Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid on alternate rulesets and multi-server MMOs

    
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Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid on alternate rulesets and multi-server MMOs

Pantheon’s Brad McQuaid has another new blog post up – he’s on a roll this week – this one on alternate rulesets in MMORPGs and the MMO’s multi-server structure. “I really think the idea of alternate rule-set servers/realms, while dabbled with, have never (yet) reached their true potential,” he says, arguing that there’s a “fine line” between managing to stick to what gives the core game its identity and being willing to experiment with “variations on a theme” that enhance rather than “threaten or violate that core, that magic, that x factor.”

He also downplays the desire for single-shard MMOs, citing the desire to create communities that are “not too small and not too big” with plenty of content for the number of players accessing them on each individual server out of many. In fact, he throws a little bit of shade on devs who are “bragging about world size, or creating a truly seamless world, or using CPU and memory to create virtual mega-cities is all at odds with our objectives.”

“Outside of ‘now it’s possible’, don’t get the fascination with having fewer Realms, or even one mega-Realm. Sure, it’s cool that it’s possible now. Yes, I can envision some MMO or other online game genre or design trying to use the ‘everyone is truly in one shared world’ as a feature or an enhancement or that it somehow makes things possible in terms of gameplay that wasn’t possible in the past. But for Pantheon it really comes down to Community, Content, and Alternate Rulesets, and all three work better with more Realms, not fewer.”

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Jan de Bree

The most fun I’ve had in an MMO was playing EQ on Firiona Vie, when the 1 character per account rule was still in effect.

Reputation mattered: people who behaved like a-holes would have a hard time finding groups. So FV was a great place to be most of the time.

People also knew their class inside and out, since they basically played it all day: altoholics would have to buy an extra account per char.

I just hope to find something similar in Pantheon :)

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Saicred

Love this post and thoughts here myself.

1. I’ve never seen any pro’s to an open world vs zoned world. So I’m happy with this myself.

2. I come from a small town in Real Life and I love that about my town. Everyone knows everyone. If I wanted to move to a big city where I would just blend in to the masses I could, but I don’t. I feel the same way with MMO’s. I love the option to be on a smaller server where I have the ability to get to know everyone vs just being on the biggest server cause others are as well. Unlike most I’m the type to move off an over populated server to a smaller server for better community.

3. As for Rule Sets options are always better in my opinion. Not sure why anyone would be upset with this honestly.

*Pantheon has zones yes, but the zones are massive. Playing in the middle of a zone vs playing in the middle of an open world will feel… well exactly the same. The only difference is better performance, and more flexibility for the Dev. team.

gnogg
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gnogg

I like where this is going. There are definitely factions within the MMO community, and the best way to please them (within reason) is to give different rulesets. PvP and RP are the obvious ones, but others like no-box or true-box are also hugely important to some players. The multi-server approach is the only viable way to provide multiple rulesets. This all makes sense.

The negative posts here are clearly premature (or just confused). In a game without instances, there is obviously an upper limit on the number of active players who can coexist happily on a single server. This is not a lobby game. Would you have 50,000 people on a single server, sharing the same content? That makes no sense. At the same time, a number like 500 or 1,000 seems too low. Maybe the number is 4,000 or 8,000 active players per server, a number that can be monitored and adjusted through mergers/transfers as necessary. But nobody will know that until the game world is basically finalized and players are in the game testing. It’s way, way premature to start worrying about low-pop servers.

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Stropp

It does very much depend on the game.

If an MMO offers non-instanced housing, or the ability to modify or ‘own’ some area of map for farming or whatever, then multiple shards or servers are a bad idea. Players take losing a house or farm very badly. Was it Aion who recently reset their housing to do server merges?

If the game is fairly old-school, perhaps like Everquest or even EQ 2 where there is no housing or it’s instanced, then it’s not so bad to be multi-server. There are still downsides, like finding out friends are on different servers and having to restart or pay to transfer.

But I don’t understand why many small servers make better communities. Surely having bigger game areas with more players would have more potential to bring players together. It would certainly make it easier to find groups than it would on a low pop server.

Nabe
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Nabe

I think it’ll work if the rulesets are very different so that they’ll appeal to different sorts of players. As long as no one at any point is wondered which server is more populated, but rather which set of rules they’d enjoy (and there’s no similar ones to pick between) then hopefully new players coming in would balance out those leaving and it wouldn’t create any dead worlds.

Cadaver
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Loyal Patron
Cadaver

Well I appreciate and share the sentiment, and it seems consistent with what he is trying to create. I’m far more likely to engage with the community if I live in a village than if I live in a metropolis. I’m don’t care much for megaservers and melting pots.

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kjempff

I don’t really care either way, but it would go against the principles of open world and no instancing if you could just jump servers (shards, megaserver, or whatever you call it) because that is basically instances. However, I do like the idea of some easy way to transfer, because the eq way was horribly expensive and complex process. I have more than 1k days /played in eq, but all that community blahblah is not something I have felt strongly in eq and therefore I don’t personally think it needs all that attention – Group play with roles, yes absolutely .. closed community, no need for it.

