Project 1999 Classic EverQuest: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

For the past 6 months I have had the unique privilege to go back in time and experience the magic of the original EverQuest. This is thanks to Project 1999 who are a group of dedicated EQ enthusiasts who in 2009 set up servers that emulate the original Norrath as we knew it in classic EverQuest. Currently the P1999 version of Norrath includes the original EverQuest and the first two expansions: Ruins of Kunark, and Scars of Velious.

Being able to transport yourself back to the original unsullied EverQuest offers one a rare glimpse into the gold standard of how a MMORPG should be designed and produced. Every MMO that has come after owes everything to the majesty and the genius of EQ. Without EQ there would be no World of Warcraft and its legion of imitators.

Sadly, the graphically inferior, convenience laden, anti-social, single-player friendly EverQuest of today run by Daybreak Games bears little resemblance to classic EQ circa 1999-2001. With the release of the third EQ expansion Shadows of Luclin, SOE began the process of systematically eradicating the magic of the EverQuest franchise by introducing misguided features that offered players more convenience. Additionally SOE replaced the stylized fantasy player avatars with horrifically bad artwork which further eroded the charm of the original EQ.

The road to ruin for EQ did not end there. Subsequent expansions such as The Planes of Power introduced portals in the Plane of Knowledge that shrank the size of the world and eroded class interdependency which had the unintended consequences of making the two classes that offered teleportation almost useless.

The EverQuest of today is a mere shadow of it’s former glorious self. Thankfully there is a way we can go back to Kansas and experience the awe, the magic and the wonder of Norrath once again.

To this day, the only way to experience EQ with 99% fidelity and authenticity is to log on to Project 1999 and sample the fantastic world of Norrath they way it was meant to be. Over the last few years, the free to play Project 1999 has thousands of players and has a vibrant, passionate community of players that is unequalled today in the current MMO universe.

What a player will experience in P1999 is a combination of classic EverQuest, how the P1999 staff has managed to recreate EverQuest and how the players interact with each other. After playing on the P1999 blue server for about 6 months, what follows is my review of the entire experience.

The Good

Classic EverQuest

Despite its flaws, the original EQ is as perfect as a MMORPG has ever been and P1999 has managed to bring it all back in all its classic and hardcore glory.

With P1999 you get to see that EQ had all of the elements which make for an outstanding MMO:

  • Challenge
  • Consequences
  • Class interdependence
  • Experience based Advancement

There is very little for me to say about EverQuest that I have not already said in previous articles over the years. So instead let’s look at the P1999 version of EQ.

The Joy of Social Interaction

One of the biggest accomplishments of the original EverQuest was that it popularized the idea of interactive and cooperative entertainment.  Previous to EQ, RPG video games were largely single-player affairs or they were text based MUDS with no graphics. SOE/Verant changed everything and brought us a 3D fantasy world and managed to synthesize a winning formula that drew people in and required player cooperation that produced deep social interaction. For a few brief years EverQuest blazed a trail of innovation and pushed the genre forward. It did not last.

Since the release of World of Warcraft, the MMORPG genre has slouched back to the starkness and emptiness of the single player video game. As the storytellers took over the helm, the importance of social interaction in virtual worlds has been marginalized and forgotten. Blizzard Entertainment forgot that the most fundamental foundation of MMORPGs is that they are all about people. People are everywhere in P1999 as they were in the original EverQuest.

P1999 is a breath of fresh emancipated air where players are all together instead of being prisoners in the loneliness of instanced dungeons. If you want to experience a thriving and living fantasy virtual world where you can actually talk to other players, group with them, make friends for life then P1999 is your MMORPG.

The Players

P1999 has attracted and perhaps produced the highest caliber of players that I have ever seen in any MMO. The world of Norrath is so severe and unforgiving that every player must master his class in order to survive and progress.

Not only is mastering the intricacies of every class important, the player must also effectively master their role in a group. Social skills are also a must as players with good social skills are invited back and those who are rude and/or selfish loot whores are rarely invited back into groups. Naturally, P1999 has its share of bad apples but for the most part the player community is light years better than the community you will find in popular MMORPGs such as Blizzard’s World of Warcraft.

Great MMOs produce great players. The converse is also true, poor MMOs produce poor players.

The Community

Most of the people that I have met in P1999 have been friendly, kind and thoughtful. This is reminiscent of the kind of community that I remembered back in 1999-2004. So not only do good MMORPGs produce good players, they seem to attract good people too. Players help other players on P1999 and often newbies players are given assistance by experienced players such as items, money, buffs, assistance and advice.

