Your Next: Loophole

With a huge Landmark update next week, will the gameplay loop come with it?

I find myself in full fanboy mode this week; the anticipation for the Monday Landmark update has proven too strong. If I were you I’d expect nothing more than a wobbly, translucent veneer of objectivity over my true intent.

I’m excited for the next stage of the character build system, and the prospect of adventurous and violent spelunking to gather what I need. I can’t wait to stumble across a player-made point of interest while I’m down there, and to see just how dangerous the environment will get.

For me, this underground network and the truly 3D nature of EverQuest Next has been criminally overlooked by many of my fellow hype train passengers. I hope this update will go some way to demonstrating just how game-changing this particular innovation can be.

While I’m super-pumped for the new features, and happy that development has reached the point where updates will have more impact on the player experience (because I’m selfish like that), I’m still wondering about that gameplay loop.

For those unsure, the gameplay loop is what it sounds like, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of player actions and game feedback. In Landmark, as it exists today, we have an almost limitless number of possible actions, but we’re very light on game feedback.

This absence is, in my opinion, part of the reason it’s difficult to find PvP matches in Landmark right now. The enthusiasm from the community was incredible, especially riding the wave of excitement from SOE Live, but a level of engagement needed to create a critical mass for a sustainable ‘scene’ couldn’t be maintained. We can ‘interact’ the hell out of each other and our environment during a match but the feedback, and therefore the gameplay loop, only existed for the length of that match. Guild Wars 2 had a similar problem at launch, quickly losing the goodwill of an extremely strong PvP community. Despite the gameplay being fun and completely as expected, the lack of the supporting structures around it meant the scene quickly deflated before it had a chance to capitalize on its strong core.

Without feedback that exists over a longer period we fall into the state where our brain tells us we’ve mastered this task and it’s time to move on. Generally referred to as the plateau effect, this is the stage where we stop rapidly progressing as we learn to perform a new task, and is generally the time we either get bored and move on, or we push through into expert territory.

It’s true that many people are self motivated or goal driven enough that pushing past this point will be easier, or even a mark of pride (see: all people who look down on ‘themepark’ games); I get the feeling it’s these people who are currently populating the Landmark servers. If there’s one thing that SOE has gotten right with this process, it’s that people who love to build things for the sake of building things are a great foundation for a community.

We can expect a surge in interest next week. The sheer volume of changes will be enough to coax many lapsed players to return, and for long-sighted players the addition of features that relate to EQN may prompt a quick tour at least. Will these players stay? It might come down to the gameplay loop.

The cave system extending downward could create a longer term goal, with danger increasing on the way down gathering that moonstone could become something of an adventure. On the other hand, those brave explorers may be disheartened if they discover players have long since crafted every item they need.

Having said that, with new items to craft and recipes to find, as well as the Keyword system to tinker with, building our characters just the way we like could become a long term goal. This feeds back into PvP as well, the race to create the best builds and stay ahead of the meta could make the time between matches a time for planning and experimentation. I have my fingers crossed for the beginnings of team composition.

Will the dangers of the depths offer a challenge for dedicated monster hunters? Will we be coordinating strategies and honing our builds in order to take down a particularly vicious cave dweller? Will the procedural nature of content require different strategies for every encounter? I certainly hope so, but honestly I think we have a way to go before we get there, if that’s our destination.

If we manage to slay the beast, will we be suitably rewarded? The introduction of claim vendors is the first step to an economy, and wherever there is an economy you will find people doing their very best to manipulate it. I’d love to see traders flocking around trading hubs of successful guilds, haggling over prices and fiercely protecting their markets.

There’s loads more coming on Monday, but I’ve tried to stick to the things I think will create gameplay interactions that will keep players coming back for more. Are we there yet? If I take my fanboy hat off for a second, I’d have to say no. However, it’s going to be really fun exploring these new systems, and with more feedback generating gameplay features landing in January we’re getting really close.

While replacing the fanboy hat I’ll note that I’m totally in love with the concept behind Landmark, and every step towards that goal is thrilling for me. Whether it’s a new technique discovered by players, new features added to the live game, or amazing info about EQN like the Orrax concept I feel privileged to be part of this process. We talk so much, those of us who won’t shut up about MMOs, that the true experience is in the journey. That’s why despite me keeping an eye on the horizon, I’m loving every sight along the way. /fanboy



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