Massively Overthinking: Is old-school MMO dungeon-camping ever coming back?


A while ago on the MOP Podcast, Justin and I randomly wound up on the topic of camping in MMOs – not pitching a tent and peeing behind a tree but the rather old-school MMO idea of taking your group to a specific spot in a dungeon and staying there for hours. Different MMOs back in the early days handled this differently, of course. In vanilla Ultima Online, you did see dungeon crawls, but most of the time, people would just try to claim a small corner of a dungeon with a single spawn, and they might even attack you if you tried to yoink the spot. In EverQuest, the system was much more rigid, as communities even named the best spawns and set up rotating lists of players who wanted to join the group at each spawn. That sort of system fell by the wayside for multiple reasons, as second-wave and third-wave MMOs either didn’t rely on static dungeons for leveling or loot content or locked those dungeons behind instances that didn’t respawn or expected players to keep moving and finish endbosses to win.

Our chatter, however, centered on the idea that people simply wouldn’t put up with that type of gameplay anymore, in an instanced dungeon or an open-world one. And quite a lot of listeners chimed in to agree! I thought it’d be worth opening it to even broader discussion. So let’s do that for this week’s Massively Overthinking!

Where do you stand on the concept of camping a spot in MMO dungeons? Have you ever done it, and was it enjoyable or preferable over other types of dungeon content? Are there any MMOs still doing it well – or with a plan to try it again? Is MMO dungeon-camping ever coming back, and why or why not?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Oh god, yes. It was practically required before MMOs got quest-to-level heavy. Even Asheron’s Call 2, which had quests that almost got you to the cap without needing to grind before World of Warcraft did it, had camping, but for a different reason: rare loot. In some ways, that’s still true in newer MMOs, but it’s usually related to PvP events (like the Gurabashi Arena) or open-world PvP games. Heck, I could say this about areas in Pokemon Go, in that locals know which areas have the best spawns, or may flock to a certain park based on spawns.

I actually miss dungeon camping, to a degree. For example, in Monster Hunter, if I need parts from a certain small creature, I may pop around the map to get it, but after a while it’s easier to reset the map than continue to farm. I don’t meet new people very often and it’s boring for me, but it’s efficient. In a true MMO, I’ll meet other people looking for the same item I am, and when that game gives players their own loot tables, you at least can make a temporary friend, if not befriend someone for the long haul. In fact, that’s how I met some of my first virtual friends (and also how I learned one had passed away). Carving out small spaces in virtual worlds helped create communities, and I feel like developer-driven stories rob the genre of what I always viewed as the primary content: human interaction.

Andy McAdams: I think the only game where I would have done this was Anarchy Online – and outside of Temple of the Three Winds, I can’t recall any instances of doing it. (Unrelated, I also remember the giant trains of mobs coming back out of TOTW). Similar to Sam, I think I did a lot more of that in “open world” camping. Back in the Shadowlands era of Anarchy Online, the way to level was to grind out big stony-looking guys called “hecklers” or “hecks” for short. You’d get a party and wander around trying to find an open farming spot (or try to displace an existing group if you were feeling particularly evil), and hang out there basically until the group fell apart. It seemed fun at the time, but I think if I were to do something similar now, I would be so incredibly bored. When I enjoyed it the most was playing with my IRL friend, sitting side-by-side with our laptops as we camped hecks or tried to get some rare spawn that I forget the name of to get a skin to create some armor for one of us. It was almost 20 years ago now, so you’ll forgive me for not remembering all the details.

