So I joined my first MMORTS – Massively Multiplayer Online Real Time Strategy – www.evony.com. This was for a number of reasons, including:
- I’m a geek at heart. I used to play alot of Age of Empires and the appeal of playing a Real Time Strategy that was free, no less, was a powerful lure.
- I was actually interested in the notion of “community” which I had read about in several reviews, specifically when you joined an Alliance.
- The Advertising was just crazy. It has copped an enormous amount of negative press and criticism, most notably because once you got into game play, there were no references to the said advertising (sad for some). Coding Horror had a particularly funny blog post on How Not to Advertise on the Internet about a week before I joined. That tipped me to have a look.
- 8 million users as at 3rd September 2009. When I joined in July ’09 – 5 million were active according to www.evony.net. That’s ALOT of people.
When you first log in, you are confronted with a list of servers to join. If logging in in for the first time, you get automatically allocated to the most recent server which has space on it. I got logged on to Server 41, and started to play. Each server can have up to 120,000 active players on it, before they create a new one. At time of writing they were clearing through Server 86. So lots of people online.
Essentially, Evony is a fairly static game from a visual perspective, in comparison to the sprawling armies which you command in Age of Empires. Progress is measured by the notion of “Prestige” which is a combination of building upgrades, technology advancements and conquests, by way of territory or battles. Game play is based around the real time creation and improvement of your City(s) overall level and state of advancement from a technology perspective which consists of different types of buildings.
- Resource generation – Farms, saw mills, quarries and mines. These produce food, lumber (wood), stone & iron.
- Barracks – production of fighting units in discreet numbers, limited by your resources available and the number of idle villagers in your city. The higher the barracks level, the broader the range of units that can be created.
- Cottages – are used to house city population in turn allowing taxes to be levied which create gold. The higher the cottage level, the higher the population = higher gold generation.
- Technology buildings to enable improved states of play by way of game improvements ranging from unit strength, across to production capacity or production speed – Includes Academy, Workshop, Forge, Relay Station & Warehouse.
With the above variants, upgrading each takes real time consumption i.e. going from a level 1 barrack to a level 2 barrack takes 5 minutes. The kicker is that you can only do 1 upgrade at a time, in sequential order and you can’t queue this production – meaning an onerous amount of time can be spent online waiting for things to upgrade/finish, so that you can click the next one. As you progress up to higher upgrade levels, the time to complete increases exponentially. For instance, at time of writing, I was upgrading my Archery at the Academy from Level 8 to 9 which entailed a completion time of 127 hours, meaning that I couldn’t cue any other technology research at that particular city. That’s a REALLY long time! What makes it tantalising at the start is that you get a set of supplied “Speed Up’s” which are cued almost to the second to assist in speeding up production time. Of course Evony don’t supply enough to upgrade your entire city to a level 10, just enough here and there at different times to keep you interested.
Resources generation is shown in real time and measured in production output per hour e.g. To cite lumber/wood as an example 3,000 lumber per hour. The actual output is governed by 5 different attributes. In all the below, the higher the numbers, the better the net outcome on your production.
- Level of the lumber yard i.e. Level 1 to 9.
- The politics attribute level of your mayor (Hero given Castallan status at Feasting Hall).
- Magical assistance from items with defined time period of effectiveness e.g. Arch Saw adds 25% over 24 hours
- Capture of requisite valley local to your city which adds a percentage contribution to production i.e capture a Forest will yield a % increase production
- Level of research at your Academy for the respective resource technology improvement completed i.e. Level 1 to 10.
So what’s the aim of the game?
It is essentially about building armies and gaining territory.
In the early days of the server, whilst under 7 day beginner protection meaning I couldn’t attack or be attacked, I observed people typing/talking in “World Chat” and everyone was talking about completing the “Quests”. With the above in mind, I began to take the advice and start following the Quests which are little tasks which teach you how the game mechanic works and rewards you for completion of each task. Very quickly, my city and technology started to “level up”, I was getting promoted, my armies were getting bigger, I conquered my first valley, I won my first battle.
Fun. Addictive fun. REALLY Addictive fun.
Consumption of resources falls into 5 areas:
- Research Technology/Improvement at academy
- Production of Troops at barracks
- Levelling up of buildings and structures
- Battle – March, Camp, Loss of troops in Battle
- Being plundered by an enemy army.
