(MMORPG) Racial Inequality

everquest-1-ogreI saw the latest poll from the EQ Next team about large races — meant to be more playful for Thanksgiving — and it got me thinking about large races in MMORPGs and how back in the days of the original EverQuest the races were definitely not created equal.

Ogres were massive creatures!  The world of gnomes, halflings, and humans simply isn’t made to accommodate them.  I can remember seeing these large ogres in EQ not able to enter certain buildings because they could not fit through the door.   They were also so big that they couldn’t wear certain pieces of armor; same goes for the small races.

Iksar were haaaaated by almost(?) everyone.  Just to be an iksar meant you couldn’t go anywhere but your own city.  While the humans could go almost anywhere, if you were a certain race in a certain zone it meant you were constantly looking around for the patrolling guards wanting to slaughter you.

Stats are another way in which races are not equal.  The strength of an ogre is ridiculous compared to a gnome.  In more ways than one, certain races made better warriors than others, and often it made no sense to be anything but a certain race when choosing a class like an enchanter.

Inequality adds replay value, danger, intrigue, and makes one have to think a little.   We should demand more than gimmicky cool-downs when considering which race we want to play, and embrace the idea of one race’s strengths being another’s weaknesses. Inequality makes MMORPG life interesting.

  • It does make it more interesting, I agree, but if the racial traits are too disparate then the min-max people (admittedly me included) tend to chose their race on the basis of their class or even type of playstyle; so don’t be surprised to find 90% of the magic users being elves, and PVP-centric player preferring to play gnomes (in the latter case this would likely still be true even if the body targeting model was equalized if only because a troll can’t hide behind a rock in ambush as well as the wee folk).

    I do like racials, but I have seen them frequently polarize class demographics

  • @Gankatron: What you say is true — if balancing the races is done incorrectly. In EverQuest the ogres had a huge strength bonus over other races, but that didn’t stop people from choosing the other races.

    Playing an ogre was really hard work. You could train in one or two cities completely out of the way — seriously, an hour or more just to get back to your town to train. They were hated by so many other factions that they were absolutely prohibited from going and seeing a lot of the world, and even in the zones they could get into they had to watch their butts.

    Contrast that with playing a human warrior. Go almost anywhere, train almost anywhere, really not worry too much about what’s going to aggro you instead of your whole party, and have decently balanced stats.

    High Elves had the best charisma and made arguably the best enchanter before players were able to really (REALLY) gear up. That hasn’t stopped me from always picking a Gnome. They look cooler, and I like being short.

    Stat caps are important to consider. In EQ, most race/class combos (maybe all?) could achieve optimal stats. The great part is that they didn’t do it by all wearing the same gear. An ogre may cap str quickly, then find himself wearing mostly agility gear. A halfling warrior is probably going to have to wear every bit of strength gear he can find. Both might have 200 str in the end.

    I don’t even want to think about PvP. I think that opens things up to the WoW balancing strategy if not done correctly. Balancing classes based on 10×10 frag boxes is a joke, but that’s all devs seem to think of these days when they think about balancing classes.

  • I like to have a lot of unique racial flavour, but I don’t like big discrepancies. Racial aesthetic is pretty important to me and If I feel like I’m being forced to play a race I dislike in order to play the class I like, chances are I just won’t bother with your game.

  • It made sense to see an ogre and know he will innately be a much better warrior than a gnome.

    The alternate super video gamey model where different races are just skins really sucks in my opinion. The idea that a gnome and a tauren have the same starting ability to take and deal damage kills immersion and reminds you you’re playing a vidya game. I use WoW as an example but obviously it’s true of all modern mmos, which stopped pretending to be more than video games long ago.

  • I’ve always really liked to see big differences between the various playable creatures in a game world. It adds enormously to your sense of identity, serves as a significant factor in differentiating experiences between characters, and usually just makes more intuitive sense, which can lead to greater “immersion.”

    I’ve also NEVER felt like I was forced to be a specific race in order to play the class I wanted. I believe others do feel that pressure. It’s actually an argument that I feel pretty sympathetic towards, even though I don’t identify with the psychology that makes it an issue in the first place. I just agree that it sucks if you genuinely feel that way. I’m glad I don’t.

    I’ve tried comparing it with that infuriating argument in favor of fast travel that states that if I want to travel everywhere on foot to experience the scope and breadth of the world than nothing is stopping me but myself. Technically, there’s truth in that. It never feels that way to me. That’s an imperfect comparison, but I can imagine it being a similar frustration.

