I am finding the Round Table at Everquest: Next to be incredibly thought provoking. Even if very little of it actually makes it into the game, it’s always interesting to see what other people think about gaming. It can be frustrating running into people who feel that what they want and think represents the majority of players, and eye blinding trying to read the posts that are poorly written, but overall there’s a great deal of possibility and thought there that would never have occurred to me. MMOs are giant communities; it can be easy to forget that communities are comprised of many different people, many different personalities, and many different playstyles. I am obviously biased toward my own preferences, but I have been known to be influenced by a particularly well-thought out argument.
But this is supposed to be about EQN’s Round Table… One of the topics presented in August was contested content. The subject runs: Contested content: Yea or Nay?
Quite literally, that’s it. It’s a poll, so there are a few multiple choice answers blending from yes to maybe and no, but the subject is plopped down without context or explanation, leaving all participants to fill in the definition of contested content on their own. Is it castles for guilds to wage war over the glory of possession? Is it epic raid mobs wandering the open world? Randomly appearing rare spawn bosses designed for a smaller group? Quest NPCs who will only teach classes or offer quests to the first group that encounters them? All of the above? None of the above? What, precisely, is contested content? Is it possible to even answer a yea or a nay without a definition? It’s certainly difficult to even have a conversation; I tried to start one with a gaming buddy of mine to see what he thought. After several minutes of confusion we came to the abrupt realization that I was thinking of contested content as something closer to overland raid bosses, but he was thinking it meant something like open public dungeons.
All of these questions … for the sake of a discussion, I will define contested content in the broadest, simplest way possible. Contested content is all of the above. Any limited access content that is only open for brief windows of time, to a small amount of players. Designed to elicit competition, contested content is a rare commodity over which many fierce battles between players are fought. Whether it’s a clickie with a long respawn, a location to own, a dungeon to conquer, a monster or NPC to interact with or kill – contested content from this point forward is any limited resource that requires competing with other players to obtain.
I can think of many games that have content like this, with the most recent on my playlist being avatars in EverQuest2. I think of castles, overworld bosses, avatars. I actually find the possibility of contested content to be pretty exciting. I want there to be stuff in the game that I can’t do. I want stuff that’s too difficult for me to accomplish. Whether it’s because I lack the skill or because I lack the manpower and time – content that can’t be easily accomplished by everyone, content that can’t be accomplished by even the majority of players, is inspiring. It gives me something to aspire to, something to dream about, something to ooh and awe when I see someone else manage it.
Yes, I absolutely think there should be contested content in a game.
But I would like to see a much broader range of contested content than anything I’ve seen before. In every example of contested content that I can think of, in any game where I’ve seen it, it is generally the province of guilds. I suspect this is a large part of the reason that the concept elicits strong pushback from so many players – many people want a shot at the big cool stuff too, but are blocked by the larger, more powerful, more organized guilds. And it seems like the moment you say ‘contested content’ people think big. Big, bad, fireballs and comets, wars, uber loot – the general response is that if it’s contested, it must be big and cool and require a guild to take down.
But isn’t that the kind of backward thinking that isn’t taking what context we do have into account? EQN has an entire world that’s destructable. Think about that for a moment. The entire world. You can take your shovel and just dig downward. And you know what? The world heals – so you don’t have to worry about someone else jumping into your tunnel and following you down (unless they happen upon your tunnel just after you’ve made it, but before it starts filling in) and stealing your discoveries.
What was the term coined in Itzkoopa’s interview with Terry Michaels? A “persistent dynamically changing world.” No more is a contested boss limited to an overland zone that can be spawn camped or found with scripts and bots. With a destructible world that is procedurally generated, there can be bosses and special encounters just waiting right below your feet. Every shovelful could be the key to an unexpected adventure with a boss or epic fight. How can a guild, no matter how large or organized, permacamp the entire world? There are deserts, forests and all sorts of landscapes overground. There are floating islands and flying fortresses above your head. There are dungeons and caves beneath your feet. With a changing, generated world that you can interact with, all you have to do to hunt for something amazing is find yourself a little spot and interact.
No matter what the contested content may be, the entire nature of the contest is changed once you open up the entire world. And that changes the entire tenor of the question, doesn’t it?