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TERA Vanarchy candidate Oloh on the political game within the game


For some time now, meaningful in-game politics have been the domain of sandbox golden-children like EVE Online, but En Masse Entertainment's action-oriented TERA aims to break that monopoly. The studio recently introduced its much-touted Vanarchy system, which allows players to run for political office and has resulted in a rush of guilds vying for the coveted positions.

The Basilisk Crag server's Nagafen is one such guild. The guild, headed by founder and Vanarchy candidate Don Shelkey (in-game alias Oloh), is in the midst of a large campaign for control of the province of Ostgarath, and the group means business. Shelkey even went so far as to rent ad-space on the front page of TERA's ZAM network database site, TeraTome, bringing the in-game campaign into the real-world of hundreds of TERA players.

We had the chance to have a little tête-à-tête with Shelkey himself to talk a bit about the socio-political climate of TERA and its implications on the real world. OK, not really. But we did talk to him about the joys of playing politics in a virtual world and what it takes to run for a Vanarchy in TERA, so head on past the cut and check it out!

Massively: Could you take a moment to introduce yourself and your guild and give us a little background on Nagafen's history in TERA?

Don Shelkey: My name is Don Shelkey, and I am the guildmaster of the guild Nagafen on the Basilisk Crag Server. Having played on the South Korean servers and a great deal in Beta, I knew that I was going to play TERA and wanted a guild to be able to participate meaningfully in the guild vs. guild PvP and in the political system. I formed Nagafen with the intent of creating a small guild of personal friends. I tried to pull in like-minded folks and reached out to one of my favorite MMO-based online communities, the Fires of Heaven forums, and asked whether anyone was looking for a home.

At first, the response from the forum members was lukewarm. We had about 16 members for the longest time. As the game proceeded through the betas and more and more people got to try out the polished combat and innovative gameplay, interest rose. Soon after release, Nagafen reached the 300-person member cap without doing any in-game recruiting at all.

Since that time, we have been able to keep our activity level very high by getting quality in-game recruits and by absorbing some significant smaller guilds into our ranks.

What are your thoughts on the game's political system compared to a game like EVE Online?

It's funny; I always followed EVE Online very closely because of all the player-driven content in that game. The mega banks, PvP territories, and back-room politics were very intriguing to me. Despite having friends who loved the game and having tried it repeatedly, I found that it never sank its teeth into me, so I don't want to pretend I was leading a space armada or controlling valuable resource pools in EVE. That said, I understand how EVE works, and I think that TERA has a lot in common with it. In both games, no player or guild can survive on an island, and guild alliances are a major component to both games.

For instance, when the voting system was announced and it was made known that each account would have three votes (one per continent), I realized that the path to political success would be: be big, form voting alliances with other big guilds, and actively promote the guild to the public at large. We had the first covered by that time, but the latter two took getting in touch with other like-minded guildmasters. To achieve the second, you couldn't just ally with any big guild because public opinion for the third is very important. So you have to fight the right allies. This level of political intrigue (and potential double-dealing) immediately reminded me of what goes on in EVE Online.

How would you improve the current political system in TERA?

This may be a surprise to some, but I feel that the current political system would be better if the max guild size were a bit lower, say 150 members or so. This would put more value on public opinion and less value on strategic relationships. I also think the reign should be extended by a week to allow a little more time to work on alliances and public opinion.

What are your campaign goals? How do you plan to gain/keep votes?

My approach to the political system is the same as my approach to other aspects of the game. Nagafen is in this game for the long haul. We will never take a short-term gain at the sacrifice of long-term reputation. We feel the best way to have long-term success is to be absolutely honest and forthright. We never double-deal our votes. We are open about our alliances. We clearly state our campaign promises and then update the public throughout our term on how we are meeting them. We have gained the support of quite a few smaller guilds based primarily upon our candor in this area.

Who is your main competition in this race? Do you communicate with your rivals?

Rising Phoenix is our biggest competition. We knew that going into the race. I communicate with that group's leader very often; we are on pretty good terms. Last election, we were not competing, so we shared a lot of information. This election, Rising Phoenix moved into our territory, so we have been a little more reserved in our discussions.

Do you have any interesting campaign stories, such as going to war with rival guilds?