    Still, it doesn’t change my preference. People determined that ogres made the “best” warriors almost as soon as EQ launched. For that reason, I’m sure, there were always many ogre warriors. warriors of other races were far from uncommon, however. As you pointed out, there were more factors in play than stats – factors that different people valued to differing degrees, and made their choice accordingly. I think that’s a pretty good system. You’ve just got to own your priorities.

  • You’re missing two of the most prominent racial inequalities in EQ1.

    First, every race had different XP penalties, some of which were truly substantial. Ogres were one of those; as I recall ogres, trolls, and iksar had a whopping 20% experience penalty. You couldn’t tell what your XP penalty was, so players who picked one of the slower just basically lived with it until that information was exposed, I believe once we cracked the communication protocol and sniffed the packets in ShowEQ. This was a huuuuuuuuuge deal back in the day.

    And second, Ogres had one advantage which made them the best tanks in the game by a large margin. It wasn’t their size, or their “strength”, or whatever. Ogres were the only race that wasn’t stunnable from the front. This made them unparalleled tanks.

  • @Rodalpho

    The racial xp modifiers were listed in the EQ strategy guide that came out before the game. It’s pretty famous for listing human as the race with the xp bonus. That bonus mistakenly went to halflings instead and was never corrected – Bristlebane’s work, certainly.

  • @Jenks:

    I believe you’re wrong about the strategy guide, but I can’t find any evidence either way after a couple minutes of searching. I remember it as being a huge surprise, and people playing ogres/trolls/iksar were deeply pissed off about it, as leveling in EQ was a painful grind with nothing really comparable today outside of asian MMOs. That 20% experience penalty was a huuuuge bummer.

    The human/halfling mixup was a commonly repeated legend but I never saw any evidence on that one either. Nobody from SOE posted anything about it, not that I saw anyway. It’s been many years.

    All that said, while I was one of the primary “theorycrafters” of the time (before the word was coined with WoW), primarily noted as the person who proved stats didn’t actually do anything in EQ in the shaman forums, it’s been a very, very long time since I played the game. I quit a couple months into Kunark and haven’t played since. So my memory could well be wrong.

  • I agree Keen, I think having significant racial differences really adds to immersion and flavor. People cite the disadvantages as being too harsh, but there always significant numbers of folks who rolled those races. I’m not a big fan of XP penalties and I think it is important for people to know what they are getting themselves into when they roll an evil race for example, but I do not approve of the constant effort to bring all races/classes into “balance.” It too often ends up as “sameness.”

    I also think it was easier to do stuff like this stuff back in the day when threat and DPS meters were not the measuring stick by which a player’s contribution was evaluated. All anyone really cared about back then was whether or not you knew your class, could follow directions and that the boss/dungeon/content was overcome.

  • @Balthazar: You would think so, but the current environment of openness is a direct consequence of SOE’s closed book being harmful to the game and their players. Like I said earlier, I proved that stats didn’t do ANYTHING in Everquest. The game had tons of buffs and debuffs to stats, and they did F* all.

    Some players were unfairly penalized with 20% experience penalties in a game that could easily take 40 days /played to reach maximum level, and you couldn’t solo for most of it.

    Balance wasn’t even an afterthought until players sat down the devs and MADE them understand that the game was unbalanced. We had to prove it. They didn’t want to listen. They were, honestly, bastards. Their community rep openly despised and belittled players.

    There is a REASON why WoW and all modern MMOs expose this information. It keeps the devs honest. We know what happens if you close it off, and it’s worse.

  • @Rodalpho

    Actually 20% isn’t too bad. I think pallies and shadowknights had 40% XP penalties alone. THAT was brutal. However, the racial penalties also combined with class penalties in some way, although I don’t think they were just added together. So, for example, if you were a troll Shadowknight I think your total XP penalty exceeded 60%.

  • “in a game that could easily take 40 days /played to reach maximum level”

    I am not being critical, but this statement brings up a general question, that is, should 40 days to maximum level considered a long time? I may be in the minority here, but while that might seem long from a relative MMO POV, it feels short in an absolute sense to me.

    This 1-3 month MMO shelf-life phenomenon may have something to do with a player’s ability to cap in little over a month, no?

  • @Gankatron

    No. That has to do with everything being endgame content slog gear grinds. People can only do the same thing so many times.

