Downtime actually was one of the things LoH and I discussed with the Verant crew while we visited (actually, “beat them over the head with a cudgel about it” would be more accurate). We recieved many different answers as to why downtime was such a major factor in Everquest – from “it’s the only real penalty for failure in an MMOG” to “it encourages socialization” to “we filled our socks with mustard and threw them out the window”. You know, the standard answers.

I’d like to think that our cudgel beatings prompted the latest “Hey, how about this downtime thing!” discussion Brad McQuaid began on Whineplay, but that would ignore the approximately 60,000 other people who’ve complained about it over the past year and a half. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting discussion.

McQuaid started the show with the following post (excerpted below):

I’m bumping a couple of older threads in a sense, because I’d like more discussion and brainstorming on downtime in MMORPGs in general and EQ specifically.

The first deals with why downtime is used as a penalty for death and inefficient grouping, the second deals with travel, and the third talks about why downtime has nothing to do with us ‘making more money.’.

Anyway, let’s see if we jumpstart this discussion again… I’d love to see this debated here and elsewhere.

For those of you following along at home, the “death penalty” downtime in EQ is simply the experience loss that a player suffers on death, which rises exponentially as a player gets higher in level. Clerics at high levels get a spell line that can mitigate this somewhat. Needless to say this makes Clerics very popular.

“Travel” downtime is simply the time it takes to get from point A to point B. With the huge zones in Kunark and Velious, this is often not insignificant. Again, Druids and Wizards at high levels get a spell line that can mitigate this somewhat, and again, this makes Druids and Wizards very popular.

(Oh, and for the three of you who didn’t already figure it out, Verant is not in a conspiracy to keep you online as long as possible, because they actually pay more for bandwidth when your worthless camping ass is online 24/7. So, you know, they encourage you to camp 24/7 not because they want your money, but because they want you to camp. Or something.)

Anyway, the discussion rapidly grew to 11 pages over 2 threads in the space of 48 hours. Obviously some folks had something to say. Last night McQuaid responded to many of them.

Again, thanks very much for all of the responses, feedback, and ideas. I’ve read through them twice now and it’s given us a lot to think about. Perhaps there are some issues that could be addressed in the short term, but I also think there are some lessons to be learned whose solutions probably won’t be realized until the second generation of massively multiplayer games.

The following are excerpts from various posts to this thread and my responses. I tried to vary the topics and issues as much as I could and get a decent sample of the many threads. That said, I’m not saying these are the best (or worst) responses, and I’ll apologize in advance if yours isn’t one I responded to.

Goji: Downtime should be easily reduced the higher level you get. This scale is met in the mid levels quite well…

Well, the death penalty continues to go up, but then we introduce the resurrection family of spells, which we assume will be used the majority of the time. Also, mana regeneration and other spells are introduced to compensate for the increased mana costs and total mana a character may have.

Uberwolf_Unity: Exactly, you should be rewarded for reaching higher levels … everything should not simply get more difficult and more time-consuming.

However downtime that is required to GET into that group is unacceptable and should be shortened if at all possible. For example, lets imagine I want to hunt in Kael in Velious. I’m a warrior, so I’ll have to do some walking. Lets imagine I start at Karnor. First I walk to the druid ring (5 minutes) and wait around for a ride (variable, average 10 minutes). Since the Wakening lands ring is unsafe to a majority of druids I get a ride to Iceclad. I run to Kael (15 minutes) and then wait around looking for a group. An opening eventually happens in a group (VERY variable number here, lets assume 15 minutes) and I then begin to fight.

With the above scenario we’re looking at close to 45 minutes to an hour just to get started playing the game. If a death results after working this hard just to get to point A, getting back to that point could take as long or longer. This means the majority of my evening could be consumed by downtime.

Karnor, Lower Guk, Temple of Cazic Thule all have one thing in common. Downtime is reasonably small for these dungeons. There are bindable places close, there are druid and wizard teleports very close, there are safe ‘zone lines’ that one can exit from, and there is a LOT of room for groups to adventure in.

