Holy Grails of Everquest Next: Permanent Change

A clutch of griffon eggs from Everquest 2
When Everquest 2 launched, there were griffin towers in Commonlands and Antonica. Some time after launch, perhaps as much as a year later, griffin towers were constructed in Nektulos Forest and Thundering Steppes. There were 3 or 4 different quests you could do at each griffin station, and each completed quest would advance a counter toward tower completion. Also, if you did enough of them, you got a miniature griffin tower you could put in your house.

These quests, and later similar quests were fantastically popular. The biggest complaint about them was that they finished too quickly. I think it took but a single weekend to finish the towers in Thundering Steppes on my server, and only a bit longer in Nek Forest. People who had other things to do that weekend missed the whole thing, and were quite disappointed.

Only a fool of a gamedev would think that doing this live event was a mistake. Ok, well SOE has done some foolish things over the years, but they weren’t quite that dumb. So we got more “live events”, which heralded some transformation of the world.

At the heart of the fourth “holy grail” of Everquest Next – permanent change – is something they are calling a “rallying call”. This is sort of a live event and public quest put on steriods. It’s supposed to last 2 months or more. They are meant to have phases that evolve based on player action and a random or hidden element. Like, perhaps there’s a counter for quests, but it’s invisible to players. Or perhaps it’s just random.

By having phases, they mean that you might be working on cutting down trees and building wooden buildings, and then cutting stone and putting up walls, and then maybe bringing in the gates of a keep, and then maybe you’ll get a bunch of gnolls who have decided they aren’t going to let you ruin their lands, and so attack the gates before it’s finished. Who knows, maybe they’ll get a dragon to help them, and they will bring siege engines to help.

Maybe when the gnolls or the dragon knock down the half-built walls, they don’t heal automatically, but you have to build them back again. So killing Fippy Darkpaw before he can reload his ballista would mean something.

It’s important that everyone have the chance to be involved somehow. There was a whole storyline in EQ2 about a plague, and a quest line to find out what it was and how to track it down. But the structure of that event was such that it required a strong raiding force to finish. Only one group could finish the quest, which is sort of necessary to avoid the “Theme Park” sort of feeling – if everyone can make this great change to the world, the world hasn’t changed at all. But most of the players at the time felt shut out, not part of the drama. This is kind of a bad move for an RPG.

I think they know that. What I want is something that will produce changes that are meaningful, and a chance for every player in the game to make a meaningful contribution.

What I like about this, coupled with the emergent AI, is how well it plays as an intrinsic motivator. Everquest 2 was full of Skinner boxes. Almost everything you did set off little bells and flashes and celebrations. The game rewarded you for doing things constantly. You got levels, AA points, quest completions, and gear as rewards for almost anything. As I’ve written before, extrinsic motivation like that leads to lots of enthusiasm, but eventually leads to players doing things like not bothering to read the quest text, and just collecting all the quests at a hub and running out and killing things. You could have two or three quests ding off with a kill, but you had lost all meaning to your actions other than leveling.

The king of intrinsic motivations and emergent behavior is EVE Online. I doubt that Everquest Next will go that far. EVE’s lack of structure puts many people off. However, it is also the only MMO which has continued to grow its audience years and years after launch. Intrinsic motivation – the feeling that a player can say to himself, with a toss of his fabulous red hair, “I think I will try to take over this system” or whatever might come into his 3000-year-old head, is very powerful.

By stretching out the timeline to two or three months, they are going to make sure that everyone who wants to can participate. I hope the long time frame won’t lead to a feeling of “grinding” though. Also, I hope there is a way for characters of all levels to contribute. They are saying that the phase changes will be unpredictable, and I worry about that a bit. There is an embedded time zone problem. What if Fippy and friends attack at 4am EST? Since they don’t seem to be trying to put everyone on the same server, maybe they can designate time zone orientations for servers, so the big stuff will happen mostly during prime time.

I tell ya, I’m expecting dragon attacks. At least baby dragons.

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