EverQuest and EverQuest II have a volunteer guide program, where players who enjoy interacting and roleplaying with others can volunteer a few hours per week and are given the tools to run little unique quests and events. (Guide FAQ for more info). I like to think of guides as the fairytale characters of EverQuest - the scruffy beggars or scary crones or ugly toads that the hero/heroine meets and offers to help out of the goodness of his or her heart, who then turns out to be a fairy in disguise who gives them a reward.
I was a guide towards the end of my time playing the original EverQuest, and then when I changed over to EverQuest II, I was a guide there also. I am not a guide any longer of course, but I remember well some of the rewards as well as frustrations of being a volunteer in the program.
The most surreal moment in my guide experience was in EQLive, when I was still a wee apprentice guide brand new to the program and with no powers to do anything except chat with people and hand out cookies and milk. I logged in and zoned to the Plane of Knowledge, a central gathering hub for players at leisure. I approached a couple of players and greeted them, planning to offer cookies and milk; immediately one of them responded with an enthusiastic "hello! I want to be an otter!"
Puzzled, I asked him if he'd felt this way for long? He remained insistent that he wanted to be an otter. I tried to make conversation back, but he wasn't making a lot of sense and wouldn't talk about anything except otters. Eventually I gave him some cookies and milk and backed away slowly. It was only afterwards that I learned that not long before I'd logged in, one of the SOE GMs had been sitting in the Plane of Knowledge having a bit of fun by turning people into Othmirs (an otter-like race from the continent of Velious) - certainly nothing that an apprentice guide would ever have the power to do.
When I joined the EQII team, because I'd been in the guide program previously I seemed a natural to help out the guide team in EQII. It's a secondary responsibility, but as time permits I try to add in new quest tools and goodies for them here and there. I recently added a new quest that guides are able to give out as a little prelude quest to the upcoming addition of New Halas and today at lunch time I decided to log in and try offering it to a few players myself to ensure all is well.
What always amazes me, both as a developer and as a player of MMOs, is how many players just seem totally uninterested in custom content. When I play, if I notice an NPC out of place or a strange person standing around apparently offering a quest, I am always ready and eager to go and investigate. Heck, I strike up conversations with random people I bump into in game, even if they're clearly just other players. But many people don't seem to do this. I wonder what goes through their thoughts?
Today I logged into a random server which turned out to be Lucan de Lere (one of our roleplay-preferred servers) and wandered around various lower level zones looking for people. I found about half a dozen in The Caves, a small adventure zone off the city of Qeynos, so I put a quest feather over my head and stood around saying things aloud such as "Lately I've been having such strange dreams and visions! What can they mean?", "I dreamed Mithaniel Marr was walking the lands of Norrath once again," and "I keep having visions of Halas reborn! What can it mean? Can't anybody help me?"
The first two players who saw me came up, and I hailed them, and directly told them I had been having strange visions, and would they help me to learn more? Both of them stopped, hailed me back, and then said "sorry, I cannot" or "no, I'm not interested", and ran off again. At least one other just ignored me completely and ran right past. And keep in mind, I was a large barbarian woman with a big sparkling quest feather spell effect hovering over my head, it should have been pretty obvious I was something not usually found in The Caves. (I even did a zonewide /shout asking if anybody would help me.)
I got one person in The Caves to accept the quest, and a nice couple in Gorowyn, and then I did a search online ("/who halas all") to see if anyone happened to be online with a name or guild related to Halas. And there was! There was one person online from a guild with Halas in the name so I thought of course, they should be very interested in topics relating to Halas. I went to the zone the player was in (Rivervale) and stood just down the path from her, where she was bound to pass by, again with a big sparkling quest feather over my head.
And she just ran straight past.
So I followed her, and wandered obviously around her (she was harvesting) saying things about what strange dreams I'd had of Halas, and asking had she been having visions too?
Nada. Not even a hail back, I might have been invisible. Eventually another person entered the zone from another guild, and had a little chat with me and accepted the quest, and I decided lunch time was over and camped out.
Checking the server logs now, it looks as if the nice couple from Gorowyn will be the first to complete the quest and get the server (possibly worldwide) discoveries on the quest rewards. And good for them, they were very sweet and helpful.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with not being interested in special quests and guide events; everybody plays games differently and is interested in different things. It's just baffling to me as it's so different from my own interests, and also because so many people complain so vocally on the forums that they never see guide quests in game, yet when you're a guide, so many people totally ignore you (or even say outright that they have no interest in helping you).
I'd love to know why the people who weren't interested were not interested. Did they (despite the big quest feather) think I was just another fellow player, and they weren't interested in helping out a fellow player at all? Did they simply not even see me, they were so focused on whatever their current goals were? Did they have their UI hidden to take screenshots, and didn't even see any of my dialog? Were they simply so concerned with powerlevelling up that quests of any type were of no interest to them? And, if they had decided to accept my quest, would they have been glad they did, or thought it was a pointless waste of time? (The XP is decent, the rewards are a book of lore and a house item, nothing particularly uber.)
As a designer, and particularly as a designer of quests that guides can give out, I always want to understand the answers to these questions so I can improve things. If these players simply aren't interested no matter what, then all is well and good; but if they don't understand what's going on or actually don't see me at all, perhaps there's something I can do that would add to help make it clear to players what's going on.
Sometimes I do wish I'd done a degree in psychology rather than molecular biology; it might be more directly applicable these days to trying to get inside the mind of MMO players! =)