Pwipe – Death or Rebirth?

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.

And yet…

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.

14 thoughts on “Pwipe – Death or Rebirth?

  1. Cameron Sorden

    At IMGDC this weekend, Richard Bartle hosted a round table where we talked about “Slaughtering Sacred Cows” in MMOs (looking at conventions that don’t necessarily need to be conventions). One of the things that was discussed was the concept of characters as “persistent” and “eternal” that’s kind of the industry norm right now. But yeah, there’s a lot to be said for forcing the community to start over at specific intervals. For one thing, it doesn’t force you to develop new content exclusively for the endgame or risk pissing off your player core. For another, it lets new players jump into an older game without being enormously behind the curve (just try starting on an established EQ server right now with no friends). There are a number of cool things you can do when pwipes are an expected and intended part of your game design.

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  2. p@tsh@t

    A wildly unpopular idea I suspect, but I think there is a lesson from Bladerunner here:

    “Roy: It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.
    Tyrell: What can he do for you?
    Roy: Can the maker repair what he makes?
    Tyrell: Would you like to be modified?
    Roy: I had in mind something a little more radical.
    Tyrell: What – What seems to be the problem?
    Roy: Death.
    Tyrell: Death. Well, I’m afraid that’s a little out of my jurisdiction, you…
    Roy: (as he steps into focus and is face-to-face with Tyrell) I want more life, fucker.
    Tyrell: The facts of life. To make an alteration in the evolvement of an organic life-system is fatal. The coding sequence cannot be revised once it’s been established.
    Roy: Why not?
    Tyrell: Because by the second day of incubation, any cells that have undergone reversion mutations give rise to revertant colonies like rats leaving the sinking ship. Then the ship sinks.
    Roy: What about E.M.S. recombination?
    Tyrell: We’ve already tried it. Ethyl Methane Sulfonate is an alkylating agent and a potent mutagen. It created a virus so lethal the subject was dead before he left the table.
    Roy: Then a repressive protein that blocks the operating cells.
    Tyrell: Wouldn’t obstruct replication, but it does give rise to an error in replication, so that the newly formed DNA strand carries a mutation and you’ve got a virus again. But, uh, this – all of this is academic. You were made as well as we could make you.
    Roy: But not to last.
    Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very very brightly, Roy. Look at you. You’re the prodigal son. You’re quite a prize!
    Roy: I’ve done questionable things.
    Tyrell: Also extraordinary things. Revel in your time!
    Roy: Nothing the god of biomechanics wouldn’t let you in heaven for.

    The perfect rolling pwipe. Of course, the big question is how to implement it…

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  3. Kilanna

    Hmm I dont know how I would feel about Kilanna and her friends all being wiped and being forced to start from scratch.

    Although I very much agree with the positives aspects you have highlighted, I am not so sure that it would make it such an even playing field.

    From reading between the lines of your discussions, I believe you enjoy a similar style of gaming to what I do. You enjoy your gaming very much and you are enjoying your journey towards level 70 and achieving milestones on the way.

    Then there are those people who I think of as “power gamers” (that is those who want uber toons and all that matters is the race to lvl 70).

    I think that a complete pwipe may do nothing more than enhance the difference betwen these two groups of players. The power gamers will get together with their established networks and race to 70 , get all their loot and have significant control over the economy. This would leave players who enjoy the other style of gaming behind, with a grind all the way back to 70 again. I would have to say it would be a game ending scenario for me.

    I would like to argue that the limit on the number of characters that a player can have is a major reason behind some of the difficulties on some EQII servers. One thing that I think would would make a HUGE difference is to allow players LOTS more characters in a similar model to WoW. (no character transfers just new toons on new servers). This would allow people to check out a range of character/race combinations on a range of servers. This would then mean that you would consistently have PC’s throughout the spectrum of classes and levels, making grouping easier at all levels. All these toons nead gear, spell upgrades, food and drink, items for their homes, ammo for their ranged weapons etc. Contributing to a more vibrant economy IMO.

    I see this perhaps as a compromise between taking stuff from players that has taken them over a year of playing to attain – and keeping the adverturing zones/economy robust. Players will always have their favourite endgame toon (i am yet to get there lol) but would now have plenty of other stuff to keep them amused between raids.

    Interested in other folks opinions on this discussion.

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  4. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I could not endorse, in the current MMO context, the idea of your character expiring or otherwise being wiped. MMOs are currently driven by the long haul experience and the most dedicate fans are those who pursue the whole end-game thing that leaves me flat.

    I was interested in finding something that could generate the post-pwipe excitement of starting a game you know completely fresh. The EverQuest progression server idea seems to be the only game in town when it comes to that.

    In the future though, somebody is going to hit upon how to get the renewing “new” experience without alienating the players and make a lot of money.

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  5. Tipa

    WoW has it perfect, since you can level a new character to max level in about a month, restarting on a new server is easy and stressless. When I was playing WoW, they DID open up new servers that did not allow transfers for the first six months; I started on that kind of server and it was great…. until they opened transfers to it and destroyed the server community.

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  6. Stargrace

    Tipa has it right in the WoW context at least. They don’t allow server transfers for the first 6 months of any newly opened server. Then they open it and the community goes down the tubes. Plenty of people start over on these new servers, since they’re bored of their current servers, and it’s a chance for everyone to start over from scratch and rise through the ranks, plus those “hard core” folks out there have a chance to be “top” on the new server if they’re not currently on the server they play on.

