The Kindness of Strangers

I was playing some EverQuest again yesterday, and it reminded by of how much the kindness and generosity of other players matters to me.  My Halfling Druid is bound in East Freeport, but I was hunting in Crushbone (across the world) with my friends.  I died to a massive train of mobs while running from a second train, and ended up stranded without my body or any money.  I went to East Commonlands and asked for a portal (quick travel saving me an hour or more of travel time), and stated upfront that I could not pay or tip for a port.  I received four messages offering to take me on the trip.

When I last played, about a month ago, I met some max-level players in Rivervale who saw me and started handing me items because they knew I had nothing.  They gave me gear that is actually really, really good and not easily replaced.  Then they buffed me and sent me on my way.  Speaking of buffing, many players go out of their way to buff other players in EQ.  Higher level players can often be found in lower level areas handing out magnificent buffs.

In addition to making me feel good, the kindness of these strangers reminded me just how much different it feels like to be helped by someone in an older game compared to being helped today.

Someone might run by you and buff you in a modern game, and you never  realize it.  You might even be killing monsters and not notice a change.  A buff in EQ changes your life.  Unlike some games where you can take a mob +1 your level and a couple of its friends at the same time, in EQ it is easily a death sentence when you aren’t twinked (using gear beyond your ability to earn) to fight more than one mob.  A port in WoW and a port in EQ accomplish the same thing — travel — but in EQ it saves you HOURS and even the risk of death.

When help means less to the game mechanics, it matters less to the player.  Despite whether or not people still have those good intentions, and I would like to believe they do, it no longer carries with it as much meaning.  That social dynamic has been removed from modern MMO’s.  I miss it.

  • Hell even being PKed in UO sometimes came with a rez and a fighting lesson. You still lost your stuff but the killers were good sports about it. Back in the day grouping and making communities seemed a lot more dynamic. You did not have to worry about joining a game and not meeting people, you would always meet people.
    I was wondering if this was a change in game mechanics or if i was becoming a social introvert game wise. But whenever i try old games or even more sandboxy games i normally end up in a community within a few days of starting.

    Its odd sitting around mobs chatting was a shitload more fun than running cinematic spectacle that were swtor quests.

    also even though GW2 gets people playing together they do not seem to do much beyond having people share events . I rarely went out of my way to talk to anyone.

  • Those are the experiences I do miss. Not that they don’t happen anymore but they seem so infrequently these days. Or at least that is my perception of it. Back when I played Everquest and Ultima Online (and even Shadowbane, surprisingly enough), people tended to be more helpful. They may not be handing out high-tier items but they were generally good items. People would see you in trouble in a mob camp and they would come help you kill it even if they didn’t have “first hit”. And sometimes people would just chat to chat… pre-Barren Chat!

    I think that is why my Tier’dal (Dark Elf) in EQ was like that. I started her to be a pretty evil beyotch (Daughter of Hate) and while I kept to that, I also went around healing all the “evil races” when I’d run across them. I’d make leather gear for the n00bs in Nek Forest just to help them out. And of course there were all the roleplaying events we held on Rallos Zek (PvP RP 4tw).

    To me, it seemed like community was more tight-knit back then. And maybe it was. Communities were generally smaller so it was easier to know everyone. And the MMO gaming population as a whole was smaller, too. Or maybe it wasn’t and I’ve just been not seeing it lately or thinking of the “old days” in a better light than it really was.

  • Innovation and hassle are the culprits.

    At the dawn of MMORPG the games were not simply timesinks for the sake of being timesinks, they were timesinks for the sake of having meaning. In today’s MMO world it is enough to simply make you play over and over to get better stuff. In their prime, MMOs made you play to advance your character. This has been thrown to the wayside as a “hassle”. People do not want leveling a character to take months of arduous grinding. (Or half a year of laid-back social farming.)

    Why can’t everyone have access to the same dungeon even if other people are doing it? Boom… now there are instances, fracturing the fabric of both community and world in MMOs.

    All of these “innovations” are geared toward leveling the playing field as it were, equalizing everything, making it blander…. but also faster.

    I personally can’t stand it. The console generation can’t live without it. Since I’m only getting older, and they are only multiplying, I’m pretty screwed if I want solid entertainment.

    Oh well…. “Master Visur on the Pad!”

  • @Dril

    It really won’t. GW2 simply offers 3 faction pvp in today’s instant-gratification online world. It won’t be close to the pvp of old, it won’t be meaningful ala DAoC, and it won’t forge awesome communities that stay up all night to defend their “relic keeps”.

    But it will be 3 faction pvp, so we will play it. And deal with the instant teleportation to anywhere, no need to ever speak to anyone else in the game, lack of hard CC, and overhyrbidization of every class imaginable to where the term “class” isn’t even really necessary.

