Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Fear Of Success: EQNext

A lot of people are wondering how successful EQNext will be. SOE are making huge claims for it, claims that some people dismiss out of hand, while others at least entertain the possibility .

I've been wondering something a little different, not will EQNext be the Next Big Thing but do I want it to be? Is it in my interest for Everquest to become a name recognized by the average gamer, even the average popular-culture-literate non-gamer, the way World of Warcraft has?

For EQNext to become something millions of people, rather than hundreds of thousands, want to play would it need to become something other than Everquest? It would certainly have give up being the fiddly, pernickety, quirky, infuriating mish-mash of half-worked-through ideas, false starts and muddles to which aficionados of the franchise have long-since become inured.

Attracting attention beyond the comfortable niche Norrath has inhabited for the last decade would require layer after layer of that "polish" other MMOs are so proud of, the scrubbing clean of all those cobwebbed, half-forgotten corners, the smoothing out of all those bumpy rides. Mass markets are unforgiving of rough edges.

Fans, however, are tolerant of all kinds of failures and ineptitude. They may rail and curse and rant but that just demonstrates their commitment, something that seemed strangely lacking at the EQNext Reveal. The audience seemed distinctly underwhelmed, uninterested even. If you watched some of the follow-up panels and particularly the Q&A sessions at the end of them, you might have got the impression some, perhaps most, of these self-declared Everquest fans would rather EQNext wasn't happening at all.

There's a good reason for that. It's as obvious as it can be that this new game isn't being made for the fans. If it was, it would be the same game as the last two only with prettier pictures. EQ and EQ2 are very different games in many ways but they share the same core values. Tanks want to tank. Healers want to heal. Raiders want to raid. Everyone wants to level, earn AAs and gear up. Forever.

No, EQNext is for all those people who tried the other Everquest games and didn't like them all that much. More importantly, it's for the vast horde of MMO players who've never played Everquest. Maybe never even heard of it .

If that ambition fails, if those millions either never come or don't stick around, if all we end up with is another niche MMO set in Norrath, played with passionate intensity by a few hundred thousand people and ignored by the rest of the world, will that matter?

And might anything more than that turn out to be too much of a good thing?



26 comments:

  1. I've come around to a strong belief that niche > mass market, when it comes to MMOs. But a smaller, tight playerbase is not what's wanted by most companies anymore so it only makes sense that the couple hundred thousand rabid fans that play for 10+ years is not what SOE is after with this game. I think MMOs not embracing their niche-ness (and budgeting with that view) is folly, but we'll have to wait and see how it works for EQN.

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    1. There's a danger of stagnation in too cosy a relationship between game-maker and game-player but on balance I tend to agree. Knowing, understanding and playing to a specific market is probably more likely to work out well for all concerned than trying to be all things to all-comers.

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    2. @Pai,

      I also think niche > mass market for MMOs.

      EQ2 is a 10 year old game so millions don't play it now so it has small and tight nit community. Even when I group with someone new for the first time there is feeling of comradely. We are both on the same wave length as if it were. You hardly get immature players these days in EQ2.

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  2. I suspect that, no matter what SOE does, EQN is unlikely to pass the high water mark of paying players set by EQ and never eclipsed by EQII, depending on how you measure "paying players." There are too many options in the MMO market right now. EQN would have to be radically new and different to manage that, and I am not sure that level of change will come to pass.

    I do fret a bit that SOE seems to be embracing feedback as much as it has. Granted, it has been for somewhat superficial things so far. Should female dwarves be forced to have beards or should it be an option? Do we let the ratonga back into the game? But it is edging into more concrete things, as with the question about whether all races be allowed access to all classes.

    If they are going to attempt to break with past mechanics and create something that is, if not totally new, then a new mix, they ought to just do it. As you have noted, their current customer base, by definition, is reasonably satisfied with what they have and is more interested in tweaks. The mass of any installed base always wants evolutionary changes and generally fears any radical departure from the past.

    Also, I wonder where I stand on the continuum of EQ fans. I have played both games for years at a stretch, but have since mostly given up on them, returning for visit but not really committing. Am I the EQN target or just some sort of lapsed Norrathian fan boy?

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    1. They kept referencing something called the "Round Table" every time anyone asked a question they liked, I noticed. Some forum for ongoing discussion, I take it although I didn't get the details. They also made a big play of the collaborative nature of the enterprise, with players working with developers to build a game together. Domino's blog on the event mentioned "Dinner with the Community Summit folks, a group of influential players invited for their input" too.

