2000 hours with EQ, 5 minutes with the kids.

2000 hours to hit the original level cap in EQ1 is not the reason EQ1 was ‘hard’ (not a great way to really look at this, but more on that later). A harsh death penalty wasn’t it either. Nor was camping a mob for 16 hours, or the forced grouping, or red-con zone runs. It was all of that and more, all mixed together.

Another analogy (it’s analogy week here): is your best friend the person you hang out with regularly, or that random guy you occasionally talk to for five minutes? Better yet, can you spend 5 minutes with your kids and still be a great parent? No? So being a parent/friend is really just ‘a grind’, where time = result, right? No? But you just argued exactly that for an MMO. That it’s not about the amount of time you put in, but the level of effort. Why is it that you believe you can get ‘meaningful’ MMO content in 30 minutes, but you don’t believe you can be a great parent/friend in just 30?

Spending “quality time” has time in it for a reason. While time is not the ONLY factor, it still counts.

The MMO genre was built around living in a virtual world. It’s not a ‘casual’ genre by design, because by design the parts that really make a game an MMO require time to be put in. You don’t get great communities, solid guilds, or heated rivalries when you jump in for 30 minutes and log out, no matter how ‘quality’ those 30 were. A well designed game like EVE will allow those 30 minute players to co-exist with those who drive the content, but while the game would continue to function without the 30 minute players, it would not without those who push things forward.

As the genre has expanded (or fractured, really), solid options for the 30 minute player exist. A game like Global Agenda is a pretty horrible MMO in the traditional sense, but it provides great content in small, random, pick-up-and-move-on bites. It works despite failing horrible in areas like server community, but then again it’s also F2P and won’t scratch that traditional MMO itch. For the 5 minute player we have Facebook, etc.

History has very clearly shown that when games get traditional MMO design right, they profit. UO/EQ/AC/DAoC/EVE/WoW (pre-Cata) and others have all made boatloads of money for their designers, specifically because they keep you entertained for months on end. It’s also no surprise that more ‘casual’ WoW clones, ones that minimize the core MMO basics in the name of ‘accessibility’, burn out so fast. Not only do these games fail to capture the core MMO audience, but the more casual players they intended to attract move on quickly because, well, that’s what casuals do. By definition they don’t get super-invested, and so when the next shiny comes along, they chase it. That’s fine if you are selling a one-and-done $50 box, but it’s not going to work out when you hope to collect $15 a month, or even when you try to sell ponies or potions in your item shop.

Back to EQ1 being ‘hard’: getting to the level cap was not a true test of twitch skills or some massive mental hurdle. There was no ‘hard stop’ like in, say, a fighting game, where if you can’t beat the guy you are fighting, you simply can’t progress. The really nice thing about an MMO is that if your personal skill level is lower, you can still progress by putting in more time. What made UO/EQ/AC and such ‘work’ was that ‘putting in more time’ did not just mean grinding more mobs, and certainly not spending more cash in the item shop; it meant reaching out to other players for help, or finding a solid guild. It meant working with others, which in turn creates those solid player communities that keep you logging in day after day.

Mechanics such as a harsh death penalty or a long XP curve encourage (or in EQ1 and grouping, force) playing with others. The better the design, the more natural this encouragement feels, and the more time you spend with those people, the close the bond, and the deeper the ‘MMO hooks’ become.

This is exactly why being able, or in the case of something like WoW-Cata, being encouraged to level solo is so anti-MMO. It’s why solo-instances are a sad, short-sighted design joke. It’s why random, cross-server PUG groups erode communities. The mechanics now work AGAINST what it means to be a true MMO, and by doing so reduce the very thing that made the whole model originally work.

The point is not to exclude 30 minute players. It’s actually a solid design challenge to allow them to co-exist in the same world (it’s no surprise that it works in EVE, when you consider EVE has just one server), but if the goal is to design a ‘real’ MMO, it must be designed to natural encourage the things that make an MMO what it is. Because when you get that design right, and everything comes together, you get a level of gaming that is above anything else, and anyone who has experienced it knows it.