No matter where you go there is the possibility of meeting someone interesting who may end up being a friend for life. The low level player you buff on your way to a dungeon may in fact have a high level main who recognizes your kindness and helps you in the future. The high level of social interaction in P1999’s Norrath is a classic example of the genius of the human trait of reciprocity.

East Commons Tunnel

Long before the convenience driven “features” like The Bazaar in EQ and the Auction House in World of Warcraft ruined the dynamics of player to player buying and selling, the East Commons tunnel in the original EQ was the one zone where everyone would come to sell and buy with each other.  Somewhat centrally situated in Norrath, it was originally designed as a tunnel to connect the Commonlands with the desert of Ro, it slowly evolved into a player auction zone. The meta game of buying and selling in EQ, remains to this day one of the highlights of emergent social interaction for any MMORPG.

To be in East Commons just to see the items for sale is one of the most treasured moments I have experienced in P1999 so far. To see chat come alive once again with buyers and sellers without the banality and immaturity of Trade Chat in WoW highlights the vast difference between the MMORPGs of today and the ones of yesterday.

The Staff

The virtual homage to Norrath would not be possible without the management and staff. The unpaid staff of P1999 need to be commended for all of the hard work they have expended over the years to bringing the classic EverQuest experience back to the public. Behind the high profile e-celebrity staff members that have Twitch.tv streams and post on the forums, there are the unsung heroes of P1999 such as coders and others that are volunteering their precious free time to in keeping P1999 up to date and running. We really can’t thank them enough for their service to the community.

The Project 1999 Wiki

Every day I find myself researching something on the P1999 Wiki website. No drama here, no toxicity, no CSRs, no fanboys. What you get here is pure 100% useful info that is essential to the returning EQ player who wants to learn more Norrath. The P1999 Wiki is an indispensable part of the P1999 experience and I highly recommend it!

Patches

One interesting part of the P1999 experience is that you can see how EverQuest evolved via patches to fix problems and add new content. P1999 emulates all of the patches in a chronological order just as they were released by SOE/Verant. Recently, they introduced a patch that removed all of the hybrid class experience penalties. This has caused a welcome influx of hybrid classes such as paladins, shadow knights and rangers who are needed as tanks.

The Bad

In totality 90% of my experiences with Project 1999 have been very positive. The remaining 10% have been somewhat neutral to bad. EverQuest certainly had flaws which are still evident in P1999 today. I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention them:

Classic EverQuest

Classic EverQuest was not without its faults, problems and annoyances. A few come to mind. There are the inexplicable problems such as being aggroed by monsters while you are sitting inside an inn or a hut, or being stripped of all your buffs when you zone at low health come to mind. Arbitrarily short resurrection times and having to re-memorize all of your spells after the ignominy of dying is a bit onerous as well.

Desolate and Unfinished Zones

Quite often as I travel vast environs of Norrath I see areas that have few NPCs which makes them feel unfinished and barren. West Karana is the epitome of this with a lot of areas in the zone that are empty with few points of interest.  Every zone should have some kind of dungeon that acts as a magnet and social hub for players. Without a dungeon to attract adventurers, zones can feel like “fly over country” — empty and pointless.

Some of the newbie starting zones seem to have far fewer mobs in them then was the case of the original which makes for an uneven starting experience for some races compared to others.

Another problem is that much of Norrath is difficult to access with a paucity of transportation destination wizard spires and druid rings. It’s inexplicable how SOE/Verant forgot to include druid rings for the west coast of Antonica in locations such as Surefall Glade to serve the area around the city of Qeynos.

The Discrepancy Between Fatigue and Mana

During combat, there’s a real bias that favors melee classes over casting class. Melee classes can melee forever without any kind of fatigue penalty while casting class are limited to: 1) their mana pool and 2) their mana regen rate.

One thing that really annoys me is the glacial and excruciating pace of mana regen. Without an enchanter buff like Breeze or Clarity or a bard song that restores mana, it’s difficult to play a casting class properly and the result is that you spend 90% of your time as a caster sitting doing nothing and 5% of your time buffing and casting during combat. Without mana, even melee classes are affected as they don’t get the haste buffs, heals, direct damage output and other support abilities from casters. A group without a support class is seriously gimped and disadvantaged in EverQuest.

Health regeneration is equally glacial and draconian.

Obviously MMOs like WoW took things to the extreme and have created gameplay so frenetic and fast paced that there is almost no downtime whatsoever with the main casualty being a complete lack of time for socialization. However, EQ really takes things to the extreme and who gets penalized the most are not the high level players who have no problems getting mana buffs, it’s the lower level players who suffer the most. For example: the meditate skill is one skill that increases your mana regeneration and it is offered as a skill for the following: level 4 for casters, 8 for healers and 12 for melee hybrids.

