One of RoM's most popular features is Siege War, the strategic and action-packed guild vs. guild battles that take place nightly. Before the lock-out, which prevents the forming or joining of guilds during SW, "mercing" quickly reared its head. SW is currently limited, and it's a big race to be one of the lucky guilds to get in each night. Mercing allowed guilds to recruit members while SW was taking place. SW could get started and each guild could add members who could instantly jump into a battle to help shift the odds in favor of one side. Afterwards, the merc could simply leave the guild and join another lucky guild that got into SW another night.
Thus the lock-out was born; it became a time-based approach to prevent any player from mercing for the hours before, during, and after SW.
The obvious pro here is that the lock-out prevents mercing during Siege War. It also prevents favoritism. Previously, guilds could develop legions of fans devoted to it or strike deals with guildless players (or even other guilds). Even if each guild could recruit mercs, a little advanced planning could ensure one guild's buddies were all online at the right time or that one guild had more buddies than the next guild.
It's arguable that having strict rules during gameplay are important. SW has its own ranking system and thrives off the ruleset in a similar fashion to that of a game of football.
So the lock-out prevented mercing? Well... no. It didn't entirely abolish the practice. It just prevents it during and around the hours that Siege War takes place. Players can still set up deals with guilds and merc hours, or even days, in advance. Players only need wait one hour after SW is finished to leave the guild and start planning for the next day. Meanwhile, a very basic function that players have come to expect, and one they use often in most MMOs, is temporarily disabled during peak hours for a percentage of the playerbase.
The loud minority has spoken
Siege War is that one feature in RoM that everyone loves to complain about but no one ever stops playing. It's very popular but is also filled with problems players dislike. Not only is it typical for forums to mirror what a loud minority of players want, but there's a wealth of other legitimate complaints to be made about SW that could be more important than mercing. Bugs, glitches, hacks and exploits that are more problematic to the majority of players still exist, and players are still playing. If I am right and mercing is among the lesser problems, that likely means players would still be playing without the lock-out. But we have the lock-out, and it also prevents players from using a feature that is standard in almost any MMO these days -- a feature that players need to use in order to get into SW in the first place.
A silent killer
Siege War is unique to RoM, and it's popular. It's also a daily reminder for all the players to actively think about something they dislike. It's ripe for daily complaints related to it to appear in the forum. Forming a guild is almost like a passive activity. It's a smaller thing, and something invisible that's not a constant reminder -- especially for people already in a guild and participating in siege wars -- likely wouldn't get as much attention in the forum.
It's a testament to why we ought to be very cautious and have a keen eye when judging information coming through a forum. What looks like news or a big problem may not be as big or a problem at all. In fact, some players enjoyed the ability to merc. It was seen as a positive aspect of gameplay, but perhaps those players were in the minority. It certainly isn't a black and white case like bugs and glitches are. No one wants bugs or glitches. The entire playerbase can agree on that.
On a long enough timeline, a feature that is simple and so common in MMOs yet is causing an annoyance is going to have people questioning why they should go so far out of their way to get around it, which might lead to their quitting. The longer the timeline, the more people might drop, and they won't be saying anything -- they'll just be leaving. It's a little like an annoying bug. Some players could eventually get tired of dealing with a specific bug and just leave without word.
Players whose sole playtime lies within those four hours each night are left either playing an MMO that may as well not have guilds at all or working around it. We're talking about peak hours, too. I suppose working around it would be quite easy for some, but other players may find it unacceptable to work around a feature that should be so simple and constantly available.
How much did the lockout actually help? There are still mercs, just not as many. Even before the lockout, it was possible only a loud minority wanted to stop mercing. I'm not saying whether I think Siege War is better with or without them; I'm trying to weigh all the information. Was it the best option both for business and fun-factor? Runewaker may not always be able to find bugs right away to fix things, but the company was able to change this -- possibly for the better. I think you know where I stand, but where do you stand on the issue?
Each Monday, Jeremy Stratton delivers Lost Pages of Taborea, a column filled with guides, news, and opinions for Runes of Magic. Whether it's a community roundup for new players or an in-depth look at the Rogue/Priest combo, you'll find it all here. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.