Oz Trail of Trials, Part 4 – The Role of Trials

On my last review, on Everquest 2, there were some very valid comments from players of the game today. They made the point that the trial is not all there is to the game, and that I did not experience many aspects that make the game worthwhile. It’s safe to assume that were I to review any game that has been out for over 6 months that I would get people who whole-heartedly support the game and find issue with any negativity. They are not wrong, and yet, neither am I, the reviewer. We all look at games differently, and this is the beauty of a trial – it lets you see if that fit is “right”. However, that said, the trial must be the best show of the game’s mechanics possible. If not, your potential subscribers will have a bad experience and go elsewhere.

Let’s get meta.

A trial is like that first date – neither of you knows what to expect, but at least one of you hopes for a long term commitment, or at least something more than a five-day stand. You’re going to feel out the new game and see if it’s right for you. So you dress up in your NewbieSuit, jump into your internet connection and take that new game out to one of your favorite ports. Like a date, you can’t help but notice those physical characteristics first. Look at all those races. The varied classes. Is that – yes it is – personal housing, wow! You spend some time talking about each other. You know the usual; how much memory it needs, your graphics card capacity, perhaps you even talk about other games you’ve known. So as you slowly kill orcs/slimes/goblins/rats together, you begin to learn a little more about them. Find out how the UI works. Manage some inventory. Maybe bump off a rare monster or two. Before you know it, the trial’s over, so you decide to walk the game home to its 5th floor walkup. You’re standing there at your account page and it’s a bit awkward. The game clears its throat and looks at you. You tilt your monitor slightly, lean in, and…

Ahem. Ok, maybe not exactly like a first date, but close enough.

The trial is that time that a game developer gives for a person off the street to figure out if this game is for them. As there’s a possible monthly payment at stake, it behooves the game company to put everything that is the best of their game into the trial. Most games have accelerated leveling to start, or somewhat stack your initial experience to ensure you see as much of the game as possible. A trend a few years ago was to have an actual tutorial-type area where you spend your first few levels. This area was usually “juiced”, in that many of the items you could get within were far better than anything available in the world at large at the same level. Dishonest? Not really, as this area was accessible by anyone starting a new character, and even these powerful items were usually worthless a few levels outside of the area (AO was a notable exception to this).

The point is that trials are something every game company really needs to nail. It is, for many people, the first glimpse of your world you have spent years building. You want it to appeal to the broadest audience in the most powerful way possible so that you can sell your monthly subscription and make a profit. Half the battle is won when the player takes the time to install the trial, but you have to seal the deal. The trial is your salesman, and it must be that stereotypical one with the crisp suit and gleaming white tooth smile. It has to be out there making the sale, and trying to win over every single customer. Of the three I tried, only EQ2 did not have a tutorial zone, and instead put me in the game proper. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I was constantly told to hit 20 to get rewards. Hitting that a mere 5 days in (in both crafting and normal exp too), made me wonder how juiced the newbie experience is. It’s almost like 14 days was too long. Looking at STO, I managed to get to well over mid-level on just the trial. That’s too long (although I think it was actually that their exp model was far too generous) because then it questions why I’d even want to bother.

Even if you nail it though, you won’t get everyone. For example, I’m big on visuals and crafting. STO’s visuals (space at least) were amazing. I honestly loved it. Same with EQ2’s housing. And CoX’s legendary character developer. Moving to crafting, CoX’s system isn’t half bad. STO doesn’t have one; trading a bunch of items to a person for another item is the definition of barter. And EQ2’s didn’t thrill me at my level. As one poster said, it’s easier at higher levels with items and abilities, but it’s at the entry that you need to sell it. Entry level anything should be the easiest. It doesn’t have to stay that way, but it should be at least a sample of goodness to come. These are vital to my enjoyment of the game, and for me, any game without these will not sell me, no matter how awesome it is, and my ratings reflect this. Feel free to give them a try yourself if you’re between games and interested in trying something new – the beauty of a trial is you can form your own opinion hands on and see if you and that game are going to do something more long-term. For me, I had to leave – we just weren’t compatible.

