December a really good argument could be made that the developers wanted casual players and players in small guilds to do grey shard runs. The argument runs something like this. The devs did not want to keep casual players or players from small guilds from being able to get the really good non-raid loot. Heck, the devs wanted to give those players the ability to someday be able to do the instances. But at the same time they wanted to provide challenging content to the not-so-casual to hardcore players. The TSO instances are designed to be challenging to full (6-toon) parties of well-geared players with up-to-date spells. To give an idea of the difficulty levels involved, Runny-Eye 2 was considered to be a moderately difficult zone. The question was: how were the devs going to allow the casual player to get phat lewt while providing the challenging content the other players demanded? After all, if casuals and small guild members could get the gear over a long period of time, they would stay subscribed to the game longer and SOE would rake in the bucks. And quite frankly, casual players outnumber the hard-core raiders.

The answer seemed to be to allow players to form groups with level 75-80 players and then allow them to group with a level 50-65 character, mentor that lower level character to set the zone to level 50-65, then unmentor the lowbie and do the shard mission. A dev apparently even suggested players do this mentoring trick on the beta forums for the expansion. I didn’t actually see the post in question, and apparently all the beta forum posts have been destroyed. But I heard of the post, and the post coincided with some things I had heard on blogs and on the official forums from casual players lamenting the fact that SOE made the instances too hard and their only recourse was to do grey shard runs to get the phat lewt.

The concept of allowing players to do grey shard runs also made sense in another way. The only rewards for players doing grey shard runs are the shard, 15 gold pieces, a few percent of an AA level plus whatever silver drops from the mobs. Players doing the missions at level 80 can get a second shard from a chest, have the ability to see and gather shinies (collectables), get chest drops, and win more money from mobs. Not only that, but the alternate achievement gain is greater as well. So players doing grey shard runs could eventually get the nice shiny shard armor, but not gain nearly as much as players running the instances as designed. In my mind SOE, or perhaps just the developers who coded the expansion, actually intended for casual players to do the shard missions with the mobs 20 levels lower than themselves.

So while grey shard runs were cheesy, by themselves, they were not an exploit. However, grey shard runs were part of a really big exploit involving the selling of the otherwise no-trade (or bind on pickup) void shards. The scam worked like this. The exploiter, a level 75 to 80 adventurer and a level 79 or 80 tradeskiller who has all 4 Far Seas Strategic Pricing Manuals, would do a number of instances grey and be able to collect 6-8 shards in 60 – 90 minutes each day. That’s 40-50 void shards per week. The exploiter would then offer to make shard items using the commission system. The catch in the system is that instead of shards being an ingredient in the receipe, shards are considered fuel. That meant that the exploiter could actually sell the no-trade shards to the buyer of the armor, usually at 5 platinum pieces (500 gold pieces) per shard. Can you see how a person could become very rich, very quickly using this exploit? And since doing grey void shard runs makes the scam work better, I can understand the rationale for opposing the runs.

Did you notice I wrote “were a part of a really big exploit”? That is because in Game Update 51 the devs fixed the commission system so the shards cannot be sold. So there goes that rationale. But I still won’t do any more grey shard runs. They are an exploit; SOE in the form of Kiara have told us so.

Next post: Confessions of a Grey Shard Runner: Motivation

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