More recently, when I was playing EverQuest II on Varsoon, the dungeons were basically like this – and it got pretty rote. Pull, DPS, move on. Pull, DPS, maybe mezz, move on for hours at a time. I didn’t think it was particularly engaging; it was fun for a bit, but once the monotony set in, it started to grate. I dunno, I think there could be a place for more dungeon camping experiences similar to that, but I agree in that I don’t think we could go backwards to how it was in the before-times and expect it to be successful. I think coming up with some way to evolve the experience could be a nice change of pace to the “sprint to the end of all the things” gameplay that seems to infect every MMO these days.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I grew up in games with camping like this, and I don’t even particularly mind it, though I preferred the UO style to the EQ style, largely because in UO there was enough space in the open-world dungeons to go around, whereas in EQ, there wasn’t, which caused no end of unnecessary community friction and fights. I consider it irresponsible game design on SOE’s part to force PvE players to fight over a handful of good group leveling spots in a game where most classes couldn’t solo; basically, most of the points EQ gained for sociability were lost through planejumping mechanics and waiting on lists to “get” to level. But yeah, I guess I prefer the “hunting area” motif (which I understand Black Desert adopted) to the “sit in a corner as a Monk pulls mobs to your group for hours” thing. (Although as I say that, I used to pull on my Bard, and that was exciting; the puller was the only one having a lick of fun.)

To answer the question, I don’t think this style of content will ever really come back, however – not in new and modern and successful MMORPGs. Players want their dungeon experiences to feel scripted in a bespoke way, and they sure as heck can’t sit still for four hours of level-grinding.

However, as I noted on the podcast, I think Albion Online’s open-world dungeons (both the static ones and the dynamic-spawning ones) make for a good compromise, as they offer both fast-spawning hunting grounds as well as randomized dungeons with the impression of progression and bosses, all accessible by everyone who wanders by.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): My very first instance of dungeon camping was in Final Fantasy XI, and the most recent was in Zenith. In both cases I wasn’t a particularly big fan, and I’m pretty glad that the practice is mostly dying on the vine.

Of course, that feeling really kind of hinges on how cooperative dungeon camping ends up being instead of competitive. I experienced both types of camping in my given examples, with competition driving the former and cooperation driving the latter; obviously the lack of fighting over a mob spawn made Zenith a more social experience than FFXI.

In the end both boil down to extremely boring systems that need to be cut down simply because there are better ways to grant rewards and create encounters, and having an open dungeon that players can squat hasn’t really provided deeper social or emotional connections in an MMO than I’d had in any dungeon or raid group-finding tool.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): This is basically how all combat leveling was done in RuneScape back when I got into MMOs in the mid-to-late aughts (back when Old School RuneScape was New School RuneScape). I’m not a fan of open world dungeon camping, and I’m glad it’s dying out, but if you’re going to have it, I like RuneScape’s model of having numerous servers that players can hop between with just a few clicks when the spot they’re trying to grind is full on their current server. The space is still limited, but at least one person can’t ruin your day because they’re there hogging all the blue dragons. It also eliminates the dilemma of whether to roll on a high pop server where it’s going to be harder to get experience and materials or a low pop server where it’s going to be harder to find groups or sell things.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): When I think of a more modern approach to camping, it’s probably Guild Wars 2’s champion train and other MMOs that chain public events. It’s kind of a lot of mindless fun to group up with a gang of people, kill big mobs for profit, and move on to a new locale so we don’t get too antsy standing around. I really wouldn’t be opposed to dungeons that are simply there for the purpose of farming mobs or mats with a laid-back group that grows and shrinks as people come and go.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): Games have moved toward faster play and more action, so I feel confident in saying that old-fashioned camping is a thing of the past. In the case of collecting quest items, good riddance. I do, however, miss grinding camps. It gave plenty of time to chat, which was great when I played MMOs like IRC with a side of gaming.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I’ve mentioned before that I missed out on a lot of these early day MMO experiences, so you’ll have to give me a break if I’m a bit off point on this one. It sounds like the same sort of gameplay that I went through in my FFXI days. I remember sitting around near towns, waiting to find a party and then the party traveling to a specific spot to farm monsters. I could be miss remembering, but I think I recall spending hours sitting in one spot farming the same monster over and over until we finally leveled enough to move slightly further out. So while it wasn’t exactly the same as camping a dungeon spot, I think it’s effectively the same concept. I don’t miss anything about it.

It was a brutal way to spend time – the frustration of finding a party and then the amount of time going through a boring fight over and over.

The only positive side of it was that we could spend time chatting with other players and getting to know them. At the same time there are so many better ways to chat and make friends while actually having fun playing the game too.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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