Ignots 4 sell

EQ1 BardLast Sunday, I partied with colleagues Eliot and Matt in Allods Online, which refused to cooperate with our simple desire to group. We were complaining over Skype about petty annoyances like not being able to team up on the newbie island and having to roll off for dropped quest items when in Allods’ defense I argued how much better it was than old-school MMOs.

“Oh yeah, in EverQuest, when you grouped up in a dungeon, there was no rolling or looting mechanic. The group would assign one person to loot everything, often a Druid or Wizard, and when he’d fill up or someone had to leave, he’d port out to the nearest merchant to sell everything before returning to split the loot (via tedious one-to-one trading) among everyone in the group.”

I don’t think they entirely believed me because it sounds pretty ridiculous in 2013, but that’s how classic EverQuest worked. I played a Druid, so the lootmaster task often fell to me. In raids, the lootmaster also handled all rolling for dropped gear as well as the distribution of cash and gem drops to the Cleric who had to buy jewels for buffs. For regular dungeons, there was also always a listmaster. You know the “campcheck” joke? Well, it was no joke. When you zoned into a dungeon, that’s what you shouted. That’s how you found out whether a spot you wanted to level in was camped, and if it was, that’s how you found out who the listmaster was so that you could get your name on The List. The next time the group had an opening for your class or role, you were called in. It was no different from a groupfinding or lootroll tool except in that players controlled it (and exploited it) from start to finish.

The amount of trust required just to get by in a game with shoddy or non-existent mechanics was staggering. It didn’t mean you didn’t get screwed on occasion, but most individuals didn’t scam. People were too invested in their characters and their good names to risk ruining them by making off with a few extra plat, and there was no such thing as character transfers or character renames.

No, most of the asshattery came from large groups of players, not individuals you’d meet in dungeon camps.

That made EverQuest a weird adjustment period for me. My guild had moved to EQ from Ultima Online, a game in which we settled grievances the way any sane gamer did: with in-game murder, of course. If someone stole a house deed from us, we hunted him down and killed him, usually putting his entire guild on a black list until sufficient reparations were made. That was just how things were done in the Old West of the UO sandbox; retribution was in our hands. But when players pulled stunts in EverQuest, where we couldn’t just kill someone for wronging us, we were at a loss. If we blacklisted players or guilds for the actions of their members, people went ballistic… on us. If an uberguild planejumped us (that is, found out when we were planning a raid and zoned in a few minutes before we did just to be jerks, which was common in games without instancing), we literally had no recourse. We couldn’t kill them, and to blacklist them from our groups or social circles really meant ostracism from the majority of the server, which preferred to bow and scrape to the elite jerks or be shut out and persecuted by the uberguild themselves.

What I’m getting at here, in a roundabout way, is that the nostalgia that we cling to when it comes to how amazing the EQ community was Back In The Day when we all “trusted” each other to keep lists and distribute loot fairly among strangers is really bullshit. Selective memory blinds us to the awful elements of the community that were enabled by the game’s mediocre design and eternally cruel players. The lack of basic group-centric mechanics and instancing allowed large packs of elite jerks to run roughshod over everyone else. (I guess it’s no wonder people in those groups miss those days! By the way, a lot of those jerks were hired by studios to make the WoW-era MMOs, including WoW itself, which explains a lot.)

Ultima Online posed similar problems for the “smallfolk.” It was a great game if you were in a powerful guild, as I was. The guildless were essentially defenseless. Game theorists like to say UO was sheep vs. wolves, but it wasn’t; it was sheep vs. wolves vs. trappers. We trappers killed wolves and only wolves. Without sheep, there were no wolves, and without wolves, there was no point for trappers — PKKs or anti-PKs — to appoint themselves sheriff of UO town. Sheep without shepherds and trappers watching out for them were screwed. A street hawker screeching “IGNOTS 4 SELL” could be a legitimate miner adding local color to Britain bank… or he could be duper or thief just trying to get you in close for an easy pickpocket while you’re distracted with the trade window. The blacksmith standing by the anvil, offering to repair your platemail for a small tip, could be an honest tradesperson practicing his craft… or a freshly rolled scammer planning to make off with your kit the instant you handed it over. That bluename standing in the entrance to Despise might be skilling up by healing weary adventurers with bandages… or he might be waiting for you to be ambushed by ogres so he can loot all your stuff. I don’t know how sheep survived UO without friends and trappers to support them, to back them up, and to exact vengeance on their behalf. I suppose they didn’t. They just quit.

The only people you could trust were in your guild. I’ve mentioned that before I was admitted to my Ultima Online guild, I was required by that guild to hand over my account credentials to the recruiting officer, who logged into my account and snooped around my characters to ensure I wasn’t a spy or secret PK. Can you imagine a guild requiring this today? It’d be banned. And yet we did it without thinking. That’s how important it was to be in a big guild. And I say this as a contrary person who is not a “joiner.” But my UO guild? Dude, that was serious business. I had to get in or the game was pointless.

The irony is that the “trapper” guild I joined was a front for the most notorious griefer team on the shard, and it split into half a dozen new guilds when that information leaked out, including the guild I’m still in today. It’s a lesson in how groups of players can ruin games, but it’s also a lesson in how good groups can save us.

I can look back and think what an amazing experience I had, but I don’t think that experience justifies how niche that early era became, how insulated and hostile it was, and how many people felt forced to abandon the genre only to return to it when it grew up a bit. The games were pretty good, but they were unprepared for the communities that ravaged them. I’m glad it all happened, but I’m glad we’ve moved on. I want to remember them exactly as they were, chaotic and broken and hostile and beautiful, not forget the uncomfortable bits in the service of shaping future games.