I think you’ve got some great points there, and there definitely is a difference between adventuring in some of the newer zones relative to the older. In an attempt to make larger zones to reduce over crowding we’ve also created a situation where it obviously takes longer to travel. One of our many plans in the future to improve EQ is to attempt to get zone size ‘just right’ – not too big, not too small. And, of course, this also relates to where the teleport points are.

Lisset: The boat trip from BB to Kunark is no worse than the trip between BB and Freeport. I’ve timed it. It’s approximately a 20 minute trip in both cases. However, if the boat just left (and you usually have no way of knowing if it did) it’s now a 35 minute trip.

So let’s say you want to travel from Firiona Vie to Freeport and can’t get a port (believe it or not, it’s possible). You’ve got a potential travel time of over an hour. And that’s just from city to city. That is not traveling to your final destination. All of this is assuming that you don’t get disconnected and have to start all over again.”

We’ve really tried to get the boats running smoothly and as fast as is reasonable, but they ARE there as a means by which we make the world larger. We feel it should be time consuming to travel from one continent to another. If it was a similar trip from one zone in one continent to another as it was from one zone to another across the ocean, well, I really think that would diminish the immersive nature of a virtual world.

Airtreader: Please, Brad, name 3 things that VI has done to mitigate unwarranted downtime. Maybe 2 things would be easier. One thing? Oh, yeah post 35 while in downtime you don’t have to look at the book any more.

Since launch, we’ve:

1. Halved the experience lost due to death.

2. Increased boat speeds

3. Increased range for evac and teleport spells

4. Added a second boat between Freeport and Butcherblock

5. Increased treasure and experience gain rewards for many older quests

6. Implemented Specialization

7. Enhanced High Level (35+) Meditation

8. Reduced many spells’ mana costs

9. Added Summon Corpse

10. Added Call of the Hero

11. Given more classes resurrection family spells

12. Added more resurrection family spells

13. Improved Tracking

I’m sure there are many others.

Post_Toasties: Is this how one becomes a gaming god? Farm for ideas?

You bet. Listening to feedback, learning from others, and ‘farming’ ideas are definitely ways to become better at just about everything in life.

Terrak_Steeltalon: Well, I don’t think that the exp penalty concept in and of itself is too bad, but it’s how it is executed. Death at the high levels doesn’t cost you a few hours if you don’t get a res, it can cost you days or weeks worth of exp. That’s really just not fun and I think that needs to be softened. Also, like others, I think it’s a real downer to lose a level due to death.

I think I agree with the losing level part, and I’m going to debate it a bit with the designers (although even if we all agree, I’m not sure such a change to EQ would be practical). As for your other point, as mentioned, we do expect the majority of high level deaths to be mitigated by resurrection family spells.

Lisset: It’s my belief that downtime should not force you to do nothing. You should be able to do something useful, even if it’s not as useful as what you would like to be doing.

Take waiting on for the boat. At least while you’re doing that you can usually fish. However, the fishing skill pretty much sucks. If the fishing skill actually did something more useful we would see a benefit from having a good fishing skill and wouldn’t mind the waiting so much.

The key here is that while there would be a benefit to fishing in that scenario, the benefit is far less than if that time had been spent hunting. Therefore you have downtime, but it’s not useless.

I definitely agree with you, but honestly, it’s easier said than done. I think going forward this is a very real goal: provide other activities when downtime is incurred – the player should never be doing ‘nothing’ (btw, though, I don’t consider socializing ‘nothing’).

Grave_Robber: Death of a tank could also = death for the entire group as well. Multiple penalties for all in the group. Death = a long wait for the guy to get back.

That’s an excellent point, and why we feel the melee binding issue is a balance issue for all classes, and that were it changed the entire pace of the game would change also. In other words, the fact that melee classes cannot self-bind and must bind in city zones is part of the death penalty for both melee classes AND non-melee classes.