Bards

I firmly believe in the notion of emergent gameplay where players are allowed to develop independent and “non-intended” strategies in order to survive and thrive. However, there are very rare cases that players can be playing in a manner that negatively impacts the enjoyment of other players. Once such class is the bard class. The technique that many bards use to level is called “swarm kiting”. This is when a bard runs faster than the mobs and use a mana free damage song on a multitude of mobs chasing her. Using this system bards can kill scores of mobs at the same time which gives them a lot of loot and experience.

Bards who swarm kite are the scourge of P1999 and universally despised by the players. Hatred of the bard class is so intense that many players simply refuse to group with them or even port them. You can see them swarm kiting in almost every zone. They are monopolizing mobs which is against both the official EverQuest and P1999 terms of use.

I spoke to a bard about this, yes he considers himself a “real” bard unlike the fake bards who swarm kite — his words, not mine. The bard class was designed to be a group friendly support class, not a solo class that can swarm kite every mob in any zone. SOE should have clamped down on this years ago and curtailed this disruptive and overpowered ability but afraid of the nerd rage from existing bards, they failed to do so.

Power Leveled Twinks

Eventually you’ll see a sad sight: the power leveling of twinks. Power leveling is fine when others are not impacted, but when you start monopolizing spawns and selfishly disrupt the game play of others it’s wrong and a blight upon the lands of Norrath.

Scarce Loot, Poor Itemization and Skewed Risk vs. Reward

There really is a scarcity of loot in EverQuest for lower levels. I must have spent weeks with my characters in the Blackburrow dungeon — one of the finest dungeons SOE/Verant ever produced — and all I saw was one Studded Leather Collar. If you were really lucky you’d get an Onyx Earring that has agility. Really?!?

The tragic reality of loot dissemination in EverQuest classic is that most players end up farming platinum and then buying their loot in the EC tunnel from other players who are either farmers or who no longer need it. The main reason for this is because in most cases useful loot only drops from named mobs who are farmed 24/7.

Is it too much to ask that players should be able to acquire gear from level appropriate content?

Even SOE/Verant realized they screwed up with this and within a few months of the release of EQ they created an entire quest zone called the Temple of Solusek Ro for the purpose of giving every class (except druids and a few others) a way to quest for weapons and armor free from the arduous task of camping and farming named mobs. The problem is that this solution involved camping non-named mobs which also have insanely low drop rates.

It is a real shame that many of the dungeons in EQ go unused because of the skewed risk versus reward ratio. Dungeons such as Runnyeye and Bellfan are practically empty due to poor design that offers bad rewards (the lack of good loot) and the high risk of dying.

Poor Dungeon Design: Keys, Keys and More Keys

For some reason, the designers of EverQuest were obsessed with the idea of keys. Even low level dungeons like Befallen and Najena require the user to obtain keys from mobs inside which unlock doors that guard even more advanced levels. Even worse is in dungeons like Befallen you must have the key on your cursor to open doors if you are fleeing to the zone line. Both of these requirements create unnecessary obstacles for players and in effect force players to hunt in areas with less risk leaving these dungeons practically empty.

Not only do you need keys within many dungeons in EQ, in higher level dungeons often you need a key to just to enter. Dungeons like Charisis, Old Sebilis and Veeshan’s Peak require complex key quests just to enter. This philosophy was continued in almost every other expansion that came after Velious.

Requiring players to obtain keys is a Draconian and artificial time sink that unnecessarily punishes players, locks them out of content and turns dungeons into death traps. While there is value to making some loot exclusive which confers a sense of earned status to players and keeps them striving for more, the designers of EQ got a little carried away with this. I am not completely opposed to keys. I think they may be useful to open up areas for temporary optional content where players are seeking additional challenges.

Dungeons in EQ are hard enough without requiring players to obtain keys.

Cramped Dungeons

Many of the dungeons in EQ were virtual deathtraps filled with cramped, claustrophobic, small hallways and lots of aggressive mobs which made trains and player death a regular occurrence. Contrast this with the expansive nature of the outdoor, non-dungeons and you can see why that many players started to forsake dungeons and instead gravitated to the outdoor areas. To remedy this SOE/Verant created something called a zone experience modifier (ZEM). They used this incentive to give players more experience for adventuring in certain dungeons that they deemed to have more of a risk.

To this day in P1999, evidence of SOE/Verant’s poor dungeon is present as dungeons like Cazic Thule, Befallen and Runnyeye are consistently empty. The undeniable fact of dungeon quality is that players vote with their feet.