      We're still a very long way from launch. Who knows what will have changed by the time we get there?

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  3. Bhagpuss, I am sorry to say it, but you are tottally wrong, because the creators of the original Everquest don't created a niche game.

    EQ had a top of 400 k players and was the most popular MMO around 2000. People used a term for describe EQ that time: EverCrack. The game I played at 2000 was not a niche, EQ was the main MMO.

    But EQ aged, WoW come with its 12 million players, and EQ currently is a niche game. But EQ was not created as a niche game.

    EQ was the first 3D MMO, they created a lot of features that all MMO use today. The best thing you can say about EQ is that WoW used EQ same features, only make them better.

    Yes, SOE is not embrancing their niche-ness because they never were a niche company and because EQ never was a niche game. When they made EQ2 and SWG, they never wanted be a niche. But WoW made them a niche (in the case of SWG, it was because they changed all game base).

    They are being a lot ambitious with EQNext. They want return to be the number 1 of MMO. They want return to be the model that all other MMO copy. IMHO, they are attacking all fronts possible for advance the MMO model and make them again the number 1 and the model. They are trying change everything we know about MMO.

    Sincerelly, it is better for everyone if they try it. MMO are stagnant. WoW is losing 2 million players per semester. The WoW model, that started with EQ, is dead. If we don't see other MMO model being created soon, MMO will be dead.

    GW2 was only an evolution, everyone said so. EQN want be a Revolution. It is better for everyone if they get to that objective.

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    1. Niche means "a distinct segment of a market". It doesn't relate to size, or at least not necessarily.

      When Everquest had just under 500k players it was still relatively unknown even within the general gaming community. Apart from the odd scare story about online gaming addiction it was utterly unknown to non-gamers. The entire genre of MMORPGs pre-WoW was a niche, some might say a cult.

      MMOs may indeed be "dead" as a mass market phenomenon. I was asking whether that might not be better than for a new MMO to go mainstream and gain widespread popular acceptance, particularly if said MMO was one I personally want to play.

      You seem very invested in the genre growing. I'm not. I'd be more than happy to see it shrink quite a lot.


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    2. Bhagpuss, sorry, but when EQ had 400 k players, the game community was smaller than is today. Today everyone have playstations and xboxes. When WoW hit the first million players, 2005, everyone said "it is big!". Today, millions is the big thing, but in 2000 to have 100 k players was the big thing.

      EQ is something that knowledge only cannot explain. Some people found this image on the black box video (https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/25535993/thetunnel.png). It is EC tunnel. EC tunnel is a feeling, it was an emerging behavior, it was an accident, it was not planned, it was not a feature. It was before Nexus and PoK. It is something that who not played EQ in 2000 will NEVER know, because it is dead. Auction houses killed it forever.

      Time change things. EQ had its problems, corpse runs were not so fun how people like to believe, hell levels, "train to zone", druids, Kelethin. But EQ created themepark and EQ was the most sucessfull MMO from its age.

      But EQ get old, a new generation of players wanted new things, WoW had instanced dungeons and a lot of quests (EverQUEST had few quests, leveling was basically farm mobs).

      Now there is a newest generation of players. Single player games made them know only reactive combat and dynamic worlds. And WoW is old. That is the reason WoW is losing the players it had and getting no new players.

      A new generation of MMO will need innovate. They will need reactive combat and dynamic environments for conquer the millions of new players. If MMO don't adapt, MMO will die.

      But the basic diference between me and you is more simple. It is the feeling, not the knowledge. Something I feel when I see EC tunnel.

      I LOVE EQ!

      So, I don't want it be a niche game like you.

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  4. All these posts can aim to do is hurt the franchise, derail any hopes for a good game, in a reasonable time, and demonstrate a lack of willingness to come into the era of the evolved MMO. Companies need to make money and appeal to fans, and we as fans want to see our game succeed. You sound like you want it to fail, and that is pretty pathetic.

    This all goes back to complaining about lack of levels and the end of the trinity. Get over it already, get with the times, and try something new. if you don't want to, just go quietly back to Project 1999 or EQ 1 and let the rest of the world move on.