    The idea with racial penalties is anyone can do anything… but they just have to do it differently.

    I was never in EQ, but I can comment on FFXI. Tarus had low vit and low strength… but they could cast magic more frequently for threat and heal themselves more often, which helped offset their lower physical stats. Mithra had high dex and agility, and thus could block, evade and parry more often, but did not have the raw agro generation of others due to low charisma. Galka had huge HP and Vit, but their low mana pools made one of the paladins threat tools, magic, much less effective. All could tank, Galka had the best mitigation and their MP pool weakness could be fairly easily countered, but ALL races could tank, and all races DID tank.

  • I didn’t start playing EQ until Velious was out at which time stats did matter, just not very much. Stamina, Wisdom and Intelligence were the only attribute stats that were significant and that varied by class obviously. I remember Dexterity being a particularly worthless stat. I do however remember that my endgame, at the time, shaman buffs did make a discernible difference but at that point I was adding 20% to 80% to a melee classes stats.

  • Experience penalties! Ugh, I knew I was forgetting something major. The penalties help off-set some of the bonuses gained from being a hybrid class, but they also applied to several races with innate strengths. Some races gained bonuses to off-set penalties. I love and hate them which means it’s probably a fantastic mechanic.

    @Rodalpho/Jenks: My understanding of it all was that Halflings got the bonus Humans were supposed to get, so a Halfling Warrior was 5% for being halfling/10% for being a warrior (+15% overall bonus).

  • Yeah, people thought that because the strategy guide said halflings had an XP penalty, which did not fit how it worked in game, where they were the only race with a bonus.

    Warriors and rogues also got a class XP bonus, yes. From my research earlier it sounds like all 3 bonuses still exist in EQ1 to this day. The XP penalties were kinda removed– they were implemented as XP bonuses on mob kills, but the base penalties still exist, so if you racechange from a halfling to a troll you’ll lose a level or two.

  • @Gankatron

    That 40 days /played figure is misleading in today’s industry. Back then it meant 40*(24 HOURS). If you told someone today it took you 40 days to get max level, they would assume you spent like 1-3 hrs a day grinding for that month.

    Which is another interesting difference between today’s bitesize MMOs and yesteryear’s MMOs. Today there isn’t even enough content to warrant actually being online in an MMO for 1000 hours. (960 is 40 days). Back in the day that was about average for MMO players though. Some even per CHARACTER. Sad when you think about it this way… where has all the content gone?

  • Umm, there wasn’t enough content back then either. You thought EQ1 had 960 hours of unique content?!

    It had far, far, far less content than today’s MMOs, and you repeated it over and over and over (and over and over and over…). EQ1 was grindy to an extreme that would be completely unacceptable today in a western MMO. Asians accept grind for some reason.

    Let me give you an example. I remember being level 54, and trying to grind to 55. I sat in a room with three spawns, each with a 6 minute spawn timer. I was proud of that spot, because nobody else knew about it. I staggered the spawns perfectly so I had a 2 minute gap then killed those three spawns over and over for 20+ hours straight– I was afraid to leave, because someone might take my secret spot. I didn’t make it to level 55. That’s when I quit.

    Not only did EQ have far less content than a modern MMO, that content was much lower quality and presented poorly. Even when grouped, you didn’t run through a dungeon, killing all the monsters and a boss at the end. You sat in a single room and camped it, killing the mobs in that area over and over (and over and over…). You would literally sit in a single room all night.

    And that’s if you were lucky! Dungeons weren’t instanced, so you had to get in the group first. Many groups were heavily contested, and even groups with spawns that didn’t drop anything particularly useful usually had waitlists just to get experience.

    Waitlists just for experience? That’s right, because most classes couldn’t solo. On occasion I would sit at the zone-in of a dungeon advertising to get in a group for hours, over and over (and over and over…) and end up having done absolutely nothing for the entire night.

    EQ was bad, kids.

  • @Rodolpho: I completely disagree with your statement that EQ was bad. Sure, it may not have had 900+ hours of content, but 900+ hours of time played was easily obtained because the content it did have take a long time.

    The negative connotations you place on a lot of the game were positives for me and many others. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s just not for everyone.

  • EQ1 wasn’t just “bad”, an admittedly lazy word choice on my part. Every aspect of its design was negative when compared to modern MMOs save one– the forced dependency between players fostered a strong server community. That’s it.

