There is a MUD that I used to play regularly for about 10 years called Toril MUD. It was, and still is, a great, well-developed MUD based in the AD&D Forgotten Realms universe. And, as I have mentioned before, playing Toril MUD is one of the things I have in common with a number of the original designers of EverQuest, including Jeff Butler and Brad McQuaid. The world of Norrath on the day of launch was heavily influence by Toril MUD.
Every so often I log back into Toril MUD to see how things are going and what has changed. My characters are all retired. I have given away or sold all of their equipment. So when I log in, it is just to visit.
Every time I log in I see people I know. There is always some new update to the game and some new or completely revamped content. It is actually pretty amazing that, after nearly 15 years this free-to-play game is still being actively updated. I wonder what this portends for EverQuest over time.
But, like EverQuest, Toril MUD is languishing, in my opinion. When I log in these days there are usually only 30-50 characters online. Now, for most MUDs, that would be a lot of players, but in days-gone-by that would have the number of players at the most off-peak time, with more active time slots having two to four times those numbers.
Of the people online when I log in, the vast majority are close to the level cap of 50. And of those that are not in that level range, most of them end up being alts of people who already have a level 50.
Groups are generally made up of the same people that are focused on getting very specific pieces of equipment to maximize the capabilities of their class. Zones that have those pieces get run regularly. Zones that do not have equipment for the elite sit idle unless the time between reboots (mobs in a zone only have loot once per boot) is long enough that people get bored and start working on equipment for their alts.
The economy is in ruins. There is an auction house that serves both good and evil factions, but to access it you have to run off to one of two out-of-the-way locations. (Okay, maybe Baldur’s Gate isn’t out of the way, but there ought to be auction houses in Waterdeep, Dobluth Kyor, and Leuthilspar.) But even if a new player found their way to the auction house, they probably could not afford anything listed. The price of anything decent is well beyond the reach of a new player. MUDflation has left the platinum coin in Toril nearly without value.
What the game needs is a player wipe, or pwipe. The people who manage Toril need to erase all of the player files and start everybody again from scratch.
This has been discussed in the Toril forums. The response from the players is an almost universal “NO!”
Everybody has worked hard to get their characters to where they are now. Too much time has been spent getting just the right equipment. Too much time has been spent doing difficult quests for special class spells. Most people who respond on the forums indicate that they might leave the game altogether if there is a pwipe.
And I fully understand this point of view. I know how it feels to have things running smoothly and then losing everything to start from scratch again. I have been through three pwipes on Toril myself.
When I think back to when I have had the most fun on Toril, I always end up thinking about the times just after a pwipe, when everybody is low level and poor. When their are no twinked alts rampaging through the noob zones. When lack of equipment means a need to cooperate to finish quests that will be soloable as the game and economy progress.
I also remember that I have never once stopped playing Toril at a pwipe. Usually a pwipe is a time of renewed activity for me. I generally quit when I have a character levelled up and equipped, have run through a bunch of twinked alts, and have generally gotten bored doing zones in hope of winning the bid on an item I can actually use.
Basically, end game play bores me, and I do not think I am alone in that regard. When the struggle to level is removed, when I cease to control my own destiny and am relying on a couple hours of play and a roll of the dice to see if I get something new, I am done.
I think this says something about me, and players like me, who are somewhere between the labels “casual” and “hard core.” My wife often asks me if I have “won the game” when she asks about the online games I play. Perhaps there is a point, psychologically, where I have. It is the equivalent of the end of the game in Civilization II, where you can keep on playing your civ, but there is no more score to be had. That always bores me as well, no matter how interesting the game was up until that point.
So I think that SOE had a brilliant idea when they launched their EverQuest progression servers last year. These are basically new EQ servers with only the original launch content available, with later content available only when it is “unlocked” on the server. There are no transfers into the server, everybody who plays there starts from scratch.
I think the basic idea is quite sound, although I do not agree with all of the details. I am not sure that a single guild should be able to unlock content for the whole server. Still, the idea of a fresh server is a great way to keep the game interesting.
I hope to see this some day in EverQuest II. When things have slowed down, perhaps once a year, or every other year, SOE could launch a fresh server that does not allow any character transfers. Everybody who plays on that server must start from scratch. I think that would draw some interest, both from players who already have a few level 70s as well as from players who might like to start playing the game, as that beginning time in a game is also when people often make the most friends in-game.
This could also be an opportunity for Blizzard. Currently they roll out new servers on a regular basis, but they usually allow transfers in from other servers to alleviate crowding on older servers. They ought to throw out a server once in a while that is “from scratch.” No transfers allowed. They should make a big deal about it too. It should be page one news for Blizzard every time they do it. I would bet that there would be a good number of people who would be interested, again both old hands and very new players alike.
Other games should consider this option as well. It might be an interesting item for the 10th anniversary of Ultima Online.
So my conclusion is that pwipe is rebirth. But you probably figured that out already.
There is something fun, almost magical, about being in a new multiplayer game on or close to day one, when everybody is equal, when everybody is starting fresh.
On the flip side, there is something a little depressing about being late to the party, about starting off in a world where the population is biased towards the level cap and the low level zones are barren.
I think these feelings remain relatively untapped in the MMO market today. The prime exception is EverQuest and the progression servers. (Or just a single server soon, as the two progression servers are being combined into one. Two fresh servers at once was too much capacity.)
As game companies look to extend their investment in these games, I think they will have to adopt a strategy at some point similar to SOE’s progression server idea.