    An Old EQ 1 PLayer

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    1. Curious interpretation. I'm more excited about EQNext than any pre-beta MMORPG I can remember. I've said repeatedly that I was "Pre-sold" on it and there is absolutely no doubt I'll be playing it, not only on release but probably for years. What did you take as negative?

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    2. Bhagpuss, the funny thing is that the old players of EQ, from 1999, have no problem with the end of the trinity and the changes they want wmake with EQN.

      We want EQ be again the great poobah!

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    3. Were you elected to represent EQ players from 1999? Because I don't remember voting for you.

      Please speak for yourself. Do not pretend that you represent a larger group. You do not.

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    4. @Wilhelm Arcturus

      look the players reaction to EC Tunnel picture at http://www.reddit.com/r/EQNext/comments/1jwcyn/omg_ec_tunnel_from_inside_the_black_box/

      look at the poll results at Roundtable for "Should all races have access to play all classes?" and "Should female dwarves have beards or not?" Both that results are not a surprise for me, nostalgia is being a big factor.

      take note that at "nostalgia" servers, players make major vote for not advance to Luclin and Planes.


      IMHO, niche result from not competent devs. Niche is lack of virtue, not true virtue. EQII was a fail, Vanguard was a big fail. SOE killed EQ with Luclin and Planes and SWG with NGE.

      I just hope SOE learnt the lessons. They want start from zero now.

      And if Roundtable ask if I want fast transportation and auction houses, I will vote "no".

      maybe you need make a poll: "We want EQ be the biggest MMO again?"

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    5. @João Carlos

      Lot of players in EQ1 and EQ2 forums are NOT happy with the loss of roles so I don't know how are can say EQ players are happy to see roles go.

      And EQ2 is not fail! Its still going strong after nearly 10 years. I started it on release date and I still play it and lot of people still play it. Currently its SOE top MMO by player numbers and yes more so than PS2.

      You can argue it doesn't have million of players but then I don't judge success by the number players alone. If we judge success by popularity the we should all be listening to music by the current popular boy bad!

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    6. I fear theat WoW success had a lot of relation with the decision to give SWG NGE...

      or with SWTOR be "WoW with lightsabers"...

      The truth is that game companies want money and care only about money. That is the reason why "popularity = success" enter the equation. Think other way is naivity.

      No one like the path that WoW give to MMO genre. The only solution for it is a game that scrap everything, start from zero and be a success... not a new niche game...

      Every niche MMO that don't move the MMO genre to a better direction because it is not a success and not make money is a fail.

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  5. Such negativity in the comments!

    Bhagpuss, I understand your trepedation: mass-market games have different standards and values than niche games,and 'aiming for millions' too often translates in 'dumbing down'.

    That being said, I actually like things like smooth controls, being able to run decently on relatively low grade systems, and abscence of raiding treadmills, so SOE aiming to make EQ:N the next landmark MMORPG may not be that bad.

    ceterum censeo Gnominem esse accomodam (or whatever is the correct Latin for 'btw, they need to include Gnomes :p)

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    1. There's a reason I chose to frame most of the post in a series of rhetorical questions rather than direct statements. There's also a reason I referred to the observable reactions of the fans at SOELive objectively rather than subjectively.

      It won't have escaped regular readers of this blog that I've spent the best part of a year and a half enthusing about Guild Wars 2, the MMO I've spent at least 80% of my gaming time playing since last August.

      I'm probably going to have to do a short, straight, un-nuanced, unambiguous "EQNext is going to be amazing" post just to clarify that I, personally, think EQNext is going to be amazing. The points I was attempting (clearly not all that successfully) was that some, probably many, long-term players of the franchise aren't likely to feel as excited about it as I do and that I personally don't need EQNext to be fantastically successful. It only needs to be adequately commercially successful and that will be enough. Just so I get to play it and keep playing it for many years, just like the last two.

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    2. Oh and yes, we very definitely must have gnomes!

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    3. They should also turn the Kerans to look like tigers (that's how they looked in EQ2) rather than lions :)

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  6. An interesting post, I have no connection to the original Everquest so a lot of the comments go over my head. However as a current (and newish) EQ2 player I do feel that this game isn't developed with me in mind. I went from WoW/LoTRO/Rift to EQ2 because it is *the* most RPG-style MMO left on the market from a system perspective. It also has some of the best roleplay supports of any game I've played.

