EQ Progression servers ruined by careless implementation

I’ve never been an EverQuest player even if I log in EQ2 from time to time, but even if I’m not so familiar with its content I still have followed its development as I do with every other mmorpg.

I’m three days late commenting this, but on FoH’s forums those hardcore players that decided to undertake the challenge of the new “progression servers” started to heavily rant about a particular aspect. And I think they are complaining legitimately:

This kind of lack of foresight/complete disconnection with the game/basic imcompetance or WHATEVER it is, is what drove people away from EQ in the first place and aparently it’s still going stong, except now the impact it has on the game is even more devastating. The hotzones need to be removed and the server needs to be rolled back, but somehow I don’t see this happening.

What are they ranting about? They are ranting about a system already active on the classic EQ servers from quite some time that is, in their opinion, completely inappropriate for the progression servers, and, still, SOE didn’t do anything to remove it or at least adapt it so that it wouldn’t have damaged the game.

This system is about the addition of “hotspots”, a selection of zones where the experience you get from killing mobs is permanently doubled compared to the other zones with a similar level range. It worked for the classic servers where the great majority of the content is mudflated anyway. But on the progression servers this idea goes directly against EVERYTHING that this server type should be.

Now one of the reasons why I have a website and write about mmorpgs is to build a “memory”. Gather and develop ideas and discussions so that we (I) don’t have to restart from zero when something comes up. To solidificate ideas around certain points. To give things some consistence so that everything doesn’t feel volatile and vain as on a message board.

So let me refresh the memories. The “hotspots” where added a couple of years ago when Rod Humble was still the producer of the game. Here’s the original design purpose behind them:

As for the hotspots, no, the original intent was not to change populations in underused zones. It was to assist a more casual playstyle (whatever “casual” means in this case it just meant how some folks including myself play.)

Many of us in at SoE are casual players, its been an ongoing joke that I play a character upto level 23 then restart, then I discovered another person who played that way, then another, then another. Obviously we were not doing something right for people like us. If there were 4 people in the studio who played that way there must surely be many others out there.

This combined with the refrain I kept hearing from experienced players that “anybody can get to level 50 in a week” started to grate on my neves after all I know I cant do that….. so we took a look around..

We did some data farming and sure enough there was a big dropoff around certain key levels in player activity as a percentage of their numbers which shot back up again at later levels (when for various reasons there is a ton of more stuff to do).

Well EQ is in a pretty rare position of having more content than most casual players can ever handle so why not hit the level ranges where casual players have the biggest barren patches and give them a boost?

This combined with Marks comments about “why are developers afraid of letting players get to the top?” struck a chord with me. After all “hardcore” players get to the “top” anyway and they can still enjoy playing so why not extend that to a wider audience?

After all we WANT people to succeed and experience all of the fun content, we have years of it just waiting for folks to experience we dont want to put roadblocks in their way we want to take barriers away and give them a boost.

A better summary about the concrete design purpose could be found in a quote I took recently from Dave Rickey and about the mudflation that is becoming again a very actual theme for discussions as the WoW’s expansion draws near (everything is connected when you observe mmorpg game design):

Every new expansion effectively invalidates an equivalent amount of old content, every extension of the level range requires ways be found to reduce the time investment to reach the basline for the new cap.

That’s it. I couldn’t have explained it better. As more levels and tons of content were added to EverQuest, there was an increased need to actually keep the gap between the players manageable, or the new ones coming to the game could never hope to see the higher level content that made EQ successful or even reach their friends to play together.

That’s the nature of these kinds of games, the *illusion* of progress. Because the truth is that there isn’t any evolution. Nothing is really added because the model used forces a selection and replacement of the content. It’s not an “expansion”. It’s not “growth”. What happens is actually a collapse because the old content is made obsolete and loses its purpose and value, so the inner core of the game can just collapse on itself. Negating any real progression or evolution of the game world and slowly making the game progressively “hostile” to new players (“how mmorpgs die”). It’s a suicidal kind of development.

You don’t move forward in your gameplay, you just replicate it with shinier technology and bigger numbers.

