Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thoughts on Speculators in EQ2

Last week I wrote how SOE’s handling of broker speculators who engage in a practice that former EverQuest 2 producer Scott Hartsman has referred to as degenerate game play was one of several reasons a guild mate of mine is planning to leave EQ2. My guildie's view of SOE’s lack of desire or sheer inability to keep harm from coming to the game helped lead him to a complete loss of faith in the devs. Notice I say helped; when he was in a mood he could go on for 30 minutes about how the devs don’t get things right. But I’m going to concentrate on speculators because of the second MMO I play, Eve Online.

I’ve only played Eve for 5 weeks but as far as I can tell, unless you do something monumentally stupid like get elected to the Council of Stellar Management and then try to use insider information to make money, just about everything is fair in the marketplace. While some players take their combat to 0.0 space or become low-sec pirates, others stay in high-sec and conduct their fights in the corporate boardrooms and on the market. While EA/Mythic likes to say that war is everywhere in Warhammer Online, player vs. player action IS everywhere in New Eden. The only difference is some players use missiles and others use isk.

Now maybe that kind of thinking has corrupted me, but I’m not terribly bothered by the speculators. Yes, I complain when some slimeball jacks up the price of a rare I need to make a spell or an item needed to complete the Proof of the Pudding quest. Really though, that’s the game; live with it. If you don’t like it, go out and harvest your own crafting materials.

But EQ2 is not Eve and for a lot of players this type of play is comparable to griefing an entire server. For the longer term players, the game has changed greatly. It wasn’t until GU 37 when players could sell items from more than one character on an account at a time that some of the current practices became possible. Yes, a player could monopolize a small segment of the market, but I know of one player on my server who has used the max number of characters on three accounts (that my guild was able to identify) in his speculating activity. If a player were determined, having 100 broker boxes spread out over 3 accounts is not out of the realm of possibility if the speculator is willing to shell out 150-200 gold per week plus the cost of setting up 21 houses.

I guess if massive amounts of players go running to the developers and cry about how unfair the situation is, perhaps action will be taken. But something tells me that is not going to work. As I see it, the best solution available to the devs is to go back to the good-old-days when Scott Hartsman was still EQ2’s producer and only allow one toon at a time on an account to sell items on the broker. I can hear the howls of outrage from the player base in my head now. But that solution, while hurting the big speculators, will still result in prices staying high as the amount of goods sold on the broker declines. In fact, the prices may go even higher as reducing the number of broker slots will just result in a reduction in, not elimination of, market speculation. Do you really think SOE is going to risk a major uproar if the solution will not result in lower prices?

What might work is to import a little bit of Eve Online attitude into Norrath and for some guilds to turn into economic enterprises. While most servers in EQ2 are player vs. environment servers for combat, if a large guild or a guild alliance got together, they could use tens, even hundreds of players to engage in a little economic PvP on the broker. Why not? SOE has already introduced research assistants to add Eve-type time based skill advancement to EQ2. And with the introduction of mythical weapons, some guilds turned into mercenary units. Why not go the next step and introduce economic warfare against the broker speculators?

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