Implants, tweets and negativity – breaking it down and building it up

I hope all of you had a nice holiday season this year.  I know I did, taking a week to travel back home to see the family, then spending New Year’s week doing minimal work and binging on Planetside as much as I could.  My only complaint was the distinct lack of snow in the parts of the country I visited, something I have always enjoyed about this time of year.

Unfortunately, SOE did not have such a nice holiday break.  Sure, I bet the employees enjoyed 2 weeks off of work, and quite frankly, they deserve it.  When you think about it, we as players should probably WANT our game devs to get time off – as much fun as it might be to develop video games, I’m sure that just like any job, it ends up feeling a lot like WORK.  If we want the team to have fresh eyes on their 2 year old product, and come into the new year inspired and motivated to keep making this the best game possible, then we should be understanding of their holiday break.  But a few bugs in the patch coupled with some blunders on twitter and the community had something of a meltdown while our devs were out enjoying life and rejuvenating themselves so they could return to this project with fresh eyes.

A trip to reddit, or even the official forums will give you the impression that this game is in a broken, terrible state and that the future is dim, just as the game turns 2 and approaches the PS4 beta.  This negativity propagates a feeling of low morale within the community, and also scares off new or potential players who see unhappy veterans and wonder if it is worth even beginning such a journey.  This prompts the questions: are we over-reacting?  Is the game as bad as we make it seem?  Where does SOE and the community go from here?  As with many things, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Implants: The subject alone probably deserves 2-3 entire blog posts, but I will spare myself and you by saying this: if the implant system is going to be designed and refined to drive micro-transactions, most players will not participate, be very resentful towards SOE, and harbor great mistrust over future “additions” to the game, or changes to existing game mechanics.  If implants are designed and intended to be here as a cool mechanic that adds depth to the game, then we have some common ground to make it better for both players and SOE.  John Smedley’s tweet over the holiday, followed by comments by RadarX both give the impression (right or wrong) that SOE are trying to drive micro-transactions through the implant system.  The addition of tier 4 and nerf of drop rates without much discussion, followed by those comments by SOE have rightfully given players a lot to be concerned about.  I would love to see more engagement with the community on this subject, similar to how SOE responded to the first implementation of implants.  Ultimately, this was a system we were mostly happy with until now, and while there certainly is room to expand and improve, this was not something I expected more dev time to be sunk into, nor do I think it was handled appropriately.  The community reaction is understandable, though perhaps a bit melodramatic.

Performance:  This has been a touchy subject for me as I got hit very hard back in September when the PS4 code was merged in – I was hitching, dropping FPS, and suddenly unable to play the infantry game competitively.  It was so bad that I quit for most of September and October and seriously questioned if I wanted to keep playing this game.  Fortunately, one of the many patches that came out during that time helped resolve the main issues I was having, and I resumed playing (and having fun) from November to present.  However, my story is a personal one, and when you talk with other players, it sounds like there are two main issues popping up.  The first is server-side, and I experienced this for a decent portion of the holiday – Ping on Emerald was anywhere from 200-500 even at small fights or on unpopulated continents.  For many players, this type of latency creates a whole host of problems, from issues with the infiltrator cloak to input lag and the ever-so-maddening “client side” deaths.  I think the majority of issues people are having seem to be related to server latency.  The remaining players seem to have a variety of performance issues related to FPS and hitching, and it is really hard to tell if this is increasing from the baseline or not.

What has me concerned with regards to performance is how SOE has responded – amidst the firestorm over implants, Smedley replied with a series of tweets promising to hire more coders and halt new content until performance has been addressed.  Hiring coders sounds great, and if they have the budget for it, so be it.  But halting new content… is this going to be another 3 month long drought like OMFG was?  What if, as I pondered above, the issues right now are mostly at the server level and not at the client level?  Not to mention that the devs who can optimize code or improve performance are not the same as those who create new content – will this be an “all hands on deck” or just a more beefed up “PMC” initiative?  I understand the desire to show action in the face of an unhappy customer base but I’m not convinced this is the response we need.

Alerts: If anything, the lack of alerts for the last 2-3 weeks should prove that this game is truly barren in terms of meaningful territory conquest or resources.  Alerts, while imperfect, at least provide a reason to care about territory ownership and do more than park at a highly defensible 96+ fight and work on directives.  I look forward to seeing those put back in the game and I sincerely hope that once the implant/performance drama is resolved, that we can make some meaningful changes to alerts and resources to motivate fights over territory across all continents.

I think that’s enough for now.  SOE definitely has some challenges ahead going into the new year.  But with better communication and a few small changes to how implants behave, we can hopefully get past this and focus on the areas of the game that truly need attention – alerts, the so-called “meta” and resources.  I had tons of fun playing Planetside over the last 2 months, and have enough material to make at least 2-3 new montage videos.  I even bought a few holiday camos and some lumifiber from the sales.  The game, despite its issues, has a great core and provides enjoyable gameplay that has kept me entertained for longer than any other game I’ve played.  Unfortunately the community can become engrossed with the hot button topics each week and give the impression that the game is dying and the devs are cashing out as much as they can before the ship sinks.  The reality is far from that, and if you share a love for Planetside like I do, I encourage you to avoid letting the negativity start affecting your ability to enjoy what is in my opinion, a unique and enjoyable, albeit imperfect, video game.

As a bonus for reading my blog, here’s an unreleased tower stomp from the holiday.  Yay NC!