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Everquest: The Real Story Behind Sony's Addictive On-Line Game
Slashdot ^ | December 2002 | David Sanftenberg

Posted on 12/27/2002 3:17:38 PM PST by txzman

Everquest is a game centered on rewarding you for how much time you put into it. This is the core design philosophy behind the game, since they charge you by the month and make more money the longer you stick around.

What they don’t tell you is that taking your money is about all they’re interested in. They care little for player complaints, and less about player suggestions and requests. They’re in this to milk you for all you’re worth, and that’s the first thing you have to know.

The second thing you have to know is that the game stops being fun. By that time though, you’re so “addicted” to the game, you don’t realize it. The game becomes a source of frustration and anger instead of a source of entertainment and fun. It becomes a chore. It becomes a job.

You plod away at the keyboard, obsessed and consumed with getting that new item, or finishing that last quest, and while so consumed you begin to hate the game. Vehemently. It’s a game that goes on forever, and one that you can never win.

After playing the game for a while, you’ll start conversing with other players, and you’ll see the one thing all players have in common is that they all hate Sony – the designers of Everquest. (It should be noted that Verant, the original development company, has been absorbed into Sony Online Entertainment -- so will be referred to as Sony for simplicity)

This is baffling at first glance, because they send Sony $12.95 every month for a form of supposedly voluntary entertainment, which they enjoy, and yet they despise them! Look a little deeper though, and you’ll see that most people who dislike Sony are the ones who no longer have fun playing Everquest. They aren’t getting what they want out of the game anymore, and they look to Sony, being the source of all changes and improvements/breakdowns in the game, as the cause. Right or wrong, this is the state of affairs; the consumers hate the company providing them with a service that they think they enjoy.

Let’s go back to the part about Sony not caring about their customers. Recently, they changed their GM (Game Master) Customer Service system such that, instead of one GM being assigned to each game server permanently to handle problems, there would instead be a smaller pool of GMs roaming all the servers infrequently. When enough player problems on a server requiring GM help cropped up (around 30), a GM would be sent to handle the petitions (problems) one at a time until finished, and move on to the next server. This had the effect of increasing wait times on getting petitions answered from a few hours to many hours, or even several days by many accounts. This was introduced supposedly as a cost-cutting measure, which would improve efficiency. They’d have to hire less GMs if they pooled them up into a roving band, instead of assigning one for each server.

In actuality, while this may have made things more efficient on Sony’s side, the players were left waiting for days until that magic number was reached where a GM would log on to the server to help them out.

On Sony’s website, there is a link to a feature called Developer’s Corner. Over the two years this has been up and running, the person in charge of Customer Relations at Sony, Alan “Absor” VanCouvering, has turned it from a section dedicated to answering player questions, into a simple Press Release box with little useful information. Where there would be several updates per day, now there are perhaps one or two per week.

Answers to player questions are few, and replies to player emails are fewer. Since most answers to customer questions are now handled on specific, “class” (ranger, paladin, monk, etc) message boards by the developers themselves (once in a blue moon of course), one is left wondering what Absor is paid to do. Twiddle his thumbs perhaps? The world may never know.

This leads up to a lack of will at Sony to address their customers with any sort of respect. Often, sudden “game-changing” features will be added or removed in a patch, with little or no explanation given to the players, and no recourse for the players themselves other than to submit comments to the black hole at the Dev Corner.

Other changes can render a class’ or items’ abilities weaker, slower, or even drastically altered or removed from the game. Again, the players have no say in the matter officially, and rarely get these changes reversed through massive online signature petitions. It is quite common now for these sorts of changes to come completely unannounced and unexplained, leaving the players themselves to bug test, figure out what happened, what is wrong, and leaving them again to wander off to the Dev Board asking what the purpose of the change was. Far too often in this process, the sheer discoordination and incompetence at Sony is revealed, as the changes happened accidentally or were not intended to occur in the manner they did.

The bottom line being, you can go to bed one night with a great character and items, and wake up in the morning to find all that has changed; leaving you holding your member and your opinions mattering less than a pig’s squeals in a slaughterhouse.

