Tera’s Political System: A Tale Of Ad Space And Exploits

By Nathan Grayson on July 19th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Once upon a time, streamlined WoW-style questing, raiding, and PVP felt fresh and daring. However, like most things that begin with the phrase “once upon a time,” the very notion seems almost unbelievable in this day and age – more akin to a swords ‘n’ sorcery fairytale than actual historical fact. And so, many MMOs that were once treading water have recently realized that they were in quicksand all along. In many ways, Tera‘s easily as guilty as anyone else with its utterly tedious questing and tired world design, but the action-heavy MMO’s hardly resting on its laurels. Its province-running political system is an attempt to add a dash of EVE-style intrigue to the tried-and-true MMO formula, and the results thus far have ranged from brilliantly outside-the-box to well inside the range of the banhammer.

For the uninitiated, Tera now hosts monthly player-driven elections that allow players to become “Vanarchs” of certain regions. This allows them to do leaderly things like levy taxes, manage stores (OH GOD SOCIALISM), enable and disable certain trainers, and even shut down open-world PVP. Also, they get a neat horse. The end result? A race to the top with all sorts of wild political maneuvering - at least, initially.

“An MMO is about choices within a world,” senior producer Brian Knox explained to RPS. “We have a story we want to tell, and that is told through our progressive content from levels 1 to 60. Once you hit 60, though, we want the stories to be yours. Whether politics, big-ass monsters, PvP, or role-playing is your thing, we want to help facilitate that.”

“By far the most interesting campaign came from Oloh, who actually bought ad space on one of the Tera database sites to promote his run for election. It was awesome to see players think outside the game world about how they can affect their political struggle in the game. Beyond that, the amount of collusion – either paying or trading for votes – has been surprising. Sometimes it’s hard enough to get parties to work together, much less entire guilds.”

In theory, then, the political system opens up an entirely new sort of endgame. Sure, instances and PVP are still there for those who feel so inclined, but to many, they’re old hat. Knox and co know this, so Tera – initially maligned for its same-y structure – is about to pack its bags (which shouldn’t be terribly difficult for its rather distressingly “clothed” female characters) and set off in a new direction.

“By setting up players as part of the same union, the Valkyon Federation, we are able to tell the  grand story of the world while at the same time allowing players to create their own story within the federation,” he explained. “We bring the Argon War story to a climax in our next big update at the end of August, and as that concludes, we start shifting the focus to the players’ stories – which means expanding and improving the political system.”

Here’s the problem, though: En Masse and Bluehole recently introduced the ability to gain office by winning massive Guild vs Guild battles, and players – opportunity-whiffing noses gently brushing up against their evil mustaches – took full advantage. Some guilds decided to practice Vanarchism anarchism by splitting in two and farming each other for kills. (If only politics were so simple in real life.) En Masse and Bluehole, however, weren’t entirely caught off-guard.

“We are always expecting players to try to find ways around a system, but I was surprised at the lengths they went to take advantage of the system,” Knox admitted. “We broke the golden rule and underestimated the community’s ability to do whatever it takes.”

And while En Masse and Bluehole are taking measures to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t ruin the experience for everyone else, they’re not cracking down as hard as they could. It is, admittedly, not quite a replication of EVE’s (almost) anything-goes mentality, but Knox and co follow a similar philosophy: put up too much red tape and you’ll strangle player creativity.

“Right now we are monitoring the competition and have issued a warning that killing alternate characters of your guild will not be tolerated,” said Knox. “We have a few more system rules we could implement, but with each new rule or boundary, the sandbox feeling slips away, and eventually we’re back into [traditional MMO] theme park territory. It’s a powerful feeling to know that you can do something, but that getting caught will have consequences.”

At the end of the day, then, it’s all about striking a balance. Tera will probably never replicate the politically-charged insanity of EVE Online, but it’s doing its best to find a middle ground between easy accessibility and player-driven unpredictability. It is, in that sense, quite an exciting prospect. On one hand, Knox fully acknowledges that “MMORPGs take a lot of heat for, well, being MMOs; there are certain expectations for the genre, yet when you hit these expectations you can get drilled for it.” But, at the same time, advances like Tera’s show that – at the very least – change is occurring, even within the most traditional of wrappers.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the genre will actually end up, but for Knox, that’s not a bad thing at all.

