Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

27 January, 2012

You’re just making it harder for yourself
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 2:49 PM

So, I lied, but only a little bit. I have been getting into EverQuest 2 lately. But, as I said, it wasn’t the new content sucking me in, but the old content.

Turns out, it’s the really old content that’s been keeping me playing.

While puttering around on my main, a level 71 Necromancer, someone logged on and made an announcement about a new guild on another server. They were forming a guild and wanted to try to recapture the feeling of the game in the older days when it was harder. The goal was to forswear the features that had been released in expansions over the years, under the theory that they made advancement too easy. This wasn’t merely an exercise in masochism, but rather a way to really enjoy the low level content again, rather than blasting past it in the race to level up another alt. They linked to a forum thread where they announced their intentions and state the rules. My curiosity was piqued.

The Rules, basic version

If you read that post, the rules are exacting. You can only join the guild at first level. No item or money help from characters outside the guild (including your own). No loitering around the newer areas (that have a better crafted newbie experience). No abusing the broker (AH) to make scads of money from the inflated economy. No using various features until we advanced to the content that was part of the expansion those features were part of.

Initially guild members would stop at level 20 so that we could raid content at the appropriate level. As the guild conquered content and progressed, characters will advanced to higher levels. The goal is to take time to enjoy the content in the game.

Camaraderie through adversity

I initially just wanted to observe, but I got sucked in. It’s currently a small guild, but it’s been a very supportive guild. Since we aren’t creating übercharacters using outside resources, we need to rely on each other. It’s also a group of like-minded people, who want challenge and to tackle content that often gets overlooked.

It’s kinda interesting stumbling upon an item that would normally only be good for a character for maybe an hour of its life, but saving it because there isn’t that much equipment to go around and we’re going to be at level 20 for at least a little while. Finding something like a low-level collectible becomes exciting again because many someone might need it instead of being able to buy a dozen cheap on the broker.

Make no mistake, these rules are a lot more fun since there’s a (small) group of people willing to follow along. Without this community, these rule would likely descend into pure masochism. Instead you get a lot of cool people who share a common goal in the guild. Stopping xp as you’re just building up a character would be less fun, in my opinion, because you don’t have others to share stories and run raids with.

The Rules, devil’s edition

One interesting element is how far do you want to take it. For example, someone pointed out that cloaks weren’t in the game at launch, so were we going to ignore cloaks until we got up that high? The decision was that no, we’d wear cloaks. As that forum thread states, there are already enough rules, so things like race and class selection wouldn’t be restricted. Too many restrictions and the bulk of game time goes from enjoying content to creating endless rules (and probably exceptions).

It’s also interesting to consider how harsh the rules need to be enforced. Someone joined the guild but hadn’t left the new starting area immediately and had earned a few levels. The guild leader asked the person to reroll the character. When asked for reasons why, the guild leader explained that it wasn’t fair to others in the guild already who had done things the “hard way”. Plus, being a stickler for the rules means that others who agree to follow the rules have the right mindset to fit within the guild. People who chafe at something simple like rerolling a low level character might not have the fortitude to stick with the rules in the guild.

Player-generated content using game tools

This an example of why I like to make the distinction between “User Generated Content” (UGC) and “User Created Content” (UCC). UCC is when a player uses development-like tools to create content for others; this is what the Storybricks tool is for. UGC is when players generate content in the game for others; I see this guild as falling into this category. Players are setting up special rules for themselves and inviting others to join them. It becomes a way to extend the game in interesting ways without editing a level or writing a quest.

It’s really the tools within the game that allows the guild to do this. Being able to stop xp earning to stop at a specific level is what makes this possible. (Most people are putting the experience toward alternate advancement points, even if they can’t spend them yet.) The big thing, of course, is the willingness to follow the rules.

I’ve noticed there have been a few other “progression locked” guilds on the server. They stop at a specific level and fight through content at an appropriate level. But, I haven’t seen any of them have such strict rules about how the game works. I suspect you could do something similar in WoW since you can stop xp earning. Although, the Cataclysm expansion makes it almost impossible to recapture the true feeling of “vanilla” since the old world was essentially wiped away. Something to be said for preserving the old world, I guess.

The sudden but inevitable backlash

It’s been interesting to see how people in the game have reacted to the guild’s announcement. Even reading the announcement thread you see people mocking the concept. Pretty much every time the guild leader has made an announcement about the guild on global chat channels, there has been quite a bit of mockery at the concept. This once again shows that some people in a game take what other people do perhaps a bit too seriously. One of the big arguments over free-to-play is how much other people buying advantages affects your character; some people claim it’s unfair, others state that it doesn’t matter as someone else’s behavior doesn’t affect you directly in a PvE game. I tend to fall into the latter camp, but it’s obvious that even if someone else intentionally makes it harder for them to compete with you, there are still people ready to mock and deride your choices.