Meleagar: I think that the whole concept of “corpse recovery” is just a flat-out bad idea, and it involves far too much work to recover from a death. It prevents people from even WANTING to explore highly dangerous areas, simply because they could lose everything they’ve earned up to that point, equipment-wise. The experience penalty is bad enough … why tack on a huge corpse-retrieval penalty?

Because ‘corpse recovery’ allows us to add a variable to the death penalty. It’s based on the premise that death in the depths of a dungeon should incur a greater penalty than death on top of a hill outside of a city. The depths of a dungeon should be a scarier, more risky place (and therefore, have better treasure) than, say, the top of a hill outside a city, and therefore dying there should be nastier. So while experience lost is the same regardless of where you die, the time involved in recovering your corpse is not, and neither is the risk you’ll not get back your equipment.

Lerahs: I understand totally. But why does time lost (due to one death) cost a heck of a lot more than [the experience gained] winning that particular fight. I understand there has to be a penalty, but your system really seems to be designed to hold the player back.

Because we expect the majority of time the ratio of NPCs killed to you dying to an NPC to be significantly in your favor. In other words, many more NPCs die than players in most adventures, and so a single death needs to cost the experience gained by killing many NPCs.

Chief_Wahoo: ‘The fundamental advancement mechanism in MMORPGs is Time Invested.’ Why? Why is this the only advancement mechanism that anyone has come up with? This in and of itself is the paradigm that you have entered and now you can’t think outside of the box. Change your views of what you consider the main advancement method and you can change your views of the rest of the issues.

I don’t know for sure why this is the only mechanism people have come up with, but it seems to be (at least for MMOGs). I sure don’t like to ‘think in a box’, which is one of the very reasons I created this thread (to get feedback and hopefully new ideas for the future). But the other advancement mechanisms used so far in games (pure luck, actual real life skill and dexterity (‘twitch’), puzzles, etc.) don’t seem to be what RPG players want and/or simply don’t work in an online persistent environment. I’m all ears if you can think of a better one that would really work – heck, if you can, please email me and we’ll definitely talk.

Alcarion: Again, I reiterate: I don’t play EQ to ‘learn good tactics’. Why would I do this? Where would I ever use these ‘tactics’ except in this game for powergaming? Will you now tell me that learning ‘good tactics’ and how to form the most ‘efficient group’ is somehow a public service provided by VI–for RL situations?

I play a game such as this to have FUN. I am willing to pay for it–up to the point I find the first game out that deals with my complaints. There isn’t one, YET. But there will be. And, until VI gets it together and starts addressing my ‘fun issues’, then the doom of ultimate cancellation looms on the horizon (no pun).

By telling me that downtime penalties are in place to force me to ‘learn tactics’ and ‘form efficient groups’, you are, in effect, telling me: be a powergamer or suffer.”

With all due respect, I totally disagree. Discovering effective tactics, playing smart, and being efficient don’t make someone a ‘powergamer’. That’s like saying a casual gamer is somehow unable to use good tactics and operate efficiently in a group – I don’t buy it.

RunDMZ: I CHALLENGE the designers to create a level one character (a melee or hybrid preferably) and play him WITHOUT twinking and WITHOUT grouping with the other designers (meaning pick-up groups only)…. find yourself soloing quite a bit? or at least wishing you could? Find yourself begging for Binds, SoW’s, etc? Could you find that cleric you needed? You having fun running across 12 zones to get your body? Still waiting for that boat?

Oh come on, many, many designers have played multiple race/class combinations to high levels, without twinking, and by making friends with players who don’t work here. And yes, we ask players for binds and SoWs, and yes we often find clerics for our groups, and yes we wait for boats at times (although I prefer to make friends with people who can teleport me). Hrm, and no, I doubt we run 12 zones to get our bodies unless we have a brain fart and forget to bind where we should.

Belrath: Verant – you still have never directly asked me for my opinion on anything other than whether or not I want to renew my subscription. How do you know if I am happy? Do you view every active player as happy because they subscribe? You should poll your players A LOT and get demographics on who thinks what. All these blanket statements about how happy everyone is nonsense.