Alliances, Leadership, Politics and War
With 120,000 potential competitors sharing space on the server, and the game mechanic geared towards having battles and contesting territory, one of the wider goals within the Quests where emphasis is placed is to join an Alliance, which loosely surmised is a collective of 100 people. The advantage of an alliance is you pool knowledge, reinforce and support each other with resources and can chat in the “Alliance Chat”, which is a private channel for Alliance members only. Structurally each Alliance is founded by a Host, with 2 Vice Hosts, 6 Presbytyr’s & 20 Officers enforcing order and discipline on the 100 members. When a Host founds an alliance, they can call it a suitably appropriate name. On Server 41, Alliance number 1 was “Paladins”. They had a 20,000 Prestige entry requirement. At the time of my looking into applying, I was a very princely 1,215 Prestige. Hmmm – quite a bit of work to do.
This is where the game started to get interesting. As alluded to earlier, I used to play Age of Empires, so citing the need for a suitably thematic alliance, I decided to bypass ones called “Kings, Elites, The Unit etc” in favour of one called 300. How very Spartan of me. I applied and they let me in, with my hard earnt 1,215 Prestige. From this point on joining 300, my Prestige started to go into an orbital trajectory. 2,000. 4,000. A week later 15,000. 3 weeks later 70,000…. The alliance people were helping me get higher, offering me suggestions, advice and encouragement. Over the ensuing weeks, I met some real characters in here – funny, helpful, informative. Initially everyone was feeling their way around, trying things out, offering advice and learning a hell of lot from each other. I hit gold in joining 300, as it seemed to be mostly adults, who had jobs, families, real lives. Some people got booted along the way, for poor behaviour, others for inactivity. Somehow, I got promoted to Presbytyr. Apparently for being helpful and knowledgeable about the battle engine, which I had taken some time out to learn and exploit by way of the Evony Forum’s. Life was pretty fun.
Then politics entered. Yea. I hate politics, both in my online gaming and in real life. Some people started to go away on extended leave, moved house, and so forth, so they left their account details with some “trusted” people. It went particularly badly when one of these people had control of 5 accounts, including the Host, Vice Host & 1 of the Presbytyrs. That’s when it all went south as suddenly you didn’t know if you were talking to the person whose account it was or the person “minding” it. It really got nasty when they started to threaten people in Alliance Chat and everyone got wary and couldn’t work out who was actually online. I left.
I joined WAR IV, the 4th division of a very active alliance with about 15 others from 300 who were fed up with the poor outcomes of the account swapping fiasco. Was quickly promoted back up to Presbytyr again. Then it went south with the host of WAR I, logged in and started to abuse people in Alliance chat, for no good reason. I left again, with the same original 15 from 300 and joined SPQR with trusted colleagues from the original 300. This also coincided with my leanings towards the Roman Legions being reflected in the SPQR name.
It was at this time, that Server 41 was starting to get tough. My prestige was now 180,000+ and the armies that were being commandeered were hitting their 100,000 limit (125,000 if they used a war banner), comprising of hordes of archers, swordsman, ballista, cavalry, scouts, the whole kit and kaboodle. I was starting to get hit by armies of 60,000 archers, 5,000 ballista and 35,000 warriors. There were a few occasions where I was online and I was able to scramble Alliance assistance to garrison at my Embassy 3 X 45,000 (135,000 total) archers and assorted other troops to defeat invading armies, due in part to my Level 10 Infomatics and Level 10 Beacon. Nothing quite like watching an enemy army of 100,000 units getting thumped by an garrisoned alliance force of 175,000+ troops. These times were quite satisfying as the requisite jump in Prestige and Honour were substantial. 1 battle alone, I recall getting some 630,000 Honour points. I had a happy hero on my hands which ended up costing me a fortune in salary increase. The problem overall though was that little SPQR with our 15 members was but a minnow in a very large and nasty ocean made up of Paladins, Kings, WAR and a few choice others who were dominating the server. The smaller (read 50K prestige) members of SPQR were getting chewed up. Badly. We ended up re-merging with 300 again, because we were just too darn small to survive out there against the big alliances. It helped greatly that the few malcontents who had made life unpleasant in the first place had since left 300.
A different Server. A new beginning.