The final aspect of the will at Sony to disassociate from the customers is how they handle disputes between players. In the Everquest game world, you can find yourself in competition with other players for the ability to play the game. Yes, in EQ, you compete with other players for the right to kill the monsters. It’s massive artificial scarcity. If you aren’t online early enough, or if you don’t move fast enough, you lose. MOBs (as monsters are known) spawn at predictable intervals; and the design of the game itself, added onto the times that Sony resets its servers for patches, means that if you don’t live in Europe or on the east coast, you and your guild (an organization of players) are provided with less game content than any other time zone or area.

You get to have “fun” as another guild of players in another part of the world kills a mob required to advance in the game while you’re in bed, or at work, and nothing can be done about it. Often, players will do this purposefully to keep you from killing other, stronger mobs, so they can keep that part of the game to themselves. The GMs will not help you, the Guides (volunteer player GMs) will tell you they can’t do anything (and that’s true, they are impotent for the most part), and you and the 60 people in your guild are left holding your collective members for six months while you wait for said east-coast unemployed or European guild to take pity on you and let you have the mob. Fat chance.

Sony of course doesn’t mind these situations in the slightest; because you see, this is their high-end game. Where in the lower levels you’ll spend your time getting great items by fighting mobs that take seconds to prepare for and a minute to kill, at the high end you are required to spend multiple hours (sometimes up to twelve hours) with a “raid force” of 60 or more people just killing useless, annoying mobs (which drop little or no loot) put there as obstacles.

Finally, when you reach the boss mob, the fight may last perhaps 30 minutes or more. This 30 minutes of combat is certainly not fun, as all you do is point your character at a mob and press a single button to auto-attack. Many melee-classes go watch TV for the duration of the fight. Your clerics (usually eight or more) cast the same healing spell in a long healing chain to keep your warrior alive, and your wizards all cast the same damaging spells for the 30 minutes of the fight. This is to kill a single mob (in this case, named Aten Ha Ra), which drops four items for your guild.

These situations are ‘lovingly’ referred to by the players as timesinks; gameplay traps intended to waste your time and keep you playing longer. There are hundreds of them; others incredibly longer than simply getting to a mob. Several quests required to advance in the game require you to spend 100+ hours sitting in single locations, killing hundreds of mobs in 12-hour stretches for a “rare drop”, such as ore in the ssraeshza mines, which you use to create “bane” weapons; or the shissar commanders for key pieces; with which to fight the boss mob of the zone.

Unlike the other parts of the game, these timesinks are required for advancement, and there is no getting around them unless you wish to stop playing. This is of course not fun at all, but as said above, by this time you’ll have long stopped having fun with EQ. You’ll do it anyway though, as thousands of others have, because you, like them, are addicted. The quest to kill the shissar Emperor of Ssraeshza is one of the most vicious timesinks in the entire game, but it is merely one example among dozens. To even reach this area of the game requires months of non-stop raiding with your guild; sometimes up to a year of raiding. Only then will you be powerful enough to enter.

Expansions to the game are put out about once per year. These cost around $30 to buy when released, and are required to visit new zones, gain new levels, and so forth. For anyone just entering the game now to be on equal footing with others, they will need to buy the original game and all four expansions at retail price.

Of course, no expansion yet released by Sony has been complete when it hit the shelves. Often the final zone in the expansion would be left unfinished, or in such a state of bugginess that it was unplayable. Other zones will be incomplete or have bad pathing for the mobs. Items and monsters will not be “balanced” for difficulty, and players will sometimes stumble onto great equipment for their characters, only to have Sony later decide it is too powerful, and “nerf” it. When an item is nerfed, it’s reduced in effectiveness or power, often to the point of absurdity, or it simply stops entering the game world.

This rewards players who gun through the new expansion as fast as possible to get the upper hand over their competition on the server, and punishes anyone who cannot put 12+ hours of EQing in per day. The problems with expansions highlight another aspect of Sony which is decidedly underwhelming: their playtesting (or lack thereof). Many bugs in the new expansions are left for players to discover themselves and work around; fixes are often delayed by as much as a week while Sony tries to find a solution. In Everquest, you pay to be a bug tester, and receive no feedback or acknowledgement that any bugs you report are fixed, or even looked at, unless its fix shows up in a terse (bi-) weekly patch message. Most bugs are left unfixed due to their overwhelming numbers.