Enjoying my time

I’ve been enjoying my time with the guild. I suspect I’ll fall behind eventually, as I’ve been traveling a lot for work. Even if I did want to play from London, spending a few hours in the middle of the night and sleeping in late might not be the most productive way to spend my time with the team. ;) I already feel guilty taking time away from Storybricks development given that we have a deadline for next month. But, it’s been interesting to watch the guild develop at this early stage, and a lot of fun to participate. There’s also the chance that the guild falls apart or shifts focus. As we climb in levels, people might find they don’t enjoy the pace. Or, they might just not have time in the future. Will newcomers to the guild be willing to work up from low levels under the strict rules? Time will tell.

What do you think? Do rules like this help you enjoy the game more? Or does it seem like just a lot of hassle?

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  1. I think the whole idea sounds like great fun, and I’m curious to hear how it goes for you.

    Then again, I’m the guy who gleefully participated in an hour-long purely-social Imperial Fleet gathering of the guild in SWTOR — a game that has very, very few purely social toys and an incredibly focused high-speed character levelling experience. So I may not be a good representative judge.

    Comment by Tachevert — 27 January, 2012 @ 3:24 PM

  2. Sounds brilliant.

    I reminds me of how permadeath works in DDO. Permadeath, which of course was a standard game feature in the pen and paper version of Dungeons and Dragons, isn’t supported by the game mechanics. So permadeath guilds rely on an honour system. There may be house rules excusing certain types of deaths, for example lag deaths.

    In another way it could be seen as modding EQ2. You’re playing a modded version with a self-selected group who prefer the mod’s rules to the standard rules.

    Comment by Stabs — 27 January, 2012 @ 3:39 PM

  3. Cool idea, glad it’s working out. I think you’ve stumbled on a key to really-long-term sustainability of an MMO universe: being able to experience the game in new ways. I love that EQ2 gives lots of tools to make this possible (such as being able to turn off XP gain so you can’t accidentally out-level your friends), but I wish they would take it even further: imagine a guild panel where the leader could determine the level-cap of the guild, and maybe even what zones they could visit (or earn XP/loot) in.

    I was just blogging about giving players Giving players these “management tools” for creating their own fun on my blog. [At since Eric seems to shy to pimp it. ;) -Brian] For my MMO, I’m hoping to include tools to let you roleplay unusual fantasy personas (such as someone who is averse to killing sentient creatures), as well as tools to let you create simple puzzles and riddles for your friends/guilds.

    I think MMOs should spend more time on these sorts of features, and promote them more heavily, so players come to see “alt-rules play” as a valid and reasonable way to experience the game. (It would make great fodder for those incessant please-come-back-and-try-us-again emails that every MMO sends these days).

    The only danger to adding these sorts of features is that it might not be worth the dev-time if they don’t catch on. But a lot of these features are actually very easy, and then there’s really no reason not to give it a shot.

    Comment by Eric Heimburg — 27 January, 2012 @ 3:43 PM

  4. I like that a game supports this sort of experimentation, but it’s not something I’d do to myself. If I want a challenge, I just go try to solo group content. *shrug*

    Comment by Tesh — 27 January, 2012 @ 3:58 PM

  5. I think people should play games however they want to play them. Long ago, in Diablo and Diablo II, people used to post stories online about their adventures with self-applied rules. Diablo had Beyond Naked Maging, which came about because just having no equipment was deemed too easy, so instead you tried to find the most-heavily-cursed(negative stats) equipment you could. Diablo II lacked cursed equipment, but people like Sirian still delighted others with stories of extremely restricted characters who, if they did not always succeed, sure sounded like fun.

    So I think people making up their own rules is great. They get to have fun and, in some cases, I get to have fun reading about it.

    Comment by The Alien — 27 January, 2012 @ 4:31 PM

  6. Excellent post. I’ve been there and done that and it’s great fun. Most established MMOs that I’ve played have hit the point where there are guilds that choose to set their own rules and play like it’s 1999 (or 2004).

    This is part of what I’m banging on about when I say that inside every theme park is a sandbox and that you should play the game not let the game play you. All MMOs are just a set of tools that we, the players, can use to play the games we want to play. MMOs are playing fields or recreation grounds. They are places in which we play games. They are not, or should not be, games in and of themselves.

