Contested vs. Uncontested Content

I’m late to the conversion again, but these EverQuest Next Round Table topics are really worth the conversation both here and around the web (do people say web anymore?).  A month or two ago the EQ Next team was talking about contested vs. uncontested content.  No, that doesn’t mean PvP!  Before reading the questions I was hoping they were ready to discuss the idea about content in the world being shared vs. instanced, and apparently they started tackling it already.

EQ Next Contested Content
EQ Next

Here’s some of what the EQ team is willing to divulge publicly:

  • There are no static spawns in EverQuest Next.
  • Camping a room is gone because monsters move (“Emergent AI”)
  • A large part of EQ Next is technically “contested”

Please don’t use phasing.  Please don’t use phasing.  Please don’t use phasing.  While I’m begging, please don’t use instancing (x3)!

I like contested content.  I like going into dungeons and having them be open like any other zone.  It’s way more immersive to see other people battling back monsters in a dungeon alongside me.  Instancing feels detached and has always — ALWAYS — pushed the idea that content is to be ‘beaten’ instead of ‘experienced’.

I enjoy finding a spot in a dungeon, hunkering down, and killing the room or two my group has claimed.  I find it exhilarating to be forced into adapting to trains, dangerous spawns, and the dynamic elements other players bring to a setting.

A great part about the open dungeon idea is the boost to the community feel.  I have formed hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups in dungeons over the years.  You learn to pick up people and bring them in even if you don’t necessarily need that 5th person.  Why?  You want to help others because you’re going to need help — you want to grow your network.  You end up seeing the same people day in and day out.

Original EQ contested raid: Nagafen

Sure, it can suck when another group has the area all camped.  Sharing is never easy.  The idea that other players can impact someone’s enjoyment is taboo in today’s market, but it made games so much more complex.  Simple solutions are adding more dungeons, making them bigger, and finding the right balance.

EQ Next won’t be what I have traditionally liked about EverQuest.  I don’t know how mobs moving around a dungeon will affect the ‘flow’ of gameplay.  I can think of some really neat ways this emergent AI can play out.  I’m thinking something along the lines of Darkness Falls from Dark Age of Camelot.  DF was an open dungeon (contested content) that everyone could enter.  It had static spawns ranging in levels from 10-50 for individuals and groups to camp for experience and loot.  Deep in the underbelly were wings of harder content that spawned, and once cleared they were down for several hours or days.  Players banded together to defeat them for great rewards.  They were essentially boss fights.  If Emergent AI provides a better version of that experience, count me in.

… but the better part of me knows that this could easily mean a dungeon becomes a public quest.

I don’t trust the coined phrases anymore.  MMO developers have been screwing with players way too much by calling things “public quests,” “Dynamic Events,” etc.  Now there’s “Emergent AI.”  SOE is going to have to earn my trust on this one because I won’t give it freely.  I hope they can respect the fact that the smart ones among us are going to question how this is truly any different from random monsters spawning in waves like every other gimmicky new way of presenting content. Emergent AI stands to completely ruin what made many of us love EverQuest, or it could just as easily create something new for us to love.  Changing the formula like that is really dangerous. Good luck SOE — Don’t screw it up!

  • EQ2 had contested/open dungeons and they were great. Lot of social interaction took place and that’s what MMO are all about. The minute you engaged a mob/named, it becomes locked to your group and other people cannot help in anyway. The locking mechanism was in place to preserve the challenge of the encounter. However if the mob is locked then for all intent and purposes you are in an “instance” or “phase”. If you don’t lock the encounter then other people will help and trivialise the encounter (i.e. zerg it). So I guess my point is sometime “instances” are necessary evil to maintain the challenge of the encounter.

    In the early days EQ2 had contested dungeons with some instanced boss in the very depth of those contested dungeons so you had to kill your way with your group to get to the instances. Sometime you had to kill mobs in the contested dungeon to get a “key” before you can zone in and these “keys” are one time use etc. I thought this had right balance between contested/open dungeons with very challenging boss fights.

  • I haven’t been able to get behind shared content in an MMO since the days of Asheron’s Call. The moment I find myself standing in a line in a dungeon with 15 other “heroes” waiting for a critter or McGuffin to spawn is the precise moment when all immersion gets chucked out the window.
    It’s hard to believe I’m the land’s One True Hope when I have to take a number for my chance to do so. Put me in an instance so I can at least pretend my actions have meaning in the world.

  • @Jeff

    I think that is more of a personal outlook issue for MMOs. For me, in an MMO I am “A Hero”, whereas in a singleplayer RPG I am “The Hero”. So if you try to see an MMO with that outlook, hanging out with your party/group/guild/clan whatever in order to slay McGruffin can still fit into the immersion.

