Happy (Belated) Birthday, EQ!
I am bad at remembering dates. I have only managed to wish Happy Birthday to my first MMO girlfriend twice in the past 7 years – in 2009 and 2014. Thankfully I have people on my blogroll who are much better at this than me (and better at many other things as well, but let’s focus on the current topic, shall we?)
In 2009 I shared a story about how I found my guild and what we shared in that game. I also linked to the discovery of an in game dungeon and my exploration of that place with my friends – with no guides, videos, or predetermined strategies. We went in and explored blind. It was exactly the sort of thing you would do in a Dungeon and Dragons Pen and Paper session. That remains one of my best gaming memories and always will – because there is zero sense of discovery in games now. They aren’t built that way.
Last year I explored the pain and suffering that EQ brought and how everyone has one of those stories – and now they are fondly remembered. Funny how many old gamers define the greatness they remembered with the pain they endured. That’s not something I recall Grandma and Grandpa relishing in memory of everything they suffered through. Though I suppose there is truth to that because they often talk about the people they suffered with. Oh, human nature.
This year I thought about telling more EQ stories because there are so many, and with my recent discussion of trying to get the guild back together that would tie into that nicely. Truth is people who haven’t lived EQ stories can’t fully appreciate them – much like I can’t completely when I hear other stories about other old worlds such as Vanguard, or Asheron’s Call. Besides, I have never really been that great of a story teller although I do try. Joseph Skryim does a great job of telling stories if that is the kind of content you enjoy consuming. I know I do. (I also like writing them, but work to be done!)
I am also not just going to write a bunch of paragraphs linking to my old content and other blogger’s new content. I am going to create some original content! And that content is a realization I had about the difference between MMOs of today and MMOs of yesteryear. This thought actually spawned from a discussion I had with Syncaine about F2P in which I argued that a gated subscription model really isn’t a subscription model at all.
That short discussion lead me to think more on it and decide it would be worth fleshing out a post from, and I have been plucking away at that post both in my head and in my drafts folder on and off since. The truth is that I had no reason to bring it out. The F2P, B2P, Sub model debate always rages on and while I have confidence in my viewpoint it doesn’t change much about what is currently out there. It could (and should) change what comes in the future. But I am getting ahead of myself.
To flesh out my argument is to be clear on this: gated subscription games aren’t any better than a slow XP curve in a F2P game where you can buy XP enhancement potions. The gated content ensures you can only experience it at the rate the game wants you to, and this forces you to subscribe for longer periods of time. A true “all you can eat” model would have the game open to you fully for you to consume at your own pace and will – and once you are done you can stop subscribing and wait for the next expansion. People who argue that subscriptions and F2P are that different are just looking at it through the lens of what they prefer. They are, in fact, completely similar in the sense that there are artificial barriers put in place in your gaming that you have to pay to get past. The downside of subscriptions is that you can’t pay more to break those artificial gating and barriers, you are forced to pay monthly and consume the content at a pace that may not be optimal for you.
Syncaine’s argument above is true in some regards but really, when did MMO companies become our parents and have to treat us like children? I know that even with unlocked content that guilds and communities would form that would be responsible in consuming content at the pace they feel comfortable with. Bear with me a bit longer, I am tying this back to EQ soon!
All of this, and even the core of the Sub/B2P/F2P argument is because of the fundamental shift of where MMO games are currently and where they are going. MMOs are – in effect – just giant lobby games now. You sit around in your instanced Garrison waiting for your LFR or LFG to pop to instantly transport you to another instance where you will go through the achievement and advancement motions with 5-19 strangers for 30 minutes to an hour before either getting ported back to your Garrison, or logging into an alt to do the same thing. We are playing giant lobbies. All of the quest and world content are one time consumed and never visited again. Back in 2009 I did the math:
The WoW quest system, while mired in mediocrity (typical escort/kill/collect) is a HUGE part of their development costs. WoW currently has 8027 Quests (searchable at wowhead.com, at least). How many of those are “endgame”? 223. WoW has 7804 planned obsolescence quests. While you could argue the quest system is just a means to an end to GET to the endgame – how many 5/10/25 man instances could you build in place of the 7804 one off quests?