    In the same way that the Intentional Fallacy tells us that the Author cannot dictate meaning to the Reader, so the Developer cannot dictate gameplay to the Player. Make your own rules, set your own goals, discover your own content. This works in all MMOs.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 27 January, 2012 @ 4:54 PM

  7. I really hope that EverQuest 3 features better AI.

    Comment by Rodolfo — 27 January, 2012 @ 5:13 PM

  8. and more necromancers. Yep. Like a fuckton more. Best class evurrrrrrrrrr. (sorry Diablo players you got shafted)

    Comment by Rodolfo — 27 January, 2012 @ 5:14 PM

  9. I am going to try this tonight! Thanks for the heads up! =D

    Comment by Cuppycake — 27 January, 2012 @ 5:52 PM

  10. That sounds fascinating. I really like the idea, and more, that there’s people banding together to play with it.

    Too bad that as a European the timezone seems to incompatible to the times I would be able to play… :(

    Comment by flosch — 28 January, 2012 @ 1:40 AM

  11. There’s similar examples in other genres of people upping the difficulty like this. Final Fantasy Tactics had the “naked oiled archer” run through, where you had to play entirely as archers with fire vulnerability and no armour, and pokemon has the Nuzlocke challenge (permadeath for pokemon, only catch the first one you find on each route). Actually, FFTA had an entire section on GameFAQs about alternate walkthroughs. Like you said, they up the risk involved and tend to result in you being much more involved in the game since you actually have something to lose, and can be really fun to play through

    Comment by SolidSquid — 28 January, 2012 @ 5:39 AM

  12. The main hindrance I’ve found with these social experiments is the leveling game approach. As you’ve mentioned, it’s fun because there are others doing the same thing (a shared burden is only half a burden, shared joy is double joy). As these experiments typically take place at a given point in time, there is no ‘new blood’. Given time, people have wider and wider games in levels, and requirement number 1 (others sharing in the experience) disappears. Goes to show that the stratification by level is design that needs to go.

    Comment by Ahtchu — 28 January, 2012 @ 7:41 AM

  13. Sounds like quite a few of you decided to go take a look at the guild. My character in the guild is Rainlin, feel free to introduce yourself if you see me on.

    Comment by Psychochild — 28 January, 2012 @ 5:15 PM

  14. I think that this type of thing is much preferable to hardcore players demanding that the devs make the game more challenging: challenge yourself. I personally would probably never participate in this type of “challenge” unless I had an already-established group who decided to do it. I find plenty of challenge in playing most games as-is. :)

    Comment by Djinn — 29 January, 2012 @ 10:46 AM

  15. What are you a glutton for punishment? People complain so often about how the starting experience is so unforgiving at times, especially to newcomers to the genre, and you want to go against the grain! On one hand, I admire your perseverance. On the other hand, I question your sanity!

    Comment by Bronte — 30 January, 2012 @ 6:28 AM

  16. I like this concept a lot! It sounds like the EQ1 progression servers. Lord knows we had a heck of a lot of fun on those.

    Comment by Ferrel — 30 January, 2012 @ 10:46 AM

  17. I’m slacking at my New Year’s resolution

    [...] II for the past couple of weeks, playing an Illusionist on Antonia Bayle in the guild that Psychochild wrote about. This guild is a progression guild that locks the level cap at 20 currently, so that players can [...]

    Pingback by — 5 February, 2012 @ 1:47 AM

  18. Even with all the limits, the game is too easy.
    The guild rules try to limit the game, but anyone who remembers the original trial of levelling and adventuring immediately knows the game is way too easy now. I mean, Shatter Memories was actually gearing up from the public quest in Commonlands, getting fabled items at level 20. The Freeport entry quests give multiple gold each.. I remember being ecstatic when my BALANCE actually reach a gold on my first character.. sometime in the Thundering Steppes. Rares are harvestable like candy now.. they used to be RARE.
    You can’t go home again. Period.

    Comment by z28js — 19 February, 2012 @ 9:23 AM

  19. Well, I think the more important aspect is the community of the guild. Yeah, it’s obviously much faster to advance and earn money than before, but there are a group of people who enjoy a bit more challenge. As I posted in a subsequent post on here, things like the Beastlord class makes things a lot easier as well.

    From a design perspective, I think this is showing one of the real weaknesses of the increasing power levels coupled with expansions that increase the level cap. There’s an incentive to allow people to get to max level (to the “real game”) as fast as possible. Therefore you get things like what the guild is experiencing, where it feels almost too easy to level up. I suspect when the guild reaches slightly expansion content, things will even out a bit more.

    Comment by Psychochild — 19 February, 2012 @ 11:25 AM

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