So with the win’s few and far between, the server getting tougher and the lack of comaraderie that had characterised the beginnings on the wane, I decided to start another account on the newly minted Server 66. This served me really well, as I had the experience of Server 41 behind me and wouldn’t make the same mistakes. I logged in, reveled in 7 day beginner’s protection and promptly started to charge up my Prestige and my armies. To follow the same path, as the first server, I followed the quests and chose an alliance to join.This time they were called Storm, because the person I was chatting too (one of the Presbytyr’s) seemed reasonable and the other people I played online with when I logged in were similarly so. Until I logged on 2 days later. The Vice Host turned out to be of a social order that took its lessons in human interaction from rabid fighting dogs. Language, abusive tirades, a biting, sarcastic, framework of communications were what stemmed forth from their mouth. Forget it, I wasn’t here to be somebodies punching bag for no good reason. I left.
I wandered around on my own for a few days, getting attacked and easily fending off the initial battles, as my army was some 2,000 spies and 4,000 archers , whereas I was getting hit by armies with 20 spies and maybe 500 archers. Combined with a forest of Archer Towers in my main city and other assorted surprises. Offers to join alliances were thick and fast, but the level of diplomacy and diction quality in the greeting missives and the subsequent dialogue left a lot to be desired. I stuck it out on my own having a bit of sport with the local populace. If they attacked me and inevitably lost, I’d send them a polite message requesting truce and if they were rude (7 times out of 10), I responded back,with extreme prejudice. Wave attacks, 5,000 archers, then 5 waves of cavalry to plunder their population loyalty from 80 down to 40. They got the picture and quickly gave me a wide birth.
Then I get a lovely, well written, diplomatic and polite email from a host of an alliance called Angels. Angel 7 to be exact, which was the 7th branch of a 670+ member strong super alliance. And by lovely, I mean that the host of Angel 7 was female, which interestingly in the Evony world isn’t that rare an occurrence which adds a nice dimension to what could otherwise be the usual (so I have read) male dominated MMORTS experience. The message to join Angel 7 was eloquent, polite and advocated peace and a fun, friendly environment. Suited me, as I was a bit over my warring ways and was looking forward to a more peaceful existence of being in an alliance which was more about the community side of things than the battles and stuff.
Angel 7 was fantastic. A bunch of really nice people from the day I joined, and anytime I logged on, there was interesting chatter about real world things. This may sound odd, but something I had noticed in the other alliances I’d been members of (and been promoted up) was that the conversations rarely deviated from the game at hand – battle tactics, target of the day, how to maximise resources, those sort of things. Angel 7 was refreshingly different – people talked about their hobbies, families, jobs, asked advice and received, on the whole, very good points of view and balanced responses. I spent 10 days in Angel 7, got promoted again to Presbytyr (what exactly am I doing to warrant these escalations of responsibility?) and life was nice.
Then I got tapped on the shoulder to start Angel 8. Nice one.
This is where the game got tough for me. Angel 8 was the 8th branch of a 670+ strong Super Alliance network of 7 other Angel branches, each managed by a terrific host. My remit was markedly different however. I was tasked to take the “tough, troublesome or suspect spies” from the 7 Angel’s branches. I had 35 applicants to start with and my job was to assess them each and everyone. So I marched off into the wilderness and did just that. Only 14 members came across. It was determined the other 21 were spy accounts. They just never appeared again.
So of my intrepid band of 14 members, I determined that they were a mix of young kids (say 15 years old) and a good slice of snot nosed, obnoxious and spoilt brat types. My interest in Evony was declining by the hour. From my perspective, I had gotten saddled with the losers, the people that the other hosts couldn’t or didn’t want to handle – maybe I was the first of the “losers” to get these guys. What countered was the sanity check of 2 key players who turned out to be fantastically supportive in our little fiefdom of 15 members and adding to the case against this dim and dark existence we were living as outcasts was the constant stream of information I got from the Angel network. Status updates of the target of the day. Encouraging emails from the Angel’s overall leader, encouraging messages from the Host of Angel 7 who had both recruited me and seconded me into Angel 8. All was not lost.
After 2 weeks of running Angel 8 and writing a number of reports, I tendered my resignation. I recommend on the whole that the 15 players who had come over weren’t spies – they were just either young, quiet or both. The quiet types ended up being some of the most interesting people who played the game – one was an ex USMC marine, who I had indepth discussions around topics like world politics, our respective families and other things that were influencing our respective lives. The other was a car industry type, who I obviously resonated well with. Leaving Evony and a 3 to 4 hour a day existence, wasn’t what I would call pleasant – I had played close to 3 months – 90 days – straight of this very addictive game, but it was time to end the relentless time commitment this game takes. I had a lovely – and extraordinarily patient – wife and infant son to spend time with. I had my mountain bike to ride. I had other things to do. Evony needed to take a dose of perspective and be rebalanced with my life.