    Of course you may have enjoyed all the stuff I hated, that’s subjective. Some people are masochists. Hey, I don’t judge. Diff’rent strokes.

  • @Rodalpho

    No, it didn’t say halflings got a penalty, it said they were base along with most of the races. Humans were intended to get the xp bonus, while Barbarians, Trolls, and Ogres received penalties. As for Iksar being pissed, that’s definitely not the case. First of all they didn’t exist yet. Secondly leading up to Kunark, everyone was fully aware that Iksar had the same penalty as Trolls (greater than Ogres).

    I own the guide, buried away somewhere. It was the main reason I rolled a human at release, which I sold for just under 3 grand when Kunark came out so I could roll an Iksar.

  • I have the guide somewhere too, at my parents’ house. When I looked it up earlier today, someone said the guide erroneously said halflings got a penalty. This is all ancient history, of course.

    Funny stuff– I sold my account for a couple grand too. Had a cloak of flames!

  • “Some people are masochists. Hey, I don’t judge. ”

    Wait a minute, I am pretty sure you did judge! 😛

  • @Rodalpho: I could easily say some people like that feeling of reward after earning something, and some people just like everything handed to them. I think both aren’t entirely accurate for this particular scenario. The fact of the matter is that new(er) MMOs are more shallow. They’re meant to be a jump-in-jump-out experience. EQ was designed to engulf your soul for 1000 hours. Neither way is the ‘right’ way to design a MMO, but I prefer the games designed to last longer, require effort to progress, and provide more than just max-level gear grinding.

  • @Rodalpho

    Haha, the best part is how you’ve been wrong about everything (Iksar were mad about the xp penalty, seriously?) and then employ master suppression techniques in such a ridiculously sloppy way. What a clown. Also, why are you mentioning CoF in a weird mocking way, as if it was unobtainable? Were you not killing Nagafen?

  • You imply that newer MMOs are more “shallow” because they require less of a time investment. There is no “depth” involved in grinds, timesinks, waiting for respawns, long travel times, etc. Whether a game is shallow or has depth has nothing to do with the length of time required.

    For example, chess has far, far more depth than just about any video games and yet is much shorter.

    Even effort isn’t really directly related to time invested. Grinding mobs for hours upon hours while you watch a movie requires far less effort than a 15 minute boss fight that demands high player skill.

  • @Jenks: I’m not going to get into a fight about a game I quit 10 years ago with some anonymous doofus on a random blog. Thanks for turning a fond reminiscence into something negative. Have a pleasant day.

  • @Fidjit: Not just the time investment, I was referring to the nature of modern themeparks being ‘get-in-get-out.’ They are literally designed with less depth because they want to appeal to a wider audience who isn’t willing to do things that are more difficult.

    I agree that time investment alone doesn’t make a game have more depth. Requiring groups, having mechanics like crowd control or die, exp penalties, huge worlds, difficult encounters, etc., do add depth. Those things tend to add more time. Time and depth in MMOs typically have a fairly positive correlation.

    @Rodalpho: Psh, we’re not some random blog. You’re on Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog. Recognize!

  • “Inequality makes MMORPG life interesting.”

    This is true on many levels- yet MMO devs continue to make everything equally bland in MMOs.

    Examples include making once-diverse unique classes into a vague blob of similar DPS choices, and WoW giving Paladins and Shamans to both factions. Everything being equal is boring.

  • I love racial differences, as well as faction and class, all three choices should massively effect your character.

    These are the things that make older generation mmo’s better IMO, add these to a modern MMO that has more variety/less grind/camping and id be happy

  • I miss my female troll too, why are dev’s so scared to make ugly female characters these days?

  • Because the same people dumbing down the mechanics think that only men play MMOs, and only want the females to be unimaginative and attractive. These are clearly smart people.

  • Ummm… you know, I rarely hear other women clamor for ugly female characters. Uglification customization options sure, scars and such, but PURELY ugly characters just to be ugly? Not so much.

    It’s really more how the clothes look on female characters than male ones, with women tending towards much more stripperific in the same gear. Women protaganists wear less/tighter clothes than men generally, and their general approach is more sexualized. Kratos may wear almost nothing, but hes never portrayed making sexy poses or showing off the beefcake ala Bayonetta.

    As a side note, I don’t get all the love for EQ, I barely got past the start because it felt like such a slog, and at the time the only game I had played aside from it were The Realm and DAoC, hardly examples of modern game design.