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The Tattered Notebook: Why Player Studio is actually a return to EQ's roots

Karen Bryan

Talk about a busy week for the EverQuest franchise! In a one-two punch, SOE announced new expansions for EverQuest and EverQuest II and unveiled Player Studio, a new tool that will allow players to create and sell their own items on the marketplace. I went from "what shall I write about this week" to "where do I begin?!"

The expansions deserve attention in their own right, plus they're still a ways off from being released, so in this week's column, I'd like to look at Player Studio with an eye on EQ's past. In the history of the franchise, user-generated content has been around for a long time, as has open-ended gameplay. Both seem to be making a return to EQ and EQII, and I'll say it's long overdue.

A history of items

When I was chatting with a friend about the introduction of Player Studio to EverQuest and EverQuest II, she wasn't really surprised because, as she put it, the EQ franchise has always been a leader in the user experience. If you look back through the years, you can see a pattern of giving more creative control to the players, especially in EverQuest II. House decoration exploded into a gameplay in its own right, and the sheer of volume of items, housing choices, and interactive objects is impressive.

Meanwhile, the introduction of player-made books gave fans a chance to script their own lore, draft up their own guides, or even put it to use as a way to share news and events with the guild. Even more recently, players could broadcast zonewide messages in their guild halls and homes thanks to items like the magic mouth. And user-generated content took a huge step forward in EQII with the launch of the dungeon maker system. Not only can players decorate various dungeon maps, but they can decide things like mob placement, pathing, and social aggro. And while it's true that there are some less-than-stellar dungeons out there, there are also many that are astounding and rival some of the best GM-made dungeons. There are some extremely talented EQ and EQII fans, and based on what they've done with housing decor and dungeon making, I can't wait to see what they create with Player Studio.

Emergent gameplay

SOE President John Smedley tweeted that "emergent gameplay is our future." Ironically, EverQuest actually was very emergent at launch, albeit unintentionally. Much of what went on in game was player directed, and the original team really had no idea what was going to happen when it first launched the game. Concepts and terms like trains, camping for a mob, kiting, root-nuking, and feign-death pulling were all organic ideas that players devised based on the ground rules and the tools they were given in EverQuest and other early MMOs.

Players also came up with their own systems for handling in-game issues. There were lists so that people could take turns camping a particular named. There were rotations and calendars so guilds could have their chance at raiding the planes or facing the dragons. Guilds devised buff lines in game and then camp to chat so that they could preserve their buff timers for the actual fight. DKP was created to settle loot issues. Players made a business out of selling ports, SoWs, and buffs. (KEI plz!) EverQuest was fairly simple, but the open-endedness led to some fairly complex interactions in game.

If you look at it from a distance, you might wonder why people would be willing to do things like spend an hour waiting in line with their characters to get buffs or waiting for weeks to raid a zone. On the surface, it doesn't sound like fun, but it actually was in a way because it's satisfying to come up with a solution to something so challenging. It wasn't the action itself that was fun; it was the knowledge that you had solved something tough and that you probably did it in a way that the developers would never have imagined.

There's one more area of emergent gameplay that came from early MMOs like EQ: the selling of coin and loot on eBay for real cash. I doubt the original EQ team would have thought that players would be selling dragon loot for hundreds of dollars or characters for sometimes thousands. And who could have ever expected that the GNP of Norrath would be higher than China and India at one point?

The Tattered Notebook  Why Player Studio is actually a return to EQ's roots
Obviously, that's been a huge problem not only for the EQ franchise but for MMOs across the board. And the worst side of unintended emergent gameplay, like griefing, scamming, and third-party trading, cast a dark cloud that overshadowed the good. If you look at MMO development over the years, it's often been in response to the unsavory aspects of open-ended gameplay. Rather than have open competition for content, it all got sorted out in instances with lockout timers, so everyone had an equal chance to access it. You can't use mobs as a weapon anymore because game changes made training a thing of the past. And even though third-party trading lingers, many studios have moved away from placing importance on currency altogether and instead have gone to a non-tradable, token-based system. It's safe, but it's not that compelling either. When I started playing EQ, I was always trying to figure out what the heck it was all about, but as it turns out, the team was trying to figure that out too, and I really miss that in my MMOs today.

So when the announcement of Player Studio came out, I didn't necessarily see it as something new because it was there in the EQ franchise over a decade ago. Player Studio is an open-ended tool that players will take and use in ways that no one will expect, just as players took the world of Norrath and ended up doing things that no one expected. Yes, there were some bottom-feeders that really drove everyone nuts back then, but there were also some great players who chiseled out a community and a culture that made people always eager to come back for more. In a way, Player Studio is really a return to the roots of EverQuest, and I'm excited to see SOE give players more control in game once again.

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

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