If they should ask, tell them I’m doing fine.

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Oz

Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who's been around long enough. Still, he's always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

8 thoughts on “Oz Trail of Trials, Part 4 – The Role of Trials”

  1. If a game can’t hook me in a two week trial, I’m rarely inclined to sub up and see if it might “get good” later. Heck, if I’m not having fun by my first afternoon, a game rarely stays on my hard drive much longer.

  2. As I said in comment to the previous article, the problem is that because the reviewer does not know the game, they end up saying things like “Of the three I tried, only EQ2 did not have a tutorial zone, and instead put me in the game proper.” which is misleading to people who don’t play.

    An experienced player would tell you that Qeynos and Freeport both start you on a newbie island that is inaccessible to other players. Elsewhere, they still start in level appropriate areas, with a newbie questline that eases you into things, but shared with the rest of the players.

    Experiencing the world with fresh eyes is great, but it’s not fair on the game you’re reviewing, or your readers, if what you say is not accurate.

    1. That’s interesting that two cities have tutorials but others do not. To me, that seems like bad game design, because how am I as a new player supposed to know that? Because the lack of a tutorial zone is accurate, from what I played.

  3. Well said. If a game can’t hook you during its trial, it’s not your fault for not giving it enough of a chance, or not trying hard enough – it’s the game’s fault for not being appealing.

    Yes, it takes far longer than the duration of a trial to see everything an MMORPG has to offer, but I refuse to accept that there is any reason why a game which is enjoyable once you get deeply into it cannot _also_ be enjoyable initially. All the MMORPGs that have earned subscription dollars from me were.

    1. I think this only goes so far for me. After all, we are talking about an MMO here, a game designed to be played far longer than a ‘traditional’ game. I can easily accept that something I’m going to spend thousands of hours with might not be able to show me ‘enough’ in the first hour to hook me, nor would I want the design to be in any way altered to make the first hour more enjoyable at the expense of the 100+ hour. If you can do both, great, but rarely is that true.

      I also think a trial island that is a unique experience (AoC Tortuga) does more harm then good, because it misleads you about what the game is and not only attracts the wrong customers (people who liked Tortuga are not likely to enjoy the ‘real’ game), but it might drive away someone interested in what you actually offer if they never ‘get past’ that initial, different experience.

      1. A good point. AO’s newbie island plays unlike the game so much as to seem like a different game. I used to just level up characters on the island and ignore the rest of the game.

  4. My take on this is that the reviewer may have some duty to remind the audience that they’re reviewing an MMO (mainly if the intended audience is non-MMO players), and then after that, just be completely honest about your first impressions as Oz was here. The thing is, any game gets better or worse, and MMOs hinge on this, with factors such as:
    – craftable items
    – community (random people/general chat)
    – player circle (guilds/kinships/&c.)
    – graphics
    – art design (changeable from region to region)

    The list is extensive, to say the least. What I’ve listed is only the very tip. But here’s a good example; I play, among other things, WoW. When my main was back at, oh, level 40 or so–and yes, I’ve been a balance druid since early vanilla, since people would occasionally deign to wipe their noses on our feathers and that’s about it–I entered a battleground. I had no idea what I was doing but I thought it might be fun. I jumped on my mount, following the group, and I got about halfway to the first battle when someone whispered me, “Get out of moonkin form, you fucking idiot.” I left and never went back. That was a prime example of a game mechanic which did not put its best foot forward and lost a possible fan. Now, at 80, with the coercion of my friends, I have battlegrounded and arenaed and grasped Winter many a time, but the difference is, I had to be willing to play in spite of the content, not because of it, because I had seen a taste.

    Introducing a new player to an MMO is much more difficult. Anyone reading a review of an MMO needs to be aware or be made aware that the game will absolutely depend on whether it feels right to you when you’re logged in, and that’s not something a reviewer can tell you.

    Incidentally, I never tried LotRO’s trial (I’m a Founder), but they have a newbie zone which I like because it’s just like the regular game, just secluded. What do people think of a system like that? Anybody who plays LotRO after playing the trial?

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