The leadership of Angel’s took it pretty badly, which surprised me, as I had really been out in the woods when running Angel 8. I got offered to join Angel 1, the Elite Angels, as my battle experience was deemed to be highly valuable. When I responded that I couldn’t commit the time, I was asked to go to Angel 2 instead and assist in training the up and coming members to battle readiness. I acquiesced and joined for a couple of weeks. Whilst the people on here were nice, Angel 2 was all geared around training everyone to be battle ready and join the Elite Angel’s into their territorial push. It was all a bit too serious for me and to be fair, the Host & I didn’t quite see eye to eye in how to manage people. his style was “do this, because I said so” where as I tend towards being collaborative and explain the situation, using logic to rationalise my orders. To be fair though, I was by this time just over it – I was longing the absence of the Evonylised world and hankering for some real life interaction. What is not in question was the Host’s commitment to looking after the “family” and ensuring the best outcome for all concerned. In this the community aspect of Evony is quite extraordinary. The small point that it appeared I knew more than most people online about battle tactics and defense, only added to my dismay and inability to commit the time. My view is that my absence would only take up a valuable spot within the Angel 2 group. So I left.
I logged back in a week later, having left my defenses ready for assault. I had been attacked numerous times, but my defenses had held firm. 19,000 archers and 8000 archer towers will do that on a relatively young server. I had an invitation from Angel 7, from the original host who heard I had been cut loose. I rejoined and it felt like I was home. I only log in now about once a week for half an hour or so – mostly to chat to people, catch up, listen to a few stories and offer a bit of advice here or there. It’s working out pretty well.
Incidently upon writing this post, I worked out that near enough, I had spent 100 days in Evony. It was an enriching experience and I can certainly see why people end up getting their lives sucked into the vortex of upgrades, interaction and general time consumption. Having done this, I can truthfully say, now that I’ve had a taste of an MMORTS, I an see the allure and the appeal. I may return sometime in the future, but I don’t see it being a significant part of my life for many years yet.
A time line and thanks to the following players for making my time enjoyable:
Server 41 – i2adiant
- Joined 300, promoted to Presbytyr
- Left 300 to become Presbytyr WAR IV,
- Merged with WAR II, stayed Presbytyr
- Left WAR II to become Presbytyr SPQR,
- Merged SPQR with 300
King Awesome, EarthAxe, V3NOM323, Tonic, Tinkerbell, LordTitan, Mousey, FlippinSweet, Arbitable, Xoakie, McMission, Sir Donnie, ~LadyDelia.
Server 66 – Sabre
- Joined Storm,
- Left Storm and joined Angel 7, promoted to Presbytyr
- Left Angel 7 to form Angel 8 as Host,
- Disbanded Angel 8 and joined Angel 2,
- Left Angel 2 and rejoined Angel 7
Frosties, Meena, 350, Zet, TheDutch, Vincente, Imzadi, Chrisagon, The Inimitable Dark Horse,
- Battle map – War Reports diagramatic heat map showing hot zones of activity based on defence statistics from attacked city co-ords and depending on the level of infomatics, an origin of attack vector and timings would also add a totally different dimension to the game.
- Improved messaging for Hosts between alliances. Once you are in an alliance its very easy to get lost in the microcosm world of the other 99 players and lose touch. This is particularly challenging for Host and Vice Host whose job it is to promote diplomatic relations. I learnt this first hand when I was appointed host of Angel 8 on Server 66.
- Some animations for battles. It’s a small thing, but a structured set of battle results that are graphically represented by little soldiers fighting would add so much. Call me old fashioned – I love watching when two armies collided as in Age of Empires. An option to switch these off would be nice too.
- At the Rally Point in the Exercise Battle Practice Area, add in the ability to select City Fortifications and defences i.e. Archery Towers, Rolling Logs, Traps, Abatis & Catapults as part of the Battle Engine.
- Add the ability to trade resources for specific items like Medals. Server 66 was particularly scarce on medals being able to be found within Valleys. Annoying.