EverQuest (EQ) is, at the time of writing, probably the leading example of an emerging genre of computer games referred to by the acronym MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). This refers to any computer game in which large numbers of players (several hundreds at the least) are able to interact via characters which they control, and who inhabit a common virtual world. To a greater or lesser extent, the players may choose to 'role play'; controlling their player character in such a way as to remain consistent with who the character is supposed to be, and the environment in which they find themselves.
Players progress by achieving goals in the game and by acquiring better equipment, both of which improve their social status and standing with the other players. It very often is this social advancement which keeps people playing; most MMORPGs would be extremely tedious to play as a lone player.
EverQuest is the MMORPG published and run by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), which was formerly an independent company called Verant Interactive. It consists of a client which runs on a PC, and around 40 named servers, sited in California, USA. Each of these is a self-contained1 instance of the EQ world. Each server can, and sometimes does, support in excess of 2000 simultaneous players2. Players pay an affordable monthly fee entitling them to an account. They run the EverQuest client on their PC, which gives them a three-dimensional image of the world from their character's perspective. They may move around freely, and also view the world from different 'camera angles'. Statements from SOE employees have indicated that there are more than 300,000 active player accounts.
Regular patches and updates enhance the game, and fix the inevitable bugs. Since the launch of EQ in the first half of 1999, there have also been two major expansions released, and a third is currently in progress.
EverQuest is set in the world of Norrath. Norrath is populated by the usual fantasy races including humans, elves, dwarves, trolls, and ogres as well as some original races which are unique to it. It has its own pantheon of deities, some of whom reside in separate planes of existence which can be visited by the more powerful players.
At the time of writing, there are five discovered (released and available to players) continents. At the original release date, the world consisted of the continents of Faydwer, Antonica and Odus. Since then the continents of Kunark and Velious have been discovered by explorers. Each continent has its own character and feel, and there are boat services which enable you to cross from one to another.
The continents are each divided up into a number of zones which are self-contained subdivisions of the geography. The monsters and other computer controlled characters in a zone must generally stay there and cannot cross into adjacent zones. A zone has its own weather, and is the area over which 'player shouts' or out-of-character messages may be heard. When changing zones, players must wait from ten to 30 seconds while the game downloads information for the contents of the new zone. Due to the self-contained nature of zones, it is a common tactic for a player to attempt to cross a zone line in order to shake off pursuing nasties.
EQ may be played on a choice of around 40 servers. The servers contain the same world, but there is no other communication between them. Characters on one server will never meet characters on a different server, or be able to exchange messages or equipment.
Servers come in different varieties. Most are what is known as 'blue' servers, where players may not fight each other except under special and controlled circumstances (duels, guild wars and in special designated areas). However, on 'red' or 'Player versus Player' (PvP) servers, players may fight each other much more freely, although not completely so, and may even steal equipment and/or cash from each other if they win.
Races and Classes
When players create a new character they must pick a name, a race and a class. The name floats above the character's head for all to see, and becomes the way in which everyone in the game refers to the character. A character's race and class determine what their future path will be, and what spells and special abilities will become available to them. The choice of race for a character determines which classes are available to them. For example, it isn't possible for a troll to become a wizard because trolls are too stupid for wizardry; similarly gnomes can't be shamans since gnomes are too sophisticated for shamanism. However, there is lots of choice, and each race/class combination has its own challenges.
Races include various human and elven races, ogres, trolls, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and iksar (lizard people). This list is not necessarily exhaustive as SOE occasionally add new playable races. A major factor in the choice of race is the issue of night vision. A dark elf can see clearly in places which are so dark a human wouldn't be able to see at all without some kind of light source or magical assistance. Also, some races have special skills such as the wood elven ability to forage for food, or the halfling ability to hide. Although the choice of race is often less important than the choice of class, these are factors which are well worth taking into account.
