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In My Understanding

An old school gamer discusses the challenges facing the MMORPG community and it's leaders.

Author: jesad

Loot Rules - Setting a standard of trust.

Posted by jesad Thursday August 30 2007 at 10:59PM
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How many of you have had this experience before?

You are in a group with a ranking member of your guild and an item drops that you really want.  It also happens to be an item that a ranking member of your guild really wants and they express this desire openly.  You defer to the ranking officer with a taste of malice in your heart so foul that you spend the next day or so contemplating if this guild is the right place for you.

In EQ1 I was a newb and played a paladin.  I managed to get myself involved with some very forward thinking people who were taking on aspects of the game that I didn't even know existed prior to joining them and so for a long time I sat silent and watched as the guild progressed from it's initial grinding stage to it's later raiding stage.  Throughout the progression I noted that there seemed to be a click of members who always grouped together, always were ahead of a lot of other guild members, and who always had the nicest gear.  Eager, in my newness, to become one of what I then felt were the elite, I set my sights on integrating with these folks and getting in on some of those phat loots they were always getting.

As time passed I got to know these people a little better and grouped with them on more than one occasion.  That was when I noticed the thing that would set the standard for my choices in grouping for the rest of my MMO life.  You see, no matter how often I grouped with these folks, no matter how good I was at playing my class, how often I showed up for scheduled functions, no matter what, there was always a nagging feeling that there was some preferential treatment taking place on the drops.  Items would hit the ground that to me would provide a substantial upgrade while to the main tank (a warrior then) would offer only a slight upgrade to his already sturdy gear and yet, somehow, this guy always got the drops.  Later I would watch as others who came through that guild (that I will not name) questioned this practice only to receive more excuses than a cable company CSR will give in responses to a breakage in ISP service.

We have to build him up because he is the main tank and needs to take all the damage in raids.

No see, this item has this certain protection on it and we need him to have that for when we go up against mob X who specializes in said attack.

Finally, after all other excuses had been exhausted I watched this guild band together and simply ridicule any member questioning their loot practices into a state of deference akin to that of being an indentured servant not worthy of anything short of the table scraps they were willing to part with on any day.  Terms like "Loot Whore" and "Greedy" were tossed around at the slightest mention that the divvy of the loot had not been done properly and since, by that time, we were at a raiding level, no one spoke out against it in fear that once a bone was finally tossed amongst the dogs, it would be purposely thrown over their heads.

At the time I was only in my 20's.  I was still very idealistic and green to the world and I still very much believed in fair play.  For a while there I even bought into the whole scam as I became among those who that bone was tossed towards more often than other lesser guild members.  It couldn't last though.  Like all practices that ultimately will eat themselves, favoritism and unfairness breeds discontent and spite.  One day I decided to call them on their crap.  Well, suffice to say, I was rewarded with the standard response.  I was called everything from Loot Whore to Traitor during the times they were still even willing to talk to me about it.  As it was a PVP server we all played on though, ultimately, it just landed me on the KOS list of the guild.  A guild I helped build.  People I formerly thought of as friends.  Like I said, I was only in my 20's then and very idealistic.

Since those days MMO developers have done a lot to combat the crafty trickery of greedy guild leaders, officers, and other players.  Still, in the attempt to create a persistent and somewhat real world experience, not a lot can be done to curb the almost instinctual desire to get for one's self what all may need and are entitled to.  For the solution to this problem I look to the community to set the standard. 

There are a lot of guilds out there.  A lot of guilds with a lot of aspirations and more challenges being constructed every day.  Amidst all this collecting and building, all this trading and searching there lays a great opportunity for thievery and knavery.  The thought itself brings to mind a so-called elite guild on the Venekor (pre-merger) server of EQ2 whose leader took the entire guild bank and all it's proceeds and unbeknownst to the rest of his guild, quit the game and sold his account.  His guild, as mighty as they were, were reduced to nothing more than a pack of homeless orphans, a group of people who's time, time that they will never get back of course, had amounted to nothing more than an extra paycheck in some random dudes pocket and maybe, at the most, enough money to log right back in to the same game under a different persona and do the entire thing again, FOR FREE. 

No, I say then that the first order of business for any guild that is planning to go the distance in any of these games is to set some standards, both ethical and functional, that will allow their players to develop the feeling of trust and solidarity needed to tackle these increasingly difficult challenges being placed before them.

The slogan for today.  Hate the dice, not each other.

Hard coded into almost every game I have played lately is a standard die rolling mechanism that controls who, in the group, gets the loot.  Be it random 100 or that little screen that pops up showing the "need" or "greed" button the mechanism is there and should be used whenever dealing with another person no matter who they are.  We all know that the closeness breeds opportunity for treachery and we all hate finding out after the fact that it was our best friend, partner, or trusted mentor who got the best of us in the end.  More times than I can count, as an officer of any guild, I have had to field situations related to "ninja-looting", entitlement looting (that's where the officer gets the loot just because they are the officer), or outright thievery simply because on person (sitting on the other side of a cartoon character) decided to beat another (in the same configuration on the other side of the country) out of some hard earned, time spent item of value, when all either had to do to keep the wrong thing from happening is follow the standard.

