Back in the bad old days (circa 1999), massively multi-player online games allowed player to player interaction. I’m not talking about player killing: I’m referring to the ability of one player’s actions to impact another, for good or ill. Then things began to change…and I don’t personally believe the changes were all for the better.
The current generation of MMOGs included World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2 front and center as “defining” games. Both have implemented features to take away the “bad” of player interaction. But in the case of EverQuest 2 at least, I think things have gone too far.
Players in EverQuest 2 can’t heal each other unless they are in a group. They can’t attack a monster another player has engaged. A player in EverQuest 2 can’t cast beneficial spells (“buffs”) on passers-by, and most of the “utility” spells common in the previous generation of games such as run speed enhancements and teleports castable on others have been removed entirely. Add to this the fact that many if not most dungeons are “instanced” (seperated/isolated) for the individual or group and you have an environment that works well to ensure that one player can not influence another’s gameplay.
There are some reasons why this “isolation” approach was taken. A player that can “buff” or heal another player outside their group can potentially powerlevel that player. If one player or group can attack another player’s target monsters, then they can “killsteal”. Monsters that aren’t “keyed” to one player or group can attack innocent bystanders as one player runs past them and creates a train. And players that can cast beneficial utility spells like run speed buffs and teleports on others quickly becomes “essential”- and resented by some portion of the players that don’t have those abilities themselves and must go to others to acquire their “blessings”.
But there are a lot of good things that not being isolated brings. Players who help each other out with a friendly buff or some timely healing can become fast friends. Powerlevelling might bring high level members in a guild into contact with lower level members. One group can lend a hand when another group gets in over their head…and both can benefit from the kill. Trains of monsters, as frustrating as they may be at times, promote some player to player interaction in the form of shouts to the zone, assistance, and yes even some anger or rivalries. Utility spells, particularly group teleports, bring people together albeit briefly for travel, and can provide some real mercantile interaction between the caster and spell recipient.
I believe that the changes that were made for EverQuest 2 have produced a sterile world. In my time playing the old Everquest (two years), I found the good aspects of things like buffing passers by and helping defuse a passing train far outweighed the occasional jerk or bad situation. In the current EQ2, players don’t interact outside of their own six member groups. They have no reason to. Helping a strange just doesn’t happen.
This was driven home particularly strongly to me when I spent a brief time playing World of Warcraft. Zone chat channels were highly active, people gathered in centers like the auction house and around Inns to exchange buffs and the like, and passers by often buffed my character for no reason at all. The “thanks” and “no problem”s exchanged after these little interactions made the world seem more real.
I’m hopeful that there will be some changes in the not to distant future in EQ2 that might “unlock” the old way of playing. In the meantime, EQ2 is a great six person adventure game…
Update: Apparently the EverQuest 2 folks were way ahead of me on this. On August 21 (6 days after I originally posted this), they announced rather sweeping changes coming concurrent with the first game expansion, Desert of Flames. Reading what Scott Hartsman says in his post, it even sounds like they have very similar reasons to what I expressed for making the change. Its almost spooky…