Class balancing is an on-going project of Sony to try to make sure each class (warrior, cleric, wizard, ranger, etc) has its own niche, and feels useful and meaningful in the game world. They seem oblivious to the fact that items are just as much a part of the game as classes though, and it seems they let their zone (game area) developers run wild with items, creating more work for the developers.

If you’re keeping a tally, the Mrylokar’s Dagger in NToV was one of them. The Mistwalker from Lady Vox was another. These weapons were both nerfed because they were too powerful, and made the classes who could use them much too strong versus the mobs of the time. There is no feedback to the players on what the “visions” for the classes are supposed to be (beyond the vague three-line descriptions in the manual), and no way to for the players to venture a guess of what might be “too powerful” and in line to be nerfed next. Playing EQ is a lot like playing in a casino; you can see your winnings vanish in the blink of an eye out of sheer bad luck. It is not a game where you can ever feel secure.

All this pales in comparison to player harassment, of course. From sexual-orientation insults to other players spamming your chat bar, EQ has it all. There are other forms of harassment too: Often when in competition with other guilds (as you will find yourself quite often if you play long enough), you will see them employ tactics such as “training” mobs onto you to keep you away from the contested mob encounter or zone. A “train” is typically a large number of powerful mobs (10-20), which the other guild will gather up from the zone and dump onto your raid in order to kill you. The GMs will again do nothing about this, nor will the Guides, unless they are there to witness it.

Being that there are typically only a half-dozen GM/Guides on a server of 2500+ players at any given time, and that trains are completely unpredictable and random, there is of course almost no way for them to witness these events. While server logs exist that can prove this malicious player harassment occurred, they will usually refuse to even take a look, because it constitutes work, and simply dismiss the problem outright. Your guild is then left holding their collective members once again. Do you see the pattern forming here?

Everquest is a game full of people who want to “win” and “be the best” at any cost. This includes griefing you and your guild, making your gameplay miserable. Why not simply quit then, you ask?

If the game isn’t fun and sucks this badly, why would anyone play it? Well, because they are addicted. They are addicted to the mobs, to the loot, and to the social atmosphere with other people in their guilds.

They have invested so much time in these characters (often hundreds of days of play time, sometimes more time than they spend at their jobs), that they can’t will themselves to give it up. They play on instead, hoping things will get better, and nursing a great and deep hatred for Sony and the game itself.

If you play long enough, you will see this as the universal truth. People who quit are viewed as giving up on their guilds; they are ridiculed, denounced, and hated. There is massive peer pressure to keep playing. Often people you thought were your friends in the game were simply using you to advance, or improve their characters.

Online relationships between people in EQ are fickle, and are only good as long as everyone’s getting a good dose of the drug (loot, advancement in the game, and good social relations with their guild).

Perhaps now you’ve begun to see the other side of EQ: The buggier side, the darker side; the side of despair and anger, fear and frustration. The game will absorb your life if you let it, while the days and weeks melt away into oblivion.

I have barely touched on the repetitive gameplay you must endure to reach the top levels of the game: killing mob after mob, hundreds upon hundreds in an endless non-challenging stream to gain experience. I have not said anything about linkdeath (losing your connection) from Sony network problems, or server crashes where you lose any experience or items recently attained (and for which you are not compensated by customer service).

I have not said anything about the Legends™ subscriptions, where you get to pay $40/month to get the customer service that you should be receiving anyway. There are many other problems with this game that I did not go into here. Before you get into EQ, realize what you’re jumping into. Look before you leap.

David Sanftenberg aka Dolalin Bonewielder 62 Necromancer of Lanys T`Vyl

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; Unclassified; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: addicts; evercrack; everquest; game; gamers; getalife; gooutsideandplay; online; seekhelp; sony
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A great article on why one should run for the hills if anyone ever gives you a game such as this as a gift. Now I go to say a prayer for the poor lost souls playing this drivel....
1 posted on 12/27/2002 3:17:38 PM PST by txzman
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To: txzman
I'm assuming Sony does not accept $$$ in the mail, so adults do this.

Do adults really play these games?

2 posted on 12/27/2002 3:21:23 PM PST by Senator Pardek
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To: Senator Pardek
David Sanftenberg aka Dolalin Bonewielder 62 Necromancer of Lanys T`Vyl

LOL - there's your answer, Pardek!