Classes come in four main categorisations. Melee classes (warrior, rogue, monk), pure spell casters (wizard, enchanter, magician, necromancer), priest classes (druid, shaman, cleric), and hybrid classes which can cast a few spells as well as fight in melee (ranger, paladin, shadowknight, bard). The class generally has much more of an impact on a player's game experience than their race. Playing a human enchanter is a very different experience from playing a human rogue, whereas playing a high elven enchanter would be reasonably similar.
All players whose class gives them any ability at magic gradually soak up a mystical force from their surroundings. This force is known as 'mana'3. New characters have a very small capacity for mana, which increases as they progress. Mana provides the energy which characters may use to cast spells, with the exception of bards, who sing magic songs which generally don't use mana.
Characters may purchase spell scrolls which can be scribed in their spell books. Which scrolls they may scribe is determined by their class. For example, many wizard spells allow them to blow their enemies up with magical blasts of great force. However, don't ask one to heal you, as not only are they unsubtle and swift to anger, but they can't scribe any healing spells. Once scribed, up to eight spells may be memorised from the spellbook for use whenever needed. If a hapless caster wishes to use a spell from his or her spellbook which is not memorised, they might have to 'forget' one of the ones they have memorised in order to make room in their memory.
Unfortunately, after a while of using spells, a caster will be distressed to discover that his or her store of mana will become used up. This is inconvenient, especially when it occurs in the middle of a fight. Most monsters will view the easy consumption of a manaless caster as a nice dessert for them after they have finished the main course of warrior with a hint of monk. Mana returns to casters very slowly indeed, unless they sit down and read their spellbook - a process known as meditating. When meditating, the mana comes back much faster than otherwise; perhaps best described as speeding up from 'very slowly indeed' to just 'slowly'.
Some classes are able to scribe spells which create pets. A pet is a slave to the character who creates it and different kinds of pets may vary greatly in their intelligence and usefulness. Pets created by necromancers and magicians are powerful creatures which can respond to, and obey commands such as 'attack', 'back off', 'follow me', 'guard here', and 'guard me'. Pets created by enchanters are rather dim, and just defend their creators after an attack on them has taken place, and that rather haphazardly. However, there is no doubt that the ability to create pets can make a major difference to the way some classes are played, and it is not unknown for people to find it gratifying to have a slave who obeys their every command, refers to them as 'Master' regardless of their gender, and only rarely answers back ('That is not a legal target, Master') or does things which get them killed.
Experience and Levels
Here is the 'meat' of EQ, or at the very least its bread and butter. The main measure of your progress in EQ is your level. A character's level is a number from one to 60. When a character arrives in Norrath for the first time, he or she is 'level one'. A level one character is a mere babe in arms. A rat is a major foe, and the sight of that most insignificant of orcs, a mere pawn, precipitates headlong flight back to the city guards for protection. By way of contrast, a level 60 character is at the top of the tree, and while not all-powerful, certainly commands a good deal of wealth, power, and respect. Needless to say, there are generally a lot more level one characters than level 60 characters in Norrath at any given time.
In order to remedy his or her sad situation, the level one character must repeatedly perform actions in order to gain experience points until, after a while, he or she will hear a loud dinging sound and become a level two character. This process is then repeated until level 60 is reached. The time taken for a character to reach level two should not be viewed as representative of the time generally taken to gain levels. Advancing a level becomes harder as the level increases. Experience points may be gained in two ways. First and foremost, they are gained by the slaying of monsters or any other being which is not another player, however, city guards are not initially recommended. Secondly, they may be gained by undertaking quests, although the motivation for undertaking quests is generally to obtain items rather than experience points. Generally , the experience gained for undertaking quests is less than that for killing lots of monsters. Quests may be found by talking to the non-player characters (NPCs) discovered by the character as he or she wanders the world, although monsters will often take the initiative and introduce themselves by discovering and attacking characters; often when they are wandering looking for quests.
As characters get into battles, they will discover that some NPCs are harder to kill than others. That rat which they killed does not readily compare with the city guard who killed them in one blow. The orc pawn managed to kill them, but not with the same ease as the city guard. EQ provides a mechanism for players to assess how easy their character thinks it would be to kill an NPC. This mechanism is called 'considering'. If a player considers an NPC, the game will provide a colour-coded message which indicates how easy to kill the NPC is, and how the NPC feels about the character. If a red message were to appear including the words 'What would you like your tombstone to say?', that should hint to the player that a combative approach might not be called for. If the message also says that the NPC is 'scowling at you ready to attack', that might hint that keeping a certain distance might be wise.