Scarcity of Loot

After playing modern MMORPGs where loot seems to drop from the heavens like candy, the lack of loot available to players in the original EverQuest seems heartless and mean-spirited. While I can definitely see the advantage of leveraging scarcity as a design concept, the lack of meaningful loot upgrades for players beyond rusty swords and patchwork armor is a disgrace. I have multiple characters in their 20’s and I can think of 5 useable items of loot that have dropped between them over a course of hundreds of hours of play.

The only way to realistically gear yourself up is to make platinum and then buy your gear from professional farmers via the /auction channel in EC tunnel.

Imagine what P1999 would be like if player could only equip the gear we have actually fought for and looted? Is this were the case, most of my characters would be using bronze and maybe fine steel weapons , ringmail, and patchwork/cloth at best. It would be a completely different MMORPG experience than it is now on P1999 blue server that is been around for 6 years and has a glut of loot.

Artificial scarcity of gear was a big problem in the original EQ and a major design flaw. At least the EQ devs tried to mitigate this with more random drops in subsequent expansions.

I always thought SOE/Verant should have had instituted one lore item per character rule (not as harsh as the “trivial loot code” introduced on the role-playing servers) to prevent farming from becoming an industry with poopsocking players.

Campers and Farmers

One of the sad realities of P1999 is that almost every named mob that drops rare gear is pretty much perma camped on this server. From dungeon mobs to outdoor random mobs this is the case.

It seems that every zone in P1999 has an anonymous high level player camping and farming a rare item that was intended for lower to mid-level players. Whether it’s Hadden or Pyzin in the low level Qeynos Hills who both drop items that sell for thousands of platinum it’s maddening to see these players monopolizing and farming content that was made for lower level players.

The artificial scarcity of loot has created a high level of deconstruction and demystification with regard to mob spawn times has subsequently taken all of the mystery out of EverQuest and turned Norrath into FarmQuest and CampQuest.

Kunark

Released in April of 2000, the Ruins of Kunark was the first EQ expansion. It feels rushed and unfinished. I noticed a lack of assets throughout the expansion — especially a lack of variety in the buildings and structures. The sarnak fort in the Lake of Ill Omen seems bleak and bereft of the kind of props and flavor that one would expect was evidence in the original EQ.

Much of the artwork  lacks cohesion and harmony with existing EQ artwork. Some of the NPC models are just plain ugly and look awkward. For example: there’s the gangly and biologically implausible look of the skinny Sarnak; then there’s the ridiculous looking goblins of Kunark who look nothing like their cousins in Antonica and Faydwer.

Another problem with Kunark is that vendors are scarce to non-existent putting undue hardships on players who want to sell and buy food and drink.

I never really like Kunark mainly because it was so inaccessible and lacked much of the high fantasy charm of the original EverQuest. Getting to Kunark is undeniably problematic. There are a confusing system of shuttles and boats that one must figure out to get to the continent of Kunark. Some of the boats are fraught with technical issues and players are often left swimming in vast ocean of The Timorous Deep zone and succumb to a watery death with hours of corpse retrieval to look forward to.

Another glaring oversight is that there is one druid ring and one wizard spire in the entire expansion. This forces low to medium level players to have to run from the Dreadlands to their zone which again imposes undue and unnecessary hardships on players. Both The Overthere and Firiona Vie zones should have had wizard and druid spires.

The Grind and Lack of a Dynamic World

Once you hit level 30 EverQuest starts to feel grindy. Even though by this time you are hooked, doing the same content for levels and days quickly becomes monotonous. This is for two reasons: 1) there is no dynamic content that would make zones fresh 2) each dungeon has such a wide spectrum of mob levels that players have no choice but coalesce in the same camp spots according to their level.

With the exception of dynamic events that started to surface in the Velious expansion with the Coldain Ring War, there is no dynamic content whatsoever in the original EverQuest. Initially each zone seems mysterious and full of life, eventually you get to learn the spawn times and patrol routes of the various NPCs and it all becomes a bit tired and predictable.

The only dynamic thing that happened was when GMs and Guides would run events which were generally seen as welcome diversions by the players.

So far after months of playing all I have seen is one dynamic event which was run on Halloween. It wasn’t even anything to do with Halloween or the undead and was essentially a treasure hunt with crappy rewards that was universally panned by the players who made the effort to attend.

The lack of dynamic content is one of the major flaws in EQ and to this day it has not been fully realized and leveraged in the MMORPG genre as a whole.

Good Versus Evil Inequities

Throughout Norrath there is a distinct disadvantage to playing an “evil” or dubious race, class or worshipping an “evil” deity. Evil races are killed on sight almost everywhere and have trouble finding vendors, trainers and bankers. The good outpost in Kunark has class trainers but the evil outpost in The Overthere has none. Evil races are killed constantly by NPCs like Rinna Lightshadow — a level 60 NPC in East Commons that is impossible to kill and exists for no other reason than to kill hapless evil players who make the mistake of walking past her hut.