3 posted on 12/27/2002 3:22:17 PM PST by Senator Pardek
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To: txzman
Interesting article ... I'd heard the name, but didn't know anything else.
4 posted on 12/27/2002 3:24:24 PM PST by Tax-chick
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To: txzman
Now I go to say a prayer for the poor lost souls playing this drivel....

Las Vegas will be amused at your attempt to save lost souls. If they are lost, they are lost.

5 posted on 12/27/2002 3:26:41 PM PST by Glenn
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To: txzman
Sounds like AOL.
6 posted on 12/27/2002 3:31:05 PM PST by MonroeDNA
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To: txzman
See, there's this nice game called volleyball....

7 posted on 12/27/2002 3:33:58 PM PST by martin_fierro
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To: Senator Pardek
Yes- it's a great game
8 posted on 12/27/2002 3:34:22 PM PST by Lunatic Fringe
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To: txzman
I have a buddy who spends every free minute playing EverCrack, I never see him any more. Last summer we were only able to get him to come out for a canoe trip once, and we used to go canoeing two or three times a month. Fock EverCrack.
9 posted on 12/27/2002 3:34:59 PM PST by Notforprophet
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To: Tax-chick
More popularly known as EverCrack.
10 posted on 12/27/2002 3:35:33 PM PST by cryptical
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To: martin_fierro
Ah, volleyballs :o)
11 posted on 12/27/2002 3:35:38 PM PST by Poohbah
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To: txzman
You plod away at the keyboard, obsessed and consumed with getting that new item, or finishing that last quest, and while so consumed you begin to hate the game. Vehemently. It’s a game that goes on forever, and one that you can never win.

What? Someone is holding a gun to your head maybe? Just walk away.

12 posted on 12/27/2002 3:38:28 PM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear
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To: Notforprophet
Just curious but if your buddy suddenly stopped playing EverQuest and started canoeing instead, would you say that he was addicted to canoeign and that it was evil and that the canoe industry was only interested in peoples money?

BTW: how much doe sit cost to rent canoes? I'm guessing it is more than $9.99 a month.

I whish people would get off this trend of labeling everything as an addiction. Get over it guys.

And how many of you watch TV or even worse browse the internet regularly? Or visit FreeRepublic multiple times a day?

Maybe you're all addicts! LOL!
13 posted on 12/27/2002 3:40:08 PM PST by RebelDawg
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To: txzman
I've played Unreal Tournament online for about a year now. I've just about had my fill of smartass teenagers and adults. I got banned from a server because I used the bio gun too much and the admin was a total @sshole about it because they didn't like getting slimed while they were camping the flag. I'm pretty much fed up with online gaming, I haven't played UT for a month, I may just delete it off my hard drive. I'm looking forward to playing the upcoming Master of Orion 3 - single player only.
14 posted on 12/27/2002 3:40:19 PM PST by Brett66
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To: txzman

Death of a game addict

Ill Hudson man took own life after long hours on Web

of the Journal Sentinel staff
March 30, 2002

Shawn Woolley loved an online computer game so much that he played it just minutes before his suicide.

Elizabeth Woolley, who says her son, Shawn, was addicted to EverQuest, wants to sue the makers.

EverQuest is played by more than 400,000 people worldwide.

The 21-year-old Hudson man was addicted to EverQuest, says his mother, Elizabeth Woolley of Osceola. He sacrificed everything so he could play for hours, ignoring his family, quitting his job and losing himself in a 3-D virtual world where more than 400,000 people worldwide adventure in a never-ending fantasy.

On Thanksgiving morning last year, Shawn Woolley shot himself to death at his apartment in Hudson. His mother blames the game for her son's suicide. She is angry that Sony Online Entertainment, which owns EverQuest, won't give her the answers she desires. She has hired an attorney who plans to sue the company in an effort to get warning labels put on the games.

"It's like any other addiction," Elizabeth Woolley said last week. "Either you die, go insane or you quit. My son died."

In the virtual world of EverQuest, players control their characters through treasure-gathering, monster-slaying missions called quests. Success makes the characters stronger as they interact with other players from all over the real world.

Woolley has tried tracing her son's EverQuest identity to discover what might have pushed him over the edge. Sony Online cites its privacy policy in refusing to unlock the secrets held in her son's account.