    That said I fully understand SoE going a new direction with EQN, they need to chase new players in new segments, why not go after the GW2/action MMO fans? Just make sure not to shutdown EQ2 or 1 while there are still lots of players who want that old-school experience!

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    1. As Wilhelm pointed out recently, SOE learned with EQ2 that players of one MMO don't necessarily move en masse to the next installment of the franchise. They clearly expect and intend to run three EQ MMOs simultaneously, and why wouldn't they while there is still sufficient demand? They still run Vanguard, for heaven's sake! It even had panels at SOE Live this year.

      Time permitting, so long as they run all of them, I'll play all of them.

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    2. Yeah the Vanguard panel...

      that one justifies a blogpost alone :P

      Personally, as a recent un-subscriber (don't like the mandatory XP hike for subscribers) , I find it a bit mistifying they don't market it more as an old-skool PvE sandpark, as not only is that argueably the game type SOE is missing in its portfolio (Wizardry is old skool hard but FFA PvP, the EQ's are debatably oldskool but very raid-focussed) and in the market, but with the myriad of (eg) racial starter areas and non-Instanced content already there it should IMO be relatively easy to market it as such.

      But instead they seem to want to focus on raiding (bleh).

      Ah well, at least Vanguard has cute Gnomes ;P

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  7. It's easy to call out the flaws in something before it happens so that you do not have to worry about the disappointment you feel over your own excitement if the item falls short of your expectations. For a couple of years now I've been hearing people pining for the early days of MMOs, the community and the sense of world. This design looks to facilitate that 100% and from what I can tell they are trying to adjust all the mechanics to make that happen in a different way from what they have been doing for over a decade Shouldn't we all be rooting them on and offering our suggestions on how that can work well?

    I think it's easy to get focused on things we're comfortable with like like lack of levels or trinity but it's those design decisions that have pushed the MMO genre into a place that many people are so unhappy with now. Leveling for instance forces a model where 90% of the content becomes irrelevant when you have completed it. It also makes it so that if you bake group focused content within that experience 2 months in it will become a problem for people to complete. Focus on too much on group content when leveling and there will be DEMANDS to make it solo-able as only the people at launch will be able to progress in the game.

    The trinity on the other hand leads to specific group composition, cookie cutter builds and a lack of ability for the designers to make anything not centered around a limited expectation of what people are bringing in. Their current approach opens up a lot more doors for them to push at people to really think about what they are bringing in to every encounter and gives more options to get creative with builds.

    I think in the end people are scared that the game will feel too much like GW2. If GW2 had a different top down approach it would be a fundamentally different game. GW2 never really asks anyone to make any hard choices and encourages the idea of self sustainability even within a group setting. That's a top down design approach more than a specific mechanics approach and Sony of all people is probably the least known for taking that approach. What can be overlooked easily in GW2 while sifting the details is how much easier it is to interact with people and band together with strangers to overcome challenges. In the end which would we rather have, an MMO with a dangerous world that encourages a group to make its way through or another grind to the endgame before you feel the need to interact with others in isolated instances?

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    1. As I said above, I've been playing GW2 for over a year now, including beta weekends. I'm extremely comfortable with the mechanics they use, less so with the current direction the game is taking. I have every confidence in SOE to do something more to my taste with those mechanics than ANet have because I've seen SOE do so many things I've loved already. They're my favorite MMO development house and always have been.

      Your first sentence is very perceptive, though. I was somewhat surprised by a couple of the critical points above because I thought that if anything I'd been showing my rabid fanboy face a little too freely. I was expecting criticism for being too ga-ga about EQNext, not for criticizing it to harshly. SO yes, perhaps I was trying to compensate for my unrealistic and unreconstructed optimism!



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    2. @Bhagpuss
      "I was expecting criticism for being too ga-ga about EQNext, not for criticizing it to harshly."

      I had tottally diverse perstpectives. I was expecting harsher criticism.

      WoW clones are so much confortable that no one want change... the problem is that everyone can see that WoW clones is a failed model...

      Human psychology, we never were rational beings for start... we are apes...

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    3. Sorry wan't aiming that at you, you do seem overall positive. I am just confused why Everquest players would feel like the game was not being made for them. While they are trying to do a lot of new things what I really see at the core, is a team that really seems to be trying to figure out what made MMOs so great to begin with and trying to create a game that recaptures much of that essence.

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