So then, for all who are still reading up to this point, here is the standard by which I play, live, and decide who gets loots in my little part of the MMO world. 

1.  Set up the loot options (if there are any) or explain how the loot is going to be distributed before the first kill.

2.  Respect those options.  Being able to talk someone out of something that they have justly won for their efforts does not make grouping with you any more palatable than if you outright stole it from them.  (This one applies especially to those in ranking positions and those who are female or play female characters.)  I will not get into the social implications of this last statement of course but you are free to comment on it if you wish.

3.  Understand your rank and what it means to your group and or guild members going into the fray.  Your power as a guild leader, officer, ranking member, or even as a woman is dependent and directly related to how you wield it.  Frivolous abuses of rank or gender, exploitation of the rules, and favoritism will not only get you labeled as a poor candidate to follow or hang out with but can also create long standing damage to the overall community if not our society.  We are all, after all, simply superimposing what we have learned in the real world over what we do and how we operate in these games.  Why not expect some kid who grew up playing these games to be an ass in the real world because of the way they were treated during their formative years in a game?  Is such a price really worth being able to say that you "played the role" of an evil dark elf that much?

4. Require these options to be set prior to waving your flag under anyone else’s banner no matter what the other guy says.  It is an old favorite way of bilking people for one guy, the guy who formed the group of course, to say "It's ok, we can leave it on "Free for All" and if you need it you can have it, only to snatch up that special "no trade" thing they were going after from their unsuspecting and trusting group member after it hits the ground.

I am no longer 20 something and I am no longer so idealistic but I have been playing these games for almost 20 years now and it never ceases to amaze me how so many people find it so easy to fall into behavior bordering on criminal over something as simple as a graphical representation of a line of code that might have caused them to waste a few hours of their life to get. 

On the same day that Alex Popov caught that legendary 73rd homerun ball caught hit by Barry Bonds a little healer joined a group of me and some others who had been working on an armor quest in Vanguard for over a month and won the coveted breastplate that one of our regular group members needed to finally complete that quest.  Needless to say we were all a little bit disappointed even though the healer was also a guild member and also needed the plate.  Was it cool that the healer was able to gain so easily what we all had worked so hard to find?  No not really.  Was it fair?  Absolutely.  There were a myriad amount of things we could have done to prevent that from happening, we simply were not on our toes that day.  Now if our regular guy had locked the loot and kept it locked until one or the other got tired and logged out of the game in order to have it, similar to the way that Patrick Hayashi took advantage of the melee of the fans to claim that homerun ball for his own, I wouldn't have simply been disappointed I would have been pissed and that guy probably would have been excluded from future guild functions because of it.

Of course as always, I can hear the din of cries raise up from those who see things differently.

The Tradeskiller - I give away great items all the time.  I should not have to wade amongst the unwashed to get something I need.

The Guild Leader - It's for the guild.

The Officer/Group leader - This is the entire reason I put the group together in the first place.

The Female or Male player playing a female - It's not my fault if they are too weak minded to know better.

All weak, self serving excuses for craven behavior.

I say that if all things are going to be fair then there is no reason NOT to use the loot functions of the game and fairness is what, in the end, will bond so many people of so many different backgrounds together instead of tear them apart.  I say to promote the feeling of kinshp, trust, and solidarity and you will get all the things you want out of these games and more, at least, that is my understanding of it all.

Role-playing vs Playing a Role

Posted by jesad Thursday August 2 2007 at 11:08AM
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This week we ask our friends Newton and Hardcore a very specific question.

What is Role-playing?

Hardcore - Role-playing is the lost art of immersing ones self into their character and world by acting out the actions of their class and persona while keeping all OOC (out of character) chat to a minimum.  I call it a lost art because very few people still do it and even less know how to do it well.

Newton - Role-playing is dead.  It's that old school thing where a bunch of 40 year olds run around and speak in old English saying things like "Hither" and "Forth" and generally slow down what is already a slow process (leveling) to a grind.


At best, role-playing as it was done in my house, back in the pen and paper days, was a strained exercise.  Picture if you will, several ladies and gents who, during their normal lives hold jobs like hotel clerk, convenience store manager, night-watchman, and exterminator all sitting around a large ping-pong table pretending to be wizards, warriors, elves, and dwarfs.  One would almost have to imagine a bong being broken out amidst all this mundanes just to make these people talk to each other at all.

