Today we launched one of the features I've been working on over the past couple of weeks, the EQII Welcome screen. Already this feature was met with a little friction on the official forums and I can certainly understand why some players may not be interested in seeing this new window. Something that might not be apparent at first is that you can dismiss it by just hitting your escape key.
However, I wanted to point out some positive aspects of the window. I've been an EQII player for a lot longer than I've been an SOE employee and I think the welcome screen is a great addition to the game. Here are some reasons why I like it.
For awhile now, the server message of the day (MOTD) has started to lose a lot of its impact. The MOTD often contains information that some people aren't interested in reading. This leads to people ignoring it altogether and possibly missing something important. One of the biggest reasons we created the welcome screen was to give each area of the game that often has its own announcements, a specific place for those messages. By segregating the MOTD's like this, it should be easier for a player to glance at the one they like and ignore the rest. If you're in a guild, your guild's MOTD can also get lost in all the text that is written to your chat window when you log in.
I don't play much Legends of Norrath and haven't purchased anything in the Marketplace, but I still want to see what my guild is up to. I also want to be made aware of any other server-related messages like unscheduled downtime when I might be playing on the weekend. With the welcome screen, I can glance at those specific MOTDs and then hit escape when I'm done looking at them.
I also really like having the friends list on the welcome screen. For some reason I never really used the Community window in the past, possibly because there's nothing else on this window that interests me. However, when I log in, one of the first things I want to do is see who is online that I might be able to play with. So having my friends list visible on the welcome screen is really nice. Kindricke made a great suggestion on the forums about showing only your online friends. So I've made a change this morning so that the welcome screen will share the same setting as the Community window. So, to see only you online friends, just open the Community window (Y-key) and check the box to ignore offline friends. This setting will save between your play sessions.
Whether you like the Marketplace or not, sometimes there is an item that might be of interest to you. The recently created gender and name change potions were big hits. I'm sure many people who have never purchased a Marketplace item took advantage of this feature that people have been asking for. Similar to our character transfer service, we've talked about adding a name-change service for a long time. Now with the addition of the Marketplace, we were able to bring that feature into the game and not require you to use an external website. Surely everyone can see this as a big win. The marketplace item is much more reliable and less prone to failure than a completely separate process. So back to my original point. Even if you don't like the Marketplace, there might occasionally be an item that you would consider purchasing. Having the list of new items on the welcome screen makes it easy for you to see when we add a new item without opening the entire Marketplace window and scrolling through all the items that are already there.
The other main section of the welcome screen is the community box. Our community department publishes on average 1-3 articles a day on the website. For many players, these articles provide valuable information about upcoming features, events and more. The welcome screen grabs the RSS feed for these articles and displays the titles right on the page. So now you don't have to open a browser to keep up with these articles. If you see an article that looks interesting, you can click the link and read it right from within the game.
So to wrap up this rather long blog post, the welcome screen is more about convenience and getting the information that's important to you quickly and easily. Hopefully like me, you'll find this feature helpful and a nice addition to the game.
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As a side note, our original design idea for the welcome screen included an interface similar to iGoogle where you could move the widgets around and even decide which widgets were visible and which were hidden. We eventually opted for taking a simpler approach so the feature wouldn't take as long to implement. At some point in the future we might still look into a more customizable interface. For now, it'll be interesting to see what our modding community comes up with.