While I agree that evil races and classes should not be able to walk up and down the streets of cities like Qeynos and Felwithe unharmed, they should at least enjoy some kind of advantage to compensate for the hardships involved in choosing evil.

Undercon Mobs

One of the things I hated about EQ is the nefarious and shameful practice of making mobs who appear to be a particular level but have the stats of much higher level mobs. Dorn B’Dynn is one such mob. One of the smugglers in Highpass Hold is another. The world of Norrath is full of these nasty bastards courtesy of mean-spirited and sadistic developers who included these mobs for no other purpose but to kill unsuspecting players.

This kind of practice is dishonest and it’s a violation of trust. If an NPC is considered by a player then it should behave according to the consider data which the player sees. All I can say is that I hope some of these game designers are no longer in the video game industry.

Spell Problems

EverQuest had one of the most advanced and thoughtful spell systems of any RPG I have ever seen. However, this system was rife with problems during the time between EverQuest and Scars of Velious:

  • DOT Stacking – DOTs cast from the same class in your groups did not stack which guaranteed that groups would never have more than one the same caster class in a group (Note: this was eventually fixed in a subsequent patch.)
  • Spell Resists – Thanks to EQ designer Lawrence Poe (yes I still remember this guy’s name after all these years) spell resists stats on mobs in Ruins of Kunark were ridiculously high — making some classes like necromancers completely unable to land spells which rendered them useless and turned them into mana feeding machines.
  • Spell Research System – This system was patently unfair because by the time researching the spell is trivial you have most likely purchased a better spell from a vendor.

Obtaining a Copy of EverQuest Titanium Edition

In order to play P1999 you need to obtain a copy of EQ Titanium Edition client. This is very hard to so and sadly the only way many people can do this is to obtain it via some form of peer to peer service.   Or if you are lucky you can purchase it via any online auction sites such as eBay.

Many of us over the years have paid SOE hundreds of dollars for expansions. Daybreak Games should start selling the Titanium version so they can at least make some profit for those that want to play P1999 legally.

The Ugly

“Customer” Service

Even though P1999 is a free to play service, the concept of customer service in a MMORPG is a serious issues and is absolutely essential for a MMO server to operate properly. Technically P1999 players are not “customers” per se, but players rightly have an expectation that petitions will be processed, adjudicated and handled with a sense of urgency and professionalism.

Most volunteers Guides on P1999 last between 18 and 24 months before they become overwhelmed, frustrated and burnout and leave entirely. Recently a beloved Guide named Moregan (also known by his player name of Greengrocer — a flamboyant, quirky, fun-loving role-player who sold food in the EC tunnel) was removed from P1999 CSR staff. His P1999 forum accounts were banned and a thread explaining the removal of Guide Moregan was promptly locked and other threads in appreciation of his service were deleted.

In a Reddit thread Guide Moregan explained why he left and gives the reader plenty of insight as to the level of mismanagement and apathy in the current CSR system on P1999. As a Guide myself on the original EQ, I am well acquainted with how the original Guide Program was structured and how it was administered by SOE/Verant. Along with one dedicated GM Admin assigned to each server, each EQ server had 2-3 senior Guides, with approximately 15-20 Guides and often about 10 Apprentice Guides. There was also a special team of Guides called the SWAT Team that would rove from server to server processing high petition queues. To my knowledge (realize that there is no public info available on the number of GM, and Guides and who they are) the number of active Guides previously to Moregan’s departure was about 3 with 2 Senior Guides. That number of CSR staff is abysmally low and explains why most P1999 Guides got burned out and eventually quit.

When you don’t have enough Guides, the existing Guides are left holding the bag and have to deal with an overwhelming and crushing workload of processing complex petitions which include IP exemptions which take up a considerable amount of time and effort to facilitate. This systemic dysfunction leads to burnout and resentment. The end result is that the players suffer and the reputation of all the good staff members at P1999 who have to somehow exist and tolerate this mess also suffers.

There could very well be a personality conflict between Guide Moregan and the upper management at P1999. Due to the shroud of secrecy and lack of transparency about the CSR system, we got little definitive information or any kind of adequate explanation about this incident from the P1999 staff.

Edit: Here’s a video I just added that shows the P1999 staff in happier times.

Us Versus Them

I have also noticed an unhealthy “us versus them” attitude coming from some of the CSR staff on P1999.  Unfortunately a siege mentality can sometime occur when people are stressed out because of constantly having to deal with a minority of bad people who are violating the rules. In the real world this phenomenon often affects law enforcement who sometimes develop the very same adversarial mentality and start to see the public as the enemy. The volunteers are caught in the middle having to deal with an excessive workload of difficult and time consuming petitions coming from players and apathy and indifference from upper management.