“This is what really defines MMORPGs: the unknown results of adding a new system or tool to a world with thousands of players. It is so hard to predict how the community will take and use what you have created. It is by far one of the most rewarding parts of my job and why I love the MMORPG business so much.”

, , , , .

49 Comments »

  1. President Weasel says:

    At least they’re trying something new.

  2. Merus says:

    They might have more luck if they make the points earned from GvG come from the points (?) the other team has. So you have to actually beat other contenders for the title, and incumbent teams need to beat other guilds to ensure they’re not out-funded.

  3. Premium User Badge Harlander says:

    Does this mean we’ll be seeing attack ads coming out?

    “Oloh says he knows what’s best for Arun, but does he?” (ominous chord and slow black-and-white zoom)

  4. RaveTurned says:

    Two factions, broadly aligned but using each using the other to score points and maintain the illusion of struggle and competition to the outside world? Now *there’s* a political conspiracy theory I haven’t heard before!

  5. Dana says:

    So…it’s just like in real life ?

  6. orionite says:

    I just don’t get the point of levels 1-60. I subbed for a month and was intrigued by the positional combat and the nice graphics. Then I realized that that seems to be all there is. Tired questing and spamming the left mouse-button (I only played a mystic to level 20 before getting bored). If there is a lot of depth and meaningful PvP etc at level 60, why put your players through the “story” if it’s conveyed through lackluster game play? A true PvP game, IMHO does not need levels or if it does have progression, it should be focused on increasing options and diversity and not increase in raw power.

    • Malk_Content says:

      I believe that in most games, PvP progression should be entirely independent of PvE progression and vice versa. Well actually I believe there should be no such thing as PvP progression beyond perhaps cosmetics, to ensure that you are actually fostering a competitive scene past, “who has grinded for longest.” Some people like both, some like one or the other and the option that lets everyone do what they want is to allow people, from level 1, to experience what ever kind of content they want.

      Of course this would mean building an actually balanced PvP system rather than obfuscating flaws through, “well of course he kicked your arse, look at the gear he his wearing, can’t possibly be because we made x,y and z powers too strong when combined together.”

  7. RogB says:

    Is that some sort of fan-merkin?

  8. Lairdom says:

    I love these sort of things. Not only do they teach players politics, but also to think outside the box. Now I’m sure most who run for office are old enough to know about politics already, but my hope is that there are kids who try it out as well. They will learn that you can’t get far with the support of your friends alone and learn the basic ways of politics. The promise of exclusive power should be more than enough to motivate anyone who is interested, so they won’t give up at the first hurdle. The whole political aspect is also just an added benefit, so no one is forced to take part in it. As much as I hate to play EVE Online, I love to hear the tales that come out of it. Even WoW had a few times when players managed to circumvent the “laws of the game” and the tales that sprung from it were epic (Hakkar’s plaque was the best thing ever to happen in that game).

  9. Malk_Content says:

    So the only options for the elected official are to restrict the choices of other players by shutting down trainers, pvp, shops and steal cash or allow things to go business as usual? As far as that goes it seems the best campaign would be “I will do nothing but sit on my horse and let you get on with the game.” Unless I’m misunderstanding and all of these features are either or type deals, but then I would have to question the validity of locking some players out of the content/conveniences they prefer because slightly more players wanted the other ones.

  10. SkittleDiddler says:

    Waitwaitwait…you’re telling me people actually play Tera?

    • Heisenberg says:

      yeah loads play it.
      i just got my toon to 30 but i’m giving up simply because of the EXTREMELY repetitive nature of the quests (much more so then any other mmo i have played)….other then that the game is damn good in all other aspects.

  11. Lucretious says:

    I don’t want play a game with anyone who can get past these super sexist character models. Maybe this new political system will allow for some in-game civil rights, legislating that women don’t have the bodies of teenagers and can wear shirts and pants?

    • Heisenberg says:

      maybe make them wear burkas?
      i wouldnt want to play a game with anyone who couldnt get past this.

