For example, most folks tend to expect decent service from their MMOG provider. Abashi addresses this somewhat:

To date there has not been an MMOG market leader that has had “good customer service” from the perspective of many of the people playing the game. Yet when these games are no longer the market leader, their customer service image somehow improves. Is this indicative of policy changes in regards to no longer being the market leader? I don’t think so. I think that overall the policies remain the same, and that those who are left once a game leaves the limelight have expectations more inline with what is considered realistic by the people playing the game.

This assumes that (a) Asheron’s Call was never a “market leader”, even though its customer service has been widely hailed as a standard to follow (a reasonable assumption, although even at #3 its subscriber figures are nothing to sneer at) and (b) Ultima Online’s crawl from the abyss of hideous customer service had nothing to do with their improving their own quality of service and everything to do with lowered expectations of their customers (an assumption I imagine Tyrant and Calandryll would beg to differ on).

What lessons could Verant learn from Turbine and Origin? Communication is good. Honest discussion of problems is good. Developer accessibility is good. Willingness to learn from prior mistakes is, well, required.

Blaming your problems in customer service on player expectations being too high? Bad.

Most of Abashi’s discussion, though, is pretty much on the right track. (Yes, we at Lum the Mad are agreeing with Gordon Wrinn on something. Sound the trumpets. Notify the press. Raise the dead.) In particular, player expectations in Everquest often hinge on risk vs. reward. The recent uberquests for the “Fiery Avenger class” weapons are a good case in point. I feel safe in commenting on these since there is approximately a 0.000% chance I will ever see one. And, what’s more, I’m OK with that. My style of play is not the style of play that the uberquests were attempting to meet. I have no patience for long camping, I have no patience for waiting on rare drops from rare spawns, oh hell, I have no patience, period.

It appears to my obviously jaundiced and permalowbie eyes that both Verant and a good portion of the vocal contingent that harries them are focused on the endgame. What do you expect when you hit level 50? Or level 60? Are you done? Do you eBay the character? Do you sit around North Freeport and shoot the shit? Do you *gasp* help lower level players? Or do you try to be the bestest of the bestest and get the mostest of all the loot so you can pile it in a great big shiny pile, point at it, and announce that you are uber to all within hearing range. Like Abashi said, it’s all about expectations. Including those of the designers themselves. Most of whom obviously are in the endgame, both of Everquest the game and Everquest the design process. They are focused not on the journey, but the reward.

If the reward is what you expect, what makes you happy, then you probably expect to get your appropriate uberweapon since that is the designated reward. Unfortunately, the uberweapon quests were designed specifically so that not everyone can get one. This goes contrary to the expectations of the player who looks for the reward. You’ve dangled this carrot in front of my face and when I try to eat it, you tell me that not everyone is supposed to have a carrot. This confuses me.

The main expection of an MMOG should not be competition unless that is in the core design of the MMOG (Shadowbane, for example). In a cooperative game such as Everquest, players should try to avoid the lobster syndrome. You know, when lobsters are being cooked in a pot, and some try to crawl out, other lobsters will pull them back in. Or in Everquest’s case, complain that the other lobsters are too powerful and their lobster class or lobster weapon or what have you needs nerfing. In a competitive game this would be a valid concern. In a cooperative game, theoretically, your friend being stronger makes you stronger.

However, in Everquest even cooperation is a competition. I’m speaking of the eternal Looking For Group. “Class politics” in other words. Where Druids are more popular than Clerics pre-30s because they heal just as well as clerics and do more besides. Post-30s the roles become reversed as Clerics finally mature. Those clerics and druids, who fulfill basically the same role in a group, compete for the privilege of cooperation. And it’s every player’s expectation (and the expectation of the game design itself) to be able to find a group. Thus class balance issues. Unfortunately it’s not all about lobsters, although sometimes it seems as though Verant thinks so.