I wanted to play RO for some days. Something quick, but not too easy, and with not too many people to have to talk to while leveling. Kind of a nostalgic try. So I picked a private server which drop and XP rates are 25. That means killing a monster brings 25 times more XP to the avatar than on the official servers, and a 1% chance to drop an item becomes 25% on this server. I conducted an «ethnographic» play: based on my (relatively extended) knowledge of the game I analyzed the server through player avatars in the game but also on the control panel of the website. I found the private server on ratemyserver.net (RMS), but I will not write its name here so that nothing bad happens to its administrator. Launching a private server is an illegal activity after all.
At 3pm on Friday, the control panel showed 2 players were connected: T an Assassin and J a Hunter, both around level 80. These are the most solo classes of the game. When I logged in, it was not long before T arrived and, without a word, sent me an invitation to join guild G1, which he was the guild master of. I accepted, and saw in the guild panel that J the Hunter was also in the guild. Three days later, on Sunday night, there were 9 players connected on the server at 7pm. Among them, 4 belonged to guild G1, 2 to guild G2, 2 were not in a guild and 1 was an AFK merchant, used as a mule selling items to other players.
As mentioned before, the guild master of guild G1 was T, an Assassin. He had spent the last 2 days camping equipment on a low-level randomly-appearing monster called Ghostring. He had reached level 98 and had not made any other character. He was very confident and experienced in the game, and gave advice to the other 2 players he had recently recruited in his guild. IRL he was a 19-year-old jobless American. He started playing RO in 2007, had played on iRO Loki (official international server) and 5 other (much more populated) private servers, ranging from 6 to very high rates.
The sub Guild Master was J, the Hunter. He had actually played a lot and was now a lvl-96 Sniper. He had managed to collect a few Field Manuals in fishing, a custom activity of the server. When used by a player, manuals give 3 times more XP for 30 minutes. Although J seemed less confident than T, he said he started playing RO in 2006 on RuRO, the official Russian server. He gave spontaneously several items to other guild members. J and T talked quite much together in the guild chat. IRL, J was a 19-year-old Russian who worked in a call-center. He found his job boring and managed to play at work.
A was recruited after J. He was a lvl-90 Monk, a quite complex class combining support and high damage attacks. He was a basic member of the guild but talked a lot with J and T when he was connected. Each of them gave advice about where to XP or which equipment to get. He said he started playing on several euRO free-trial accounts in 2004, and tried another private server later. He looked quite unexperienced. IRL, he was a 19-year-old German working in a call-center as well (but not playing at work). When they realized through the guild chat that they were all the same age and two of them had the same job, they enthusiastically sent Facebook invitations to each other.
B was a lvl-96 Rogue recruited last. Rogues are a mixed class between Assassin and Hunter. B was not connected at that time.
In the other guild, the guild master was a quite experienced lvl-98 Hunter very in view on the forum. He had, among others, argued that the custom items provided by the administrator were balanced while another player thought they were not. The second player in the guild was a cheerful Bard, a support and/or high-attack version of Hunter. I was enrolled by him in the guild, and he even asked if I needed any piece of equipment. During week days, they were never connected before 5pm, I concluded they worked or went to school. Most of the time they were connected, the guild chat stood silent. When they happened to speak, it was in German to each other and out of the guild chat. Later, the Bard added that the 25-rate server opened following the wipe of a high-rate server. Maybe they knew each other before the low-rate server opened?
The capital city was Prontera. @go was given to players, but not @storage or @warp; this meant players had to go back to the capital to go where they wanted or use their storage. In my opinion, this increased the frequency of little social events that happened in the capital between players. The custom NPC were those usually found on any private server; they were:
- The Warpra teleports players wherever they want for free. This solves the problem of long and boring transportation time when there is no player to teleport other players to their destination.
- The Healer heals players and solves the scarcity of support-class avatars who, most of the time, need a group to XP quickly.
- Stat and Skill Reseter: resets the avatar skill and stat points. If a player wants to change his character build (eg from a Support Paladin to a Tank Paladin), she can.
- Job Master saves players the time to do job changing quests.
- Banker, Identifier, Bonus skill giver (to save time to the player), Universal Renter (for Cart, Falcon or mount)
There was also a Kafra Employee that lets the player save his respawn point when dead or open his storage, but this is an NPC found on official servers as well. A vending zone had been added as well where Merchants could set up their shops, but the server population was too small to have any virtual economy. The guild versus guild event, the WoE, was supposed to happen twice a week but was deactivated by S, the administrator of the server, probably because there were not big enough guilds.
S was German, although his advertising for the server on RMS mentioned the server and forum language was English. He came on the forum once or twice a day to reply to suggestions or technical problems with the game. He did not harass players for votes or donations, and stayed remarkably quiet. In the game, his player account was the Monk A. As a Game Master, He never improvised any live event for the players. Technically, he designed and coded his own website and control panel, manipulated client-side files, added and edited a few small NPCs in the game, tried (and failed...) to balance his custom items (eg the fishing rewards) but never seemed to have modified the server source code.
Certainly, the players from this private server had different origins (Russia, Germany, France, US) and had different gaming expertise. However, all the players were all males of the same age (16-25) and had all tried official servers and/or private servers before. They all played solo but their belonging to a guild showed they wanted to socialize with other players. Alone Together.
This private server had several custom hats. They all required grinding at least a hundred items, and rewarded the player with unbalanced items (eg inflicting +12% damage on other players). Somehow, it was too easy, but players did not seem to see it this way, or at least they did not complain about it - for now... I doubt the administrator had the community management, game design, programming, and graphic skills required to make his server grow as much as he would like to, but I am sure he had the will. Private server administrators are a particular kind of consumer of MMOG company's products - they use the game client. Of course, this is an illegal activity, or maybe a not-yet-channeled activity. MMOG companies could choose to design their games and pay attention to these determined and skilled consumers. They could be included in the product community as content contributors.