Now picture the same setting with one lone figure sitting at the head of the table attempting to tell a story that involves all of those people and telling it well enough create a form of mass hypnosis powerful enough to bring this group together under the illusion of all being in the same but completely different world than the one they knew and could see using only a library of books and rules and a few pewter figures strewn across several delicately drawn maps.

Some days the night-watchman would really enjoy himself as he (the warrior) would lay waste to encampments of gnolls on his way to meet the rest of the party.  Most days however, it was the disruptive plumber who had the best game making fun of the night-watchman and everyone else at the table by doing things that in his mind "made the game a little more realistic" as to how he thought his character (the thief) would operate.

Enter Ever quest 1.  The first title that would hold the majority of the people from this table under one Massively Multi player On-line environment.  Books and rules have been replaced by printers and quests downloaded from the Internet.  Pewter figures have been replaced by beautifully drawn 3D characters and maps, although still a large part of the game, have been removed from the game entirely and are now (as they should be) items of great value that must be sought from outside sources and deciphered for their accuracy and lore along the way.  Moving this 3D character has become much more of a chore now than it used to be using that pewter figure, and must be done using the same tool that the players uses to communicate with other players.  Even talking has become more complicated as one must now know the correct syntax to use to get their messages to the correct people and the correct format in which to form their words.  "Hey! Take it easy on the caps!" makes playing the role of the maniacal or boisterous nearly impossible to play.  And amidst all the laziness in typing words like "P-owned" and "~La" that don't even exist in the modern English language make any attempts at Olde English communication seem dated and out of place.

How then did one role-play in Ever quest 1?  Answer, they didn't.  EQ1 saw the degeneration of role-playing, as those pen and paper folks new it, go from corny but fun depictions and over the top characterizations of warriors, knights, thieves, and wizards acted out between a group of real life friends who met once or twice a week to one on one screaming matches between complete strangers over the encroachment of formerly "camped" real estate required to upgrade the player character toward their next "phat" item.  For those that did attempt to play in-character there was ridicule, disbelief, sub-division, and even jeering to pay for their efforts.

In the midst of an environment such as this, it is no wonder that so many people gave up on role-playing or never even tried.  Role-playing, as it was, came from a foundation of reading, imagination, and  familiarity with the subject matter and here it was that a lot of the people playing EQ1 didn't even speak the same language more or less read the same books.  Role-playing then became the exception and not the rule.

Enter crafting.  The means by which one player character can create goods that are usable by another player character.  At first glance, many of us saw crafting as just another means to upgrade our characters against the beast that was it's environment.  True, crafting does do this, but in later games such as Ever quest 2, Eve On-line, and several others, crafting takes it's place as an official role alongside the traditional roles of adventuring and exploring.  In games like these crafters play into the progression of things to the point that they become valuable assets to any guild or party hoping to attain greatness.

In Star Wars Galaxies crafting really gained momentum as the player built cities and spacecraft became upgradeable and thus more substantial and crafters became almost too powerful in the role they would play to the community.  Sony, of course, "fixed" this by revamping the game in a monumental patch that would nearly bring ruin to a bustling and thriving civilization.  But that is another story and one that does not need to be re-hashed here.  Suffice to say, crafters made their stand in that game and showed their power to be substantial to say the least.

Now we have Vanguard.  The first game that promises to cross the paths of adventurers, explorers, crafters, and a brand new class called "The Diplomat".  Suddenly, and with great welcome, role-playing is alive again.  Characters like the hated "Tarkn" of the Shidreth server can now become infamous because of their inflated prices and high tiered goods while at the same time retain some semblance of worth being one of the few characters on the server capable of producing items of such quality.  Explorers can now make names for themselves by seeking out the more obscure items of power and organizing groups of adventurers of only the hardiest stock to retrieve them and diplomats can change the quality of entire cities to work and live in.

Guild meetings have become more like board meetings where players have to discuss plans of attack against housing, questing, and the good old "how are we going to kill this mob" while the future promises even more interaction between these 4 major roles in attaining guild housing, flying mounts, and other fantastic items that will appear in the game in the future.

There is still not a lot of Olde-English being tossed around, but role-playing is making a comeback in the form of playing a role in your guild in these new games.  Classes and their particular talents become more important to success in the adventuring sphere while professions take on the role of provider and enabler for entire groups of people.  At the end of the day, the feeling is very immersive and satisfying in this new-age form of role-playing and although I still miss the days of pretending to be King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I believe that taking on the role of one of these fantastic new kinds of characters brings the role-playing much closer to home and gives much more life to the players (and their characters) who opt down this path. It is not the role-playing a lot of us grew up with but there is still a little room for a maniacal genius flair or glorious leadership attitude within the confinements of this system if you want.  When you are the only guy on your server that can make a tier 5 weapon out of ultra-rare material, you can act pretty much how you want to.  At least, that is my understanding of it all.

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