About two weeks after Guide Moregan’s departure I noticed a visible increase in the number of Guides online. I also noticed the staff have wisely stopped superfluous posting on the forums which has helped the improve the tattered image of P1999 CSRs. Let’s hope that this incident has been a wake up call for the P1999 management to staff the servers accordingly and clean up this mess.

If the customer service situation continues to deteriorate I believe that Daybreak Games should step in and insist that the P1999 management staff their servers with appropriate levels of properly trained CSRs. After all, P1999 are standing on the shoulders of giants and trading on the good name of EverQuest which came about because of the hard work and dedication of hundreds of people over the span of 16 years.

The key to dealing with customer service on P1999 is to pretend that it does not exist. Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.

The Chill of Censorship in the Air

The reality of human nature is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings who amass power have an unfortunate tendency to want to keep power at all costs. Throughout history, the reality of the human experience is that democracy and freedom are tiny grains of sand in the desert of tyranny. Virtual worlds like P1999 are no different.

The fear of retribution from P1999 staffers — even though it may be just a perceived fear — is palpable. Many players are afraid to speak out and voice their concerns on the forums. Even the main sub-Reddit for P1999 which is apparently moderated by members of the most powerful P1999 guild Bregan D’Aerth there is the lingering impression that censorship that favors the management of P1999 is going on.

Players are rightly afraid that they will be banned or lose their play account courtesy of overzealous and over worked CSRs who see any kind of complaints as undue hostility directed at them.

Case in point: the most proflic P1999 Everquest Twitch.tv streamer named Redwjamz was recently banned from P1999 just one week after interviewing Guide Moregan/GreenGrocer on his stream. This person has probably done more to get the word out to the gaming community about P1999 than anyone yet he was removed from the server in a Stalinist like purge.

Nobody wants to lose their account everything they have worked for for years just for voicing their opinion.

I understand what it’s like to be a forum admin and I empathize with the P1999 staff who feel that they are under siege. It can overwhelm you. It’s very tempting to take the easy way out dismiss player concerns or to silence them by banning them. To this day being a community manager for a MMO is one of the most stressful careers in the video game industry and it has a high burnout rate, so it should be no surprise to those that take on such duties.

Player Dissent is Classic EverQuest

We should also not forget that EQ players were very passionate and vocal during the classic years of EverQuest. MMORPGS like EverQuest essentially invented the notion of video game player activism where players would hold the game developer accountable for their actions and inactions. You want classic EQ? You got classic EQ: the good, the bad and the ugly. The P1999 staff needs to realize that player activism and even Guides complaining is all part of the classic EQ experience.

The crux of the problem is that because P1999 is a volunteer project and free to play — this means that the normal rules of the customer/vendor relationship do not exist. In this case the vendor — which is the P1999 staff — have no economic incentive to provide excellent customer service to the player. In the real world, if a vendor fails to deliver a good or service to a paying customer, there are legal remedies which the customer can pursue. In the virtual world of P1999 these checks and balances do not exist and the staff do not have to be accountable and can behave as despots banning anyone whom they wish and for whatever justification they can concoct.

Likewise in the real world, when there is a monopoly, the customer has no choice. Clearly, there is nothing in the MMORPG world like P1999 and if you don’t like it you can either quit or stay and put up with it. This leaves the dedicated P1999 player with very little choice.

During the course of writing this article I have started to hear troubling rumors that some threads on the P1999 Reddit forums have also been deleted.  When players can feel they can no longer speak out and have no venue where they can air their unvarnished opinions free from retribution and retaliation you have a deteriorating situation that is not good for future of P1999. If this dysfunction continues to grow unchecked I believe that Daybreak Games who owns the EverQuest intellectual property will have to step in and demand that the problems be corrected.

Some Thoughts About Entitlement

Anytime there are player complaints on the forums about various issues on P1999, invariably some of the staff and their sycophantic fanboy supporters in the player community immediately respond that the players feel they are entitled. Since P1999 is a free service, their logic is that anyone who dares to make any kind of complaint is being ungrateful toward the volunteer staff because of a sense of entitlement. While some players may feel a sense of entitlement there are other players who just want to improve P1999 and they can be unfairly targeted by this false and fallacious argument if they dare to lodge a complaint and criticize the actions/inactions of the staff.

Another reality is that I wager most P1999 players would gladly pay a monthly fee to play classic EverQuest. If such a server was a available then the entire entitlement argument would be rendered null and void. I just do not understand why Daybreak Games is not offering players the authentic classic EQ experience on special servers. I and others would be gone from P1999 in a heartbeat if such a service was made available.