How an NPC feels about a character is determined by that character's faction with the NPC. A character's starting factions are determined by their race and class. The same guard who would protect a high elf would rush to slay a dark elf who came too close to him. However, if that same dark elf went out and slew huge numbers of the evil orcs who wander near the high elven city, the opinion of the inhabitants would slowly improve until eventually s/he would be accepted as a friend.
Conversely however, if the high elf who was being protected by the guards was to hide in a dark corner of the elven city murdering passing inhabitants for the experience points, then eventually his standing would decrease enough so that the guards would begin to look askance at him, and eventually he would replace the dark elf on their 'kill on sight' list.
As in many areas of endeavour, groups of characters can accomplish more than single characters on their own. EQ provides a mechanism for characters to assemble into groups of up to six. The groups get a special mechanism for communicating, which includes only the other group members, wherever they might be. Also, any experience points gained while in the group are shared (after a bonus based on the size of the group has been added) between all group members who are nearby. This allows characters to co-operate on a small scale, kill monsters which would overwhelm them individually, and still get the experience point benefit for doing so.
Grouping, for some classes, is the only way to proceed. This is due to the fact that conquering the evil monsters of EverQuest really requires both the ability to do good things to players, and the ability to do bad things to monsters. Some classes specialise in one or the other of these, and some have lesser abilities in both. Druids and necromancers are both classes whose ability to play alone and unaided are very pronounced. Most other classes will tend to shine at their brightest only when grouped.
Death is what happens to characters when they fight a monster which is too big for them, or fall off something from too great a height, or swim underwater for too long, or perform any number of other ill-advised activities. Death, in EQ, is very painful at all but the lowest levels. When a character dies, their corpse is left lying at the place they died. They are then reincarnated at a predetermined spot (known as their bind point) without any of their equipment (very low level characters come back with their starting equipment and food). Furthermore, they lose some of their hard-earned experience points (very low level characters are excused from this experience point loss). If they have just gone up a level, this experience loss may cause them to go back down again. Then, to add insult to injury, they have to trudge back to where they died traversing all the dangers they traversed before but without their equipment, in order to recover it from their corpse, which may still be attended by whatever killed them in the first place. All in all, not something to be repeated more often than absolutely necessary.
A character's initial bind point is initially just outside the city of their birth. However, some spell casters can scribe a spell which lets them change their bind point to be any spot which they are currently at. These casters can also change the bind points of other people, but with the restriction that they can only do so in zones which are designated as cities. This means that if someone has travelled across the world, they can move their bind point to, at worst, a city in the area - hopefully before they do anything too dangerous. However, changes in bind point can only help relieve the pain of dying, they can't alleviate it completely.
Players can form their characters into guilds. A guild is a group of players who have agreed to band together. They have a guild name, which floats above their heads next to their character name. Most importantly, however, they have a special command which allows them to speak in a way which is broadcast to all the other members of the guild. This communication mechanism is what allows a guild to exist as a cohesive organisation.
Guilds, like any other organisation made of human beings, have politics, power struggles, and coups. There is internal and external competition. However, they allow things to be achieved in EQ which could not be achieved in any other way. Some of the challenges the game throws up are too great for one character, or even a group. The larger guilds have their own character and reputations. Characters will find they are judged by which guild they are in. Guilds can engage in wars with each other, and they often compete to get rare and valuable items for their members.
Characters may take up what are known as trade skills. These include brewing, tailoring, jewel crafting, fletching, blacksmithing, pottery, alchemy, and more. Generally, these skills are increased by practice, and masters of them can sometimes create powerful items, or powerful drink in the case of brewers, if they can obtain the right ingredients. It generally costs money to improve skill, as valuable ingredients are wasted when attempts at exercising the skill fail.
