Since the launch of EverQuest: The Scars of Velious, the EverQuest Live team has been working on a number of things, from addressing issues in Velious to adding additional content to other portions of the world. At this same time, we've been working towards a point where we can stop tweaking class-based abilities, and declare with confidence that they are as "balanced" as we can make them.
It is a foregone conclusion that the diversity of EverQuest's population will never let us reach a point where everyone will be perfectly satisfied with their class's abilities, as nearly every change we make tends to bother some people while pleasing others. Still, we are confident that we can reach a point where problems in our current game systems can be reduced to the point that those left are either negligible in their impact, or offset inversely by a similar problem affecting gameplay in an opposite direction. We're nearly there, but following heated debate and the review of material and opinions sent in by the players, we've decided to make some exciting and unprecedented changes to a game system that has remained intact since release: the experience system itself.
While the EverQuest Message-board FAQ states that the experience system is not subject to post-production changes, it also explains that as developers of an ongoing MMORPG in a dynamic world, there are times that we need to be flexible and address issues as necessary. Though it has always been our goal to avoid changes to core systems whenever possible, our additional goal of finalizing class balance takes precedence in this case.
We're going to depart from our usual method of releasing information by giving everyone some specific information in regards to how these systems currently work, and how they will work after the patch. It is very important to us that everyone understands our goals, and the fact that these changes are helpful to all of the players. We can only do that by giving you the details necessary for you to draw your own conclusions.
The first and perhaps easiest to explain change that we are making to the experience system is the modification of what we call the "Zone Experience Multiplier", or 'ZEM'. Currently, every creature in game of a given level yields a fixed amount of "Base Experience" (experience before it is allocated to group members). That base experience is then multiplied by the ZEM which is set to a value in correlation with the risk in a particular zone compared with the reward; at least, that is the goal.
Recently we evaluated many underutilized dungeons and considered reasons why they might be underutilized. Some people suggested that proximity of bind locations plays a part, and as such we are considering adding more binding locations to the game. We of course will not allow everyone to bind on the doorstep of a dungeon, but these changes should hopefully reduce the potential run for a melee class. While additional binding locations probably will not be in the next patch, we did want to discuss our thoughts on the matter.
Another suggestion, one that probably has the most merit, is that some dungeons are too risky given everything concerned. The natural conclusion is that we should increase the reward in order to offset the added risk. Our contention is that most people would rather be grouping and fighting their way through a dungeon because it's more fun, but feel "forced" to sit outdoors and camp zero-risk single spawns because it is safer and thus more efficient. While that statement might be true in an ideal world, it usually results in crowding in these popular outdoor zones (for example, Lake of Ill Omen or Oasis). The crowding in these zones really results in less efficient progress than one could make in a dungeon given a good group, but is still SAFE, at least ensuring that one will not have to tolerate "going backwards".
We can increase the reward of a particular dungeon in two fashions: We can either put in good loot, or we can change the ZEM. The problem with increasing the quality or quantity of loot is that if the loot is good enough, it's more likely to draw people far above the desired level range for the dungeon, making it some place that appropriately leveled folk choose to avoid. The second problem with the ever-increasing quality of loot is inflation: as good loot becomes more widely available, its value and the prestige value from owning it declines.
In this case, we decided that the most appropriate action for several underutilized dungeons would be to increase the ZEM; that is, increase the amount of experience that everyone gets when adventuring in the zone.
As of the next patch, you will receive additional experience (per kill)
in the following zones:
Droga increased by 12%
Nurga increased by 12%
Solusek's Eye (SolA) increased by 13%
Najena increased by 13%
Befallen increased by 13%
Paw increased by 13%
Permafrost increased by 13%
Kaesora increased by 18%
Qeynos Catacombs increased by 20%
Runnyeye increased by 20%
Kerra Ridge increased by 20%
The Hole increased by 25%
We've always been the first to say that EverQuest is designed to promote grouping. Those who prefer to solo should be able to do so with some restrictions, but probably will not be able to go everywhere and do everything like a well-oiled, or like multiple well-oiled groups. This is a main foundation of EverQuest, and is what drove our decision to implement a class-based system where classes have strengths and weaknesses that complement each other.
Aside from making it so that the best gear requires groups, either to get quest items or get the best gear directly, our goal was to make it so that groups could advance faster than a solo player. One way we tried to reach this goal was by putting experience bonuses in dungeons, so our changes mentioned above should certainly help in that area. Another way we tried to reach that goal was by giving a per-kill experience bonus based on the size of the group.
