EverQuest II underwent a recent change in how experience is awarded, and it got me thinking about experience in general in our MMOs. How far have we come when it comes to the experience reward system, and will we ever arrive at a system that satisfies everyone?
When Chains of Eternity launched, the EQII team changed the way group experience was awarded. Players who grouped used to share the experience for mobs they killed, but that actually penalized players for being social. Now, players who are grouped will get the same amount they'd get if they were solo as long as they are on the hate list and aren't mentored. The nice thing about it is that it gives players incentive to group again and even more incentive to tackle level appropriate content rather than mentor down and slip away into low-level instances for mass slaughter.
The haves and have-nots
If you look back to EverQuest's roots, you'll find that experience used to be even more unbalanced. It was based on the philosophy of risk vs. reward, so players who were brave enough and fastidiousness enough and could think outside the box ended up with much more experience (and a nice chunk of change in the process). However, group experience was originally tallied using individual contributions, so one high-DPS Wizard could actually steal mobs from entire groups. Eventually, that was fixed so that group damage was calculated together, but that brought up another problem with raids.
Raid trash mobs and bosses delivered an even bigger chunk of experience than normal mobs, and EverQuest was a game where experience came extremely slowly. It was so slow, in fact, that you'd often find yourself squinting at the experience bar, wondering if that 20th mob kill might actually have caused the bar to move one pixel. (It usually didn't.) So in theory, raids would be a great opportunity to rack up some nice experience. In reality, only one group walked away happy because experience went to only the one group that had the highest amount of damage. You can imagine the tension in the raid as that one high-powered group celebrated its fast-moving experience bars while others actually limped home with experience debt from the evening's deaths.
Path of least resistance
In EQII, players have poked and tested the system to find some tried and true ways of leveling up alone. One method was to use the mentoring system, which is aimed at encouraging high-level players to team up with lower-level players. In this case, players would self mentor, go back to zones with lots of mobs that didn't con grey, and quickly slaughter everything in sight for AAs. Because the mentoring system still leaves you a little stronger than someone who is truly of that level, it's been easier to rack up tons of AA experience doing old content rather than taking on level-appropriate content. With experience potions and the character bonus for level-capped characters on the account, the amount of experience didn't compare to doing it the "normal way."
But that brings us back to experience vs. experience. We will jump through hoops for that numeric chunk of progression, literally. And often, when players do find a quick path to fast experience, it's not exactly through high-quality gameplay. It's not something that's limited to EQII, either; you see it in just about every MMO that has character progression.
Fortunately, I think there's a change in the philosophy surrounding experience. Devs used to focus on limiting experience doled out, probably because the faster players level up and reach the end, the faster they burn through the game and the more pressure on the developers to churn out new content to keep everyone happy. Now, there's a softer attitude, partially because players won't tolerate a painfully slow rate of progression and partially because games are moving away from linear tracks and more toward a different type of gameplay that lasts longer and offers greater replayability. EQII is unique in that it has an overabundance of content, plus lots of opportunities for creative outlets with systems like housing and the dungeon maker. Now, players even have financial opportunities through Player Studio. What that means is that there are a growing number of players who don't care about experience at all.
Perhaps we'll see MMOs continue to reduce the emphasis on experience as the measure of progress. That numeric metric has actually gotten in the way of players being able to take in the game and play it for the real experience of the game. In the meantime, it's great to see EQII allow players to get solo experience while grouped, and hopefully players will take advantage of that and team up while out questing and adventuring. Now if only they could help Rangers survive those fights better -- there'd be nothing to stop them from finally reaching the level cap!
From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to firstname.lastname@example.org.