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EverQuest: What You Really Get From an Online Game 1134

Posted by michael
from the step-one-is-admitting-you're-an-addict dept.
dsanfte writes "If you're reading this, you may be considering picking up EverQuest. Most likely you've heard from friends how great this "addictive" game is, how in-depth it can become, and how much fun you'll have playing it. As usual, however, you aren't getting the straight deal. So before you pick up that EverQuest box, let me tell you the other side of that euphoric story." The rest of Sanftenberg's excellent article is below.

Everquest is a game centered on rewarding you for how much time you put into it. This is the core design philosophy behind the game, since they charge you by the month and make more money the longer you stick around. What they don't tell you is that taking your money is about all they're interested in. They care little for player complaints, and less about player suggestions and requests. They're in this to milk you for all you're worth, and that's the first thing you have to know.

The second thing you have to know is that the game stops being fun. By that time though, you're so "addicted" to the game, you don't realize it. The game becomes a source of frustration and anger instead of a source of entertainment and fun. It becomes a chore. It becomes a job. You plod away at the keyboard, obsessed and consumed with getting that new item, or finishing that last quest, and while so consumed you begin to hate the game. Vehemently. It's a game that goes on forever, and one that you can never win.

After playing the game for a while, you'll start conversing with other players, and you'll see the one thing all players have in common is that they all hate Sony - the designers of Everquest. (It should be noted that Verant, the original development company, has been absorbed into Sony Online Entertainment -- so will be referred to as Sony for simplicity) This is baffling at first glance, because they send Sony $12.95 every month for a form of supposedly voluntary entertainment, which they enjoy, and yet they despise them! Look a little deeper though, and you'll see that most people who dislike Sony are the ones who no longer have fun playing Everquest. They aren't getting what they want out of the game anymore, and they look to Sony, being the source of all changes and improvements/breakdowns in the game, as the cause. Right or wrong, this is the state of affairs; the consumers hate the company providing them with a service that they think they enjoy.

Let's go back to the part about Sony not caring about their customers. Recently, they changed their GM (Game Master) Customer Service system such that, instead of one GM being assigned to each game server permanently to handle problems, there would instead be a smaller pool of GMs roaming all the servers infrequently. When enough player problems on a server requiring GM help cropped up (around 30), a GM would be sent to handle the petitions (problems) one at a time until finished, and move on to the next server. This had the effect of increasing wait times on getting petitions answered from a few hours to many hours, or even several days by many accounts. This was introduced supposedly as a cost-cutting measure, which would improve efficiency. They'd have to hire less GMs if they pooled them up into a roving band, instead of assigning one for each server. In actuality, while this may have made things more efficient on Sony's side, the players were left waiting for days until that magic number was reached where a GM would log on to the server to help them out.

On Sony's website, there is a link to a feature called Developer's Corner. Over the two years this has been up and running, the person in charge of Customer Relations at Sony, Alan "Absor" VanCouvering, has turned it from a section dedicated to answering player questions, into a simple Press Release box with little useful information. Where there would be several updates per day, now there are perhaps one or two per week. Answers to player questions are few, and replies to player emails are fewer. Since most answers to customer questions are now handled on specific, "class" (ranger, paladin, monk, etc) message boards by the developers themselves (once in a blue moon of course), one is left wondering what Absor is paid to do. Twiddle his thumbs perhaps? The world may never know.

This leads up to a lack of will at Sony to address their customers with any sort of respect. Often, sudden "game-changing" features will be added or removed in a patch, with little or no explanation given to the players, and no recourse for the players themselves other than to submit comments to the black hole at the Dev Corner. Other changes can render a class' or items' abilities weaker, slower, or even drastically altered or removed from the game. Again, the players have no say in the matter officially, and rarely get these changes reversed through massive online signature petitions. It is quite common now for these sorts of changes to come completely unannounced and unexplained, leaving the players themselves to bug test, figure out what happened, what is wrong, and leaving them again to wander off to the Dev Board asking what the purpose of the change was. Far too often in this process, the sheer discoordination and incompetence at Sony is revealed, as the changes happened accidentally or were not intended to occur in the manner they did. The bottom line being, you can go to bed one night with a great character and items, and wake up in the morning to find all that has changed; leaving you holding your member and your opinions mattering less than a pig's squeals in a slaughterhouse.

The final aspect of the will at Sony to disassociate from the customers is how they handle disputes between players. In the Everquest game world, you can find yourself in competition with other players for the ability to play the game. Yes, in EQ, you compete with other players for the right to kill the monsters. It's massive artificial scarcity. If you aren't online early enough, or if you don't move fast enough, you lose. MOBs (as monsters are known) spawn at predictable intervals; and the design of the game itself, added onto the times that Sony resets its servers for patches, means that if you don't live in Europe or on the east coast, you and your guild (an organization of players) are provided with less game content than any other time zone or area. You get to have "fun" as another guild of players in another part of the world kills a mob required to advance in the game while you're in bed, or at work, and nothing can be done about it. Often, players will do this purposefully to keep you from killing other, stronger mobs, so they can keep that part of the game to themselves. The GMs will not help you, the Guides (volunteer player GMs) will tell you they can't do anything (and that's true, they are impotent for the most part), and you and the 60 people in your guild are left holding your collective members for six months while you wait for said east-coast unemployed or European guild to take pity on you and let you have the mob. Fat chance.

Sony of course doesn't mind these situations in the slightest; because you see, this is their high-end game. Where in the lower levels you'll spend your time getting great items by fighting mobs that take seconds to prepare for and a minute to kill, at the high end you are required to spend multiple hours (sometimes up to twelve hours) with a "raid force" of 60 or more people just killing useless, annoying mobs (which drop little or no loot) put there as obstacles. Finally, when you reach the boss mob, the fight may last perhaps 30 minutes or more. This 30 minutes of combat is certainly not fun, as all you do is point your character at a mob and press a single button to auto-attack. Many melee-classes go watch TV for the duration of the fight. Your clerics (usually eight or more) cast the same healing spell in a long healing chain to keep your warrior alive, and your wizards all cast the same damaging spells for the 30 minutes of the fight. This is to kill a single mob (in this case, named Aten Ha Ra), which drops four items for your guild.