    But we want to pvp with at least the semblance of meaning, so what else can we do?

  • @Rawblin

    Rose-colored glasses much? There were many good reasons for the innovation. It’s interesting how WoW-vanilla is ignored in these comparisons rather than looking at today’s MMO.

    This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend of mine recently about D&D. He’s a big v2 fan, I prefer 3.5. Both are the same game but completely different rulesets. We discussed the for and against of each for a while ’til we realized that they were the same game in a large scope. They are simply artifacts of their time in gaming.

    MMOs, especially today’s variants, are not the same games of 10-15 years ago. Comparing them at the detail level is an exercise in futility. Even within the same game.

    Perhaps it had more to do with a smaller community and lack of anonymity in those games. You’re going to see those folks again, guaranteed. I remember leveling in SWTOR and I was well ahead of the curve. There were perhaps 12 of us in that group and we’d chat while leveling; exchanging gear, giving tips, doing flashpoints. Once the mass of people at that level went up, it paradoxically seemed like there were less people – just more static.

  • No, I don’t feel that it has anything to do with rose-colored glasses.

    The need to make everything faster took away the feel of accomplishment, the hybridization of the holy-trinity took away the *need* to group up to level.

    This results in lesser community and attachment to character. Not really sure why you think that is me seeing things in a rosy hue. Just the way it was and the way it is.

  • Modern MMO are designed so that other players are either a tool (someone you need to progress) or 90% of the time an obstacle that hinders your progression. (The race to the top.)

    Then add the “it is all about ME” design. (WOW you are great, You need better gear, You need that drop, That mob is yours. That is my spot, My ore vein)

    Things like not being able to experience all of the game, unless your in some nr 1 or 2 raid guild. This creates Elitism…

    Add the convenience of an auction house. (You no longer need to talk to anyone to get mats or items)

    General talk channels (why ask someone walking next to you) and walkthroughs on the internet. (why ask anyone at all)

    There you go.. we somehow ended up with a gamegenre that used to be social to a very unsocial experience.
    And yet people wonder why people are antisocial and not helpful. They are just playing the game the way it was designed.

  • hmm one observation…Games became increasingly solo-able and the necessity of a group or for group play (outside of instances) was reduced. You remove the necessity and you remove player cooperation (or at least if you remove the benefit of grouping). Seems like a natural pathway. The thing is…even at the times games like DAOC, UO, EQ, and AC were active…there was a demand for more soloable content and leveling experience (I think this demand has been constant).

    Another observation, characters used to be powerful and your abilities and spells could be devastating in the right hands. That means your buffs for others were also powerful (see AC for example Armor VI etc.) These days…instead of balancing powerful abilities against each other, characters are balanced by making their abilities insignificant (+1% to Hit etc.) including their buffs. This is probably what bugs me the most about current MMOs.

  • Much as I agree with the sentiment behind the post and have had countless similar experiences in Everquest myself, there is another side to the coin.

    For most of the life of EQ there have been buffs so overwhelmingly game-changing that many players wouldn’t consider entering combat without them. It used to be absolutely commonplace for people to wait until they had KEI or Virtue before they’d even click on the stone to port them out of PoK. As soon as those buffs wore off the group would either pause while the person that needed them gated back to PoK to get a refresh or would simply break up.

    PoK resembled an Arabian souk with clerics, druids, beastlords and enchanters all shouting out their prices and touting for custom. Every buff in the game came with a price tag attached and many were the druids and enchanters leveled up solely to earn money and never go adventuring at all.

    I liked it, personally. I thought it added texture. I can see why players who didn’t live through those days would boggle with disbelief at any game that tried to re-introduce such practices today. After all, if a buff is so powerful that it completely changes the gaming experience of the player on whose character it is cast, is not either the caster of said buff massively overpowered or the recipient equally underpowered?

  • @Bhagpuss

    It is true that people can view it that way. As a matter of fact, I think that is a large part of the issue these days. People see a class that has an amazing buff as overpowered. My class does not have THAT so I am hindered!

    But this did one important thing, it forced group dynamics over solo play. Buff classes were made to empower an entire group, being weaker on their own (As were all classes, generally). Being in a group enhanced xp gain, fun factor, social interaction, survivability, access to higher content (harder camps of mobs/dungeons), etc. Today, joining a group to level up in an MMO is counter-intuitive. Why share xp and get less than being solo? Why split loot that you could have all to yourself? Why do you even need other people around when you can handle 3+ mobs higher level than you?