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
This entry was posted in Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, DDO, EQ2, EVE Online, Global Agenda, Lord of the Rings Online, MMO design, Rant, Rift, Ultima Online, Warhammer Online, World of Warcraft. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to 2000 hours with EQ, 5 minutes with the kids.

  1. Pretty much spot on. As was mentioned in a comment by Bhagpuss in one of these threads, the dynamics of being in a virtual world with other people is part of the attraction. It makes it tough for me to go back an play single-player RPGs. I cannot make myself care about what the computer thinks, no matter how much impact my choices have on the game. It feels like demonstrating against the government in the safety of your living room.

    I do not mind that there is content I will never see in a game because my play budget is 3 hours on a Saturday night and that I insist on playing with the same four or five people. If I really wanted to see raid bosses or 0.0 space or whatever, the option is there if I want to pursue it.

    What pisses me off is when MMOs actively make grouping unattractive, like the single-player zones in Cata, or the New Halas starter zone in EQII. Something EQ got right was not only that grouping made killing mobs viable after a certain level, but that individual experience went up as part of a group. You were rewarded for grouping.

    I’m old and grumpy and not fond of grouping with strangers already, I don’t need the game to exacerbate that issue.

  2. bhagpuss says:

    Great post and great comment from Wilhelm.

    I don’t really have a whole lot to add that I haven’t said a hundred times before. It’s really not about making things “hard” or “hardcore” or even “intellectually challenging”. It’s about creating something that feels like an actual place, where things actually happen. About involving your imagination and creativity. And yes, it’s even about stretching your social skills.

    That’s a lot more likely to happen if you’re in the middle of loads of other real people doing lots of different things around you, many of which you don’t understand and lots of which you wouldn’t want to do yourself. Once it devolves to a set of known objectives that everyone is expected to achieve, all you have left is a competitive game. Like Monopoly.

    Competitive games are fun, but I don’t want to play one for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year. I’d much rather log on feeling like I’m going on holiday to a strange and exciting foreign land, where I speak just enough of the language to get by and I might just meet some new and interesting people.

    It really was like that once, hard to remember though that is. The huge gravity of WoW distorted the MMO continuum for a long while but the effect is beginning to fade at last. A lot rides on how SW:ToR actually plays, and how well it does. If it plays like current WoW and gets WoW numbers and holds them, we may be in trouble.

    I don’t really think it will do either but we’ll know soon enough. My money’s on a solid but un-WoW-like success and a continuation of the move away from Being WoW as the be-all and end-all of MMO design.

    • SynCaine says:

      And to be fair, what got WoW millions of players (Vanilla and TBC) was pretty close to a real MMO. Yes leveling was possible solo, and the further from 2004 you got, the more it encouraged doing it solo, but from release until a certain point leveling with others was still optimal. You still had group quests for blue items (back when those were good), dungeons that required social interaction and some semblance of skill. On PvP servers you had town invasions and random battles in zones. You had the world dragons. The original raiding game. On and on.

      Not to pat myself on the back or anything (pat pat), but it’s nice that people like Tobold and Co are FINALLY coming around to the fact that while WotLK/Cata had lots of neat solo content for the Octo-mom crowd (coining that), they eroded and destroyed WoW as an MMO, and despite having the overall social momentum/hooks of being the largest game out, it’s finally catching up to them.

      • And even Lich King held onto open zone group quests and had a story that was tied into a lot of 5-man instances for only a 10 level expansion. And the solo quests tended to not punish being grouped. Yes, they did some stuff that broke grouping every so often, like some of the phasing aspects, but they hadn’t killed off grouping the way they did in Cataclysm.

        The time I have spent in WoW in the last 8 months has mostly been in BC or WotLK content because that remained untouched by the taint of Cataclysm.