She has a list of names her son scrawled while playing the game: "Phargun." "Occuler." "Cybernine." But Woolley is not sure if they are names of online friends, places he explored in the game or treasures his character may have captured in quests.

"Shawn was playing 12 hours a day, and he wasn't supposed to because he was epileptic, and the game would cause seizures," she said. "Probably the last eight times he had seizures were because of stints on the computer."

Woolley knows her son had problems beyond EverQuest, and she tried to get him help by contacting a mental health program and trying to get him to live in a group home. A psychologist diagnosed him with depression and schizoid personality disorder, symptoms of which include a lack of desire for social relationships, little or no sex drive and a limited range of emotions in social settings.

"This fed right into the EverQuest playing," Woolley said. "It was the perfect escape."

Vulnerable to addiction

Jay Parker, a chemical dependency counselor and co-founder of Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Wash., said Woolley's mental health problems put him in a category of people more likely to be at risk of getting addicted to online games.

Parker said people who are isolated, prone to boredom, lonely or sexually anorexic are much more susceptible to becoming addicted to online games. Having low self-esteem or poor body image are also important factors, he said.

"The manufacturer of EverQuest purposely made it in such a way that it is more intriguing to the addict," Parker said. "It could be created in a less addictive way, but (that) would be the difference between powdered cocaine and crack cocaine."

Parker doesn't make the narcotics analogy lightly. One client - a 21-year-old college student - stopped going to class within eight weeks after he started playing EverQuest his senior year.

After playing the game for 36 hours straight, he had a psychotic break because of sleep deprivation, Parker said.

"He thought the characters had come out of the game and were chasing him," Parker said. "He was running through his neighborhood having hallucinations. I can't think of a drug he could have taken where he would have disintegrated in 15 weeks."

Common warning signs

There are several questions people who think they are addicted to computers and the Internet can ask themselves to see whether they might have a problem, Parker said, including whether they can predict the amount of time they spend on the computer or have failed trying to control their computer use for an extended period of time.

Parker said that any traumatic setback to Shawn Woolley's character in EverQuest could have traumatized an already vulnerable young man.

It may be that the character was slain in combat and Woolley had trouble recovering him. Or, he could have lost a treasured artifact or massive wealth, or been cast out of one of the game's social clubs, called guilds.

"The social component is big because it gives players a false sense of relationships and identity," Parker said. "They say they have friends, but they don't know their names."

Elizabeth Woolley remembers when her son was betrayed by an EverQuest associate he had been adventuring with for six months. Shawn's online brother-in-arms stole all the money from his character and refused to give it back.

"He was so upset, he was in tears," she said. "He was so depressed, and I was trying to say, 'Shawn, it's only a game.' I said he couldn't trust those people."

Sony Online Entertainment declined to comment for this story, but EverQuest fans say the game is a fun diversion that is much better than watching television.

'It's like an adult playground'

Donna Cox of Schaumburg, Ill., has played for about two years and enjoys the adventuring and socializing. Cox and her husband, Bob, play together and team up against the game's challenges.

"It's like an adult playground," said Donna Cox, a professional who manages a team of computer programmers. "You can become anything you want. People only see the side of you that you want them to see."

Cox played about 40 hours a week at the height of her gaming but now plays only a couple of times a week. "Once you get into the high-end game, it takes a a lot of time," she said.

Dody Gonzales of Milwaukee has played the game for about three years and has more than a dozen characters spread across the EverQuest realm. Gonzales, who plays about four hours a night, knows EverQuest has been blamed for people's problems because it's a topic discussed in the online community.

Said player Vincent Frederico of Rochester, N.Y.: "It's almost like a drug. If you are not happy with your real life, you can always go in. . . . Someone who lacks social skills, they could find it much easier just to play the game instead of going out to a bar."

A game without end

How does it pull people in?

One key component is that the game can be played indefinitely, and there are always people populating the online world. EverQuest and other online games also have a social structure.

"The graphics are absolutely thrilling. They just haul you in," said Parker, who has treated several people for EverQuest addiction. "The other piece is that it takes time to leave the game. You have to find a place to hide to get out, and that makes people want to play longer."

For people who are unhappy, socially awkward or feel unattractive, online games provide a way to reinvent themselves.