    The issue isn’t that people cannot group up in games these days, it is that it technically hinders people when it used to be something that empowered them. No one wants to HAVE to find seven other people in order to simply level their character though anymore. I don’t know if it is because they haven’t really thought it through or because they are simply wired that way nowadays. Why solo level to cap in an MMO? Why not just play Skyrim/etc? I don’t have the answers, just a view of the issues.

    On a different tangent, I feel that hard caps on stats significantly bolstered the importance of crafting in MMOs, while negating the simple loot treadmill dynamic used today to maintain subs (or users in F2P games). Being able to only fit so many enhancements on a piece of gear, and having a total cap for each stat, made people need to give and take when gearing their character. The actual art of min/maxing, instead of just add/adding. For instance, WoW adds more levels, and now instead of 1000hp you have 10000hp. This is artificial inflation for no real reason other than people enjoy bigger numbers flashing on the screen, and it works. I personally feel that it is better overall to simply have hard caps. But this is pure digression from the main topic.

    Suffice to say I’m fairly certain (unless someone can bring a logical argument to convince me otherwise) that the degradation of meaning in favor of quick gratification has led to the demise of what we remember as the social golden-age of MMOs. There are many factors that helped, but I feel that is the main culprit.

  • Playing a white mage in FFXI, buffing random people was always something that I loved to do. The most gratifying thing, though, was passing through the dunes and being able to rez someone who died and had their bind set all the way back in Sandoria. Being able to resurrect that person would save that group around 30 minutes of downtime and I really felt like I was making a difference.

    Out of curiosity for anyone who’s played GW2, do you feel like you make a significant difference playing a Guardian as a support character?

  • then and now.

    old games you would help other players. new games you troll other players.

  • Speaking of Everquest: Vanguard just softlaunched f2p last night you should check that out.

  • Ohhh I’ll give that a shot for sure D. I knew they announced it a while back but I never heard the specific date.

    Absolutely loved the Bard in Vanguard.

  • It’s kinda ironic that the attempts of modern game designers to broaden the appeal of mmorpg’s have actually shrunk it.

    Greed ftw.

  • When I first started playing WoW, I recall that low-level players buffed each other quite often. In fact, receiving a buff from a stranger was what made me realize that I in turn could buff others, not just myself. Now my level 19 mage has no buffs to offer, anyway, and I notice how often random dungeon groups set off without any buffs. This change in behaviour seems to me to be a direct results of the developers’ decision to remove buffs (the ability to buff others) from new characters.

    I also really appreciated the ability to fly (on a gryphon taxi service) when it took me two weeks to actually get from Northshire Abbey to Westfall, all the while seeing gryphons pass overhead. What a joy it was, what a special delight! I can’t help but feel that adding a Flight Point to Goldshire diminishes that pleasure for today’s new players.

  • Agree and disagree. Getting buffs from higher level players was much more game-changing in EQ than any other game I’ve played. I did notice it in Rift (particularly the HP buff), but not as much of a difference as in EQ.

    That said, I remember a very different EQ than the one you describe. I played vanilla EQ for a few months after launch and then again for a little while after Kunark and Velious. In that EQ, people regularly charged money for a buff like SoW. And kill stealing was a really serious problem (at least in vanilla). I was playing a paladin and then later a warrior and I remember on several occasions being followed around by a mage who would wait for me to get a monster to low hp and then finish it off with one spell and thus get full credit for the kill while I got nothing.

    I think EQ has a very different community now, and that’s undoubtedly a good thing for that game!

  • EQ, I do remember the good community. As a wizard I killed a dark elf in the Ocean of Tears. When he came back and looted he just asked for a teleport to who knows where. I gave him the port and literally saved him like an hour of travel time.

  • EQ definitely had it’s ups and downs. Yes, players frequently charged for buffing single players and sometimes they’d even travel the main leveling zones offering their services. But by and large the costs were very affordable in my experience. Not to mention that in EQ saving up the coin for your spells, especially the 50+ drop only ones sucked. I got lucky on my shaman and got a drop that let me buy most of the “must have” spells for 65. Those spells though made my shaman invaluable to a group at the time. I could slow mobs down, buff attack speed, massively buff several stats, heal and throw in the occasional damage spell. I also spent a few days grinding out the AA points so I could do massive group buffs. On The Nameless server you could pretty much count on a group of 65’s putting together a mass AOE buff session in the PoK.

    In many ways PoK really did start to modernize EQ, it added nearly instant travel. Luclin had implemented faster travel but it could still take 30 minutes to go from one set of spires to another, and then you still probably had to cross a few more zones. I did like when they introduced some instanced dungeons for variety. I think another good compromise for instancing would be to only instance a zone/dungeon once the existing ones reach some specific load cap.

