The release of Everquest (EQ) in March of 1999 altered the course of the MMO industry permanently. Most of the servers had heavily restricted PvP, with only one initial server (that had very low population numbers) featuring an open ruleset. The focus of the game wasn’t on simulating an entire world, it was on grouping with other players to defeat AI-controlled monsters to gain levels, experience and equipment.
Compared to modern games, EQ at release was very hard. Most creatures could only be killed by most characters in a full group, with only a few classes being capable of soloing through the game. If you died, you could lose experience equivalent to several hours of play time. The game itself was a griefer. Dying often induced a horrible stomach-dropping feeling, as it meant that you had just wasted several hours of killing monsters and now had to run back to your corpse utterly naked and defenseless to get your equipment back.
Despite the rule restrictions, players still found many ways to annoy their peers. Some created “trains” of dozens of monsters that they could then run through a zone, who would then aggressively group up on other players that were just going about their business. Eventually, game masters caught on to this practice and started trying to crack down on it; but they had a great deal of trouble controlling the practice. There are only so many customer service reps, and just that many more jerks. It was also extraordinarily easy to “steal kills,” as if you did a significant portion of the damage to a creature and got the killing blow, you would get full experience for it. This lead to many players mooching off of the efforts of others and getting full credit for it - and the lack of PvP combat made it so that the players had no recourse other than to petition for a GM to help them out.
Still, the stricter rules made it so that it was a more appealing haven for players looking for an MMO without having to deal with the disruption of significant amounts of player griefing. The fact that it was in 3D, its relative technical stability and its controls on PvP all helped it rapidly surpass UO in subscriber numbers and grow the MMO market significantly. It still drew heavily on the hardcore aspects of MUDs, as it was very hard to level up quickly and gain items. You often had to stand around a spawn point for literally hours or days to get certain rare items that might only boost your character by a few paltry percentage points - but still, the game inspired pathological levels of dedication among many people.
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