  • Emergent AI as described so far would completely negate the kind of gameplay you liked back in EQ, Keen. If you camped a room in a dungeon and kept killing the things that live there, if they were intelligent enough they’d try to bring in forces powerful enough to overwhelm you. If they couldn’t do that successfully, or if they lacked the intelligence or social structure to try, they’d pack up and leave rather than hang around and let you keep killing them. Then something else would discover the new ecological niche and colonise it.

    Of course, you may not even get that far. If it’s true that there are literally no static spawns in EQNext then there would be no possibility of camping anything. There’d be nothing to camp! Of course it may just mean that instead of standing on one spot in one room a Named will patrol an area, but for my money if something walks a defined path it’s tantamount to being a fixed spawn anyway so let’s hope it means more than that.

    But if there are “dungeons” at all, though, there pretty much have to be fixed spawns, don’t there? Things have to live there. If they are animals or monsters they have to have nests or dens or lairs. If they are sentient and socialized they have to have places of employment, offices, barracks, throne rooms. Everything can’t just be milling around at random. The most variation that would make sense would be for there to be a random element to when a given Named was In or Out and everyone knows just how much MMO players like things that are genuinely hard to predict…

    Having played back in the days when all dungeons, all content, was contested by default I wouldn’t be phased by it. By the time EQN releases, though, WoW will be over a decade old. How many potential EQN players will accept contested content as the norm? I don’t think SOE is aiming for the kind of niche nostalgia market Mark Jacobs is targeting with Camelot Unchained, somehow. I’d be very, very surprised to see EQN do much more than pay lip service to genuine contested content as the norm, content where at every turn Player A may lose out to Player B. If it does the culture shock is going to be wondrous to behold!

  • ‘I enjoy finding a spot in a dungeon, hunkering down, and killing the room or two my group has claimed. I find it exhilarating to be forced into adapting to trains, dangerous spawns, and the dynamic elements other players bring to a setting.’

    Thanks for bringing this up, Keen- the modern attitude is to focus on doing that dungeon and grumbling if it doesn’t go off without any interruptions. At least half of the fun of an MMO for me is the fact that anything can happen, and the setting is a world, not a ‘to-do list’. I remember meeting new people to adventure with in DAoC fairly easily- nowadays (yeah, I sound old) players ignore one another as if they were NPCs so as not to spoil their solo play.

    I too am concerned about EQ Next’s mechanics. The Landmark building tools sound great, but the actual MMO mechanics I’m reading about leads me to believe that EQN will end up like GW2- lots of solo players running around not interested much in community.

  • @Rawblin

    I’ve seen many quests in many MMOs which are all variations on: “I need the pineal gland from the Mystic Wombat who lurks in the cave over yonder.” If 15 other people are already all lined up to kill the Mystic Wombat once I get there, I fail to see not only how I’m a “hero” at all, but how I’m even necessary.

    Instanced content hides away at least some of that absurdity, and was a huge step forward IMO.

    I don’t know. Maybe I missed something back in the day during all those hours I spent in spawn-timer-induced conga lines, but I’ve got no idea how anyone could be nostalgic for them.

  • Contested or public dungeons just make the game world so much more fun and lively. You’re always seeing people out and about instead of just AFK’ing in town waiting on a queue to pop.

    Sure there are down-sides, but they can be reduced by actually understanding them and not building stupid tasks that bring them to the forefront. For example: don’t give everyone and their mother a quest to go kill the same damn mob at the same damn time. Open mob tagging should eliminate this.

    The key for me is having both options and many of both options at all times much like EQ2 has. Every zone has a few instanced and public dungeons so players can decide which they prefer to do.

  • The danger I see here is how the MMO community has expanded and evolved. Camping monster spawns and queueing for rares may have worked in a smaller, more community focused game. But will it really work when the kill-stealing, griefing hordes descend on EQ Next? Perhaps SoE will have good systems to help the community deal with these players but they certainly exist.

    The competition on the recent isles in WoW can be intense and has certainly given PVP (even on a PVE server) a boost, but not necessarily out of fair competition. You have players who are expert at accidental flagging other players for instance (timing a run over a mob exactly when you click to loot).

    How will your idea of contested content work with the modern MMO communities?

  • I’m going to say it.

    Reading “most of the world is contested” is a turn off to a game now.

    People forget that in DAoC, you were not likely toget ganked while doing the pve portion of the game. The PVP and PVE worlds were entirely seperate, with more rewards in the contested zones like darkness falls. But you were never at risk of being slaughtered by another player unless you PUT yourself at risk and that’s a key distinction.

    Additionally I never saw the problem with people “zerging” an encounter. Fewer people = more challenge = more rewards (# of loot drops was static and did not scale based on the number you brought). If you can’t handle it with that few, bring more.

  • @TheCrow: I really don’t have a lot to say about Blizzcon. The million other posts out there are covered the news aspect. When I can actually play the games or see something worth forming an opinion about I’ll throw my hat in the ring.

    @Danath: Keep in mind contested has nothing to do with PvP at all. A more apt comparison is instanced vs. uninstanced.