Players are not really feeling entitled, rather they have expectations that a server that offers a classic EverQuest experience will be staffed with professional and competent people.  The only sense of entitlement I have seen is the attitude of some of the staff who exhibit a martyr complex and feel entitled to be immune from accountability due to their volunteer status. Some feel that just because they are volunteering their services that nobody should ever dare complain or criticize them.

Beware the Toxic Forums

I recommend that all players stay away from the forums especially the Rants and Flames section where trolls run wild and guild versus guild drama is on full display. Some areas of the forums are toxic wasteland dominated by a mere handful of players who post 90% of the forum posts. Some of the vilest trolls and slobbering sycophants of MMO humanity have assembled here that make the FoH forum participants look like saints. Learn to use the vBulletin ignore feature.

Why are the No Live Events on P1999?

You would think that a volunteer project like P1999 would have a constant stream of live events and GM quests going on. As mentioned previously, the only live event I have ever heard of was the recent Halloween event.

The original EQ had a robust series of live GM events going on most every evening. P1999 has nothing in comparison. P1999 claims to be “classic EverQuest” but this is one area where they have completely missed the mark. This is a direct result of upper management’s apathy with regard to failure to recruit qualified volunteer CSRs to staff the servers. Guide Moregan recently claimed that there were 600+ pending guide applications for P1999 — clearly there are ample volunteers to run quests. Sadly, the desire and the will from management is not there.

Having daily GM events would be one way to create some good public relations for P1999 to counteract the recent negative publicity surrounding the CSR problems.

Closing Thoughts on the Double Edged Sword of EverQuest

I wanted to close my article on P1999 with some reflections that don’t fit well with the good, the bad and the ugly theme. EverQuest is a double-edged sword cornucopia of features and issues that have been occupying the minds of many of us who have followed this venerable and inscrutable MMORPG over the years. Many things in EQ are both loved and hated by the players. Here are a few of my final observations.

The P1999 Endgame: Law of the Jungle and Freedom

The P1999 endgame is not without controversy. Due to a limited supply of raid targets that spawn on weekly intervals, there is not enough high end content for all raiding guilds. This is a problem that endlessly plagued the original EverQuest. I have not experienced this myself due to the fact that my characters are low level but it is a big problem on P1999 nonetheless.

Like the alpha lion that kills all its male competition, the powerful guilds who are at the top of the food chain run the show on P1999. They take whatever they can for themselves and leave the scraps for the rest of us. Most of the players in these guilds have multiple level 60 characters who are camped out at most raid spots ready to mobilize via the “bat phone” to take down raid mobs. So not only are their main characters getting the very best loot, so too are their alts which is unfairly keeping other lesser guilds from accessing any raid content and advancing their characters.

Many of these guild members are also perma camping dungeons and NPCs that drop some of the most powerful items in the game. In reality the only way for a player to obtain these items is to cough up thousands of plat to buy them in the EC tunnel. This has created a mindset where many players have resorted to farming NPC guards so they can sell their loot to amass platinum to fund their purchases.

Obviously this kind of disparity between players is causing a lot of drama and intrigue on the P1999 blue server. Without drama and inequity that causes it, fantasy virtual worlds would be dull and predictable. At least in EverQuest there are winners and losers unlike in MMOs like WoW where a sense of socialist entitlement is promoted via features like instancing.

The now ubiquitous instancing feature is probably one of the main culprits in why the MMORPG experience is a mere shadow of its former self. It has brought about a host of unintended consequences that has devalued the experience and as a result has laid waste to the genre.

Balancing the usefulness of freedom that creates drama that makes a virtual fantasy world come alive with the need for players to have content to experience has proven to be one of the most challenging problems ever faced in MMORPG development. I have some ideas on how to fix the content problem further on in the article.

In the Norrath of P1999, progress is not assured. There are no guarantees. You are truly free to achieve whatever you want to achieve. You can blaze your own path and be a hero or villain and join other like-minded heroes and villains. It is this pure and unrestricted freedom — that does not exist to this degree in the real world — that makes the true MMORPG one of the most unique forms of interactive entertainment in existence.

The Highs and the Lows of EverQuest

During my current sojourn in P1999’s Norrath it has become very apparent that the totality of the EverQuest experience is characterized by an unbalanced and unpredictable mix of highs and lows. It’s an awful feeling when a griffon in East Commonlands comes up from behind you at a speed faster than Spirt of the Wolf and kills you almost instantly. It’s also very frustrating not to be able to find a group or to find a raid target for your guild to kill.

