Wednesday, July 23, 2003
I played Everquest for 19 months, if I remember correctly, the free month you get when buying the game and then 3 times 6 months, the monthly fee being cheaper when you paid for 6 months in advance. Since then I never staid more than 6 months in the same MMORPG. Why? My initial theory was that MMORPGs being similar, one gets bored faster with each additional MMORPG one plays. But after looking at the different games, I now came up with a different theory: It's all about loot.
Many games have totally boring loot. Loot is boring when you can't use it, and you could have gotten the same loot everywhere else. Both of these problems are solved when there are special magic items as loot for specific monsters at specific locations. To make getting that special loot not too easy, Everquest had a system where that specific monster only SOMETIMES had that special magic item. So you usually ended up killing the damn thing 20 times before you got what you wanted, which is called "camping" in Everquest. Now Everquest sometimes overdid that, and was called Evercamp by some people because of that. My longest camp was 16 hours, killing a monster that spawned every 23 minutes, until it finally dropped the magical cloak I wanted. But other camps took DAYS, which is more than silly.
So many other games, instead of improving the system, simply put in no special loot at all. And thats the trap. Yes, people didn't like camping for hours. But they DID like the magic items. And they DID like the idea that you were able to get the information that if you wanted the "shiny brass shield", you had to hunt a specific monster at a specific place. What was wrong with the system was that the place and mob was a bit TOO specific. Only the orc trainer on the top of the hill in Crushbone dropped the "shiny brass shield". So obviously the best tactic to get that shield was to sit on top of the hill right where he spawned and then wack him whenever he appeared, until after having killed him X times, you found the "shiny brass shield".
The much better system would have been if the orc trainer would spawn at a random location inside a specific area. Because then you have to run around and actually hunt him. And the "camp" becomes a "chase", which is obviously more exciting.
Why do we need those special monsters dropping special items? Because people need to be motivated to travel through these virtual worlds. If all monsters of the same level give the same loot, you just have to travel once to the closest place where a monster appropriate to your level is and start killing. You only need to move when you go up in level, which is not often enough. There are usually monsters appropriate to your level at many different locations. But only if you know that at location A you will get the magical helmet as loot, while at location B you get the magical sword, will you be willing to move from A to B.
The thing that Everquest got totally wrong with the loot (and they recognized that and will change it for EQ2), is that low level people could use magical items dropped from high level monsters. As there was no item decay, every time the high level player got an even better item, he had the previous item from that slot for sale. Or he gave it to a lower level character he created himself, which is called "twinking". Obviously, if you were level 20 and got a magical helmet that dropped from a level 40 monster either from your other high-level character, or from the market, you were not any more interested in killing that level 20 monster for its much inferior magical helmet.
But it is VERY important that players can find out what they have to do, to get an item for a specific equipment slot, usable by their class, race, and level. The worst example of what happens if you make that random is Anarchy Online. Anarchy Online had about 200 different weapons, and similar numbers for armor and other equipment. And each weapon existed in 200 different quality levels. So if you wanted ONE specific weapon of ONE specific quality level, that was just one out of 40,000 different possibilities. And all the possible sources for these weapons were random. They dropped as random loot. They were given out as random reward for missions. And they appeared randomly in stores. Stores were still your best bet, because every hour the store got its 50 sales spots filled with 50 new weapons. But 50 out of 40,000 still meant that after searching different shops for hours, you'd content yourself with NEARLY the weapon you wanted at NEARLY the good quality level. And once you got up some levels, the random hunt for equipment started all over.
In Everquest you had to get the information where to find what at external websites like Allakhazam. An ideal game would have IN GAME information, where you can ask a sage or library for a fee where to find a magical helmet fitting for you. And the program would figure out your level, class and race, and tell you "Rumors have it, that the goblin around bloody hill were seen carrying a magical helmet". Now THAT would have you traveling to bloody hill, even if it took you an hour, and start killing goblins there. Isn't that much more exciting than going out at random until you find a monster of your level and then just kill it for xp and a handful of gold pieces?
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