These situations are 'lovingly' referred to by the players as timesinks; gameplay traps intended to waste your time and keep you playing longer. There are hundreds of them; others incredibly longer than simply getting to a mob. Several quests required to advance in the game require you to spend 100+ hours sitting in single locations, killing hundreds of mobs in 12-hour stretches for a "rare drop", such as ore in the ssraeshza mines, which you use to create "bane" weapons; or the shissar commanders for key pieces; with which to fight the boss mob of the zone. Unlike the other parts of the game, these timesinks are required for advancement, and there is no getting around them unless you wish to stop playing. This is of course not fun at all, but as said above, by this time you'll have long stopped having fun with EQ. You'll do it anyway though, as thousands of others have, because you, like them, are addicted. The quest to kill the shissar Emperor of Ssraeshza is one of the most vicious timesinks in the entire game, but it is merely one example among dozens. To even reach this area of the game requires months of non-stop raiding with your guild; sometimes up to a year of raiding. Only then will you be powerful enough to enter.

Expansions to the game are put out about once per year. These cost around $30 to buy when released, and are required to visit new zones, gain new levels, and so forth. For anyone just entering the game now to be on equal footing with others, they will need to buy the original game and all four expansions at retail price. Of course, no expansion yet released by Sony has been complete when it hit the shelves. Often the final zone in the expansion would be left unfinished, or in such a state of bugginess that it was unplayable. Other zones will be incomplete or have bad pathing for the mobs. Items and monsters will not be "balanced" for difficulty, and players will sometimes stumble onto great equipment for their characters, only to have Sony later decide it is too powerful, and "nerf" it. When an item is nerfed, it's reduced in effectiveness or power, often to the point of absurdity, or it simply stops entering the game world. This rewards players who gun through the new expansion as fast as possible to get the upper hand over their competition on the server, and punishes anyone who cannot put 12+ hours of EQing in per day. The problems with expansions highlight another aspect of Sony which is decidedly underwhelming: their playtesting (or lack thereof). Many bugs in the new expansions are left for players to discover themselves and work around; fixes are often delayed by as much as a week while Sony tries to find a solution. In Everquest, you pay to be a bug tester, and receive no feedback or acknowledgement that any bugs you report are fixed, or even looked at, unless its fix shows up in a terse (bi-) weekly patch message. Most bugs are left unfixed due to their overwhelming numbers.

Class balancing is an on-going project of Sony to try to make sure each class (warrior, cleric, wizard, ranger, etc) has its own niche, and feels useful and meaningful in the game world. They seem oblivious to the fact that items are just as much a part of the game as classes though, and it seems they let their zone (game area) developers run wild with items, creating more work for the developers. If you're keeping a tally, the Mrylokar's Dagger in NToV was one of them. The Mistwalker from Lady Vox was another. These weapons were both nerfed because they were too powerful, and made the classes who could use them much too strong versus the mobs of the time. There is no feedback to the players on what the "visions" for the classes are supposed to be (beyond the vague three-line descriptions in the manual), and no way to for the players to venture a guess of what might be "too powerful" and in line to be nerfed next. Playing EQ is a lot like playing in a casino; you can see your winnings vanish in the blink of an eye out of sheer bad luck. It is not a game where you can ever feel secure.

All this pales in comparison to player harassment, of course. From sexual-orientation insults to other players spamming your chat bar, EQ has it all. There are other forms of harassment too: Often when in competition with other guilds (as you will find yourself quite often if you play long enough), you will see them employ tactics such as "training" mobs onto you to keep you away from the contested mob encounter or zone. A "train" is typically a large number of powerful mobs (10-20), which the other guild will gather up from the zone and dump onto your raid in order to kill you. The GMs will again do nothing about this, nor will the Guides, unless they are there to witness it. Being that there are typically only a half-dozen GM/Guides on a server of 2500+ players at any given time, and that trains are completely unpredictable and random, there is of course almost no way for them to witness these events. While server logs exist that can prove this malicious player harassment occurred, they will usually refuse to even take a look, because it constitutes work, and simply dismiss the problem outright. Your guild is then left holding their collective members once again. Do you see the pattern forming here?

Everquest is a game full of people who want to "win" and "be the best" at any cost. This includes griefing you and your guild, making your gameplay miserable. Why not simply quit then, you ask? If the game isn't fun and sucks this badly, why would anyone play it? Well, because they are addicted. They are addicted to the mobs, to the loot, and to the social atmosphere with other people in their guilds. They have invested so much time in these characters (often hundreds of days of play time, sometimes more time than they spend at their jobs), that they can't will themselves to give it up. They play on instead, hoping things will get better, and nursing a great and deep hatred for Sony and the game itself. If you play long enough, you will see this as the universal truth. People who quit are viewed as giving up on their guilds; they are ridiculed, denounced, and hated. There is massive peer pressure to keep playing. Often people you thought were your friends in the game were simply using you to advance, or improve their characters. Online relationships between people in EQ are fickle, and are only good as long as everyone's getting a good dose of the drug (loot, advancement in the game, and good social relations with their guild).

Perhaps now you've begun to see the other side of EQ: The buggier side, the darker side; the side of despair and anger, fear and frustration. The game will absorb your life if you let it, while the days and weeks melt away into oblivion. I have barely touched on the repetitive gameplay you must endure to reach the top levels of the game: killing mob after mob, hundreds upon hundreds in an endless non-challenging stream to gain experience. I have not said anything about linkdeath (losing your connection) from Sony network problems, or server crashes where you lose any experience or items recently attained (and for which you are not compensated by customer service). I have not said anything about the Legends(TM) subscriptions, where you get to pay $40/month to get the customer service that you should be receiving anyway. There are many other problems with this game that I did not go into here. Before you get into EQ, realize what you're jumping into. Look before you leap.