  • @Keen: I feel the same thing about Asheron’s Call. Everytime I go back I get messaged to hell with heya’s and well wishes from old friends and any time I go to the marketplace to trade I will get very good deals or sometimes outright steals because people in that game would rather see a fellow gamer potentially do better then make a quick buck.

    @Dril & @Rawblin: haters gonna hate. Seriously, I am sorry if you are either so ill informed, blind or hate filled red angered to not see some of the things that GW2 does tha tis reminescent of old school MMO’s, but thats ok I tire of explaining how good the game is and instead tell gamers like you to get lost and not play. I am pretty sure Anet wont miss a few deluded, anti-establisment type hippsters for hating on some thing popular.

  • @Dril & @Rawblin: Also I might that old school MMO’s, not matter how fun they were were small, had zero population growth, did not make hardly any money for studios and this is the business side. On the gamer side, they were hard (sometimes), grindy, required obscene amounts of time to accomplish anything remotely considered progression, as well as were fairly bad in design principles. Those buffs that were so godly made those classes more important then others. Make a mistake allocating points or spells and you were stuck with gimped builds.

    Basically there were jsut as many negatives to old school MMO’s as there were postitives. In fact I would be willing to bet that if any old school MMO was made identical to how it is now but with a gfx and systems upgrade you would still have a niche game at best. Rose tinted classes indeed!

  • @Zederok

    I understand that you enjoy instant-gratification easymode everything. Most of the people playing games these days do.

    I actually enjoy a challenge, something that requires dedication.

    People will always disagree on what is best, it’s just opinion. You like new-age games that I feel are boringly easy and lack lasting impact, I like old games that you feel were hard and poorly designed.

    No reason to jump on an Anet soapbox and try to tell me that they are doing things that are reminiscent of oldschool MMOs. They aren’t. Their entire platform is based on innovation. They have removed the Trinity of Tank/Spank/Heal, travel to anywhere is instant, going backwards does not hurt xp gain, etc etc. None of this is reminiscent of older MMOs. As I’ve said, this is the new philosophy of spoon-feeding everything to the instant-gratification crowd. No one wants to work at anything anymore. And I personally am not convinced WvWvW will succeed in any way with instanced BGs being in the game. It hasn’t worked anywhere else yet. People always just go queue up to play on even teams for a quick match. They don’t want to possibly get zerged, or even worse find no action for a long time… Just two conflicting types of gameplay in the same game.

    Was the only reason to really play MMOs, in my opinion. If you have no real connection to the world or your character you simply don’t care. Certainly proven by the rash of “3 Monther” MMOs we have been seeing release. No one gets caught up in the world, the community, the characters… they just play for a bit and move on. As your parents have probably said to you, you won’t respect something if you don’t have to work for it.

  • It isn’t a matter of easy mode or challenge. The issue most of us face with regards to old school mechanics is that we simply don’t have the TIME we used to have. I’m married now, have a house and a family. My gaming comes in 30 minute chunks for the most part. 1x/week I get 3 hours. The average mmorpg player is getting older and the industry…for the most part…isn’t keeping up.

  • Many times strangers in DAOC would help out a noob like me. One guy made me a full set of spell crafted armor for my Infiltrator. Others would run me through to the white lights in gwyddeneau to help power level me from 45 to 50 when i just couldn’t take it any more. There are some helpful players in todays mmorpgs, but not as many. I think the main issue is the amounts of kids playing these days. I was in a guild of 70 on Gallahad server, and no one was younger than 17. Nowadays with most mmos being on easy mode you have a lot more immature players just looking to pwn noobs and not help anyone out.

  • @Jim

    You have an extremely valid point, there are of course people that do not have the time to spend on an immersive MMORPG.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I am in no way advocating that the MMO Franchise be composed SOLELY of immersive, time-consuming MMORPGs… I’m simply saying that ONLY making the equivalent of “Fast-Food” chains is not the answer. There is absolutely a place for instant-action, drop-em-when-you-need-to-burp-a-baby MMOs. But there is also a place for the time consuming MMO a lot of people crave. And liking one doesn’t mean you have to hate the other, or never play that type.

    I am totally going to play GW2, I just do not have any inkling that it will be the immersion I am truly looking for in a game (MMO).

  • I’d be pretty resentful if, when going to the local supermarket, they refused to serve me unless I was in a group of other people. Similarly with MMOs. What’s needed is not a return to those old days, but new methods that mirror how we socialise in real life: In game societies based on shared interests, such as collecting, exploring, parties where people get to meet and chat, mentoring etc. GW2 has removed some of the barriers (kill stealing etc.) that prevented strangers from doing stuff together, but I don’t think they’ve really identified any new ways of making a shared experience more valuable than a casual grouping.