RARE AND REQUIRED [Author: Lum the Mad]

The principle behind “enforced rarity” and “bottlenecks” in Everquest, to its designers, is to preserve the “fantasy” of Everquest – the wonder of coming across the rare player with a flaming sword or animated cobra-staff. Unfortunately, that … for lack of a better word, that vision – is flawed. It assumes that players are willing to make the compromises that come from playing in a multiplayer environment; where the game itself encourages the player to see himself as the center of his own universe. Everquest, in many ways, begins as a single player game in a multiplayer environment, and at its climax grows to the interplay between tightly-knit groups of 6, or in the endgame multiple groups. At least, that was the design. And for most of the game, it does hold up as such.

But the game does progress towards its end – and Everquest does have an inevitable end by design. The design of Everquest postpones that end through an insane difficulty at the end of the scale but does not eliminate it. And in an item-centric game such as Everquest, your hardcore players – the ones enmeshed in the post-50 endgame – are going to make themselves as powerful as they can. It’s a natural human reaction, and for those in the true PvP game of EQ – making oneself seen as a desirable, almost required group partner over and above the other players competing for that spot on a plane raid or dragon takedown or what-have-you – the only reaction. Tell someone that they can’t be the best player they can be so that the rarity of an item may be preserved? Most who’ve invested the months in their character that the endgame of EQ requires aren’t going to be terribly impressed.

So the players are being pitted against each other – both by the design of the game and by the desire of the players to be the best that they can be – in a competition over limited resources. Boy, doesn’t this sound familiar. And we’re seeing this again with the Ragefire camp – the “bottleneck” that Verant put into the Cleric epic quest to limit how many res sticks are in the game. From EQCleric:

When Ragefire spawns, turn in your Shimmering Pearl and kill him. Don’t ask for time to buff, for forces to get there, etc. If you can’t kill him when he spawns you are not ready. Period. Call in the next group. Ok, I’d probably allow five minutes or so (heck of a time to hit the head), but otherwise you must be ready. If you aren’t ready you aren’t camping, your scouting.

Is the above harsh? /em shrugs It’s reality. Verant gave us an easy quest. They made the reward for that quest incredibly desirable. That guarantees fierce competition for the reward. With the post from Verant I don’t see how one can reasonably treat this camp any other way. The first group at the camp with the force necessary to kill Ragefire gets the spawn (don’t dither turning in that pearl). And you know what? It’s fair.

This isn’t an epic quest. There is nothing epic in the assembly line that churns out res sticks or Ragebringers or any other item deemed “necessary” by the player base. The only quest is in the jostling to be the next in line, without being intercepted by another group that did the dictated steps or killed Jobaber moments before you could. And all the good writing that is put into the quests – in some of the epic quests, there was truly a valiant effort to make the journey, if not equal to the reward, at least not quite as painful to suffer through – will not help when you are sitting for twelve hours on your ass waiting for Step B in List C so that you get Item D.

And what makes this all so infuriating and enraging is that it’s pointless. Truly, exceptionally pointless. For Verant’s logic is flawed. It assumes that by inserting bottlenecks in the quests for items that Verant seeks to enforce a rarity in, that such a rarity will happen – that players not deterred from seeking out these items from the difficulty in obtaining them will simply settle for being percieved as inferior. As Absor put it:

The ‘problem’ here is that this particular epic is the most desired epic item in the game. The problem is that everyone is making this their priority; clerics, guilds, groups – everyone. The problem isn’t the bottleneck, it’s the fact that so many people are trying to get this item.

The Ragefire portion of this quest is not much different than other bottlenecks in other epic quests. Sure, we could move the bottleneck (and, most likely, force you to start over, since the bottleneck is currently at the end of the quest). But it would still have to exist. We need to control how many of these items exist in the game, control their rate of entry into the system.

I have read all of the comments made about this issue. While I can see that this is a concern, the solution is that people need to get along. We can’t control the fact that so many people feel that they need to get this item and are willing to screw with other people to get it. The two solutions to that are to just give one to every cleric over 50th level, or to remove (or nerf) the item.

The cleric epic is not going to enter the world any faster than it does. Because of its perceived value, there are no obstacles that we could put in the path of obtaining it that would retain its current drop rate that wouldn’t be a ‘bottleneck’.

But in truth, few will settle for “getting along”. When something is percieved as desirable as the res stick, people who have already tolerated the insane levels of camping and downtime that it takes to get to the highest level of Everquest will simply do whatever it takes for this item. Whether it involves waiting patiently for hours, organizing your guild to lay claim to the “quest spawn” continously, or simply not playing well with others and taking what others assume to be theirs. It’s rubicite fever all over again.

And, as I said, it is pointless. For rarity in Everquest cannot be enforced. It can be delayed – the point of the “bottlenecks”, which infuriate so many, is to accomplish exactly this delay. You thought the designers of EQ didn’t know what they were doing when making the J-boots quest rely on a rarely-spawning Ancient Cyclops? They know to the letter how often those mobs spawn. They count on it. If a mob only spawns once a week, that ensures that in a year, only 52 items relying on that mob will hit that server. It is a crude method of enforcing rarity, and for a time it works.

But only for a time. For in a game where nothing is ever lost, eventually the weight of simple mathematics ensures that everyone who wants a res stick will have one. Everyone. It only requires the patience to wait until your number comes up; and as more players get their res stick or shiny prong of uberness or what have you, everyone – everyone will have one. And eventually the item won’t be so rare any more.

At this point it’s worthy of asking – does a flawed model of rarity that refuses to acknowledge the flaws of the players that it seeks to control truly justify the feeding frenzy among the rats in the Norrathian cage that it inevitably creates?

Everquest’s designers see only two answers out of this problem. To quote Absor again:

The two solutions to that are to just give one to every cleric over 50th level, or to remove (or nerf) the item.

Either putting the item on a vendor (as was done with Traveller’s Boots this last patch) or by removing the item entirely (as was done to remove Rubicite fever). Both have been done. Both certainly remove the problem.

Is there another answer? Not without expanding Everquest’s endgame to make it mean something beyond piling the best stuff on your paperdoll.

But that’s the next rant.