David Sanftenberg
aka Dolalin Bonewielder
62 Necromancer of Lanys T`Vyl

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EverQuest: What You Really Get From an Online Game

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  • Political System (Score:2, Interesting)

    by drunkrussian (619107) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:32PM (#4967529) Journal
    Maybe EQ needs some kind of player-based political system to make such decisions...it could also add a whole new level to the game.
  • by craenor (623901) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:36PM (#4967572) Homepage
    And enjoyed playing it for over 3.5 years now. In the past year I have slowed down my play some, but once I revelled in the "uber guild" end game of EverQuest.

    This person is obviously bitter and I can't argue with many of their points. The game is addictive, getting what you want from customer service is hard sometimes...

    But if you manage to keep track of the fact that it's a game, you'll enjoy the experience much, much more. Relax and enjoy it, they've done a phenomenal job.

    As for the complaint that Sony doesn't care. Well...they have continued to improve the game and add features customer's request at a steady and impressive rate.

    YMMV
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:38PM (#4967600)
    This articles describes NOTHING about EverQuest and EVERYTHING about the author's personal gripes because his game of EverQuest isn't going the way he likes.

    I have never played EverQuest, but I have been curious what all the fuss was about. Of course every time I try to find out by searching on Google, all I find is people talking about playing, but no one actually describing the point of the game or even posting a screenshot. I really want to know what the game is about.

    You say the game is addictive. Great. Tell me why. Tell me what keeps drawing you back. Don't feed me your laundry list of problems with Sony's sysadmins. Don't complain to me about how Sony doesn't care about their users. Tell me about the freakin' game!

  • Tis True (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NfoCipher (161094) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:41PM (#4967623) Homepage
    I sunk 2 years of my free time into the game. Had something like 150 days played time (that's 24 hours x 150) and all it got me was a poorly rendered avatar that could still die to the lowest level monsters if left alone for 5 minutes.
    Ended up selling the account after I came to my senses. Got my money back on the software costs and monthly fees, but I'll be on my death bed wishing I hadn't spent all that time wasting away playing EQ.
  • A Simple Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:42PM (#4967632) Homepage Journal
    A simple solution to all MMORPGs.

    The introduction of an age system.
    An age system will benefit those that don't have a lot of time to game, but want to play the game, those that have time to be a little better than the lite gamers, but its still competitive, and you can discourage addictive play. The simple idea is the more you play, the more you age (until death).

    For example:
    For your 'lite' gamer that can't spend a lot of time on the game, they can start off with an 'auto-30-year old char.' This character has a good deal of skill without having to spend time getting the skill. So you can jump on, be competitive with those that spend a great deal of time building their character, and still have fun.
    For your 'heavy' gamer, you start off with a '16 year old char.' This character can be better than the auto-30 year old, by playing him until he reaches that age, and building the skills yourself. You get the benefit of better skills than the lite player by spending time building your character by yourself, but its still competitive, and, therefore, fun.
    For the 'addict', you have a death age. When you char hits 40, your skills begin to degrade until you eventually die (yes, you character is no longer usable. Its gone.). This is a tactic to discourage addiction.

    Of course, this would never be implemented on a system that has a monthly charge, because the addicts are the ones willing to pay it, but it would be good for games that don't have a monthly charge.
  • Go analog (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:45PM (#4967665)
    I suggest putting down the mouse, cutting your overindulgence in video stimulus and finding a paper and pencil role-playing group in your area.

    Imagine holding a writing implement once again, facing human beings in meaningful problem solving (god knows you won't find that at work nowadays) and drinking good beer with like minded individuals. And who can resist learning another set of arbitrary rules?

    I recommend D20 Modern (www.wizards.com/D20modern) for the geeks at heart or a good game of 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons (www.wizards.com/dnd).

    Game on.

  • muds? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dpille (547949) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:52PM (#4967739)
    I'm in the same boat as the parent poster, mostly because I can't imagine paying per-month play charges. Can anyone fill me in on why EQ would be better or worse than a detailed, well-populated traditional mud? It seems like many of the complaints about EQ would fit into any laundry list of complaints about even the best ol' text based games, which have exactly the same 'addictive' draw but generally don't require you to shell out to Sony.

    Honestly, I've been trying to give up Arctic [arctic.org] for like 8 years now... would EQ be a decent crutch to wean myself with?
  • Re:Political System (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rblancarte (213492) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:52PM (#4967743) Homepage
    Maybe the EQ players just need to get a life. I mean, if they want to experience a "player based political system", the US Govt is a good way to start. And the results are real.

    RonB
  • by wwwssabbsdotcom (604349) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:56PM (#4967772) Homepage
    I did appear to be one person's opinion of the Everquest universe, but everyone has their own opinion on MMORPGS. I personally became "addicted" to Asheron's Call (1) and then am currently playing Asheron's Call (2). A much smaller fanbase (7K after 3 weeks of release), compared to over 100,000 for EQ, but I also enjoy playing stand alone games, or free online games such as Halo on Xbox, or AoE on the PC. Homeworld is great, Metal Gear Solid on the consoles as well.

    One person's alternate fantasy/addiction is another person's misunderstood waste of money. I think we'll see a lot more MMORPGS come out, some come and go, because people want to interact with other human beings, not a bot, not a macro, not a program. I find a great sense of teamwork having 4-5 other humans from around the world, maybe a magic user or two, a melee, two archers and just healing each other, fighting, some witty banter, and not necessarily the big time commitment of EQ, but enjoy to enjoy the sense of community. Also, in the other games, or on specific servers, people want to KILL each other and have a human opponent to defeat. Each to their own.

