EverQuest Next: The Ties That Bind - Player Reputations

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.

EverQuest Next - Player Reputations

In a world where player reputation mattered, it paid to not be a jerk.

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.

EverQuest Next - Player Reputations

In EQ, you even had to earn a reputation with the NPCs. If you played a rival race, you couldn't stand here in the dark elf home of Neriak unless you'd impressed all the right people in all the right ways.

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!

A lot of what you describe definitely goes hand-in-hand with having a great sandbox experience, which Sony claims will be the heart and soul of EQ Next. I remember needing other players to cast invisibility on me so that I could sneak by a specific set of NPCs in Freeport to access another part of town. Was it a pain sometimes? Yeah, but not as often as it was exciting. Sometimes that invisibility would wear off too early and I'd have to make a mad dash to the zone, just because that specific faction hated my guts and wanted to kill me on sight. That's just a simple example of why I loved having different faction relationships, and I believe they could bring back a lot of fun into the genre; the problem is, most MMOs make factions into a grind instead of a fluid/dynamic experience.

I suppose this is why Sony decided to work with Storybricks on their AI system. That's my hope, at least. I want a system where you are rewarded for your loyalty to a faction, but I also want a system where you can't just kill an important faction member without any consequences. I want weight to my actions, and it'd be nice if my relationship building didn't involve mindlessly grinding reputation for some silly mount/reward. I'm not really sure how you make that a fluid system that is both dynamic and personally meaningful, but hopefully Storybricks brings something new to the discussion.

In regards to players having their own reputation on a server, I think it's going to be a real challenge for Sony to bring that type of experience back, or at least have reputations carry the same amount of weight. One of the reasons it will be difficult is that most servers now can hold thousands of players at a time, whereas old EQ servers were relatively small and very tight knit. It was much easier to stand out (for better or for worse) among that small community. It's was also a time where players weren't just chatting with their buddies on ventrilo, but were instead actively communicating in various chat channels. Heck, even those chat channels had their own unwritten codes of conduct. There was a huge difference between bringing a large number of monsters to the zone and /shout'ing 'TRAIN to ____!", as opposed to doing the same thing without any warning.

How do you bring that back? Players seem so comfortable with their Guild Wars 2 gameplay style where every experience is custom tailored for them and their friends. In the most basic terms, they're being sectioned off from the rest of the community, or at best, they're asked to make minimal interaction with those around them.

That's what concerns me most about this new EverQuest; that Sony will talk big and try to do some new things, but they won't pan out as they hoped, and they'll resort to caving into the easiest/lowest-common denominator players. I sincerely hope I'm wrong about that, because man, I could seriously go for hearing some 'You've ruined your own lands, you won't ruin mine!"

You bring up an interesting point with Guild Wars 2. When I had spoken to ArenaNet pre-launch, the idea was to make core systems like dynamic events so that they helped foster those kinds of bonds within a given server community. In the live game, quite the opposite has happened, where I see a very fragmented community outside of maybe regular participants in WvW.

The thing with player reputations is that you need to give players reasons to tools that help them interact more directly outside of basic combat situations. For example, while many players bemoaned the original crafting system implementation in EQII, there were plenty of others who really enjoyed the system of dependencies between trades. On my server at least, I knew most of the dedicated crafters simply because the game gave me a clear reason to interact with them.

Likewise, in EQ I met and interacted with people on my necro due to game mechanics since I could help recover corpses or even provide a rez for partial XP recovery. Buffing as a social mechanic also helped, as did the more direct sales style of marketplace.

We've hit a point where too many companies are attempting to leverage social media and mobile markets to expand their user base, but at the expense of community. If I send an in-game alert to Facebook, only my current friends will see it, and they probably already know I'm playing your game. Or if I can interact with things like an auction house, skill training, crafting, or other stuff on my phone, you also just cut out even more reasons for me to interact with my server community.

Finally... as much as I used to grumble about the unpredictable nature of Gather Shadows, I do miss the "oh crap!" moments of running through an unfriendly city and having it drop, turning travel into meaningful gameplay in the process.

Reputation was everything in EverQuest. What you did a year ago could have devastating consequences down the road. Of course back then, server sizes were a fraction of what they are today which made for a tight knit group of players. Today's servers are so huge you could play a game to max level and never even see the same person twice. EQ was like one of those tiny little towns in the middle of nowhere where everyone knew each other, the good or the bad. Your actions made or broke you. I fondly remember my very first raid guild and how I was asked to join by the assistant GM because I kept him alive in a PUG one evening in lguk. He was a Ranger (you know where this is going), I was a Cleric... our Warrior went LD during a horrible pull and guess who had to tank. I somehow kept the Ranger alive throughout the battle, nobody died at all, and when the dust had settled the guy tells me, "You are the only healer that I have ever grouped with that hasn't let the Ranger die." I laughed it off at the time citing pure luck and the very next day the GM of the 2nd ranked guild on our server requested a chat with me. We chatted, I was inducted and the rest was history.

So what does all this mean? Reputation means everything, good or bad. You play your class extremely well, people remember that. The more groups you are a part of and the better you do, the more times people will snag you up when you are LFG. The opposite is also true unless it's 3am and absolutely no one else is available. I have no idea how EQNext could pull off that "tight knit group" feel in a "Massively"MPORPG other than restricting server sizes to some crazy amount like 1000 unique accounts. I know most everything people want, including myself, is that old gaming feel from back in the day. Unfortunately, it's pure nostalgia and nothing more. It's for that reason every online game I've played since EQ has failed to live up to my expectation. It's similar to that first kiss, or that first... well, never mind. You get the idea. I just have very high expectations for EQNext but I've been disappointed in the past and I'm sure I will again. However, I am optimistic from what I've read so far.

I know not everyone had the same experience with it, but after being convinced no other game would ever re-ignite that feeling of magic and wonder for me, Vanguard did. Now to be fair, I was probably one of only 17 people in the country that happen to have the magic computer parts combination that I had no technical issues (dear gods, that was such a horrible launch for so many people), but as a result, I was able to enjoy the game at face value. It sucked me in like nothing since the original EQ and it's because of that, that I think it actually is possible for magic to strike more than once. Will EQ Next be the game to pull it off? I just don't know yet, but I certainly hope so. ^_^

I was all over Vanguard when it came out. A few of my guildies in EQ2 all started a guild in V:SoH and we played for a month or so. I actually loved the game and the direction it was heading. Crafting was actually fun for once (best crafting in any game I've played yet) and the game had HUGE promise. Unfortunately, as you stated, the bugs and glitches ruined what should have been a killer game. Honestly at this point, I can't remember why I finally gave up playing the game. I know I'm older now and that definitely contributes to a lot of things but EQNext could be magical... that's all we can hope for.

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