EverQuest Classic strives to find a reason to exist

So there is a new expansion planned for September that will even break the naming convention of “noun of noun”. SHOCK!

As Ubiq wrote the interesting part is that it will provide content for all levels (also implicitly answering to Loral). A sub-world that is suppposed to be self-contained, with the possibility to level there from 1 to.. uhm.. 75? Must be a rather HUGE zone. Or maybe it’s the new frontier of the Pure Grind, like DAoC did with those horrible Task Dungeons.

I don’t know, but thinking about going back to EQ for this expansion looks like a very bad idea to me. If you want a brand new experience there are many other better games, EQ2 included.

Instead the only real interesting thing going on EQ Classic are the “progression servers”. Not only because they are alive, packed with players, but because they provide an answer to EQ’s greater problem: the mudflation.

And that’s also the tie between the progression servers and the new expansion in development. The new expansion is no less than the triumph of the mudflation. 10 years of expansion pack content? The truth is that EQ has now LESS content than the average mmorpg. As we already examined, content is subjective. It doesn’t exist if there isn’t an active interest. It lacks consistence. It doesn’t matter if the content is potentially there and maybe even in a playable state. What matters is that the content is for the large majority inaccessible because of the shifts of interest of the community. Content that exists, but that is now completely useless and that it would be just impossible to actually experience. Content without an use. Without an audience.

How much of that content is really accessible today? How much is desirable? How much is soloable so that you won’t have to remain flagged LFG for a month to do a quest that noone cares about?

With that new expansion they are basically cutting out another 95% of the whole game. A loss of function and “use” that is now so widespread to become an existential problem for the whole game. Why EverQuest still exists? What is its place?

It’s in sharp contraposition to those questions that it can be interesting to observe the dynamics of the progression servers. The progression servers are no less than obligatory paths, ways to find an use and purpose to content that lost them long ago. There are two basic points to consider.

– The first is that the content isn’t anymore mudflated as on a standard server, but is instead “aligned”. The idea of “progression” comes from a series of objectives that must be completed before you can advance. It’s all focused to be a solution to the mudflation. This new server type is just a way to remove the rust from content that has been ignored for a long time. Find a purpose, an use, a motivation. A way to refresh the memories and restores those qualities that the game has but that have been erased by the “progress” of the mudflation. A way to answer that existential question that plagues the whole game.

– The second interesting point is the “community effort”. The sense of participation. Not only in the fact that the zones are alive again, but that everyone is going to contribute and participate in a communal effort. While the great majority of the mmorpgs focus on a personal power growth, the idea of “progression” on the progression servers becomes a shared concept. The idea of progression is extended to the whole community.

And this is the strongest mechanic that a MMORPG can aspire to.

I have repeated and supported this for years. Doing something just for yourself, in a personal instance, can be fun for a while. But it’s when you become truly involved in the community, when you feel a sense of real participation, that this leads to an escalation of fun. Being part of something becomes the strongest motivation you can have. You don’t play anymore to kill some spare time, you play because you want to be there. You want to be part of something. You want to belong. You want a memory.

That’s where the potential of a community really is: participation, motivation and memory. Being part of something bigger than you and that unites all players. Something to share and remember. Without this, games are meaningless.

This is why I consider the progression servers as the most interesting thing happening to the game. EQ is a game that is losing its identity and motivation. It is losing pieces because of a lack of “answers”. The progression servers basically provide an use and meaning to the content in the game and, as a reflection, to the whole game. People come back because EQ regains its identity and purpose, the game “remembers” (and the progression servers also rely a lot on the nostalgia) who it is. The game regains a motivation and this motivation is understood and inherited by the players.

But there are also some basic weaknesses that undermine those ideas. The biggest problem is that the progression servers are only a temporary solution. They are transitory. The motivation is strong if you were there from the very beginning, but the majority of players won’t be able to keep up with the pace and will have to deal with the reality quite soon, which is much different from their expectations. People will be excluded from that sense of progression and, with the time, the players will trickle off as they understand that their hopes aren’t realistic and that it won’t be easy at all for them to be part of that community.

So the progression servers have done the miracle of giving EQ back a soul, identity and meaning. But these answers are only a temporary and the motivation will only work for a minority of the players. And then less and less.

The conclusion is that these servers have revealed interesting dynamics but that are limited by their transient, ephemeral nature.

Why we cannot design games starting from those important goals, instead of having them just as afterthoughts? Why we cannot have a sense of participation and motivation that can really aspire to integrate the majority of the players and that can be persistent in the game instead of just temporary?

I have some ideas. The point is to start designing games as concrete answers to those needs. That’s what I try to do, start from the need and then try to find an effective solution.

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