    One of my most memorable moments in online gaming was surprisingly in WWII Online a few weeks ago. I had chosen to play a French rifleman since the town where the action was didnt have any tanks to spawn, and when I appeared in the base, I heard this drone in the sky. It didnt sound like a bomber, or a lone fighter zipping by, I panned up and looked and saw 5 (YES FIVE) bombers almost in perfect formation heading towards the front lines. Now each bomber can have 3+ humans flying in it, all from different places on the internet. How does one fly in formation online with other people on the internet? I was amazed and laughed, but its a sense of teamwork which will keep the masses coming for more for online games.

  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mhrmnhrm (263196) on Friday December 27, 2002 @02:56PM (#4967774)
    Curiously enough, "age" was something written into some of the earliest pencil-and-paper RPG's like 'Dungeons and Dragons'... the idea being that as you got older, you got smarter and wiser (INT and WIS bonus), but slower and weaker as well (STR, CON, DEX penalty). Why this has never made its way into the online realm (MUDs, MOOs, and MMORPG) hasn't found an answer yet.
  • by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:01PM (#4967817)
    http://www.progressquest.com

    I guarantee you won't have any of the problems this guy mentions. There are plenty of monsters, you'll never worry about artificial scarcity. There are fantastic items, and they never get taken away from you. There are no level caps or future expansion packs required. And now that they have added guilds, you can have everything you had in EverQuest, albeit without the fancy 3D rendered graphics.

    But this guy said the only factor is spending time, right? Well, then Progress Quest is the best choice...there is no other factor but time!

    - JoeShmoe

    .
  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:11PM (#4967897) Homepage Journal
    This has been done on MUDs.

    The addicts don't like it, and bitch. So they end up adding a "fountain of youth" quest or something.

  • by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:14PM (#4967918)
    I used to know a guy who was a recovering heroin addict. We had some pretty candid conversations. I told him once that I didn't understand how anybody could get addicted to heroin. I mean, coming down off of it is supposed to be horrible. It ruins your health, it ruins your life. Why would anybody do it, and once they did, why would they do it a second time?

    He didn't say anything for a long time. Then he said something like this:
    When people tell you not to do drugs, they tell you how bad they are for you. They tell you how they mess you up and make you sick. They tell you that you're putting poison into your veins.


    But there's one thing, one little thing that they leave out. It's kind of like a secret that nobody ever tells.

    The secret is this: heroin is fucking great.

    Yeah, you're sitting on the floor in a room that smells like piss. Yeah, you're sticking a hot needle into your arm. Yeah, you get so constipated that you feel like you're gonna die. But none of that matters, because being on junk is like being in heaven. It's like being wrapped up inside a warm blanket, only better than you can possibly imagine. It's incredible. Wonderful. Perfect.

    Nobody ever tells people this, because everybody wants people to think that drugs are bad, so they'll never try them. And that makes a lot of sense. Because the very first time you try junk, you can't not do it again. There are no casual junkies, man. There are no social heroin users. Once you get a taste of the stuff, you can't ever get it out of your head.
    He kinda started to get tears in his eyes as he was telling me this, so I didn't say anything or a minute so he could get it back together. Then I asked him, "How did you get off the stuff?" He kinda laughed.
    I'm not off junk, man. I just haven't scored any for eleven years, nine months, and three days. That's all.
  • by Alyeska (611286) on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:16PM (#4967938) Homepage
    Agreed.

    Sony's has no customer service. They have corporate Liablility Control. Risk/Loss Management. That goes for all of their products. (I'd go into the long story about them screwing me on my camcorder, but that might be OT....) They make sure A.) They have your money first, and B.) they legally meet (barely) their contractual obligations (whether that be warranties or online gaming), and that's all they do.

    They have so much of the market now, they don't worry about individual customers anymore. They have concentrated on the swarm. So what you or any other individual has to say is meaningless to them.

  • by kilonad (157396) on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:20PM (#4967977)
    Gran Turismo 3, the popular racing game on PS2, has something similar to the "age" thing you propose, except you don't get to choose a starting age or anything like that. When you get a car, it has a certain amount of horsepower. After a few races, the horsepower increases as the car is broken in. After a number of races, the amount of horsepower gradually decreases (as the engine starts to wear out). Sure, you can add engine mods and stuff, but the base HP level still goes down. I don't know if it eventually drops to 0, but it discourages you from using a supercar (if you win one) to win a bunch of the easier races that can be won with a lesser car -- especially if you need every last HP that engine has later on in the game.

    Just my one cent. (taking off the one cent bonus since it doesn't have much to do with the article)

  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HBI (604924) <kparadine AT gmail DOT com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:24PM (#4967996) Homepage Journal

    The killer types would make such an environment a travesty. Your weapon against killers is loss of character, loss of level. If it is easily obtainable, eveyone will take that option. You've just created a new, level playing field for the kind of people who like to torture others.

    Admittedly, every environment needs a few 'killer' types. Still, it is the task of the administrator to keep them in check.

    For reference...Bartle [mud.co.uk]

  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:31PM (#4968067)
    I love your idea! That is a great balancer for gameplay! Also, I think it would be extremely beneficial to introduce SLEEP into videogames. I mean it's ridiculus. People stay up to all hours of the night (often not getting any sleep) so they can buff their chars even more. That is just bad game design. The game company would actually make MORE money if they introduced sleep, because people would be limited to the time they could play each day. "sorry, your char is too tired. it needs to sleep for 8 hours"

    Also it seems silly that chars can just keep going...and going...and going.... I mean they're not the fricking energizer bunny are they? I remember in the old school mud (or semi-mud) Legend of the Red Dragon, you had a certain number of fights, designated by the server you were on. The one I was on allowed 100 fights, and that was a lot! Other servers with a lot of users allowed 25 fights. Well, that's what I think. It would be good for the game to have built into it, a resting system, not only for the game server, but for the gamers. If you don't have the built-in system, that's bad design, since, I think you will all agree, we are not machines.
  • Re:A Simple Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sevensharpnine (231974) on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:33PM (#4968076)
    Exactly. And this in itself is part of the problem. In order for a game (MUD or MMORPG) to get popular/profitable, it has to attract as many players as possible. In order to do this, the developers cater to the "lowest common denominator" (i.e. the idiots). A small list of common features: 1) unlimited lifespan, 2) minimal punishment for death, and 3) using time as a measure of advancement (not being good, just being patient).