      • Lucretious says:

        Ah yes, the dudegamer, he only care ’bout dudes having a good time

      • D3xter says:

        He just wants to recreate the abrahamic religions with their moral values and social code inside the game it would seem legislating how females have to look and initiating a dress code xD

        Also, any chance this could turn Free2Play soon too? :P
        I really want to try it, but it doesn’t look like a game I’d pay an initial price and monthly fee for… (not many MMOs do)

        • Lucretious says:

          You realize that the game already makes it *mandatory* for all women to wear super revealing clothing? Like, that this represents it’s own set of social codes? But I like how you two introduce the strawman about burkas and islamic law, that’s a nice touch .

          • Neo says:

            Are you sure you’ve played this game? There’s a pretty big range of revealing outfits to choose from but they are in absolutely no way mandatory.

          • Lucretious says:

            Care to show me where? At least in the starting outfits there doesn’t seem to be a single reasonable thing, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xiQRnE45f4

          • Neo says:

            http://tera-online.cc/gallery/races/

            Site is mostly in russian but it’s easy to navigate from there.

          • D3xter says:

            Not that him being wrong or right even matters much, because OBVIOUSLY every single game has to abide by feminist theory and those dirty people in Korea and Japan making games should adapt to the western cultures social norms and standards and have to read up on feminism and take a obligatory course regarding it before they may be allowed to develop games.

          • Lucretious says:

            @Neo
            Thanks for the link. But I kinda think it only shows what I’m talking about. Are we on the same page here?

            @D3xter:
            What? So should people who, you know, want decent not-sexist representations not critique sexist ones because it’s part of some sort of colonialist attitude? Isn’t sexism, you know, a bad thing everywhere? And on a western website for the western users of the game it should be OK to critique it?

            Also I’m confused how I’ve awakened this little contingent of people defending this aspect of the game?

          • alm says:

            I don’t think think the male characters represent a wide enough demographic either.

          • Grygus says:

            @Lucretious: those are not starting outfits; you do not get to choose your look at level one. What is being shown there is just a sampling of armor for that race, sex, and class so that you know what you’re getting into. If you don’t like it, you can hit Back and make something else.

            Females commonly wear more revealing clothes than males in real life too, though; it’s a gross exaggeration but not an entirely made-up dynamic. Pretending that it is generally insulting presumes that women much care about how TERA portrays fictional females; I sincerely doubt this is the case, and it seems a bit patronizing to me, frankly. What you’re really saying is that this isn’t to your personal taste, or more likely that it is to your personal taste, but you wish it weren’t.

          • Ragnar says:

            I can get past the super sexist character models (though not the boring combat and gameplay), but that’s because I believe that there’s some room for everything, even for the stuff that you may not like. For example, there’s room for both movies where people are wearing clothes and movies where they are not, and room for both books about women achieving breakthroughs in physics and books where they achieving orgasm with vampires. We don’t have to like them, but I feel we would be bigger for not looking down on those that do.

            I understand that we want games to be viewed as mature, sensible, respectable, and inclusive. I just feel that we take the political correctness too far sometimes. I remember seeing an article about how Batman AC is sexist, and that the game devs obviously hate and want to degrade women, because the thugs and criminals in the game kept referring to Catwoman as “bitch”. Now, maybe it’s because of where I’m from, but “bitch” is the most common derogatory term used by both men and women to describe women they don’t like. When my wife is angry at woman who cut her off on the way home from work, guess what she’s going to call her? So Batman AC isn’t trying to be sexist, it’s just trying to be realistic. What else would inmates call a woman who keeps kicking their ass?

            I also think part of being mature, sensible, and inclusive is accepting that there are gamers who respect women, who love their wives and daughters, but still want to play a game where they run around as a sexy female in a sexy outfit bashing monsters in the face with a sword. Just accept that it’s their guilty pleasure, and move on.

            If you want to champion women’s rights and equality, there are much better and more important fights to fight. Tera, for all its scantily clad women, is not nearly as bad, imo, as http://www.americanapparel.net/ Magazines and advertisements where real, beautiful women are being digitally altered into fake, unrealistic depictions of beauty, may lead to poor body image, unrealistic ideals, and eating disorders. Cartoon renderings of sexy elves… not so much.

    • undead dolphin hacker says:

      By now the vast majority of anonymous “feminist” rants about games are males trolling males. Glad to see it’s still an amazingly effective tactic.

