Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's a guide's life

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!  =)


  1. I've been curious and want to participate in a guide event/quest, but I wasn't sure what I should look for to spot a guide. Now I have a better idea! Thanks!

  2. Oh noes, that's my guildie who ignored you! :( I shall carry our shame home to the halls of Halas, where we will hang our heads and do some writs in penace or somesuch.

    I'm guessing that they might not have had local chat on in their chat UI. EQ2 has a fair number of channels and feedback, especially if you don't click off certain things (like, say, the loot messages for common harvests) you can end up with a very crowded chat window. I'm honestly not sure if the windows I have open by default include general chatter or not.

  3. Oh man...I'm sorry one of my guildmates didn't participate as you'd hoped. :( You may have indeed caught them when they weren't paying attention to that particular chat channel (as GA suggested above). Our members are usually super-keen on special events and quests. I hope you'll give LDL another chance! I know I, for one, would really enjoy taking part in such a quest. :)

  4. If you should happen to find out, I'd be delighted to know as well. I can't tell you just how many times I've found myself needing assistance with some small but difficult (for me to manage alone) task, and no matter how nicely I ask (even if I'm offering COOKIES as a reward!), many times I find myself ignored.

    Thankfully, for every large group of adventurers who are far too engrossed in their own tasks to help, there are just as many kind travelers who are willing to lend a hand or an ear to a weary, often flustered halfling who has found herself in yet another jam. It is those caring citizens of Norrath that make me strap on my boots and head out into the world each day. *smiles*

  5. As I said above, guide quests aren't of interest to everybody, and nor should there be any reason for them to be -- and that's quite okay!

    It's just a bit hard for me to understand, since I love that kind of event. And an ongoing lesson for me to study, to ensure that the people who DO enjoy the quests are not missing them for reasons that could be prevented!

    I hopped around a few more servers tonight but see that there are already a number of guides and others out and about, I'm sure over the next weeks it will not be an uncommon sight to encounter confused Marr worshippers. =)

  6. Aw, no mention or love to the vanguard guides!

  7. I'm still a bit of a noob to eq2, but I'll definitely be looking for guide quests now. You said the magic phrases "unique quests" and "house items"

  8. I already had the pleasure to do some guide quests and I did like them.

    My main problem is that there is to much NPC spam in the normal say chat. Probably that is mostly a relict of the afk times near the broker where you ended up with pages of hail messages. 'Cause of that I moved the say and the NPC to a special tab I look at while talking to a quest npc, but not while harvesting, killing mobs, etc. so I don't miss guild, group or raid messages.

    Thinking about it there are two options I can see that would help guides to find players and players to find guides:

    Remove the NPC-hail messages from say. It isn't even interesting, if you talk to an quest NPC and several people come by hailing him and leaving 5s later. I think they are not needed it that channel and it would make the say chat much more readable, so more people would actually include it in their main chat tab.

    Allow guides to use server / world chat and / or the message of the day. Some thing like "A strange fellow has been seen in Everfrost."
    While sometimes guides even announce quests on the official server forums it would be nice if they would have a way to announce it in game that there is something interesting going on. That way the player interested in doing guide quests could look out for the guides.

    Also while it does sound strange most players of the evil side seem to precipitate more in guide quests then the ones from the good side. I don't know why, but that is my experience. (But I also don't know, how someone can live in a city such as Qeynos and be happy.)

    If I would have been harvesting in Rivervale it could also have been that I did not see you say chat for quite some time. Later I would hate me for missing the chance to do a guide quest, but while harvesting I tend to be more focused on finding nodes then reading chat.

  9. I found it endearing to read that you had been wandering near players, even chasing them in a roundabout way just to offer the quest to them!

    The other week my guildies and I enjoyed a visit from the Riddle Master who provided a nice change of pace from the level grind with his confounding riddles.

    I love hanging out with guides and usually have a good time running their quests. Whenever I see one advertising, I usually try to attend and almost always drag my friends along to help. I hope I'll be able to participate in the one you're offering before it expires!

  10. Hey Calain, you mentioned about allowing Guides to use the world chat and so forth.

    They do use it for gathering interest, since I have seen them in the shouts, in the level channels, and even seen little zonewide messages pop up about things going on when they run them.

  11. I love doing guide quests, but I remember a few different times when my woodworker was crafting in NQ at the outside table, and a guide practically had to dance around for me to notice, as I was so focused on the crafting that I was ignoring chat.

    I think too as others said that it is easy for NPC chatter to get filtered out or overlooked. I sortof think it would be helpful for Guide messages to have their own 'type' which would then have to be separately filtered, so as to make it stand out. Of course, that detracts a bit from the immersion of making them seem like 'real' NPCs so I'm not convinced that that is the right answer either /sigh

  12. I feel the Guides should give more unique quest rewards that may relate to the actual quest. Let's face it, thers's only so many Erollisi Mistletoe or soggy gnome sandwiches a player wants.

    As an example, the Finest Snow quest can reward the player a 10-charge illusion of the snow lady.

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  14. Regarding your appearance in The Caves and why people are seemingly uninterested:

    It would have been much more natural if you appeared as another player. There's a time for events but if this happens randomly, I can see that players may be confused or even annoyed.

    After all, aren't you playing god by impersonating a non player character from the game world through means which are not available to the regular player?

    If I play the game in the evening to relax, well maybe I would enjoy a ltitle chat with an SOE employee impersonating some game world NPC. But I could just as likely feel that I am being stalked by someone who evidently does not follow the same rules as other fellow players.

    I think that unless the game is sold as such, there should be no unannounced live events and/or impersonations in a virtual game world by the company's employees. A psychologist would put this in much better words than me. It's just not normal, in my opinion. Players expect to face a game wold with certain rules.

    Another way to put it is that by impersonating an npc in the game world and bumping into unsuspecting players, it is very much the same as bumping into people in the street, and start roleplay something, and expect for them to spend quality time answering your questions. Most people will simply be annoyed, and if you follow them, then they will feel as if you are being rude and invading their privacy.

    What do you think?

  15. @Fabrice:

    I respectfully but strongly disagree with you. I never encountered a live event when I played EQ2, but they have certainly been part of the EQ model since the beginning. And they were a big part of the MUDs that inspired EQ.

    How do you think Kithicor Forest became a deadly place of undead monsters at night rather than a lowbie zone?

    I'm sorry, but your statement that live events just aren't normal is simply wrong.

    Sir Harrok