    In the end this creates an atmosphere where "everybody is a winner!". These games generally take little skill and will reward repetitive tasks over thoughtful gaming. Not that this is generally bad, but it does make an atmosphere where you feel a sense of accomplishment with comparatively little work done on your part. And that's what these games are about: accomplishment.
  • Re:It's a game. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JordoCrouse (178999) on Friday December 27, 2002 @03:39PM (#4968132) Homepage Journal
    It's a video game. If it pisses you off, turn off the computer, go outside and take a walk.

    I used to think that too, until I saw some of the prices on the online auctions for the virtual crap that you can aquire in this game. And then I was very scared. Having never played the game, or indeed ever met anyone who has played the game, I was appalled that somebody would spend so much real money on a virtual item (thousands and thousands of dollars).

    I then realized that this isn't just a minor diversion. There are people out there that have some serious issues with these sorts of games. If you can envision somebody paying a couple of thousand of dollars for a sword of some sort, then "turning off the computer" may not be as easy as it sounds.

    Of course, I might be barking up the wrong tree. Maybe everyone out there spending the money for these items is a retired dot com millionare who has the time and money to afford the game. And if that is true, then I apologize. But if just one person is spending money they don't have to advance themselves in an online game, then this article is dead on, and it is not pretty.
  • by CamShaft (103126) on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:05PM (#4968346)

    I have played EverQuest, up to and including the "end game" as a member of the strongest guild on a server, and I have to disagree with the general slant of Mr. Sanftenberg's comments.

    EverQuest is a game, a form of entertainment, and a fun way to fill your spare time if you are into any of the things it provides, from RPG/Action/Adventure gaming to online social interaction to powergaming. You can enjoy playing EverQuest in 1hr sessions or 16hr sessions.

    I had a ton of fun playing EverQuest. I started when the first public beta was offered, and I have great memories of exploring the giant landscape with a helpless little avatar that was scared for his life. I interacted with other characters and formed friendships that now exist outside of EverQuest. I played the "end game" and completed the "timesinks" that Mr. Sanftenberg describes so horribly and enjoyed them.

    EverQuest is a game and a hobby, and it is easy to get "addicted" to any hobby. I know people that obsessively modify their cars, tweak their computers, work out at the gym, or watch TV. You can spend hours doing anything, and at least EverQuest is cheap. For $12.95 a month you could go to the movies maybe twice, you could pay a fraction of your cable TV bill, or you could buy a new fan for your modded computer case -- or you could play EverQuest. If you figure hardcore gamers are playing 5 to 6 hours a day or more, then that $12.95 a month doesn't seem so bad.

    People have issues with class balancing, however if all classes didn't have relative strengths and weaknesses then why even bother having different classes? Who cares if your class only does 80% as effective as another class in some statistical category that you can only really measure by parsing hours and hours of logs - there is some other category your class does better, and in my experience the person playing the class contributes much more to the overall effectiveness than the class itself. The way to not enjoy playing EverQuest is to focus on "min-maxing" your character, not being satisfied until you are the "best". Sure, strive for new accomplishments, set goals for your character, but also enjoy the ride. The "timesinks" referred to in the post usually have some positive component to them. For example the Ssra mines and commanders are great places to earn experience for your character. The 60 man raid force clearing through the trash mobs to fight a boss mob is not a "timesink" but rather what makes the end game of EverQuest fun to play: 60 people working together to accomplish a goal.

    I enjoyed my time playing EverQuest. I don't play now because I have very little spare time these days, but I will likely start playing again one day when I do have time.

    --Cam aka Slithy Toves of Tholuxe Paells

  • Marijuana (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:07PM (#4968373)
    People claim that marijuana isn't addictive but I know for a fact that this is not true. I've had friends who use it and if their behavior isn't what you'd call "addicted" then I don't know what is. Maybe what they have is a psychological addiction rather than a chemical addiction, but whatever it is, it's stupid.
  • by madgeorge (632496) on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:10PM (#4968387)

    Bitter? A little, but it doesn't consume me, because I'm not playing any more. What finally pissed me off after so many years was the lack of a reliable patching process in what should be a mature game and deteriorating customer service/technical support. The final straw for me:

    There was a well-known bug around the release of Planes of Power that disabled all expansion zones and features for those who had not upgraded to PoP. All my characters were camped in pre-PoP expansion zones at the time of the patch. Voila, now I cannot log in any existing characters! I dealt with Customer Service over the issue for 2.5 weeks, to no avail. The last communication I got from SOE was a request for further information necessary to troubleshoot the issue, including my SSN and credit card number. That was it. Incompetence like that I couldn't deal with. People all over the boards were complaining about the issues, and Sony's only clue was to ask for sensitive acct information.

    There are a ton of people who still play, and there are new people buying the game every day. More power to them. But if anyone asks my opinion, I'll suggest DAoC, NWN, or any number of games from other genres. I will not pay monthly fees for a product that has a shoddy, yet mandatory patching process and careless customer service reps. I plan on avoiding SWG and EQ2 for the same reasons. My issues weren't technical, they were service-oriented.