One thing that has been confirmed by many of our high level players, both inside and outside the company, is that the "best" groups can already advance faster in a grouping situation than by any one member camping a single spawn. However, it has been pointed out that not everyone has the opportunity to get in the "best group". This led to many players choosing to "camp the single spawn" because they then do not have to worry about someone else getting their character killed. This in turn exacerbated the problem, as many players chose to "camp the single spawn" from creation to old age, and are just beginning to experience grouping and learn group-skills at about the time that dungeons become the most unforgiving. The inevitable result is that the level 50 "dungeon newbies" contribute to the fact that the group isn't the "best group".
Our goal is to get people grouping earlier, and provide them enough of
a bonus where they do not feel that they are losing ground during the learning
process. We feel we can do this by doubling the grouping experience bonus
and by scaling it up based on the size of the group. Currently, the bonus
is an additional 2% experience per group member, not counting the first
one, leading to a maximum bonus of 10%. Following the next patch, the bonus
will be as follows:
2 person group - 2% total bonus.
3 person group - 6% total bonus.
4 person group - 10% total bonus.
5 person group - 14% total bonus.
6 person group - 20% total bonus.
This bonus is applied to the total experience reward for killing a creature prior to distributing it to the group.
Many people have pointed out that when killing in a group you get less experience per kill. This is of course true, but what is often missed is that you can kill many more creatures, and creatures of a higher level when in that group. For instance, a good two-person group should be able to kill things of a higher level over twice as fast as a solo person should. Now, we're going to give them even more of a bonus for doing so, AND make it easier for people to find pickup groups on the basis of getting higher scaled bonus.
Finally, we very well may decide to revamp and/or readjust NPC populations and/or experience multipliers in the future in order to ensure that groups adventuring there find them worthwhile.
Experience Penalties - Description
I think that it would be appropriate to say that most players are aware that there are different experience requirements for advancement based upon the race and class you choose to play. Ogres, for instance, require more experience to level than Halflings, and Shadowknights require more experience to level than Warriors. As such, an Ogre Shadowknight requires FAR more experience to level than a Halfling Warrior does. What some people have discovered is that when in a group, everyone shares in this penalty. Before getting into our plan, I think that its important to talk about what our goals were regarding experience penalties and the group sharing in that penalty.
When EverQuest player characters were being designed, it was immediately apparent that some races and classes would be more powerful than others given versatility and other factors. Later, it came to light that the concept of being "more powerful" began to break down at the upper levels, given that everyone capped at the same level. We could not let any one race or class be immensely more powerful than another at that final point, as it would essentially put parts of the game off limits to those who chose the less powerful classes. While we did a good job of making races vary in power, but not so much as to be unbalancing, the same could not be said for classes. Still, though classes would be roughly equivalent in regard to the compelling reason to play them through versatility, the experience penalties were kept.
In regards to the sharing of the experience penalty, it was apparent in beta, before the penalty was shared, that those playing characters without an experience penalty leveled faster than those that did. It was obvious that this would occur, but it was to the extreme that a group of friends, all playing together, would become separated to the point that they could no longer group efficiently in the mid to upper-mid levels. So we chose to distribute experience in the group on the basis of the total experience of each member rather than the level, in order to keep groups together.
As such, a level 20 Troll SK, having more experience total than a Human Wizard of the same level, would get more experience from each kill, while the total experience for the kill was unchanged. Essentially, the SK would take part of the Wizard's share were everything distributed equally to begin with.
Experience Penalties - Resolutions
Over the past week the EverQuest team has been considering experience penalties
in all their forms. We had many meetings where the issue was hotly debated
from both sides. We had to consider not only the effect on the individualplayer,
but also the effect of any changes on the game as a whole. Eventually,
we nearly unanimously decided the following:
1. Race-based penalties are appropriate. An ogre, for instance, does indeed make a better warrior than a halfling. It is not so little that the faction and size problems make up for it, and not so much that it is really unbalancing at upper levels, but enough that the penalty should apply. Secondly, the penalty is not so severe (compared with class-based penalties) that it would cause groups to break up on the journey from one to sixty due to level differences.
2. Class-based penalties are not appropriate. Classes are roughly equivalent in power throughout the level ranges, and the versatility does not make up for that penalty. In fact, the majority of changes made to classes in the name of balance in the last year were based on the assumption that, at the high end, each class should still be roughly as needed and balanced as any other.
3. Penalties, in any form, should not be shared with the group. Players know that no one class is immensely more powerful/valuable than another, and as such it is not fair to ask them to share a burden. If classes with penalties were really more powerful or valuable than the other classes, then it might be right, but that isn't the case here. Furthermore, sharing of penalties causes people to reject potential group members on the basis of them "sucking" too much experience.
4. We're going to fix it.
5. Class-based experience bonuses (which warriors and rogues get) are also
not appropriate, as they cannot be so if penalties are not. However, we've
decided to leave this as-is, since the bonus is not so severe as to be
unbalancing. Bottom line: we don't feel the bonus is enough to warrant
a fix that could be interpreted as a 'nerf'.