I don’t think subscription numbers and churn rates are at all ‘nonsense’ indicators, rather I think they are ultimately the best way to gauge the success of a product. But I do agree there are other ways to gather information and to learn how to make a better product, including polls. I DO think we should poll more often. Perhaps Absor could start a thread on what you all think we should ask our customer base via polls.

Thessaly: I hope you’re reading this far down the thread, because I think this is the only post I’ve ever tried to address directly to you or anyone else “in charge”, in 18 months of following this board. And I’m doing so because you actually seem interested in the responses. Please, please listen to me, as an average but longtime player who has no personal vendetta on any particular issue.

I definitely read down this far and beyond

I can also say with certainty that both I and all the other SOE/VI employees that post here and read these boards are interested in the responses and the feedback in general. We are listening, and we greatly appreciate the time many of you take to post.

Yzona: “The fundamental advancement mechanism in MMORPGs is Time Invested; therefore, Time Lost needs to be the fundamental death penalty if the principle of risk vs. reward is to be preserved.”

Nay, the fundamental advancement mechanism is EQ is reduction of time invested and risk. You do not get to level 60 by taking risks, you get there by what amounts to experience farming, finding a simple repetitive low risk way to kill experience yielding mobs. How many people gain experience killing Trakanon and how much? It has been said often, but ultimately the penalty for death in EQ heavily discourages risk taking. Especially at high levels with no cleric around. Therefore the risk vs. reward model you mention does not exist in EQ, in fact the opposite exists: maximum reward = minimum risk if you define the reward as experience.

One answer to this is that extreme risk taking still generates the best loot. The flaw here is that experience and loot are not interdependent. In fact many players powerlevel to as high as a level as possible using whatever low risk means as possible so that they can then do the occasional high risk attempt at little overall cost to their experience.

What this means with regard to your original theory is that the wrong players experience the largest penalties. That is the players that take the most risks, whether they succeed or not, are the most heavily penalized because they will die the most, and then suffer the extreme penalty for death which in no way compensates for the experience gained by taking risks.

I do not necessarily disagree with the idea that time needs to be lost as a penalty, but because risk versus reward does not apply to EQ in terms of experience it is not right to use the model as the basis for loss of experience either.

“The time lost can be in the form of experience loss, an experience debt (a cool idea, btw), items lost (providing it takes time to acquire items), corpse retrievals, etc.”

Although this will have to be hearsay IMO more people have quit EQ because of the enormous amount of non-game playing time incorporated, including meditation, hp regeneration, travel and corpse recovery than anything else.

“As a corollary, being efficient in terms of time spent is the quickest way to advance (assuming advancing quickly is your goal, of course).”

There are 3 main goals: level/experience, loot and adventure/risk taking. All should apply and be interelated.

“Downtime, which is likewise often debated and criticized, is also a penalty based on the Time Invested/Time Lost principle. Minimizing or even eliminating downtime using intelligent tactics in a well-balanced group is an efficient time investment. Failing to do so incurs a Time Lost penalty, though probably not as severe as dying.”

The problem though once again is that you are rewarding players for not just reducing risk but eliminating it, instead of for taking risks.


“This isn’t as applicable to travel (well, unless you consider teleportation spells), but please realize that there is a balance we’ve tried to achieve between tedium and losing how big a world feels and the sense of accomplishment from travel.”

Ultimately you have not accomplished this goal. What do you really think people do when they are meditating or riding boats or waiting on a 30 minute spawn? They read a book. They turn on the television. They call their friends. They run to the store. They make dinner. The one thing they are not doing is playing a video game. Please you really need to understand that there is no excuse for having people sit for 30 minutes and longer doing absolutely nothing. It’s not a chance to socialize or work on a trade. It is simply unnecessary downtime.

“This probably opens up a new area of discussion and debate, that being how does one create a virtual world in an MMOG that is large, where exploration is important, where players feel accomplished after traveling great distances, yet isn’t tedious when it comes to frequent traveling….”

Your Velious idea which seems remarkably similar to the portal idea in Diablo 2 is certainly a step in the right direction. You need to find the portal once then you can go there. However, D2 is still way ahead of EQ in this area because of all the other tedium EQ attaches to travel.