Beware the curse of nostalgia.

This is what we remember.
billyuns

This is what those damn kids on our lawn see.
8tracks

And this is how it really was.
sandboxmess

5 Comments

  1. Mal says:

    Great entry, Bree. I’ve talked to you a little bit about this kind of subject as you know, and I’m pretty well right on board the nostalgia train, but it’s certainly not a curse.

    In the case of Everquest, my experience was a little big different. EQ was my first MMO, and really the first game I ever played online at all. I was young, wide-eyed and naive…and though that brings a lot of negative connotations, that particular experience is never going to be replicated. “It’s never as good as the first time,” comes to mind, and though that’s not necessarily true, I’m happy to remember the star-studded nebula, well aware that in reality, it was the harsh, post-apocalyptic desert.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m just flat-out burned out on the MMO genre, but continue to play them looking for that “spark,” and maybe there’s some truth to that. If look back to who I was when playing Everquest, or SWG…life has happened since then, you grow, you change, you mature. It becomes harder to find the time or effort to get truly invested, and the industry has changed a great deal. You don’t have to eat McDonalds every day and order something different off of the same menu…there are about five hundred restaurants to choose from, and sometimes you just feel like having a steak. Or maybe tomorrow you’re just really craving Thai. The next day, a curry. This becomes even worse (or better depending on your point of view), with another development that might come with age…having the means to sample pretty much any of these “restauraunts” you want.

    Overall, I’m happy with it. I might have cravings for that steak just like SWG used to make from time to time, or maybe a lot. I know I won’t get it, but I still want it…and I’m okay with that. Guild Wars 2 makes a pretty good steak…different, but good.

    If you were to equate your experiences in the old school to a grand endgame raid, what you are left with is the nostalgia, and a +5 vorpal greatsword of uberness that has stood the test of time, which is your guild. If there is a “great secret,” to gaming, I think you might be on to it.

    The question, “Am I doing it right?” comes to mind, particularly for introspective people. In a world of about a thousand different games, flawed mechanics, loot, raids, closures, “My game is better than your game” pissing contests, and trolls in the comments section, few things stay static. At risk of sounding schmaltzy, great people you can game and share the experience with is a fantastic quest reward.

    The tentative conclusion – You’re doing it right, rose-colored glasses and all.

    • Bree says:

      Full disclosure: Mal is a guildie of mine and has been for like 10 years. :D And the weird thing about our guild — or maybe the most normal thing of all — is that gaming has become sort of secondary to our existence. We still game together when we feel like it, but we also just hang out and chat throughout the day. People have made fun of me endlessly because I still endorse IRC, which our guild has been using for out-of-game chat since literally 1997, but there just isn’t a better replacement for an everybody-in chat room. “Use social media,” grumps say, but it’s just not at all the same thing. Facebook isn’t guild chat. IRC is guild chat independent of games. That’s why our guild is still a thing when most crumble at a loud sneeze.

      I’m tremendously proud of that and in love with the friendships we’ve all kept going.

      One thing that’s been very hard to overcome, as you note yourself, is the growing-up effect. We accumulate families and careers and have less and devote less time to gaming. But what I’ve seen is that a really great game always brings people out of the woodwork. People are “too busy with real life” for a mediocre game, but for a really awesome game, they carve out time with a bloody knife.

      I think there’s hope for those of us pining for the days of SWG yet. :)

  2. Sounder says:

    I have to admit that I’m sometimes guilty of the wistful, thousand-yard stare that nostalgia brings. The earliest MMO I played was Vanilla WoW, and since it was my first, everything I experienced was untarnished by knowledge of other games.

    For example, in WoW, I remember thinking “I could get a mount? Awesome!” Never mind the fact that it was a sometimes grueling, expensive inconvenience. I didn’t know otherwise. Now that I’ve played other MMOs, I realize just how annoying it was to wait until level 40 and fork over all the gold I had ever accumulated just for that frickin’ horse.

    But, that’s not what I remember when I think back to Vanilla WoW. I remember that excitement, of clicking the Summon Mount button for the first time, how the guild I was in organized a parade of sorts through Stormwind to Goldshire, and finally how when I was done with the celebrations, I rode from Goldshire to Westfall to Darkshire. Just because I could.

    I guess rose-tinted glasses should really be rose-tinted rear-view mirrors, because it sucks having to look forward through a tinted windscreen.

    • Bree says:

      Exactly: I don’t think we should try to crush our nostalgia any more than we should be driven by it. I had great times in EQ too. There were days when our raiding guild (we were raiders back then) would triumph doing something non-hardcores should not be able to do, and it was bliss! We hosted dungeon crawls and zone overwatches and RP events and trivia contests and gloriously dorky things that everyone is far too hipsterish to bother with nowadays.

      That time period was truly special because everything was so new and the games were ungoverned, leaving space for both the beauty and the treachery born of chaos.

      I just don’t want to make the mistake of forgetting the misery. As we head into (for just one example) a WildStar endgame that hints it will be dominated by large guilds and raiding zealots, I want to remember how badly that kind of gameplay can go because the current generation is used to World of Warcraft and even more casual games than that, and they won’t see the dangers until it’s too late.

  3. […] subject to some of these problems before the “guilded age” to a lesser degree (which I talked about a few months back), but now, such guild systems are locked in as part of the expected game design. It was bad enough […]

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