  • Game stability (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:17PM (#4968425) Homepage
    This is one of the toughest problems in MMORPG design. Either you have a group of online managers with godlike powers, like AOL, or you have a violent anarchy, like IRC.

    One solution is just to accept that the game is a bad neighborhood, like Ultima Online. Making that work is tough. The game design has to be bulletproof, not just in a software sense, but in a social and ecological sense. MMORPGs have tanked because the players used up all the resources and turned the place into a wasteland. While this is realistic, it loses customers. UO seems to have something that more or less works, although it's getting old.

    Trying to solve the problem with an army of Game Masters and related flunkies doesn't work. You end up with endless complaints about the Game Masters, plus you have to pay for a big call center to take the complaints.

    Everquest is in the middle; the world isn't stable enough to run hands-off, and the operators aren't numerous to run it like a fascist state. It's like living in a third-world country.

    It will be interesting to see how the Sims Online manages this problem. That experience will drive the next generation of MMORPGs.

    Read the Farmer/Morningstar paper [scara.com] on Habitat, the first graphical MMORPG. Those guys figured out this problem a decade ago.

  • by einer (459199) on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:17PM (#4968433) Journal
    Man that's cold... and funny... ;)

    As for getting hooked the first time. That doesn't jive with my understanding of the drug (or the teachings of the illustrious Nebraska Wesleyan University, Drugs in a Modern Society course literature). In fact, nicotine is more addictive than heroin, and even crack, according to the course book. (fwiw, I don't know how much of this I believe, but it IS a college text...)

    Heroin does not cause immediate addiction. In fact, the majority of first time users experience an unpleasant amount of vomitting and stomach pains. However, with dogged determination, one may abuse heroin (just like any other drug), until it is deeply ingrained into the fabric of your daily routine. This is the addiction.

    To the grandparent post: I don't want to poo-poo your friends story (for all I know he could be one of the 1/10th of 1 percent of people who react to heroin the same way I react to Sour Cream and Onion Pringles.), but his claim of immediate addiction is definately an exception and not the rule.

  • Re:Nothing new here. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Aggrazel (13616) <aggrazel@gmail.com> on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:32PM (#4968535) Journal
    Actually, no, read the article, in fact, do a google search of your own.

    The designers of the game actually designed the delays and risk/reward system to tightly mirror a skinner box model, so much so that eventually in order to keep the subject addicted, the rewards are often substituted for punishments.

    If you ever really played everquest you'd know what I say is true, Everquest is designed around addiction, not fun.

    Fun is not necesarally addicting. You don't hear about people losing their families over playing "tetris" do you?

    Yet, given my involvment in the MMORPG community (I run one of the most successful DAoC guilds gamewide, although my playtime is less than 10 hours a month on it anymore), I hear stories all the time about how people failed college, got divorced, etc. hell some even committed suicide over such crap.

    Yet you say its, "just a game" and like any other is designed to entice the user.

    What you're missing is the point, its a game thats HARD to quit. Many have done so, including myself. However, many more are so completely addicted that they'll even miss the birth of their own child because its "Guild raid night." (Yes, I know someone who did just that.)

    Yes, Everquest exploits psychological behavior to the point that it becomes a strong addiction with very disturbing consequences.

    As I said in my original post, it IS up to the individual to steer away from such vices. However, I draw the comparison from cigarettes to everquest for the very reason that it has been proven in court that Cigarette companies specifically designed their products to be more addictive. Everquest has done the same. EQ might not cause cancer (though the unhealthy lifestyle lead by many addicts is just as deadly) but it does cause a lot of people to withdraw from their families and society altogether.

    Speak to any former addict about it, and don't just make assumptions that its "just a game". Its marketed as "just a game" but no other game deveoper has copied the design that EQ has. Some games are addictive because they are fun, yet everquest has 400k+ customers and probably a good 75% hate the game they play. This is true. This is addiction.

    This is not a game, its a vice.
  • by kin_korn_karn (466864) on Friday December 27, 2002 @04:52PM (#4968636) Homepage
    pot is not addictive. people become dependent on it.

    Dependence differs from addiction like so: If you're dependent on something, you rely on it to fill a void that you perceive to exist in your life.

    If you're addicted, the substance/thing you're addicted to creates the void itself when it is no longer affecting you.

    "what does doing coke feel like? It makes you feel like doing more coke." - George Carlin
  • It's a trend (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tom (822) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:25PM (#4968866) Homepage Journal
    Aside from the obvious ("don't play it then, vote with your money"), the problem is more general, it seems.

    People have become used to live with all kinds of shit. Windows constantly crashing? They just take it like the weather. "Improved" service at the gas station? Oh, no use complaining anyway. My rights taken away by a fascist government? Nothing I can do, so why care?

    I'm told by old folks that there was a time when there were no young punks being cool on the train. If they'd start harassing someone (especially a women), a bunch of local dock workers would stand up and put them where they belong.
    That was maybe 30 years ago. Last year, a bunch of students in my city made an experiment. They staged all kinds of harassment, from mild to bad up to a knife fight during various hours at a train station (with knowledge of authorities, yada yada). If I remember correctly, the record was that nobody did anything, and one women used one of the many available emergency phones to call for help.

    So what's that got to do with Everquest? It's that most of us rant here at /., but 99% of us are lazy cowards and wouldn't lift a finger to change things, much less save someone they don't even know from harrassment (except if it's a cool chick).

    Disclaimer: I'm more of a coward than I like to, but I've done the occasional stepping up, and I've written to my representative a couple times. I also keep a list of shops where I don't buy anymore.
    It ain't that much, but it ain't that hard either.
  • I agree... sort of (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ACNeal (595975) on Friday December 27, 2002 @05:58PM (#4969110)
    Personal Responsability is a concept that is being lost in this world, and to that point, I have to agree with you, it is the person who is ultimately to blame.

    We can use the analogy of the cigarette industry to demonstrate my complaint.

