I have to admit, this past weekend has had that throwback feel to it. I've spoken to gaming friends whom I haven't spoken to in about almost a decade, when we all started drifting away from EverQuest to other titles. There's a buzz out there from veteran gamers that I haven't seen in a long time. I also saw and got to talk to developers who were part of the original EQ team, and hearing them talk about the game, I could sense some real excitement about what they're building. When EQ first launched in 1999, the team admitted that it really had no idea where the game was headed or what would happen, and the devs had to make many decisions on the fly. I got that same sense with EverQuest Next. There are several design ideas that have yet to be put into practice in one single MMO, and while we might not know how it will all play out, it's exciting to see what will happen.
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas
But the buzz is not without some trepidation. I heard two concerns repeated throughout the weekend, both by those in attendance and those responding through social media. One is that there's no "endgame" as themepark guilds know it. As I mentioned last week, MMOs have changed in such a way that guilds don't serve the same purpose anymore. Players join guilds now for extrinsic motivators like guild levels, guild perks, or a bigger bank. So when the news broke that EQ Next will not have the vertical progression path that many players have become used to, there was a fear that one of the last intrinsic reasons to join a guild -- raiding -- would be gone.
I think there's reason to be hopeful that there will be an endgame (although not the kind of endgame that many are used to seeing), but the real question is how the "social" side of the game will play out. In the reveal and the panels, there were many examples of how the game is inclusive and social, but how difficult will the challenges be? Will you need an organized guild with coordinated teamwork, or will it look more like the borg-like herds like the ones seen in RIFT during zone events? RIFT has many great features that made it easy to be social, such as auto-grouping and those multi-group encounters during planar invasions, but I wouldn't necessarily call that type of gameplay "endgame" because there were usually so many people hitting the boss mobs that it wasn't a question of "whether" but "when."
The heart of the issue is the balance between the challenge of the content and strength of the groups of players engaging it. RIFT was social, but when the invasions became too challenging and took over quest hubs and vendor areas out in the world, they were nerfed so that weren't as disruptive to the gameplay of those who needed those NPCs. What if Orcs set up camp along a road in EQ Next, preventing players from reaching town? What if a Goblin King succeeds in destroying the hard work of hundreds of players who were busy building Halas? Will players be OK with struggles and failure? Will the developers jump in and nerf the "bad guys"? When I talked to EQ Franchise Director Dave Georgeson, he indicated SOE is still working through those questions, so it will be interesting to see how they resolve one of the lingering problems of MMO endgame.
The other concern is that the lack of levels, combined with a multi-class system, will make the game too easy. And it almost seemed as if people were clinging to the notion of "tiers" as the one thing that would differentiate between a newbie and a longtime player. While there should be a way to tell a veteran from a new player, many of the traditional ways that MMOs do that actually serve as barriers that prevent those two groups from doing anything meaningful together.
The best example I could think of is the difference between a typical raid in EQII
and the 10th Ring War in EverQuest
raids are mainly based on output, and I'd say that that's the case for most MMOs out there with endgame. So if you aren't the right level, aren't the right spec, aren't geared up enough, and don't have your casting order correctly set up, you might as well stay home. Never mind if you're new; even players who have been around for years might not be able to meet all the necessary "requirements."
The 10th Ring War, on the other hand, was an all-inclusive, come-as-you-are battle. There was no limit to the number of people who could help out, and in fact, the more hands on deck, the better the chance of fending off the waves of Giants and protecting the Coldain Dwarves. In the Dain War, your parse wasn't as important -- what mattered was your ability to anticipate where the armies of Giants were coming from, and then racing to them as fast as possible to stop them from running towards the gates. You could be a level 1 speed bump, but if you were able to land a well-timed snare or connect with an arrow, you were able to slow them down enough to buy time for others to arrive and take them down. In fact, one of the most important jobs during the battle was scouting from on top of a nearby hill and shouting out the location of new waves of giants. When the SOE team announced that low and high levels would be able to play together, this is the sort of experience that comes to mind, and it's one that I hope we do see in EverQuest Next
A Norrathian tribute
Lastly, I have to add a personal story from this past weekend at SOE Live. On July 4th, one of my guildmates unexpectedly passed away. One of the items in the silent auction at the convention this year was the opportunity to put a player character into EverQuest II
as an NPC. We all chipped in and our guild was able to win the auction. So soon, Slyicer the Iksar Rogue will be immortalized in Norrath, and it's a reminder to me of how MMOs are about much more than just the game.
Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.