“Would you guys stop with the ‘downtime is there to keep people playing to make VI more $’… sheesh”

Where there’s smoke … If enough people feel this way then perhaps you need to try and see it from their viewpoint. I’ll bet you could triple the speed of gameplay (meditation, hp regen, travel as above) and many people would still think it was too slow, that’s how bad it is now.

“Downtime is there as a penalty (please read my other posts). It’s not supposed to be fun, and the challenge is to avoid it.”

Um this is supposed to be a video game as in entertainment as in fun. There is no need for any parts that are designed not to be fun. Challenging yes, unfun, never. In a sense EQ works somewhat like other games, if you fail you are forced to repeat that part of the game. What no other game I can think of has is extended periods of complete downtime where the player has no choice but to sit for 30+ minutes at a time. It’s not fun and it’s not playing a game, it’s just wasting time. Or not since most people are not even sitting at their computers for these parts.

“If people thought there was too much downtime and that the majority of their experience playing wasn’t any fun, they’d leave. It wouldn’t KEEP people playing and make us money, rather it would have the OPPOSITE effect.”

This is the crux isn’t it? Because more people play EQ than leave you think you must be doing it right. IMO you have created a one of a kind very addictive game that has kept me playing for 20 months, yet this in no way does not mean it couldn’t be better. When almost every player complains about the length of time boat rides take perhaps they are right. The rest of the game is fun enough for most players that they put up with these things, but why not get rid of them and make the game even better?

“Some of you might find this hard to believe, but the EQ teams are a bunch of gamers who want to make a great game. We NEVER talk about money and profits and revenue at tuning meetings. We talk about what would make the game better, or what needs to be addressed to fix balance issues, etc.”

While I believe this I also believe that you really need to have some people there who have played the game as players. Not VI employees, not live testers but the real thing.

“Why? Well, most good game companies know to leave their creative people alone as long as they’re making great and profitable games. And guess what? EQ continues to be a huge success.”

Could still be better eh?

“That’s right: the most profit comes from a subscriber who plays only occasionally. The guys who play crazy hours every day cost us more due to bandwidth used.

That’s right, casual gamers, we make the most money off of you! *evil cackle*”

Yes we know. 😛 Yet as many people point out the game still seems to cater to people with an enormous amount of time on their hands who have time for uber guild 3 day raids. So getting back to the original purpose of this thread, the people you are hurting the most with the enforced downtime are in fact the casual players. The ones who have 2-3 hours to play a few nights per week who have to carefully plan what they are going to do that night, then die and spend their entire night getting back to their corpse.

Conclusion: You need to encourage risk taking instead of actively discouraging it, and one way to do this is to reduce the penalty for it, which in most cases can be summed up as downtime.

Wow, one of best counter arguments posted, giving me much to think about – thanks. As for your conclusion, though, it seems to be contradictory. ‘Risk’ fundamentally implies a penalty for failure. The greater the risk, the greater the penalty (and hopefully, the reward). IMHO, Reducing penalties doesn’t encourage risk taking without also reducing the risk itself.

Skruff: AC has very different death penalties, loss of vitae affecting stats and skills while you make up some additional exp, and the loss on your corpse of only some of your (best) items and all your money unless you recover them in time (much shorter time limits). So no major exp loss, no losing all your items, and yet the desire to stay alive is just as great and the fear of dying no less than in EQ. What this proves to me is that you don’t need a massive death penalty to create a sense of atmosphere or a “risk versus reward” motivation.

Regardless of how effective or not that system is for our distinguished competition, I really don’t feel it would work for EQ. First, EverQuest is more group oriented, and coming back after death with significant stat penalties would make you unattractive for a time (even after you’d looted your corpse). Also, EverQuest is a VERY item-centric game, and significantly increasing the chance of item-loss would turn out to be a much harsher penalty than what currently exists.

