Updated Mon, Jun 03, 2013 by Dalmarus
Over the past month or so, I've covered old school MMORPG dynamics including mass buffs, corpse runs, legendary foes, and the need to throw the desire for class balance out the window. However, none of these matter if you allow a player to escape the consequences of their in-game actions.
Back in the day, with the exception of extreme cases, there were no character name changes. There were no server transfers. There were no makeover kits. In other words, there was no way to escape the reputation you made for yourself on a server. If you were a friendly player, you were able to get groups quickly and easily. If you were an asshat, or just generally difficult to get along with in a party, you'd better pray you played a highly desirable class like a fighter or cleric, and that you were the only one available wherever you wanted to hunt that day, because while there was always the option to solo, it was generally an excruciatingly slow method of progression.
Even introverts had a place in games like EverQuest. You didn't have to be the life of the party to be invited into a group. Remember that the game was all about playing your class role well. If you were a wizard that was completely silent, but folks knew you had a reputation for being great at ramping up your damage over time and keeping that perfect balance of high damage with low aggro, you'd find yourself invited to multiple groups within moments of sending out your first “looking for group” message. Maybe you were a silent fighter instead, but one that people had come to realize was a master at the craft of keeping aggro, and being able to switch between multiple targets at just the right time to keep all the mobs on you through the thickest of fights. These really were arts to craft and hone. There were no meters telling you a mob was about to peel off and go after the Cleric for healing too fast, or for the Magician that opened up too soon.
It all comes back to knowing and playing your group role well. Back in the day, it was something players took great pride in and the results were clear. Being an efficient hunter wasn't the only way to earn a reputation in the game, though. Buffs tended to be both very expensive in terms of mana and the resulting downtime the caster would need to take in order to regain that spent mana. They were also very beneficial to characters -- far more so than today's minor buffs. As a result, players became quickly known for drive-by buffing. An EQ druid who came running by a low level zone and cast Skin Like Steel and Shield of Barbs on a new Fighter turned them into a veritable god of war for those minutes the buffs lasted. The Enchanter who cast a KEI mass group buff in Plane of Knowledge at 6pm Eastern every night for players was a welcome sight. Things like this were the norm rather than the exception because reputations mattered in the game.
The opposite of all this is also true. If you hadn't learned how to play your class relatively well by the time you were level 15, or you had an attitude from hell, you had three choices: you could go through the game mostly solo (read: insanely slow), try again by starting all over with a new character, or find a guild of likeminded asshats. While they were far less in number than guilds of friendly players, they certainly existed. On Morell Thule, there was a guild by the name of Thunderboomers, or something of the sort. They routinely went rampaging through various mid-level zones killing everything they could, including the guards and NPCs, doing everything within their power to piss everyone off. Eventually, they died away, but even my glasses aren't so rose-colored as to think those types didn't exist.
The point is that reputations mattered and mattered strongly in EverQuest. I'm hoping the EverQuest Next team takes a page from its predecessor's book and makes reputation not only matter, but stick. There were a number of fun ways to earn a rep on your particular server. You could be a Necromancer known for finding player corpses, or even better, willing to sacrifice your own experience points to recover theirs (oh yes, this was possible). You could be a Shaman who would routinely cast Spirit of the Wolf (a massive speed boost) on players in beginner zones. You could have learned every language in the game (there were nearly 20) and offer to teach them to other players. You could be a master blacksmith, able to create the finest Tier'dal armor in the land. Or... if you were very, very dedicated, you could be an Iksar who had earned enough favor with the Dark Elves to be standing deep within the third Gate of Neriak. It may not sound impressive to the uninitiated, but many factions were kill-on-sight within the game and it was no mean feat to pull something that extreme off. But that's a topic for next week!