One thing about multi server rules… Pantheon is already niche, and at this point talking about segregating the (possible small) player base is a bit premature.
Deliver a mmo that is not going the same path all the others do, and make it fun, and in the old school spirit but with modern mechanics…. and get so many niche players that the game can survive … THEN we can talk about special rule sets.

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Raimo Kangasniemi

I believe that single-shard is the only viable long-term path MMOs.

No server merges and the associated pass press and player angst and until the game is at its last legs, enough players so that the group and social content can be done.

When it come to alternate rulesets, beyond the differences between PvP they tend to be a dead letter. No company so far has bothered to insist that players actually stick to RP rule-sets on RP servers.

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Brad McQuaid

Nobody has tried to enforce RP on an RP server because…. how would you possibly enforce it? 1. people have different ideas of what RP is and 2. would you want a bunch of GMs following you around in some Orwellian nightmare, disciplining players for not properly RPing? Now, all that said, when the community itself rises up and proactively rewards role-playing, that’s when you start really cooking with oil :) Having additional rules and mechanics can help too. One of the last things I worked on before leaving SoE in 2001 was the Firiona Vie RP server, with more open trading, more emphasis on languages, etc. Was it perfect? Nope. Did everyone like it? Nope. The Trivial Loot Code was particularly controversial. But was it a step in the right direction and an inspiration for where we’d like to take some Pantheon Realms post-launch? Absolutely.

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Bryan Gregory

I’ve been in favor of mega-server technology because ever since my first MMO in 1997 I’ve forever struggled with my friends all being on different servers, and I’m definitely not in favor of having my characters strung out among several servers. Mega-servers make it absolutely positive that I will be able to play with my friends. However, you can also absolutely say mega-servers take away any sense of community, and that you’re likely to not run into the same people often, which can make it hard to make friends. On games like FFXI and EQ, it’s fun to run across people in a dungeon that you’ve met before. Which brings me to an idea I had the other day.

What if MMO servers had forced population sizes? Let’s take BDO’s server structure as an example (except let’s not put numbers in our server names because that’s tacky!). You can choose any server to play on on BDO and must wait 15 minutes before you can switch to a different one (a game like Pantheon/FFXI/EQ might need longer timers so people couldn’t just server hop and farm rare spawns? wouldn’t be really rare then). Servers could be labeled as low/med/high (or more?) and have capped population sizes. That way people who want to play on lower pop servers are more likely to have a stronger community sense. Sometimes playing on a low pop server can make it hard to find groups for stuff – so you could either choose to simply deal with no group, or you could move to a higher pop server, find a group, and move back to your low pop server the next day or whatever.

I don’t know about you guys, but having this issue of not being able to play with my friends really ruins games for me sometimes. But I do like to meet new people and make new friends as well, so I certainly understand why Pantheon is using the type of server structure that it is. However I don’t believe it has to be one way or the other and perhaps this idea could be the foundation of fixing the problem. After all, Brad’s saying he likes the idea of different ruleset servers, doesn’t this basically fit into that?

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Brad McQuaid

Good points Bryan, thanks. We are definitely aware of how important it is that we make transferring between Realms as easy and as streamlined as possible. Making sure that you can play with your friends as well as make new friends is extremely important to us and to the success of the game.

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Rolan Storm

To be honest I was so pro about the game I even tried to buy in for a moment. Then I saw Wilhelm Arcturus’ comment and remember what a headache blasted miltu-server tech. ESO and SWL being current games made me forget all those problems.

Baaaaad idea. I think Pantheon start tailspinning towards Vanguard’s fate.
Too. Bad.

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Brad McQuaid

We’ve worked on quite a few MMOs and are very aware of the problems we need to avoid. That, and we’re going to have a long pre-alpha/alpha/beta testing period so that we can discover any issues we didn’t foresee. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between an idea and then the implementation of that idea. You may have indeed experienced some problems with other games but that doesn’t mean that the actual idea of having multiple Realms, many of which will employ rules variations, is a bad one.

As for tailspinning, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to reassure you that Pantheon’s popularity is at an all time high and continues to grow rapidly.

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Rolan Storm

Okay, this I did not expect.

Let me put it this way: I do not think separate servers work anymore. I am aware of mageservers problems (like ESO instancing), but in my book pros outweight cons.

I did not experience ‘some’ problems. We took multiserver technology as default, there was no alternative. In retrospect I’d say it was crap. Until this conversation I did not really think about it but I avoid games with multi-server technology – that’s the fact. And I am glad SWTOR merges servers – even being away from it for years now.

I do not think you will fail (in our guild there is whole Pantheon division brewing, we root for your success). I think your work is unique – you have some way to put fantasy into computer. I run your game – I have this right feeling. But that’s me. Vanguard’s problem was it had not enough of us – people who loved the game.

And that’s the thing. Pantheon is not for everybody. That’s exactly what Wilhelm’s comment was about. And you’ll separate it even more. I understand what you mean talking about different rulesets. But more servers… I do not know. Unless migration between those is free (which creates other problems) or they are few… or just different places in the same world… Sceptical.

You obviously have an idea in mind and you are confident it will work out. I have not forgot about Everquest. You might as well make something no one expects again.