    The cigarette industry didn't get sued because it's product was addictive. They didn't get sued because they hid the fact that it was addicitive. Ultimately, what the suit was over was the fact that they actively tried to addict people to the cigarettes in a very seruptitious method. They would change the levels of the addictive substance (in the same "strength" of the product) at seeming random intervals. This would cause you to start smoking more cigarettes when they lowered the level to get the same buzz. Then when they raised it, you would maintain that number of cigarettes per day. Then when they lowered it again, it would cause you to start smoking even more cigarettes per day. This was the main complaint of the suit.

    Sony, or Verant, or whoever (that is a pointless argument overly used to obfuscate the "problem") employs the very same concepts to ensnare people into playing their game. The reward system employed by them isn't at all fair, consistant, or reasonable. The fact that they change the meaning, strength, or utility of different spells, items, or character types from one day to the next means no one knows what to expect from one day to the next.

    One could argue that they are employing specific tactics to ensnare borderline addicts, and completely control addictive personalities. Yes, the addict has the ultimate responsability. That doesn't totally alleviate the pusher from giving out free samples, uping the dosage, or some other trick everytime it looks like one of their users is kicking the habit.
  • by Windcatcher (566458) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:13PM (#4969219)
    Many moons ago I played EQ (when I quit the WTC was still standing), and once had to do the Testament of Vanear quest. The quest is to get a book that is really great for clerics and druids (i.e. healer types). One part involves waiting for a certain rare MOB (moving object) to spawn. Basically this guy appears, and you have to kill him. He's such a pain to get that people OFTEN try to kill-steal him (i.e. kill him before you can), so like most people I called in guild members to ensure that I got the kill. How long did it take? Let me put it this way: I went to the appropriate place, called in my guild buddies, and then WATCHED AN ENTIRE THREE-PERIOD HOCKEY GAME while waiting for the guy to appear. About a half hour after the game was over, POP, there he was, and we killed him in 30 seconds. The mob has an EIGHT-HOUR SPAWN TIME. That means, once he's dead, he doesn't reappear for another eight hours (REAL TIME). That's what we EQ players mean by needless timesinks. The sole purpose is to waste your time so you play longer.

    I eventually quit the game, when it got to the point that raids were lasting until AFTER SUNRISE. That was well over a year ago, and I haven't been back. My character is dead, may it rest in peace.
  • by kfg (145172) on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:13PM (#4969224)
    and everything else as well. I mean, this guy was a *serious* drug user. If you could swallow it, shoot it up or inhale it, he did it. All the time.

    Hell, he's even mentioned in at least one book as a case study.

    He's been clean and sober for 25 years now. for the last 20 of those he's been a full time substance abuse counseller. He likes to play a game with people. He asks them their drug of choice. From that he can do a pretty good analysis of the person's personality, even he's never met them before.

    I once asked him why people get drunk. I don't get it, I really don't. Everything about being drunk is unpleasant to me. Even being under the influence I find unpleasant. So how can someone be so addicted to this that they'll throw away everything to wake up in a gutter in a pool of their own vomit and immediately go looking for a drink?

    He looked at me and said, "Ah, that's because *you're* not an alcoholic."

    The point being that by my *personality* alcohol has no positive virtue to me. To the alcoholic it *does.* To an alcoholic *alcohol* is like heaven. Heroin may well be quite detestable to that person because the "high" of heroin isn't the "high" that, ummmm, gets them high. The alcoholic doesn't *want* "high" per se. He wants to be numb, or dance around with a lamp shade on his head and beat his wife and try to avoid repercussion by saying, "Hey, I was drunk."

    The pothead, conversely is the *sort* of person who wants to sit quietly in the corner saying, "Oh, wow man."

    Your friend was the *sort* of person for whom the heroin high is heaven. There are, in fact, many, many casual users of heroin for whom it's pleasant, but not "heaven."

    I find it telling that the writer of the article mentioned casinos. That's what the EQ "junkies" ARE doing. It's the same obsessive compulsive behaviour that a gambling "addict" experiences. Neither gambling nor EQ are drugs. There is no *actual* physiological componant to the behaviour as there is with heroin. Any "withdrawl" is purely psychosomatic.

    So why don't these people just up and quit?

    Because they have the sort of personality that, even while they are experiencing distress, in some way are getting more positive feedback from playing than negative.

    They "want" the experience they are having, whether they realize it or not. It's their "heaven."

    Take a page from the "Big Book." The first step to overcoming the problem is admiting there's a problem. What's more, the problem isn't the "game," it's you, and *you* have to take responsibility for it. If you find you are powerless against it then *get help.*

    Which is what the article is, really. Not a warning, but a plea for help. Public therapy is never pretty. Find a good specialist in obsessive compulsive behaviour and get help.

    KFG
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @06:31PM (#4969324)
    Not entirely true. Try reading up on the Dev team and you will see it also includes members from other MMORPG games including UO and other upstarts what weren't so lucky to make it so big.

    Also, they have taken great pains to learn from the mistakes of the former.
  • EQOA (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2002 @07:44PM (#4969712)
    I was in the beta test 2 and 3 for EQOA for the PS2.

    Stay away from it. Its a stripped down version of EQ, and is just another milk-the-customer way of making money.
  • by Adar (33202) on Friday December 27, 2002 @09:35PM (#4970203)
    ...all in all, thank God I quit.

    At one point, I was extremely active in the various communities for those games. I played Everquest since the beta; I was personally invited into the beta for DAoC; I was an active poster on Lum's (a site anyone who follows these games will at least have heard about), on the appropriate newsgroups, and I had emails from Brad McQuaid in my inbox a time or two.

    I was also a depressed teenager that was using these things as an escape from reality, just like most of the other people who play them.