and of course, two expansions later, those numbers are even larger. I even explored the other, planned obsolescence content at the time:
WoW has ~80 pre-cap instances, (when you count instance wings and heroic modes) and only 22 targeted for max level. Isn’t that split in reverse? Shouldn’t there be 20 instances before the cap, and have 80 instances when you hit the cap – wouldn’t that make it harder for players to “run out of content” fast when the game truly begins?
of course, in that article I was arguing that we need less wasted (and boring) levelling content and more endgame focused content. Still that same idea applies that if WoW was a lobby game right now no one would really tell the difference. Even zones could be instanced (and some are in other MMOs for ‘overflow’). Games stopped being virtual worlds a long time ago and current MMOs should embrace that fact and just be more honest about it. They aren’t fooling anyone.
Back to EQ and her birthday – EQ was a true virtual world at the time. It really was. There are several reasons for this.
- No instancing – wherever you went, every dungeon you visited, every area you traveled through you saw real people. Whether you wanted to or not. Just like the real world.
- Travelling times – at certain levels it was dangerous to travel alone so you made friends fast – safety in numbers. Everyone has a crazy travelling story in EQ. I remember learning new languages in game when on the boat to Freeport. When was the last time you took a road trip with friends and family?
- Downtime – non ADD game play styles meant there was time to stop and smell the roses – and build relationships. People who ski talk about the time in the chalet just as much as on the slopes.
- Need for others – Corpse runs were a thing, yes – but everyone had their turn for bad luck and needed to turn to the community for help. And because everyone had that experience complete strangers would take the time to help you. People relied on one another. Not unlike our lives now, where I rely on the police for safety, the butcher for meat, and the farmer for lettuce. Inter-dependency.
- Sense of discovery – you could find things in the world that weren’t mapped out. In game auto-quest resources and sites such as WoWHead weren’t fleshed out for EQ in the early days. It wasn’t as easy and it wasn’t as accurate. You could stumble upon things that were wonderful. When I was in NYC last month we found this little pizza joint and it was amazing. I didn’t find it on YELP, it was just there, and we went in to check it out, ate amazing pizza, and had a few beer together.
- Hand me downs – gear was gear. I could take it off and give it to friends when I was done with it. I could give it to my alts. I could sell it to anyone. Imagine if you tried to sell your old TV on kijiji and someone forced you to stop? Your items were yours to do with what you would.
All MMOs have moved away from these six things (even EQ) because they weren’t efficient and weren’t “fun”. Even BoE / BoP is to just slow down progression. Yes, these are giant fantasy game environments but I find it odd, and a bit sad, that the more they mirrored the real world the more they felt like virtual worlds themselves. And now that they aren’t virtual worlds – now that they are just a set of loosely interconnected achievement / advancement experiences – we need subscription gating, F2P gating and B2P expansion gating to keep people hooked. I used to log in to Norrath because it was a virtual world. I logged in to hang out with friends and “see what was going on” – and what I could maybe help out with, or explore, or do. I didn’t need any falsified reasons to extend my visits. Now it’s to gain a level, or upgrade an item slot, or grind faction. I am not visiting a world, I am visiting an opportunity to advance a specific part of one of my characters for a specific reason. It’s all very institutional and boring.
The world is a different place now with being so interconnected and phones glued to palms. I am not advocating for a return to how EQ was a virtual world as the community would reject it. I am celebrating what it was for it’s time though. We need to move forward, not backward. The challenge with moving forward is what things do our MMOs require to once again make them virtual worlds and not vending machines? What makes a community today, and how do we build that into a game? And most importantly, does anyone have the courage to make it?
Happy Birthday EQ! Thank you for providing us with this wall of text.