  3. Syl says:

    Increased self-sufficiency (the big make-same action), solo-ability, anonymous cross-server grouping etc. all had their share of this in WoW over the years and many of us have in fact criticized this ever since mid-TBC…
    it has slowly but surely eroded cooperation and community from there. but the thing is, and I’ve only just recently realized this in all its ugly gravity (reading Chris’ latest article with the vanilla ‘time table’..) – cooperation is considered a ‘time sink’ by many players these days. that’s right. many of the things criticized about vanilla WoW, such as the lengthy preparation and organization efforts, the raid sizes etc. are actually side-effects of cooperation-focused content. people say this was a ‘false difficulty’, a timesink. right….I see then. cooperation is the new time sink.

    Sic transit gloria mundi. seriously.

    • SynCaine says:

      What article by Chris?

      • Syl says:

        The one you intend to get back to in terms of there having been more ‘difficulty’ to oldschool MMOs than just the time factor,

        I agree that there was more to them. but also, and this was what baffled me a little, I seem to be among few who think it’s okay for cooperation to require some organizational and administrative efforts. which by nature cost some time.
        a stark contrast of course to the only recently released pick-up raids in WoW for example. cooperation reduced to the max? if the “success” of anonymous 5man PuGs in the past is any indicator, not exactly.

        • SynCaine says:

          Right right. This post addressed the EQ ‘hard’ thing, right? I mean like sufficiently?

          Also I kinda disagree with that table you made in your post.

          LFG/DF eliminates the first point in terms of organization, reputation, and being on a ‘black list’ for groups.

          The second misses the fact that classes are now much easier to play (which is why tank/spank back then was not as easy as it sounds).

          Third point: quests lead you by the nose, in UO/EQ/AC half the challenge was finding the right camp for your lvl/class/group. With PvP enabled this is extra fun. Killing efficiently was also usually the actual challenge.

          Fourth: Camping mobs had a lot of social implications (see TAGNs recent EQ1 post). Double that with PvP enabled. Instanced dungeons with tokens are ‘automatic’.

          Fifth one: I don’t heal, so… you win? :)

          Sixth: You learn and adapt (or quit) after you get Pk’ed and lose stuff. You just run back and do the same thing when you don’t.

        • Syl says:

          not “my table” :)
          and yes of course you’ve adressed this, I wrote that in a confusing way. I think one could fill a long long table about the different ways MMOs have been ‘nerfed’ besides the time factor. you made some good points.

  4. saucelah says:

    At a certain point, one’s best friends or children are the people you can go without talking to for months than pick back up like you’ve never been apart.

    For you, I suppose it’s sort of like popping back in to Darkfall after a long absence.

    Analogies are fun.

    • SynCaine says:

      Yes, but by that point you already put in the time to get them to “best friend’ status. And while you can go a month or so, you can’t keep doing it year in, year out and maintain that relationship.

      BTW not talking to key family members (children/parents) for months is… bad? Friends are a little different, but I’d still say you should care enough to keep up with what is going on (and not just by checking a Facebook wall). My opinion of course.

  5. saucelah says:

    Yeah, I was just playing with the analogy. And of course, I have friends that go long periods of time without saying hi that I’m not happy about. Like the ones that have shitty relationships so they hide from friends to avoid being reminded that their S.O. is shitty.

    I think we can fit Cata somewhere in to that part of the analogy, but I’m not sure how. Perhaps Blizzard is an abusive spouse?

    • Carson says:

      Cata analogy is “the seven year itch.”

      It’s not really that much different from the game you fell in love with and married. It’s just that you’ve gotten bored and want something different.

  6. logtar says:

    While I think your post is great and I agree with most of the points you are trying to make, I think there is a flaw on looking at the 30 minute grind perspective and compare it to say parenting or making a friend.

    I don’t think the WoW-Cata catered to the 30 minute casual, it tried to cater to everyone and it failed in many aspects of it. The erosion of the community started perhaps with the advent of the LFG and WotLK and not necessarily with Cata.

    I think the mistake with Cata is that the grind was not fun anymore. We invest time in parenting, having relationships, because even if it is a grind, there are plenty of rewards. For the most part those activities are not dull are repetitive… Cata made a lot of things seem repetitive. I do agree that that could partly be because you could do things without the group now.

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