Earlier this week, the EverQuest Next team revealed a decision that has stirred up a controversy on the official forums and in MMO forums around the 'Net. In a nutshell, the team has made the decision to remove race-based class restrictions from EQN. The decision has created angst in EQN communities who are fervent believers in the loudly publicized "round table" polls and discussion threads created by the design team. According to the site, these round table threads and polls are designed to give developers a look at what players want so that the game is built to suit the majority.
This week's kerfuffle, however, came after EQN developers released a video that directly opposes what the plurality (not majority, as that would require 50%+) of players voted for in answer to the question: "Should all races have access to play all classes?" While the exact number of votes is not revealed, the results clearly came down on the side of class restrictions:
In addition to the poll, the forum discussion thread generated an astonishing three hundred thirty six pages and over six thousand seven hundred responses. That's a lot of traffic, folks.
So why would Sony Online Entertainment and the EverQuest Next team fly in the face of their fans? It boils down to a quote by Jeffrey Butler sums it up nicely:
"When we started developing the game, we realized we wanted to create a situation where our players were never forced to make a decision that they would later regret based on knowledge they didn't have at that stage in their careers."
While many on the development team are personally in favor of race-based restrictions, the game design clearly favors lifting them. Dave Georgeson said that such restrictions are a D&D influence. Georgeson said that he can see merit in both the "old way" and in the new direction EQN is headed. Add in the fact that race/class restrictions were implemented to foment better role-playing in tabletop and early MMO settings, and it's easy to see why they were there in the first place.
One thing that players need to face is that MMOs have evolved since the early days of the genre. DnD was the model for all MMOs then and it made sense at the time to adhere to as many of the conventions presented as possible. Early MMOs were filled with an eager community that wanted to bring tabletop roleplaying into the game and they happily continued the tradition of restriction.
But the world has moved on. Many of today's MMO players have little (at best) or no experience with tabletop gaming. Fast forwarding over a decade shows that the genre has evolved and, quite honestly, the MMO community as a whole has become more "casual". Ah, the dreaded "C" word. Whether we like it or not, it is the truth. People game hop and, if their attention isn't held from the get-go, if they aren't given the freedom to be who and what they want to be, they will simply leave and find another game.
Restrictive gameplay based on roleplaying conventions has also gone the way of the wind, except in guilds or clans that have created in-game opportunities for their members. In fact, most of today's MMORPGs really don't embody the whole notion of role-playing game. Rather, they are MMOGs, massive collective-experience-single-player games.
Given that notion, it only makes sense that restrictions are lifted so that players can create and play the character in the way they find best suits them. By all that we've learned from the EQN devs, there will be eight starting classes and forty more (or so) out in the world to "find". In essence, restricting certain races to certain classes without knowing from the start what those are, which will be potential restrictions, which will enhance or detract from one's character seems unfair, as Butler said.
As the game ages, should a player have to spend an hour on the EQN Wiki to figure out exactly which class will come closest to his/her favorite archetype? What if there isn't a good fit? The game's devs think copious amounts of research is not a good idea and that artificial restrictions need to be removed, even at the risk of unpopularity with their fans. The feeling is that there will be vindication for that decision once the game is released.
EverQuest Next is not aiming to be a niche title. It is not trying to be a modernized version of either of its forebears, EverQuest or EverQuest 2. It is trying to be something completely new, completely different, completely open in every possible way to attract and retain the most players that it can and, yes, to make money. Part of the way to accomplish these lofty goals is to remove artificial restrictions on the way people play the game. After all, there is nothing stopping roleplayers from implementing their own restrictions within their guilds or clans. There is nothing stopping players from instituting their own, personal restrictions. What it does mean is that, exactly as SOE loudly proclaims for all of its titles, a game to "play your way".
So, what about you? Do you agree with the designers? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!
Suzie Ford is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. You can follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom.