Monday, September 11, 2017

The Medium Was Tedium : EverQuest, EQ2

Wilhelm has a post up in which he asks what better PvE would look like in New Eden. He suggests that the most time/risk/reward efficient of the current options is so "deadly dull" that he "cannot bring [him]self to run more than one or two on any given day".

I can't speak to EVE but in my lengthy experience of fantasy MMOs I can attest that PvE players will put up with almost any degree of boredom and repetition if it means they increment a counter faster. Forget the more exciting, interesting or challenging alternatives.  Efficiency's what matters.

Oh, of course they will complain, bitterly and loudly, that there's no fun in it, no challenge. They'll say that anyone who does do it is lame.

None of that will stop them doing it themselves, even though they will threaten to quit because of it. This content they feel they have to do for reasons of optimum efficiency may be mind-numbingly tedious but it gets the job done and that's what counts.

Then, when the developers belatedly appreciate just how much damage the content they foolishly, thoughtlessly, recklessly or naively created is doing to the game, and decide to nerf it, those same players will threaten to quit again because they aren't allowed to do it any more.

I will cite two examples, one from EQ, one from EQ2:

It appears I have never "progressed" any of my Shrouds. I wonder why?
Monster Missions were added to EQ with Depths of Darkhollow. They were a headline feature of the game's tenth expansion. Players used a "shroud" to change into a creature or race not normally playable. Doing so, they acquired a very limited set of abilities, completely different from anything related to the character's class.

Once transformed they needed to go to a mission zone, often located somewhere inconvenient and awkward. There they would have to find a group and, using those few, very specific abilities and only those, complete a mission. The missions varied but players soon worked out which were the easy ones and which gave the best rewards.

Since Monster Missions offered the best xp/aaxp and also some handy item rewards, soon no-one was doing anything else. It became hard, then impossible to find a group willing to play as themselves. Some people absolutely loved it. Many did not.

Eventually SOE nerfed and then re-nerfed the most unbalanced of the missions. People stopped doing them and returned to playing their characters as they were originally designed to be played.

Too late for Mrs Bhagpuss and me. We were already so fed up with the dearth of regular groups we "quit" EverQuest and went back to EQ2 - which we'd left to come back to EQ only a few months before. Not the last time we pulled that switch, either.

Hall of Fame? Hall of Shame, more like!

EQ2's version of Monster Missions turned out to be the Player-Made "Dungeons" that were introduced with the Age of Discovery expansion in 2011. I really liked the Dungeon Maker. I made several dungeons with it, ran them with my characters for fun and enjoyed seeing other people run them.

There was a ranking system and some very amusing and entertaining dungeons were made by the highly creative EQ2 community. And then there was the other kind.

The dungeons gave no loot per se, only a special currency, but the mobs you killed inside them did give xp. Very good xp. At least, it turned out it was very good if the dungeon-maker stuffed a few rooms with high-value, weak mobs, all piled up to be AE'd.

The most efficient mob slaughterhouses quickly rose to the top of the Dungeon Creator rankings and for the longest time almost all you could hear in /lfg was people forming groups to speed-run them. They had no story, no dialog, no script, no entertainment value of any kind. They were the definition of repetitive tedium but they were efficient so people did them. Over and over and over again.

The real Depths of Darkhollow. Sad thing is, it was one of EQ's best expansions - apart from the Monster Missions.

The developers tweaked them and tried to make them less mindless but players kept doing them. In the end (and it took three years) SOE went for the nuclear option and removed xp from player-made dungeons altogether. After which, no-one ever ran one again.

I could come up with plenty more anecdotes like that from plenty more MMOs. Players are their own worst enemies when it comes to entertaining themselves. They would literally click on a button in an empty room for hour after hour if that gave the most xp or the most tokens. Complaining about it in general chat all the while.

You wouldn't. I wouldn't. They would. I know they would. I've seen them doing it. Often.

And I've seen the developers stopping them, eventually, every time, although rarely fast enough. As Wilhelm observes, people claim they want developers "to make PvE more challenging, dynamic, exciting" but what they actually choose to do for themselves is to make it predictable, consistent and rewarding.

I didn't grind Monster Missions or Dungeon Maker Dungeons but I've done other things just as dumb. I lied when I said I wouldn't. Everyone has his price.

What's yours?


  1. I really disliked shrouds in EQ, but I faintly remember doing coldain missions. Glad it's a thing of the past. I liked the player instances better in EQ2, some of them were really well done, they were a nice change. I had a guild that ran me through a few of the grinding ones, it was quite boring, so I didn't do as many. Still, such wasted potential, I had a lot of fun making them too. I wish there was some reason to actually use them besides furniture storage.

    1. I never met anyone who actually liked Shrouds, although a lot of peole liked the xp from the broken missions. I did meet a few people who were working on the Shroud progression, though, because if you put a progress tree in an MMO someone will always try to climb to the top. It was a long grind. I wonder if anyone ever filled it all out?

