Ladies and gentlemen, readers and fellow writers: I have an admission to make. I am a recovering A Tale in the Desert (ATITD) addict. My addiction took many weeks to break – weeks of cold night sweats and evenings of nail biting.

And you think I’m being dramatic.

I first realized my problem in the winter of 2004. My character was one of the leading researchers on botany and the crossbreeding of flowers. We were finally reaching some groundbreaking insights and new, well-bred flower bulbs were in greater demand than ever. I found myself setting an alarm to wake myself up every two hours, so I could get online to fertilize my prized garden.

This behavior went on for two or three weeks. In a blurry haze of disrupted sleep, I clicked hundreds of flowers, and during the day I would mass-produce fertilizer at the alchemy bench. My Excel chart of flowers grew to 363 lines of color-coded information, recording flower bloodlines and appearances, and plans for the future.

I stopped playing ATITD. I logged in only to tend my garden, and logged off as soon as I was finished. The game was no longer a game to me; it was a chore, like doing my laundry or washing dishes. I had a brief revival in the form of the Contest of Seven event, but in the end, my 48-hour quest for first place ended in more burnout (and a spiffy private island). My die had been cast; it was time to quit.

My story is not a strange one to Egypt. In Tale 1, 90% of players who quit did so because of burnout, while the other 10% either found the game too easy, or quit for other reasons.

Tale 1 ran for 18 months, during which about 2 million man-hours were played by between 1,150 and 2,100 accounts. Tale 2 was supposed to last less than one year, but has been running for 16 months so far, with 1.78 million man-hours played over a range of 1,230 and 2,500 accounts, and is not yet near the end. The extension of the game is somewhat frustrating to a lot of players; they were expecting a faster-paced game, and were worried that they’d not have time to research every nook and cranny. Instead, they are suffering the opposite.

Developers Andrew Tepper and Josh M. Yelon have always played an unending balancing act between overwhelming the populace and underestimating it. Technologies that should have taken weeks to unlock have been researched within days. Part of this is also due to the amazingly cooperative community of ATITD; the game’s secrets were attacked not by many separate, competing brains, but by a network of intelligent gamers working together. Players set up one of the most informative and helpful fansites on the web, a Wiki maintained in four languages to freely share research, maps and trade information.

Because players were so adept at working together, developers had to up the ante to face the collective public. New research and construction projects were aimed at guilds and communities, requiring large masses of time, resources and manpower. Of course, the stubborn solo community of ATITD would have nothing of it. Soloers conquered Tests made for 49 people, and conquered construction projects that would make guilds shudder. And then, they burned out.

The non-solo community didn’t remain unscathed, either. Most players fell prey to one of two scenarios: They either thought they were required to produce everything they needed themselves, instead of trading for it or asking for help, or overzealously pursued one project until it became a chore.

Chichis, a pseudo-celebrity of the ATITD community who first got into the game in April of 2003, was a college student with plenty of time to blow, and immediately entered the hardcore mainstream. “I spent time socializing, brainstorming, and just plain, mindless making stuff.” The majority of his time, however, was dedicated to either the Leadership discipline or research.

“I did a lot of research into alchemy in the first Telling, as well as flowers. In the second Telling, I did a lot of research into cooking, and I literally wrote the guide on mining.” As Chichis outpaced technology and ran out of things to research, he turned to the pursuit of Leadership. “I realized a few things [about Leadership]. First, that I enjoyed it a lot more than most other things, and second that I was able to succeed in the pursuit. Leadership isn’t a discipline where success is guaranteed, unlike Worship or Architecture.” In Tale 2, Chichis passed one of the most competitive tests in the game, the Test of the Demi-Pharaoh.

Chichis was also the leader of the House of BES, a prestigious mid-sized guild. “Having a guild made the game more interesting and kept me playing in times I might have quit… Being part of a group that works together to succeed is fun. Being alone and aimless is much less fun. Being part of a guild helped [me] get through the times when the game was lacking.” Chichis ended up quitting due to boredom, not burnout; he felt that the game was moving at too slow a pace, and he was running out of things to do.

Lead developer Andrew Tepper agrees with Chichis that community makes all the difference. “In an MMO[G], you tend to intersperse playing with socializing. I even do this – I spend lots of time coding, and then take breaks [for] socializing, running events, chatting with players. Playing can be an intense activity, and socializing a relaxing one, so you can self-adjust the pace. This means it’s possible to enjoy the game for longer individual sessions.”

Tepper also points out there is increased activity during events, more so than when a new technology comes out. Player Dragyn, Oracle of Three in Tale 1 (no small accomplishment) agrees with this.

Dragyn started ATITD about halfway through Tale 1, and immediately started playing as much as possible in an attempt to catch up with those who had been playing for months. Like Chichis and me, Dragyn spent a lot of time researching the open-ended technologies that weren’t well understood, such as beer brewing and flower crossbreeding. Dragyn and his guildmates have bred over 1,500 flowers in Tale 2.

While Dragyn passed at least 29 tests in Tale 1, he is trying to hold himself back for Tale 2; “This Telling, I’m more focusing on the tests I think are fun or have good rewards, and letting other people get a chance to fill the Oracle roles.” Even with this casual outlook, Dragyn was one of the first to pass the Test of the Singing Cicada!

Again, like Chichis, Dragyn did a lot of groundbreaking research for ATITD. He worked on Alchemy in Tale 1, and, in Tale 2, did research on mining, wood treatment, beer and gearboxes. Dragyn also writes helpful spreadsheets and 3rd party programs, which can be found on his Wiki page.

So far, Dragyn has kept himself occupied, but he’s having trouble finding new things on which to focus. “It’s not so much that I don’t have stuff to do, but I’m running out of things I want to do.” He plays more when new techs come out, or during events.

Remember how I said I quit? Let me rephrase that: I took a break. Like any good addict, I eventually returned to my vice, saddling up my camel and heading back into the desert for Tale 2. This time around, I lasted only a few months before again moving on, though as the winter months roll around, I begin to feel homesick for the warm sands of Egypt. Maybe just one more go, for old time’s sake …

Laura Genender is a Staff Writer for MMORPG.com, and is also an Editor for Prima Strategy Guides.

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