It’s easy to see how MMORPGS like World of Warcraft tried to “fix” these problems but by removing the pain, they also removed the degree of pure joy you feel when you do triumph.

Pain and loss are powerful human emotions that the designers of the original EverQuest and the MUDS that came before them managed to leverage with great success.  An entire article could be devoted to the importance of these emotions in MMORPG design.

The sense of serendipitous misfortune and frustration you feel in classic Norrath is contrasted with moments of sheer elation when you finally manage to find a well-oiled group and the experience starts to flow.  Even better is the rare feeling you get when rare item drops and you win a roll.

Victory only tastes sweet when defeat tastes bitter. In a way the magic of EQ is much like a virtual skinner box that keeps the player coming back so they can feel that sense of elation and glee again.

Throughout it all you are not alone in P1999 version of EverQuest. You struggle with others. It is those friendships that you make during that struggle to survive is where the true magic of EverQuest is forged.

The Future of P1999 and the Fruit Fly Experiment

When I was taking science class in high school, our teacher taught us about the fruit fly experiment where a few fruit flies and some rotting fruit were placed into a sealed jar. Eventually the fruit flies would keep breeding and exponentially grew their population to the point where they would all die due to a lack of oxygen and food.

Since the management has stated that they will not take P1999 beyond the release of the third EQ expansion: Scars of Velious, I predict the same thing is going to happen to P1999.

Every day more players on P1999 are reaching level 60 which nothing to look forward to except to progress their characters via gear acquisition which means there are more players that must compete for a static amount of high level content. This scarcity of content — both non-raid and raid – is causing unnecessary conflict among guilds in P1999.

In order for P1999 to survive they will most certainly need to add in more existing content from subsequent expansions. My advice would be to start selectively adding in new expansions that retain the spirit of classic EverQuest. Add the features that were good and subtract the features that were bad.

  • Shadows of Luclin expansion with its wealth of new and revamped content, the beastlord class and the Alternate Advancement (AA) system should be added but without the awful new character models and without the bazaar.
  • Planes of Power expansion with it’s added 5 levels, new abilities, spells, AAs and zones should be added without the implementation of the books of knowledge instant teleports.
  • Legacy of Ykesha expansion that offered content for mid-level players should be added as well.

When players have nothing left to achieve or strive for the game is over. MMORPGs that fail to expand will most certainly enter into a death spiral. The choice for the management of P1999 is simple: expand or die.

Conclusion

The mission statement and ongoing mantra of Project 1999 is the re-creation of the EverQuest experience must emulate all of the classic EverQuest features and content from the original EverQuest to anything released before the Shadows of Luclin (when things started to go wrong). The P1999 staff has done an excellent job in adhering to this lofty standard. Players who log onto P1999 will indeed get to experience the magic of the original EverQuest free from the taint of the expansions that started to erode the franchise.

As mentioned previously, the only area that P1999 EverQuest emulated experience disappoints is in the customer service department.  Due to the failure to adequately staff the P1999 servers, the CSR department seems like a virtual sweatshop where over-worked volunteers are in a state of constant flux and exhibit symptoms of tyranny, paranoia, and burnout. The sudden removal of Guide Moregan and his subsequent revelations is an embarrassing black eye for the upper management of P1999. Thankfully people like Moregan have come out of the shadows to cast sunlight on the dysfunction.

I don’t want to leave readers with a gloomy impression of 1999. If you forget about the CSR issues, the forums, the guild drama and some of the selfish players, you *can* have a wonderful time and lose yourself in the unique immersion that Norrath offers. To paraphrase Lead GM Sirken from a recent podcast, 99% of the P1999 players don’t care about internal staff issues, they just want to play classic EverQuest. He’s right.

However, when there are not enough CSRs answering petitions and it takes weeks if not months to get certain petitions addressed, then the dysfunction behind the scenes *is* ultimately impacting the enjoyment of the P1999 players.

There can be no doubt that the dynamics of a free to play, volunteer staffed community of players like P1999 are indeed very complex. Despite the problems of the CSR team, the entire staff of P1999 should be applauded and commended for doing a stellar job of bringing back the authentic EverQuest experience for the MMORPG community. The fact that people are flocking to a MMORPG that was created 15 years ago speaks volumes about the genius of the original EverQuest and the current woeful state of mindless, dumbed down MMOs that no longer offer dangerous, challenging and pulse pounding fantasy virtual worlds where you can experience real camaraderie, cooperation and friendship.

Words really cannot describe the feeling you get when you are playing P1999. Being able to savor the classic EQ experience is a rare thrill that you just cannot get anywhere else. I urge everyone to make the effort to join the P1999 community and see for yourself what the magic of the original EverQuest was all about.

-Wolfshead

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