  2. City of Heroes's Mission Architect had those "easy xp" missions too. They tended to push down all the well crafted full-of-story ones because there are just plain more achievers playing MMOs and willing to power level / grind mindlessly than there are those looking for a slower story experience. But I also used some of those from time to time when I wanted huge chunks of xp fast.

    It always struck me as curious why more game devs didn't just go for the obvious solution - a cap. X amount of rewards in Y period of time. How fast or slow you go is your own business.

    Yes, players will still then complain unceasingly about "time gates," but if players are going to bitch one way or another (everyone's grinding this content because of the rewards; no one's playing this content because of the lack of rewards), why not take the high road that also doesn't unbalance the game excessively?

    GW2 uses plenty of this, from weekly magnetite shard caps, to daily world boss chest caps, to a soft cap on fractal encryption rewards based on how much you spend on keys, to a pvp reward track cap if you're playing custom server games and not queuing, to diminishing returns on repeating dynamic events or item drop farming, etc.

    It just curbs excess, and when you've enough activities, normal players who spread out their focus are affected less while grinders are gently pointed in the direction of "that's enough of that, now."

    1. ANet manage this sort of thing about as well as anyone although that really isn't saying much. I can't stand time gates, personally. If they're obvious, like the Ascended materials crafting, I just go without whatever they block. On the other hand, some of the subtler ones, like the World Boss chests, I don't mind and the really hidden ones, like Diminishing Returns, I don't even notice.

      At least they don't go as far as they did in GW1, which pops up hourly reminders of how long you've been playing and suggests you take a break.

    2. EQ2 has this expansion ascension levels time gated. At first it seemed interesting but after a few weeks much less months it just became annoying if you hit that cap. You also started to feel that you had to log in every day to make sure you got that small jump in xp. While I get the idea, it was not fun in the long run.

  3. Neverwinter has the player made dungeons as well - a really good system actually. But of course people exploited the heck out of it (and used bots to farm the already limited loot); so Cryptic had to nerf rewards into the ground to prevent abuse. Player interest fell off pretty sharply except for a few die-hard modders and their fans.

    Such a shame. My husband spent a lot of time crafting a set of adventures in it during the early months and received good feedback on them. There was even some achievements with good rewards for making popular adventures.

    1. I've only done a few NW dungeons but I believe there were plenty of good ones. I played Tipa's excellent EQ one and I used to read her reviews of the ones she played through with interest. Sad to hear they've fallen out of fashion. Players are so reward-oriented though. It's always hard to get people to do anything just for the fun of doing it.

  4. Hmmm...I've never been one for boring grinds but you're right that we all make exceptions too. The few times I've put up with it was for all-exclusive rewards I felt I really couldn't live without: the first time was in vanilla WoW when I farmed Silithus rep to exalted the old way. It was terrible and mind-numbing but there was no alternative in order to get the only weapon upgrade to Benediction at the time. I also put up with many, many soul-crushing Arah runs in GW2 just for the rep set.

    But these examples are few and far between for me. I don't think am a very efficient player - if there's many paths to a goal, I'll chose one that's agreeable to me. When the path becomes exclusive however, the choice is different. But I've also learned over the years that I don't actually "need" anything in MMOs; if you can withstand that first and second rush of greedy insanity, things actually cool down until the object of your desire isn't quite as acute as you thought at first. Bit like counting to 100 before deciding to gobble down an entire chocolate cake ;)

    1. I think the key to thoroughly enjoying MMOs is coming to the understanding that there's nothing in any of them that you absolutely HAVE to have. There need to be plenty of things you'd LIKE to have or else you might begin to wonder why you're playing at all, but there's a world of emotional difference between wanting and needing.

      Works for a lot more than just MMOs, come to think of it.

  5. I love this post! So much truth.

    There has been a lot of this in SWTOR ever since they introduced Command XP last year (basically experience points that you gain at the level cap, but they also play a role in gear acquisition). People always gravitate towards whatever activity someone has figured out to be the best "CXP per hour" until Bioware nerfs it. First it was mob farming in a raid group on Tatooine, then it was speed-running a certain instance, then it was repeating specific story chapters over and over again. And you're right, while I've scoffed at all of that, when a bug was discovered the other week that suddenly turned daily quests into the most profitable thing ever, I did jump on that bandwagon too, briefly. But it only took a few days for me to remember why I don't usually spend a lot of time on daily quests. I do love efficiency too, but ultimately not at the expense of actually enjoying what I'm doing.

    1. I think a quick and dirty roll in an unexpected pile of xp is entirely justified. We're none of us saints and most of us aren't pretending to be. Carrying on after that initial wicked frisson has worn off, when it's no fun any more. just for the efficiency - that's problematic.

      It does make me wonder why Devs don't either move faster to close these borderline exploits down or else simply boost xp elsewhere to make them unattractive. After all, if super-fast xp is so obviously what the players want, why not give it to them?


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