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Cautiously Optimistic

Jane Austen MMO Ever, Jane Promises Social Strategy And Probable Scandal

“What are you writing about this week?” my friend asked me over breakfast this morning.

I sipped my tea and smiled. “A Jane Austen MMO.”

My friend, who has a master’s degree in comparative lit and years of hardcore raiding under her belt, raised her eyebrows. Skeptically.

“No, seriously,” I said. “It’s a thing. It cleared its Kickstarter goal by almost $10,000 a few days ago. It’s got a playable prototype — well, okay, more of a proof of concept. Lots of bugs, not a lot to do. But I tried it out, and, honestly…I think it could be pretty cool.”

Indeed, there isn’t much to look at yet in Ever, Jane, but the premise has promise. Consider: An MMORPG completely free of combat, based around heavy roleplay and social strategy. Instead of Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, and so forth, player characters level their Status, Kindness, Duty, Happiness, and Reputation. Focusing on one trait means sacrificing another — Reputation for Happiness, for example, or Kindness for Status. In order to progress, players must orchestrate social engagements, avoid scandal, and smite their enemies with gossip. Guilds are replaced by families, whose status can be influenced by individual players. (Imagine, for a moment, a game inhabited by guilds primarily concerned with the social reputation of their members.) And of course, there are all the little diversions you’d expect — mini-games, NPC quests, farm and estate management, carriage travel, tradeable gifts. It’s an MMO, no question. Just without boss fights and giant swords.

That’s the thing that makes me really happy that this project exists, regardless of how the end product turns out. I love boss fights and giant swords, but isn’t it cool to see someone doing something other than yet another World of Warcraft EverQuest Dungeons & Dragons derivative? A prim and proper Regency setting may not be for everyone, but with as popular as WoW and its ilk are, it’s easy to forget that fantasy combat isn’t universally appealing, either. I saw someone on Twitter a few days ago (forgive me, internet gods, I don’t recall who) comment, in reference to video games, on how weird it would be to walk into a bookstore and find only one type of story for sale. Granted, there are lots of games out there experimenting with storytelling and trying new things, but I think that comment is apt when applied to online roleplaying games. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear about a Jane Austen visual novel or adventure game, but an MMO? An actual MMO, with quests and stats and mini-games? That takes some guts. I’m for any effort to bring games to the previously uninterested, or to give existing players something new. Because, yeah, killing monsters is awesome, but I like wax-sealed letters and misty moors, too. Variety is always a good thing, both for players and for the industry.

I didn’t spend more than an hour or so with the prototype, but it was enough to make me think that Ever, Jane could be a huge hit with the right crowd. I was there alongside a handful of strangers, and nobody was shy when it came to RP. Using typical chat abbreviations felt wrong when there were “Curtsey” and “Deep Curtsey” buttons a click away. I can’t remember the last time I used proper capitalization and punctuation in-game, and I’ve never RP’d my way through a casual UI inquiry. The atmosphere, even in that limited setting, reminded me of my Renaissance Faire days, or of the Lord of the Rings MUSH I frequented back in high school. The folks I encountered in Ever, Jane were primed and ready for some serious, serious roleplay. As I strolled the sparse streets of my quiet village, I imagined players huddled in little gossipy circles, tipping their hats to friends, filling their inventories with gifts, joining big RP events in the middle of the road. I saw the future, and it was full of Janeites and fanfic authors in absolute joy.

The setting poses some obvious obstacles where gender and race are concerned, which neither the devs nor the backers have overlooked. It’s a tricky question: How do you design an inclusive social environment around a collection of stories in which women’s roles are seriously limited and racial diversity is non-existent? Ever, Jane’s Kickstarter page already makes it clear that there will be delineation in the options available to male and female characters (I don’t think anyone would expect differently), but it sounds like there will be more paths available to women than just get married or die in poverty. After reading through threads on both Kickstarter and the game’s official forums, I have the impression that the devs are very aware of the social challenges they need to address, and of the fact that “historical accuracy” is a lot more colorful and complex than we’re often led to think. What approach the game will take is yet to be seen, but I’m encouraged by the discussions taking place between the devs and the backers, and among the backers themselves (there are, unsurprisingly, a few history buffs in the mix). Lots of ideas are being respectfully exchanged, and I think that bodes well for where this project will end up.

Ever, Jane still has a long way to go before players can fully get their hands on it. The Kickstarter reward tiers state an estimated release of 2016, which makes sense, considering that they’ve got an entire first-person, multiplayer world to build. A lengthy wait, but I’ll be staying tuned.

Becky Chambers writes essays, science fiction, and stuff about video games. Like most internet people, she has a website. She can also be found on Twitter.

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  • Lani

    When I first started reading this article, I thought, wow, this sounds incredibly dull. But the more I think about it, the more I think I really, really need this game in my life.

  • Lani

    When I first started reading this article, I thought, wow, this sounds incredibly dull. But the more I think about it, the more I think I really, really need this game in my life.