    I got off easier than most of the hardcore addicts; even though I was addicted, I knew it to be more to the community based around the game than to the games themselves. For most of those three years, it was more fun to talk about, critique or explain certain parts of the games than to actually play them- after all, although the games were, more often than not, buggy, unfinished, incredibly frustrating timesinks, they also had a large number of incredibly smart, creative, and imaginative people that congregated around them at all times. It takes a certain mindset to want to escape into a fantasy world like this in lieu of anything else- and, more often than not, the people you'll meet in such a game are much funnier, more able conversationists and more brilliant than anyone around you in real life.

    Of course, they're also addicts that'll do anything up to and including pissing in a bottle, shitting on the floor and going without food for two or three days at a time to get the next item in a chain of a dozen that'll increase their character's power by 5%. These aren't just stories; I've seen them all firsthand and know for sure that there are still thousands (yeah, thousands) of people like that out there.

    Because of the properties of my addiction, in the end, once I snapped out of my depression it became far easier for me to quit. I'll never touch an MMOG again; I remember what it was like, and even though Star Wars Galaxies or EQ2 might be tempting, I'll never buy a copy. Like I said, I got off easy; all it really cost me was about eighteen months of my life (which I'd have wasted anyway, because the depression was from outside sources) and I even made an equivalent of fifty cents an hour selling my stuff afterwards.

    Most of the people I knew, though, probably haven't. In fact, I'd put money on half of them still being there a year after I stopped playing, probably worse off than when I last talked to them. (Don't kid yourselves; I made some good friends in that time, but most of them dropped off the face of the Earth the minute I quit. What do you have to talk about when one of you is in the game at least 12 hours a day and the other is desperately trying to put it behind him?)

    It's not the games' fault; there are people I once knew that dropped out of high school due to playing MUD's. Stephen King wrote a story about twenty people failing out of college for playing Hearts, a card game, back in the sixties- something most people probably find harder to believe than I do. But there's no question that advanced technology makes it easier for people to lose themselves like this.

    Today, I'm fine. A lot of people that were there when I was...aren't.
  • by cheese_wallet (88279) on Friday December 27, 2002 @09:38PM (#4970224) Journal
    "Take a page from the "Big Book." The first step to overcoming the problem is admiting there's a problem"

    As an alcoholic, recovering of course, I can say that the first step is not in admitting there is a problem. It's believing there is a problem.

    I had no trouble admitting I was an alcoholic, and pouring myself a beer at the same time. It wasn't until I believed through and through that it was a problem for me, and a serious one at that, that I was able to stop. Most alcoholics have to hit rock bottom for that to happen. And usually more than once. I was lucky enough to perceive the bottom before I actually impacted and was able to divert myself.

    I suspect that most of these addicted gamers are just persuing an avenue of escapism. I had a bit of a rough time in college, and I used to read a lot of books to forget about the world around me... my situation has changed and I'm a much happier participant of life now. A direct result of which is that I don't read as many, or the same kind of books.

    Unfortunately I don't have any sage advice regarding these matters. All I can say is endurance and perceverance are the traits that get you through tough times.

  • by Corbets (169101) on Friday December 27, 2002 @11:13PM (#4970526) Homepage
    I've been an Everquest player for 9 months now, give or take, and just hit the vaunted 60th level (btw, they raised the cap to 65 with the last expansion :).

    Unfortunately, I see all too much of this sort of opinion while I'm in game. It blows my mind how often people will complain/whine/rant about how horrible Sony is, how terribly their class has been nerfed, how worthless the GMs are... all while still paying for this game.

    I don't believe that each and everyone of you is addicted to EQ. Maybe a few of you are (if so, your problem isn't caused by Sony - as stated by someone else, you simply latched on to their product as an outlet for your psychological problems), but most people probably enjoy the game. I know I do. Sure, I get burned out sometimes (I recommend taking a break from it - hell of a cure), but when I start playing it again, I *like* it. And for those of you whom this article is trying to scare away - what the hell, try it before you judge it. If you don't like it, don't give them anymore of your money! :-)

    As for Sony not listening to customer feedback... well, firstly there have been many instances when they have. Look over some of the much maligned Absor's posts in the past - he'll occasionally point out this or that feature that was implemented by popular request. Unfortunately, though, many of us make unreasonable requests, whether we think them to be or not. Sure, we necroes would love a resurrection spell that doesn't require essence emeralds - but such a spell would likely change the dynamics of the game in a drastic way. Making one class more powerful makes the rest less so by comparison, at which point you have more angry customers. Therefore, I've got no objections to Sony being VERY selective in which suggestions they implement.

    I can understand part of the intent of this article (warning away possible addicts) even if I don't agree with it. But there was just way too much corporate-america bashing (as is, unfortunately, very common on this otherwise excellent site) for my taste. Quit blaming the company - if you don't like the game, stop.

    Personally, I spent many a long hour playing Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, TradeWars, and a host of other games to ever malign EQ for being a timesink.

    Nalaelen Eler
    60th Season Warlock on Fenin Ro :-)
  • Re:Gotta say it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SecretAsianMan (45389) on Saturday December 28, 2002 @02:59AM (#4971148) Homepage
    Fast foward to 2003, and a lot of online games are nothing BUT role playing

    I gotta dissent on this; having played EQ and having successfully quit (after relapsing twice), there is actually very little real role playing happening in the game. For most people, when you play EQ, you aren't a necromancer or a paladin or whatever, you are a geek sitting behind a computer with an avatar in a fancy MUD. There are servers, clients, protocols, zone boundaries, arbitrary limitations, etc that prevent you from really imagining you are in a fantasy world. Players talk to each other like they are on IRC. Hardly anybody goes around actually playing the part of their character. If someone went round saying "I am Blarzabad the Necromancer. Thou shalt flee or face thy doom!", they would most certainly recieve laughter.

    It's not role playing. It's just repetitive mindless number-incrementing.

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