    6 months later though.. that all changes. Especially since it’s only $25 to transfer a fully equipped character on WoW vs. EQII’s $50. Makes it a whole lot more affordable.

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  7. Gaff

    Some of the new servers opened exclusively to transfers first–Trollbane, for instance. My entire endgame guild moved there, and some from other servers. I have a screenshot of me being one of six people on the entire Alliance side the morning the server opened and my transfer went through. Many of the servers that have been established this way are extremely top heavy, have next to no economy sub-70 (formerly 60), and are generally quirky.

    I have to say, however, wipe Toril! Do it quickly! The only way Toril 2.0 will survive is to wipe Lilithelle!

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  8. Cameron Sorden

    “In the future though, somebody is going to hit upon how to get the renewing “new” experience without alienating the players and make a lot of money.”

    You nailed it on the head, exactly. It makes no sense in current frameworks… but when planned as a part of the game and the content is designed around it, it could be a very fun experience if executed well.

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  9. Anrad

    I think an important point is being overlooked. There is a considerable amount of fun to be had in just popping in on a newbie and giving them a few pieces of decent, but not super extraordinary eq, then popping out again (on Toril the mage’s ‘relocate’ spell works well for this). Often, an alt can serve this purpose and express to the newbie that the alt is acting as an agent of (the alt’s primary character) or in the name of another high level character. It is amazing and fun to see the reaction. If the new player is appreciative, I usually re-visit them with another little piece of eq or some guidance. If they act twinkish or act like they expect it again, I don’t. I am hoping this helps keep new players interested and helps them level up a little quicker so they too can become members of the big shots club. Even if it doesn’t, it is fun to do. I still remebr the name of players that did this for me more than 10 years ago as well as those who have helped me out recently. I have found guidance and advice to be even more valuable than eq in most cases.

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  10. Hir

    Anrad has a point. I try to help newbies out with little pieces of eq so that they can work up to the “varsity” ranks quicker but consider, there is nothing stopping a group of “old timers” with 50th level characters from starting off like a group of naked newbies and then earning their eq as they go along, just as before. This would seem to be the best of both worlds, would it not?

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  11. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    Anrad, you and Hir both make a point about helping new players, but it is somewhat tangential to my own point. Helping new players hurry through empty lower level zones so that they can engage in the repetitive end-game play does not seem like a recipe for success.

    Most of the regulars I know in Toril are very helpful and quite generous to new players. That does not seem to help, in the long term, the user base expand. I believe it is because if you really have few options to group up and meet people before level 40, you are unlikely to stick with the game.

    As for a goup of fifties starting off again as a group of new players, that is an interesting idea, but I suspect that the next time it happens will be the first. Furthermore, it does nothing to capture the fun and excitement of the game when everybody is starting out penniless and trying to level up.

    I have many more friends from the post-pwipe levels 1-25 periods of my play time on Toril. There is something about that which forms a bond.

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  12. wizardling

    Old post, but I have add having been playing on the latest EQ1 progression server – Fippy Darpaw, that I too enjoy the early grouping and levelling in busy low level zones, typically far more than I ever enjoy ‘end game’ content.

    I wish MMO companies realised this, and regularly made new servers starting from scratch that allowed free transfers off after the server reaches a certain age. They could also then merge the server once it became depopulated.

    It seems to me this would be an excellent way to continually renew MMOs, rather than have endlessly top heavy ‘end game’ focused servers (as if that’s the only fun to be had!), with only SoE tossing us the occasional bone of a progression server every four years or so. Sadly I suspect Blizzard and other MMOs will never follow SoE’s example, if only because they never developed a system that unlocks content only when certain conditions are met, as EQ does. Now SoE may drive me crazy at times, but _that_ was a forward looking design.

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  13. Anonymous

    several years down and I’m still waiting for toril to pwipe again. I have enjoyed the odd walk down nostalgia lane there, dropping in to chat with familiar faces and ask “are we there yet”? But I continue to be told that Toril will never pwipe again… new content continues to be added for the top end, but the rebirth you speak of, the old players who had that burst of renewed activity, alts and all.. seems destined never to return.

    wishing you well,
    alvathair

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  14. Ryan Jones

    I’m like you in many ways, I just walked down the alternate path that is Duris. I’ve played it off and on for almost twenty years and have never really found another game to compare to it during its heyday. You can (or at least could, I havent tried in a while) hop into the wayback machine and find news files from when Duris first started and as it leaves Beta there’s a news entry saying something to the effect of ‘Duris is live, we will never p-wipe again!’ In reality it wiped about once a year and is actually due for another one in a couple months. I think p-wipes are essential to keep things interesting over long periods of time. There is nothing like hopping into Duris/Toril/EQ/WoW with everyone forced to be level 1, naked, and poor. The game gets stale after a while when only the top 5% of game content is worth doing and you end up doing it over and over and over again…Even in Duris where someone can kill you and take all your stuff and you suddenly need some of that lower tier gear. A p-wipe makes that other 95% of the game relevant again as all the lower level zones and easier end-game content has equipment that you suddenly crave instead of scoff at. That Tako demon goes from newbie nuisance to ‘woo I think we’re finally big enough to kill him and get his claws.’ There’s a world of difference between doing Tiamat for the first time and the 20th. Furthermore wipes are the best time for new blood to start playing, it’s a lot more fun and a lot easier to learn when you’re surrounded by experienced players at your level. Being power leveled and given gear you didn’t earn isn’t much fun and doesnt teach anything.

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