In the extremely early days of Gemstone, and I’m sure someone will correct me if this is just a delusional memory, the maximum population of the game was thirty players – Easy enough to see why a community existed then. Later, it skyrocketed to three hundred players on during peak hours, and sub one hundred during the early morning hours. Again, it is conceivable to see why a “community” existed: Small numbers. Then, AOL went flat rate, and this is where it gets a bit confusing. In time, peak numbers jumped to two thousand, and later, twenty five hundred. Yet, the game still very much had a “close” feeling to it. Even in the confusion of 2500 simultaneous users (above average for an individual server now days), you still recognized a good portion of the names, you still knew what was going on the game, you knew most GM’s and Hosts, and logging in felt almost comforting.
After having tried Ultima Online, and played Asheron’s Call and EverQuest, I had slowly forgotten what this felt like. Logging in, running past complete strangers, trading with unknown faces… it became the norm. A bit of my past, and my soul (queue cheesy dramatic music), had been lost. A game was just a game, and a multiplayer game was just a multiplayer game.
What could this strange phenomenon be attested to? A couple things sprang to mind.
Class interdependency. On a more deeper level than of EverQuest, classes depended on one another – but not for hunting. Lock pickers were stationed at certain places where you needed to go to have your chests (loot boxes found on creatures) picked open. You could always find some there, and you got to know many of them by name.
Empaths could also be found at specific locations. They weren’t very proficient hunters, so their main contribution was healing. The experience they gained from healing made them a viable class that could “keep up” with the hunters, so there wasn’t a shortage of them due to lack of “fun.” When one would get injured, they’d have to seek out the empaths and get their wounds healed. Again, you could always find them at these specific locations, and you eventually got to know many of them by name.
Trade skills (though I should really say trade skill) was also a small factor in this. Wizards could enchant armor, and you’d need to find one if you wanted to get a piece of armor or weapon permanently enchanted (merchant items aside). Since the skill required such a high level to do with relative safety, most wizards with the ability were known by name.
Nodes. Nodes were, to give a brief explanation, a place where one “absorbed” experience faster. The quick rundown of the system is that your “mind” would get full as you hunted (until a max capacity) at which point you could continue to hunt but gain experience at a much slower pace, or go to a node and rest and absorb that experience at an increased rate. Everyone hunting in a certain area (most areas had their own node, or there was always town) would get to know one another because of having to rest in these nodes. Putting aside the dreaded issue of downtime, it was great design – it forced people to get to know each other.
Roleplay. Roleplay was enforced – and everyone did it. People began to develop unique and interesting personalities, and eventually, the good began to stick out from the crowd (Bleeds, mentioned at the beginning of the article, is a prime example). You had to roleplay, so you developed your own personality – your own niche in the world.
Overall, while having the size of any of the current servers from the big three, it managed to keep nearly the same “magic” it had with only one hundred players.
I’ve wondered if any, or all of the above, were factors in this sorely missing trait from online gaming. Instead of trying to analyze it myself, I think I’ll leave it to all of you to come to your own conclusions and tell me in the thread. Was it the dependency on one another? The forced roleplay? The forced closely grouped downtime? You tell me – and how do we get that community feel back into our games?
There’s one thing I do know – I miss it, and I hope we can capture it again.