  12. Screwie says:

    A month seems like an awfully short turnaround for the election. How much time do you get to enjoy the victory?

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      Yeah, how long does a campaign last if the term is only a month?

  13. alilsneaky says:

    The ‘politics’ sysem in tera is as useless a gimmick as they come.

    All that happened is that many of the shop npcs and all the auction npcs outside the capitals were closed, then points had to be grinded to be opened again by the vanarchs.

    It really doesn’t get more pointless and superfluous than that.

    That and the ‘vanarch’ for each zone can turn pvp on or off.

    Few things to note:
    There is absolutely NOTHING to do at endgame except 3 dungeons and farming rep and farming rifts, errr I mean nexus.
    The rifts are a safe zone from pvp! no world pvp allowed.
    EU tera is pretty much deserted.
    Eu community is a real stinker, most mmos have a friendly community for the first few months but tera was awful from day one.
    There hasn’t been any real world pvp in EU tera since people max level.
    The BAMS (big elites) are advertised to be a major part of the game but they are not, you grind rep, tokens and 5 man dungeons just like in wow, bams are a waste of time and noone bothers with them at endgame, most don’t bother with them while leveling because it’s faster to just quest.

    If you want an action mmorpg then there are far better ones out there;
    Vinductus has a better combat system.
    c9 (while having more primitive graphics) also has a better combat system that is more fluid.
    Hell even dragon’s nest has a better combat system.

    Tera has one thing going for it: the graphics, everything else is a waste of time.

  14. Blackcompany says:

    Intrigue? Our EVE corp is infiltrated. Some declared war on us. And someone inside us feeding them info. We have to root out who. And dodge attacks. And keep resources safe. All while trying to safely recruit & make a profit.

    Do you know how much of that is due to a built in “system” for politics?

    Zero.

    If you want your game to feature EVE like intrigue, give your players an EVE like Sandbox.

  15. spezz says:

    My wife and I just quit Tera at the beginning of this month. We both really enjoyed the game, but people in general make it such a hostile place to be, or even talk about.

    Its the elitists, the trolls, the moral crusaders, the know-it-alls, etc. Nobody can just shut up and let the players enjoy themselves, other players and non-players alike. Forget about participating in the official forums, I tried. Even outside of the game, wherever Tera’s mentioned erupts into a shit-fest.

    MMO games bring out this behaviour in general, I know. The vanarch system is a great idea but it just seems to reinforce the shitty attitudes. Its a great game but its like participating in an endless flame war. It’s just tiring after a while.

    Maybe I’ll go back after GW2 comes out and the popularity dies down.

    • Ragnar says:

      Couldn’t you just turn off General chat, ignore the official forums, and just hang out and talk with the members of your guild? I know it takes some of the Massive out of MMO, but I found that communicating with just a select subset of the quality people and muting / ignoring the rest leads to a much more enjoyable experience (much like RPS vs the internet).

      • spezz says:

        I agree, and that’s what we’ve done in previous MMOs. It just seemed much much more difficult to find that particular group in Tera than it did in say, Rift or EQ2. It may very well be the nature of the game, maybe the twitch gameplay or the subject matter attracted a different audience.

        • Davee says:

          Instead of waiting for people to move over to GW2, you should consider joining them. I think you may like what you find. ;)

          I’ve been pleasantly surprised how friendly the other players are in-game time and time again (they often rush to your aid if you’re in trouble for example) and the general welcoming feel of the community. I think it’s largely due to the game mechanics – you’re not competing with other players or running solo quests all the time in your own little world – you find yourself working together with them toward a common goal through the open dynamic events. Plus the fact that there’s nothing to lose by fighting alongside someone (whether they be a guildie or some random stranger you just met) rather than soloing. Teamwork just happens naturally!

          As for the elitists and know-it-alls; Since nobody’s been able to play very long I can’t tell for sure. But the reduced focus on leveling up and gear in GW2 (and more focus on story, events, player interaction), not to mention the down-leveling of your character in lower-level zones, should help quell it.

          However, this is based on my experience playing on only one server during the beta weekend events – Desolation. I don’t know how much the community spirit differs from server to server.