  • Pink Apocalypse

    I swoon at the idea of this….but then the more I think about it, I can’t help but become dismayed at the reality that sets in.

    How are they going to deal with the inevitable tidal wave of griefers and ‘drive-by samplers’ that will deliberately or inadvertently destroy people’s immersion?

  • Anonymous

    The roleplaying! It sounds like it could be fantastic! It’s so niche too that you probably won’t get tons of people who aren’t interested in the setting and RP. Also do I hear an Elendor MUSH reference? I used to love those text games too, they were tons of fun! I haven’t been able to find any more of those good RP haunts lately though, hopefully this game turns into that!

  • Megs B.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed for diversity in the game, especially in light of the forthcoming film Belle, as well as existing and forthcoming scholarly literature on people of color (African and Indian) in Georgian England.

  • Morgan

    0_0 :D

  • Tasali

    The possibilities of using this as a learning tool are phenomenal. High school kids HATE reading Jane Austen, but imagine if they were able to learn about that world by roleplaying in it, being able to walk around in it, and have to conform to that world’s social norms…

    This is a fantastic project. Shut up and take my money.

  • Jodilyn

    It’s probably not free to play so I doubt there will be too many people willing to shell out $40 to come buy and yell “SHOW ME YOUR BOOBS”.

  • E.V. Emmons

    This sounds like it could be fun. Also worrying in the sense, that it could get a bit mean too…
    I suppose just have to see how they go about doing things, because in JA’s stories, people weren’t always kind and lovely…some where down right snakes.

  • Anonymous

    lvl 10 – crying fit, 30 sec cooldown
    lvl 15 – dramatically faint, 5 min cooldown
    lvl 50 – dramatically fall ill, hourly ability

  • Amourah

    I would RP the hell out of this game. It sounds (potentially) awesome! I’ll be following their progress now, thanks for letting us know about this :)

  • Anonymous

    We joke now, but watch a PvP patch six months after launch make this game AMAZING.

  • Anonymous

    Only if it’s the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” expansion.

  • Dana W

    Anyone who has played an MMORPG on an RP server knows this is going to attract a HORDE of Lolcows who will only be there to make everyone else’s immersion experience die.

  • Dana W

    NOBODY is going to pay $40 a month. The MMOPGs that are not FTP are under constant pressure to do so and even WOW has a hard time of $15 a month. And you underestimate serious trollers. For a fresh sea of victims and a good way to stand out in the already overcrowded world of game breaking, they will pay. I would actually like to see this succeed. But its going to have to have TIGHT security and a department with a pitiless ban hammer.

  • AB

    I donated money to this, but to be honest I would have donated more if I knew more about the team behind it. The studio doesn’t have any projects under their belt, and while the CEO seems like a very capable game developer, that doesn’t really necessarily translate into a successful business owner. I’ve worked for a handful of places that went south because of a lack of producers/managers. The fact that a producer & PM was a distant stretch goal was a bit of a red flag for me. I hope that the game gets made with as few complications as possible and that it’s successful. I’ve donated to 6 game kickstarters so far and not one ever made it to release, but I’m always optimistic that the next one will be the one that finally makes it.

  • AB

    I’m hoping a community manager/support role or something similar is included in their staff.

  • According2Robyn

    I can’t wait to run Pemberley with my guildies, quipping our way through the instanced halls, to finally arrive in the drawing room and face Mr. Darcy himself.

  • Benjamin Meis

    Well, this will definitely break the stereotype that videogames (particularly MMOs) are only played by heterosexual males, because its almost certain that the heterosexual male player base for this will almost nil. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that as a necessarily bad thing. More diversity of game types means more people interested in games which means gaming becomes ever more mainstream and stereotypes about them will eventually fade)

  • Axe Armor

    I am a troll, and that sounds like fun. According to the Kickstarter page it is free-to-play, but you have to be a peasant (and it sounds like you starve after a while…? This game is awesome). I envision a world where roving gangs of FTPers mob passersby, spamming them with emotes and requests for a halfpenny beggin yer pardon.

  • NickN

    From personal observation I’ve always found that very significant portion of roleplayers within modern mmorpgs do get very involved in “courtly drama” with noble titles and guilds revolving around noble houses. I imagine because it involves a heavy amount of socialization and characterization without much need for combat. So yeah, this could be a big hit within a certain audience. I know I’ll play it.

    That said, It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be LFG.


  • Kaley Eryn

    I’m assuming they meant $40 to buy the game, not $40 a month. Like how GW2 had an initial purchase fee but has no subscription model.

    I REALLY hope this isn’t a subscription-based game. Please, for the love of God. I’m a poor college student, I can’t take all of this

  • Kaley Eryn

    Most likely, yeah, it should break that stereotype. But it only exists as a stereotype anyway. I’m pretty sure every girl I know plays video games, and most of us play MMOs as well.

    The thing is, the hardcore gamer guys, who already do whatever they can to discredit those of us girls/women who are involved in gaming, will probably swarm on this to make fun of everyone who plays it. I doubt they’ll consider it a “real” game.