EQ is played by a variety of people of many different nationalities, ages, occupations and dispositions. The game is based in California, and displays a certain west coast USA bias, but there are many, many players from Asia and Europe. Players known to this Researcher range in age from 11 to 60 years old, although the mean age would probably be around 28.
Players tend to play in a style which falls somewhere between two extremes. At one extreme is the pure 'role player', and at the other is the pure 'powergamer'. These two approaches are considered below.
The pure role player is someone who wants his or her character to behave exactly as they would were they and their environment real. In other words, as though they were a character in a well written fantasy novel. A role player will talk and behave 'in character' like an actor performing a part. If, for some reason, the role player needs to discuss something which their character would be unaware of, such as network lag or the fact they need to visit the small room, then they would make it clear that they were speaking 'out of character'.
Being a role player is not just about modes of speech. It is a general approach to playing the game. For example, a pure role playing high elf cleric would be somewhat haughty and refuse to group or have anything to do with evil characters like dark elves or trolls. That character might insist on doing what they regard as the 'right thing' even if that is to the detriment of themselves, even to the point of dying. Role players dislike powergamers because powergamer characters do things which role players would never have their characters do, and worse still powergamers characters are rewarded for it with better equipment and higher levels.
Powergamers don't care about the fantasy storyline at all. The powergamer wants to be at level 60 as fast as possible, and to own all the best equipment. Ideally, these goals should be achieved in the most scientific and efficient way. The high elf cleric powergamer will happily participate in killing any number of 'good' NPCs if he or she perceives that to be in his or her best interest. Powergamers tend to congregate into guilds, which often end up being termed 'über guilds' because of the large numbers of high level players in them and the way in which they can do almost anything they like.
Powergamers express themselves in ways which are brief and efficient, and have a tendency to use 'd00dsp33k'; this is a mode of spelling which achieves a distinctive and peculiar look by substituting numbers and symbols for letters, thought to be 'cool' by people who use it. They find role players at once laughable and incomprehensible; laughable because they talk funny, and incomprehensible because they don't understand why anyone would place all those unnecessary restrictions on themselves or spend ages typing 'Friend druid, I humbly beg that you imbue me with the Spirit of the Wolf4, so that my passage to the fair elven city of Felwithe might be swift', when they could type 'sow plz'.
The Guide Programme
Some hardy souls from among the player base volunteer to be in game customer service representatives. If they pass the selection process, they are provided with a special account with a character on it who has a raft of special abilities, and whose name appears in green to distinguish them from ordinary players. These special characters are known as Guides. They exist to provide initial support for players who experience bugs in the game, and they are a heroic bunch.
Zoning - The process of changing zones. This will often be said to someone you're conversing with, as you will miss what they say as you load the new zone information.
Train - A large collection of monsters which are chasing a character, generally to the sanctuary of the nearest zone line. Characters shout about this to warn people who may be loitering about en route so they can get out of the way.
Newbie - An inexperienced player who does not yet appreciate the finer points of the game.
Tank - A character who is able to take a lot of damage from monsters. This character will often stand in the front line with a big sword, while the frail spell casters shrink to the back away from the danger.
Camp - When used as a verb it means to hang about at the place where a monster will appear waiting for it, and to then kill it and wait for it to respawn. When used as a noun it refers to the place where a group might go to execute the verb.
Kiting - The faintly ridiculous-looking process undertaken by some characters of killing a monster by outrunning it, and blasting it in some way while it tries to catch them up. Much practiced by druids and necromancers.
Buff - A spell which has a beneficial effect on a character over a significant (more than a few seconds) amount of time.
Oom - An abbreviation for 'Out of mana'. This is a very succinct way of expressing the following sentiment:
Dear Group, I am now unable to render any further assistance to you until I have regained some of my mana. Please understand that this may take some time. Please try not to die during this period, although I understand this may be unavoidable. Love, Your Caster
Twink - When used as a noun it refers to a character who has been provided with equipment which would generally be unavailable to them because their level is insufficient. When used as a verb, it refers to the process of obtaining and giving said equipment to said character.