Aldarion_Shard: Guilds are 99.99999 percent of the time a downtime INCREASING factor. They want you to help power level. They want you to help them go on a raid for stuff you don’t need and won’t be offered a roll on. They want your ports, sow’s, rez’s, etc. the best way to eliminate downtime is play solo and don’t talk to anyone.

I think that definitely depends on the guild. Guilds for me have had the opposite effect and have definitely helped me decrease downtime. They’ve provided people to group with me, they’ve helped me recover corpses, they’ve teleported me, they’ve resurrected me, they’ve given me advice on where to hunt, etc.

Petoffen: Verant has done a pretty great if imperfect job.

Heck even the players have been partly to blame – for example, Verant has given us great AE tactics for wizards, yet they are little-used.

If anything, I’d tell Verant, keep the game with lots of challenge for the single group. I prefer not having to get huge raids together much, even if that does have its place at times. And do something to keep the uberguild stuff under control. I’m on the server they say is best for this, and I’d hate to imagine the servers where guild fight over who gets to raid what more.

I think you’ve got a good point there. The majority of content in EQ should definitely be targeted at a solid group (4-6 players). Then should come the really difficult stuff, requiring multiple groups, as well as content for people who prefer soloing. Recently, as we’ve focused quite a bit on higher levels and very difficult challenges, we’ve also added a lot of multiple group content. And while this in and of itself is definitely not a bad thing, in the future we’ll make sure more single group challenges are added, as well as content for all level ranges, more playing styles, etc.

Lerahs: I say again THANK YOU Brad for coming in and starting this discussion. Communication means a lot to tons of us. A post like this once a week will do a lot for EQ.

Thanks Lerahs, but unfortunately I simply don’t have the time to post here often. I read the boards a lot, but I’m really the type that prefers detailed design discussions which, of course, require a lot of time to read through and respond to. Hopefully Absor can conduct similar threads regularly (I know Abashi used to), and I’ll try to drop by occasionally as well.

Quite a bit to work through. Here’s some of my own random thoughts on the subject.

EQ is a very focused game – the “level race” from 1 to 60. While it would be nice to say “well, the journey is its own reward and gosh, some of those zones sure are pretty and I like talking to people!”, the simple fact is that if you want to continue to play with your friends (which is, you know, the point), you have to remain at a rough level parity with them. That means, for most, staying on the level treadmill.

Downtime is the resistance of the treadmill – what actually makes the game challenging. As McQuaid noted several times, time invested is really the only mark of achievement in Everquest – since pretty much anything is attainable given enough force of will to sit on your butt and wait for it to appear.

Can it be fixed? Probably not in EQ, without changing the very nature of the game itself. You could add in other things to do (such as the trade skill revisions that have been ongoing for some time now) but the core game itself is an assembly line of fight->loot->recover. The “recover” is a key element of that. Without recovery time – downtime – you’re not playing Everquest, you’re playing Diablo. You know, click and watch the sprites go poof. Not necessarily a bad model – Diablo sold an ungodly amount of copies, remember – but it’s not Everquest’s model, and it remains to be seen if such a model can actually work in a game built around character building.

The closest equivalent in MMOGs, Ultima Online, has a comparatively short character-building cycle. Once you get 7x GM (if you even bother to go that far) you’re pretty much done. Characters are “effective” far earlier in the game – the tradeoff is that to keep the game remotely challenging, UO has a far more restrictive “level cap” (skill cap, in UO’s instance). You don’t see the dramatic difference in UO that you do between even a level 50 vs level 60 character in EQ. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Depends on what type of game you want to play, obviously.

I personally am biased towards the UO model – I feel that game content should be balanced in the main towards characters at the higher end of the level/skill curve (which unfortunately is the case in EQ as well, since players of high level characters also are usually the ones who are the loudest complainers when anything doesn’t suit them) and it should be a fairly simple affair to get to that higher end of the curve. To the point where you can actually play the game and not worry about whether you can keep up with your friends on the treadmill.

And the benefit to a system like this, of course, is that once you no longer are concerned about slowing the “race to 60”, downtime tends to magically disappear. Then again, I’d get a lot less reading done.