Experience Penalties - Implementation
Though people often refer to the class-based penalties as the "Hybrid Penalty", most classes have a penalty. Hybrids just have the largest. A hybrid requires 40% more experience to level than standard, Monks require 20% more, and Intelligence casters require 10% additional experience.
Unfortunately, we cannot change the experience tables themselves without running each character (which number in the tens of millions) through an "Experience Converter" without existing players changing levels spontaneously. While some might argue that we should grant free levels to everyone with a penalty, that would not be in the best interest of gameplay. After all, who would want a paladin with level 40 skills (skills in the player-sense, rather than the character-sense) in your level 60 group tomorrow? Everyone earns his or her experience under the rules that exist at the time.
This means that we must address the penalty differently: basically, for every kill, after all grouping bonuses and zone bonuses are applied, the experience will be split up according to level, rather than experience. For those classes that do not have a penalty, they will then be given that share. Those classes that have a penalty will get their share, multiplied by their experience penalty. Essentially we are creating extra experience to give to those with a penalty after everyone else has gotten their share.
Since penalties are always a value over "1", this results in the creation of additional experience. And, since shares are determined by level rather than total experience as before, a character will get just as much experience for a kill based upon the size and level of the group, regardless of the class makeup. Finally, everyone in the group gains experience at a faster rate because we're creating the additional experience for those with penalties out of thin air, rather than taking it from other members of the group. That means that after implementation, those without penalties will get more experience for every kill than they would have if they ever grouped with a class with a penalty.
Now you'll notice that we are dividing up experience based upon the LEVEL makeup of the group. For instance, if a level 20 and a level 21 group together, the level 21 will get more experience per kill. That is however only fair since the level 21 does actually contribute more value to the group.
There is a problem, however, with this 'new' formula. Death penalties are currently based off of the level before your current one. Secondly, everyone suffers the same numeric experience loss on death as anyone else of their race, regardless of class or class-based experience penalties. What this means is: if I am a cleric, and you are an SK of the same level and race, we both die and lose the same numeric value of experience (Example: 100,000 experience points). When we go back to recover from death, you as the SK will get your 100,000 points back faster than I will as a cleric, since all of the experience you get is multiplied by your class-penalty (1.4). Essentially, I lose and gain experience at 1.0, but you lose at 1.0, and gain at 1.4.
This is a balance issue we decided was also necessary to address. If we are going to make the statement that class experience penalties should not exist, we then have to do it on both ends (with exception to the two classes that we've decided to leave as-is). As such, rather than losing the same numeric value, loss on death will ALSO be multiplied by the experience penalty. Since everyone currently loses experience as if they are a warrior of their own race, we do not want anyone to lose more relative experience (e.g. experience such that recovery from death is more difficult). Hence, we further multiply the experience loss on death by the class experience modifier for warriors (0.9).
In our example above, my cleric would lose 90,000 XP on death at my level (Same as before since clerics do not have an XP penalty), but your SK will lose 126,000 XP (Same as before, plus something to offset the experience gain bonus). Death is, however, still easier to recover from for both classes since we create experience out of thin air for every kill.
We felt that it was important to announce this as well since those with penalties will see a larger portion of their "bubble" lost upon a death, but will now recover that experience much faster. It's VERY important to understand this. Again, if you play a class that gets a bonus now when you make a kill, you will also lose more due to death. Please remember this when, after your first death post-patch, you see a greater experience loss on your screen: you are ALSO gaining more experience for each kill.
The changes that we are making in the next patch should have a profound
impact upon the game:
Classes no longer have a true class-based experience penalty, making it easier for people to play the class that they want to play, rather than the class that they feel compelled to play due to faster advancement.
Race based penalties are no longer shared with the group, and in truth are not severe enough to greatly impact the advancement speed of any particular race. Even the race with the worst penalty will level no slower than a human monk does now, and in truth will level faster due to the other changes that went in.
The grouping bonus increase, in addition to the other changes, makes grouping much more efficient, without reducing the current efficiency of soloing for those who prefer that route.
Experience modifiers turned up in the other zones should encourage people to spread out, have more fun, and allow those staying behind in other areas to have more fun themselves since the area is less crowded.
All players, assuming that they have an experience penalty, or ever group
with anyone who does, will level faster.
Many of these changes are quite involved in regards to their implementation, and as such we want to be sure that everyone interested understands them. Alan "Absor" VanCouvering will be happy to answer any questions that you may have on the EverQuest Message boards. Until then, we sincerely hope that these changes will help all players, whether "uber" or "causal", experience and enjoy EverQuest to their greatest potential.
For Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and every dedicated member of the EverQuest
Associate Producer, EQLive
Sony Online Entertainment