Last week my EverQuest guild disbanded. For over a year, I was a member of an EverQuest guild on the time-locked progression server called Agnarr. The guild was Imperium Deus. We were an Oceanic based guild with members from all over the world who would raid late at night in the mythical virtual world of Norrath.
We were a family.
Like any family, we talked together, shared jokes and jibes together, we agreed, we disagreed, we strategized together and as we would dutifully assemble three nights a week to attempt to vanquish various raid targets from Lord Nagafen to deities such as Saryn and the Zek brothers. Like all families, we were impacted by loss as we mourned the passing of one of our guildies this year, a friendly, helpful, salty guy named Doug who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Doug, my dear and brave friend, I miss you terribly and I hope you are with God and the angels in Heaven.
The death of a MMORPG guild can be one of the most traumatic things a player can experience. For my part, I gave 100% to my guild. I rarely missed a raid and often stayed up way past my bedtime in order to help my guild progress on Agnarr server as each expansion was released on a 12-week timetable.
Today just a few days after our guild has dissolved, our members seem scattered to the wind. Some have joined other guilds, while others have moved on to other servers such as the new TLP server Coirnav and existing live servers such as Bertoxxulous and Bristlebane. You know who your real friends are when a guild disbands because they make the effort to stay in touch.
Normally when guilds fall apart you can find camaraderie in other guilds. The problem with Agnarr is that it is artificially locked in the Planes of Power era which means that Agnarr has a finite shelf life and an expiry date. One of the smartest EQ players that I know was a member of our guild, she helped to develop the first DKP system used in EQ. She remarked to me that no matter what guild I would join on Agnarr, eventually it will most likely disband as people get geared up and then subsequently lose interest. This natural cycle of attrition seems to be part of the problem with our guild and being on a time locked progression server compounded it.
Playing on a server that is locked at certain expansion like Agnarr and like Project 1999 is like buying a puppy. Eventually, you’ll outlive your puppy as he grows into a dog and then that fateful day will come when you see him pass away before your eyes. This kind of loss is devastating. Both I and my parents have lost pets in the last couple of years and it’s a heartbreaking experience.
Another reason for our guild’s demise was the dreaded Plane of Time. The Plane of Time is a visually drab and uninteresting endgame zone that is the final destination of the Planes of Power expansion. This infamous zone is considered to be one of the most poorly designed raiding zones in EQ history. Back when current Blizzard Lead Worldbuilder and Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi was the guild leader of Fires of Heaven, he made an epic rant about the shortcomings of Time.
Time is divided into various phases that must be completed in order. The first phase is comprised of “trials” where a maximum of only 18 people can attend. Splitting a raiding guild up is absurd as most guilds have been raiding as a guild. So in order to do these phases, you must divide up your guild into separate raids with 3 groups of 6 players with the right amount of tanks, healers and DPS classes. Often members in large guilds will end up sitting on the sidelines waiting for the guild groups to complete phase one.
It gets worse. As you start phase one you must kill a series of trash mobs that drop no loot, then when killed spawn other mobs while an untargetable boss watches over you. Eventually, the boss becomes targetable then as you get his health points down, other mobs will spawn. Although most raiding in EQ is essentially the same process of killing trash and boss mobs Time makes it a long and drawn out affair. After a certain number of trials are done, you can progress to phase 2 which again is an endless series of trash mobs with some named and a chance at some good drops.
The first two phases of the Plane of Time are tedious and boring with a limited loot table. Eventually, the tedium took its toll on the guild and people just stopped logging on. Our guild numbers dwindled to the point where we could barely do single trials. The Planes of Power expansion was released in 2002. The developers at SOE and Daybreak Games have had 16 years to fix these problems and to this day, it seems nothing has been done.
The death of a guild has important lessons for MMORPG designers. The first lesson is that MMOs need new content to keep players occupied. Without the promise of new content in an upcoming expansion, a MMO is dead in the water. For MMOs to be viable, they must provide an endless horizon of new lands to be discovered. There are no easy shortcuts or PVP “let players make their own content” schemes that invalidate this rule in traditional MMOs. Time locked servers like Agnarr and Project 1999 are cautionary tales.
The next lesson is that content should not require an excessive time to complete it. I believe that Time can take up to 4 hours. In today’s world that is completely unacceptable. No raid should ever take more than 2 hours and there should be time built in for food and bathroom breaks as well.
Another lesson is that while the social aspect is one of the core value proposition of a MMORPG, it will always be a byproduct of character progression. Players are human and humans do things out of self-interest. Socialization by itself is not enough to convince people to log on every night. Players need achievable goals and purpose in a MMORPG. While socialization does provide MMORPGs with a lot of stickiness as people know that others are counting on them to log on, it’s simply not enough of a draw on its own.
Time with all its phases is boring and screams the word: TIMESINK! More could be done right now by the devs to make it interesting. Time mobs should have a random loot table that makes clearing trash somewhat more acceptable and all mobs in the PoP should drop coin — they don’t currently. For the love of Tunare, please removed 50% of the needless trash mobs that spawn. Artificial timesinks as a design philosophy is completely unacceptable in 2018. And one last thing, I wish the devs would give druids a mass zephyr spells that teleports everyone to the Plane of Knowledge, Butcherblock or the Commonlands. I spent many long hours single casting the druid zephyr spell when no wizards were around. Not having this useful spell wasted my time and the time of the guild.
Guilds are the cornerstones of the MMORPG experience. Running and managing a guild is hard work and fraught with tedious tasks. Our GM and our officers became overwhelmed and burned out by leading raids, recording and post DKP and with other functions such as running a guild website. MMOs need robust guild management systems to make life for guild leaders and officers as easy as possible.
Finally, it goes without saying that you should never break up raiding guilds into smaller groups doing different encounters in completely different areas. This amount of time our guild wasted having to change Discord channels and join special chat channels for this silliness in Time just added to the frustration.
The end of Imperium Deus left a big hole in my life. For days, I would stare at front of the computer screen paralyzed with grief and sorrow. When I did find the courage to log on, I would see if any other guildmates were on to commiserate with them and talk about the good old days.
I took my druid to one of the cliffs of the Plane of Tranquility to admire the serene vista of the ocean and the sky with the seagulls chirping in the air above me and harbor bells clanging in the distant. Like the first character I retired back in 2005 when I initially quit EQ, the Plane of Tranquility seemed a fitting place for him to camp out for the last time.
The breakup of our guild and dealing with the reality of Angarr being frozen in time made me experience many of the phases of grief. I questioned all of the effort that I and my guild put into our characters. I vowed never to play on another locked server again. While we never got to kill Quarm in Time, I had finally confronted the truth of the old maxim face to face: it’s the journey, not the destination. The journey was wonderful, the destination not so much.