Actually, yes. Our guild is a PvP guild, so we try to keep at least three active guild vs. guild battles going at the same time. At specified times on the weekend, there is an event called the Nexus. The Nexus forces the whole server together to take down "rift-like" public events. It is a prime battleground for GvG conflicts, so keeping a rival guild from doing the Nexus is one of the biggest tools that large guilds have to exert their power.

Last Friday, we had a GvG going on with Rising Phoenix and another Vanarch-bound guild, Point of Interest. Quite frankly, their combined forces [defeated] us. We were able to pay back Point of Interest later Friday night and completely wiped the guild out every time it tried to gather for the event. Rising Phoenix, though, had to wait until Saturday. In a political move, Rising Phoenix declared on us one hour and five minutes before the event.

That time is significant because you can surrender after one hour of a GvG. Emboldened by its previous victory on Friday, Rising Phoenix almost certainly picked that time to declare to force me into a decision: fight and risk our members being locked out of the Nexus and taking a huge morale hit or surrender and show the whole server during an election that our rivals were able to force us into an inferior position. The choice was easy. We got our forces there, had a big battle, and wiped them out several times, so much so that we forced them into the less-efficient neighboring zone for the event. Wanting to put it on them a little bit for taking part in our previous defeat, we actually left the Nexus and chased them down in the neighboring zone, wiping them out to finish the event. We continued to deny them access to the Nexus all day Sunday, as well. Needless to say, from our point of view, their gamble didn't quite go the way they planned.

Have you yet or do you plan to run any campaign-themed events?

We won Arcadia in the last election, and there was a "local celebrity" named Biju, who has a blog-style forum post that talks about his guild, Crux Knights, keeping the newbie area known as Lumbertown Bridge safe from gankers. We actually beat Crux in the election, but we really like Crux and its members willingness to fight for a cause, so I scheduled a RP event shortly after our victory in the election that not only welcomed them to stay in "our" province but also awarded Biju personally 100 teleport scrolls to Lumbertown. I gave a speech that was modeled after the Munchkin-land speech in the Wizard of Oz for the occasion.

We noticed you took out a bit of ad space on ZAM's Tera Tome site. Have you used paid advertising anywhere else, and has it helped your campaign?

Nothing formal. To be honest, the advertisement on ZAM was more of an advertisement for the server (Basilisk Crag) than it was for Nagafen. We were confident in our ability to win before the advertisement. But I wanted to show players that our server had a very active political community and players dedicated to the game. I knew that placing the ad would generate some public interest about the "sandbox nature" of the game.

Like I said, Nagafen's theory is to do everything for long-term gain. While the advertisement might have had a minimal impact on this election, it does create awareness of the TERA and Basilisk Crag political scene. We feel that a Vanarch should be concerned about such thing, so it was an easy decision. Look for more innovative ways to bring awareness to our server in the future!

Last month you were searching for an events coordinator for your guild, and presumably, for your campaign. Rumor has it that you were looking to pay someone real money to do this. How did that turn out?

Yeah. To be clear, I was looking to invest about $150 per month in player prizes (free monthly subscriptions) so that a passionate player could have the tools he or she needed to run events on the server. The position itself would not be paid, but all of the money would go into rewards that would motivate the server to participate.

The devs haven't released the chronoscrolls system yet, so that is somewhat on hold. We did speak with some candidates for the position, but no one jumped out at me as having the drive or passion that would be required to do the job right. We are still looking, but we are committed to ensuring Nagafen does its part to ensure that Basilisk Crag is one of the best servers on which to play TERA.

Overall, politics aside, how do you feel about TERA the game?

It's great. I have played a lot of MMOs, and I can honestly say that this game is right up my alley. The combat is outstanding and clearly best-in-class, and the sandbox approach is very compelling. The only other game that caused me to dive deep into the gameplay "between the buttons," so to speak, was EverQuest. I loved World of Warcraft and played it for years and years, but I never really got into the whole server community thing in that game. In this game, I speak with other guilds and even random new players daily... hourly, in fact. If you are playing TERA and not participating in the server-wide community, you are really selling yourself short.

Any closing words for potential voters?

Nagafen is worth investing in. We are going to be here a while.

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