Let me connect the dots. Look at what I wrote about “this is how MMORPGs die”, after reading that go see some emergent episodes that are coming up in WoW. See how all these discussion are: very actual, all tied together and all still lacking of a real answer?

If the bigger burden in creating these games is about producing good content fast enough, then why we are sticking to a model that actively invalidates and progressively erodes and even makes that content accessible only for a minority of the players? But this is a complex discussion that cannot be exhausted here (and that has also valid counter arguments, Scott Hartsman commented this on Raph’s blog a while ago). So let’s focus on this new problem of the progression servers and the hotzones.

The hotzones have concretely two basic purposes:

1- As the majority of the population in the game stagnates at the level cap and higher level zones, the rest of the players at the lower levels are too spread around between too many zones, now almost deserted. So there was the need to better direct and consolidate those players so that they could meet and play together more easily.

2- Provide “highways” from the lower levels to the current cap, so that the new players could complete their transition to the endgame in a reasonable time frame. With each expansion the gap was increased. Doubling the exp in some selected zones was a way to keep that gap more constant.

Both of these are directly connected with the mudflation and aimed at new players. Trying to keep the game accessible. Firstly by giving double exp to reduce the time needed to level and secondly by directing the players toward a manageable number of zones and content instead of letting them get lost in a deserted game world where the majority of the group-oriented content isn’t anymore viable due to the lack of other players. So fighting the dispersiveness of zones that have lost their purpose and function.

Now the problem is that the “progression servers” are nothing but an answer to the mudflation. So changing completely the context and offering their own solution to that problem. Quoting from my comments:

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.

A solution that now collides with the purpose of the hotzones. The progression servers are a fresh run through the content. All the players start at the same time, the community is young and the content all relevant, with a function, because the new zones will be progressively unlocked and the level cap raised.

The hotzones were a bandaid for a collapsing game. But the progression servers are instead an attempt to revitalize the content. So the hotzones are completely out of context on these servers. Look at those two basic points that were the objectives of the hotzones. They are both *invalidated* on the progression servers.

The hotzones are a selection of a few zones so that the players don’t finish too dispersed on a game world that lost its purpose. But the point of the progression servers is instead about putting back the value in those zones that lost it. SOE made a HUGE mistake here because by not removing the hotzones they basically invalidated the whole idea of the progression servers: make the players enjoy content that was “lost”.

But who wants now to go explore zones that only give half the experience? The hotzones were a bandaid to the mudflation, in this case they are applied to a context (the progrtession servers) where the mudflation *doesn’t exist* (the whole purpose of these servers). And the result is that, instead of contrasting the negative effects of the mudflation, here they introduce them. So the solution (hotspots) to the problem (mudflation), applied on a context where that problem is not present (progression servers) have the paradoxical result of *introducing* the problem itself. Negating the value of the progression servers and basically fucking up the whole thing.

So yes, those players who rant have all the reasons to do so, because the whole idea of the progression servers just went straight to hell thanks to that oversight.

What should have been done? It’s simple and it’s again all within what I wrote about the progression servers (same link):

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 point is that sooner or later the mudflation will have its effect even on the progression servers since they are only a “temporary solution”. And it’s then that the hotspots will have an actual purpose without fucking up the whole thing.

When more and more content is unlocked and the level cap raised, THEN it makes sense to help new players who are left behind to catch up instead of just giving up to play. This is why a good implementation of these hotzones was about slowly enabling them for the lower levels and content as the progression server “progressed”. Parallel to that progression instead of ahead of it.

But that’s not what happened. All the hotzones are already enabled right away. Content that was unlocked two minutes before and that obviously IS NOT mudflated yet, is instead mudflated out of the game because of the hotzones. And the whole idea of playing on the progression servers to enjoy that content completely fucked up by this huge overlook.

This time those “hardcore” players are absolutely right. They were offered an idea that was crushed by a very bad implementation. And a mistake that cannot even be made up without rolling back the whole server.

Hell, this is a rare case where reducing the exp by 25% or so could have been a good idea.

Leave a Reply