  • Kaley Eryn

    They do say they’ll have a huge ban hammer. With any luck, they’ll also have separate servers for different levels of roleplaying.

  • Benjamin Meis

    TBH, I don’t really consider it much of a game myself (anyone who wants to play is welcome, and I certainly won’t deride them or interrupt their enjoyment), but a game based on social henpecking doesn’t really seem like a real MMO type game to me. Maybe that’s my own preconceptions talking, but it seems to lack much of a point to it (as much as spending time gaming has a point) or an overall goal or endgame strategy. When your only method of advancement is basically a dis, it seems… limited.

  • frankenmouse

    Interestingly a study I recently ran suggests that MMOs are one of the few video game genres where there is no significant sex difference in number of players. They’re just less “visible,” often choosing to avoid voice chat or using female characters in order to avoid online harassment.

  • Kaley Eryn

    It’s still a game, and one with pretty in-depth strategies, really. I don’t see any reason that social henpecking, as you call it, is any better or worse than fighting mobs. It will still take quite a bit of skill to maneuver properly. And since the only requirements for being an MMO(RPG) are being an online role-playing game in which players encounter other players…it totally fits. It’s just not something we’re used to seeing.

    That’s not to say it doesn’t seem limited, but all games are limited in their own ways. This one seems to be pretty strict about what kinds of opportunities are available to people of different sexes, classes, and races, which, while maintaining historical accuracy, is going to be really strange to play.

  • Michael McNinch

    I strike with a sensible strong argument filled to brim with tranquil fury!

  • Pink Apocalypse

    Followed by Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters.

  • Kevin Baker

    I don’t think the stereotype that only women enjoy Jane Austen is substantially more true than the stereotype that only men play video games.

  • Mina

    I think you’d be surprised how many heterosexual males enjoy Jane Austen.

  • Michael Suchan

    The potential for cyber bullying is troubling.

  • Vetinari

    I’m not so sure. I’m a heterosexual guy and this seems pretty awesome. Although I’ll admit I just can’t stand fantasy WOW-style MMOs, so anything that breaks that mold is certainly of interest. And talking is always much more fun than killing. Almost always.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the potential for cyber bullying?

  • Eisen

    But the thing is, if you look on the word – MMORPG – this Jane Austen mmo is more mmorpg than many others.

    With the exceptions of SWToR and Secret World, most MMORPGs simply forget the ‘RPG’ – there is just a little bit of character customization, just a few emotes, and nothing to support people who really want to roleplay in this kind of games, like flavor items, housing etc.

    If you are very, very lucky there will be a RP Server, but most of the time they are swarming with trolls, or people who think RP means something complely different. But even if there are trolls, people don’t get banned, because there are most of the time no RP guidelines for – as an example – names. So you want so fully roleplay on your roleplay server, but it’s hard wenn “Darth0rangjuz” walks by, or “R0xxCereal”. The GMs – if there are any – and the game company itself simply don’t care for roleplayers, but are not ashamed to put an RPG in their product description.

    And for the mmo-thing – it only means many people online in a game. Even if you would say the RPG stands more for the mechanic in classical PnP Games, it is still there – there will be stats, there will be some kind of “level up”.

    This game is actually a game, it only has a different core area or focus. But just because dungeons and raids are missing (maybe there even will be fight, but in the form of gentlemen/women duels?), it doesn’t mean it is not a game. It is. Just not the kind of game you’re used to.

  • Eisen

    But hopefully this time they take the RPG in their game serious an will ban this people.

  • Eisen

    You never played on a RP Server in a mmo, did you?

    There are tons of male players, not concerning themselves with raiding/dungeoneering or pvp (only if they need special-looking clothes that only drop from certain bosses ;) ), but playing a role, spending hours with just ‘walking’ slowly through a city, talking to people, discussing backstabbing plots in dark alleys… or romancing.

  • Tana

    It’s an interesting idea, but their payment model? Yeah… I’m not touching that with a ten-foot pole.

  • Charlie

    I’m a massive tomboy so this doesn’t appeal to me much but It’s a great idea, variation in games is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    Victorian social one-upmanship can be a terrible thing.

  • Anonymous

    Get a job you layabout wastrel!

  • Madeleine Odowichuk

    “where racial diversity is nonexistent”… really? I first heard about “Ever, Jane” because it was mentioned by medievalpoc, a Tumblr made specifically to challenge notions that there were no people of colour in Europe before a certain period.

    Specifically, mentioning that the makers of “Ever, Jane” were enthusiastic upon hearing about resources debunking that myth.

  • Madeleine Odowichuk

    That last sentence gets my upvote.

  • Madeleine Odowichuk

    Not to mention there might be a dearth of male players in “Ever, Jane”.
    “You’re a guy irl? NO WAY! Pics pls.”

  • footnotegirl

    Because killing the same monster over and over again is so very deeply meaningful?

  • footnotegirl

    No no no, the big boss battle must be handled alone, and it will be against Lady Catherine De Bourgh!