Shawn Woolley - who was overweight, worked in a pizza restaurant and lived alone in an apartment the last months of his life - may have depended on EverQuest to provide the life he really wanted to live.

"People like to create new personas," Parker said. "You see a lot of gender-bending."

Hooked on 'EverCrack'

Interest in online games grew in 1997 with Origin Systems' Ultima Online, now with about 225,000 players. Microsoft's Asheron's Call, with around 100,000 subscribers, provides a virtual world similar to EverQuest's. Most online games require an initial software purchase plus monthly fees of about $10.

The games have roots in Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game created in 1974 by TSR Games in Lake Geneva. But D&D requires human contact to play; its digital counterparts do not.

David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family in Minneapolis, said many EverQuest players refer to it as "EverCrack."

Walsh, who didn't know the details of Woolley's suicide, thinks mental health problems linked to playing online games, especially EverQuest, are growing.

"Could a person get so engrossed that they become so distressed and distraught that it could put them over the edge?" Walsh said. "It probably has something to do with the game. But your average person or average gamer won't do this. It's a coming together of a number of circumstances."

Walsh and Parker both said online games as a whole are not inherently bad, and Walsh compared playing online games to drinking alcohol. Both can be harmful if abused.

A call for warning labels

"I've seen a lot of wreckage because of EverQuest," Parker said. "But they are all the same. It's like cigarettes. They need to come with a warning label. 'Warning, extensive playing could be hazardous to your health.' "

Warning labels are exactly what Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and vocal critic of the entertainment industry, wants to result from a lawsuit he plans to file against Sony Online Entertainment for Elizabeth Woolley.

"We're trying to whack them with a verdict significantly large so that they, out of fiscal self-interest, will put warning labels on," he said. "We're trying to get them to act responsibly. They know this is an addictive game."

"I am sure we are going to find things akin to the tobacco industry memos where they say nicotine is addictive," he said. "There is a possibility of a class-action lawsuit."

John Kircher, a professor at Marquette University Law School and expert in personal injury law, said a negligence action might be won if plaintiffs could successfully argue EverQuest's publishers "should have foreseen an unreasonable risk of harm, that people could potentially hurt themselves.

"Then there is the issue of First Amendment rights," Kircher said. "Does the First Amendment right trump the rights of the plaintiff? If the Internet is a form of publication . . . there is a balance the courts try to strike, and it's not an easy question."

15 posted on 12/27/2002 3:40:44 PM PST by SamAdams76
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Comment #16 Removed by Moderator

To: txzman
What they don’t tell you is that taking your money is about all they’re interested in. They care little for player complaints, and less about player suggestions and requests.

If this writer were a capitalist, they'd see the contradiction in these two sentences. Hard to expand your customer base if your product sucks. And believe me, people will find out if your product sucks given the success EQ has enjoyed.

They’re in this to milk you for all you’re worth, and that’s the first thing you have to know.

At $12.95 per month????

17 posted on 12/27/2002 3:44:12 PM PST by craig_eddy
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To: txzman
I'm on FreeRepublic way too much to ever have time to play this game.
18 posted on 12/27/2002 3:44:32 PM PST by Caipirabob
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To: RebelDawg
Well, considering that he used to love canoeing (mostly floating and drinking, to be honest) and also was very outgoing in other ways, I'd say it is our loss as his friends that he never goes out anymore.

His PC crashed a few months ago, and I offered to help him set it all back up with Windows XP, new video card, etc., and once we got it all loaded he insisted on loading all five or more EverCrack CD's, and testing the finished loaded game, before he'd agree to shut it down and take it home. He has become obsessed with the game, in every way.

Sure I log on to FR several times a day, but I don't freak out when I can't for whatever reason. He was visibly agitated until he was sure EverCrack was running okay on XP... I've never seen anything like it.

BTW - when he called me after his PC crashed it was the first time he had called me in months, and we used to talk several times a week.

19 posted on 12/27/2002 3:46:09 PM PST by Notforprophet
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To: craig_eddy
I bought EverQuest two years ago. Played for about 3 months then I decided to stop. Simple as that

Do I have superhuman willpower? Compared to this loser, I guess I do.

20 posted on 12/27/2002 3:48:35 PM PST by Wormwood
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