SOE Live, a fact I was already aware of from news sources like EQ2Wire and Massively. Had I not known, I would have found out the moment I logged back into EQ2 this weekend after my long layoff (130 days since my last log in - shameful!).
It wasn't a pop-up or an in-game advert or anything crass like that. It was something much warmer, something that felt almost comfortingly familiar. There's this excitable fellow in one of the chat channels I belong to in EQ2, you see, and for him this particular fan convention is the highlight of the year. Every year. For almost as long as I've been playing, he counts down the days, tells us his travel plans, what he's going to eat, the things he's going to do when he gets there. He starts anticipating his next trip sometime around Christmas and he begins reminiscing about the last one from the day he gets home so it's pretty much a year-round commentary.
For the rest of the less, shall we say, committed fans, the best part of Sony's annual festival of backslapping is the opportunity it offers for some real, firm information about the games we play and, especially, the games we hope we will be playing soonTM. On that front 2013's event appeared to deliver big-time. Not only did we get a metric tonne of info about EQNext including videos of something that appeared to be gameplay, we also got to learn for the very first time of the existence of some new, previously unmentioned project going by the name of EQ Landmark.
For a couple of weeks all the MMO world wanted to talk about was The Everquest Franchise. Excitement verged on hysteria. I put up five posts on the topic in six days. And then. And then...what, exactly?
Over the next twelve months EQNext quietly drifted off into the background. The much-hyped Roundtable turned out to be not much more than a talking-shop for the fans. The polls, which covered a bewildering range, from core gameplay issues to bizarre trivia, were confirmed to have no binding effect on development whatsoever. A cynic might well suggest their main purpose was to amuse the people making up the questions.
No more "gameplay" footage of EQNext appeared. Indeed there was precious little of anything. Have we even had a new screenshot since SOELive last year? I don't believe we have. Certainly can't see any here. As for those Beta sign-ups we all frenziedly scrabbled for a year ago ( I believe this household alone has seven accounts registered, although most of those were with PSS1 so will need to be re-submitted), well I'm glad we got in there fast. Would have hated to miss out, what with only having another twelve months and counting to get those applications in...
Landmark was promised by "the Winter" and long before Christmas Landmark was just about all SOE wanted to talk about. The alpha was delayed until February but made it out the gate before the end of the appointed season by a whisker. For a while Landmark was hot news but as alpha morphed into beta and development ground on with a truly magisterial ponderousness all but the dedicated lost focus and wandered off.
Somewhere along the way Landmark lost its EQ prefix and then Smed whipped back the curtain on yet another "unknown" MMO, the strangely-named H1Z1 and then no-one was talking about The Everquest Franchise any more, anywhere.
When attendees fill out the forms for SOE Live they have to nominate which game they are registering for. There are eight represented titles from SOE's portfolio to choose from: EQ, EQ2, EQ Next, Landmark, DCUO, Planetside2, H1Z1 and Dragon's Prophet. According to Linda "Brasse" Carson, ex-superfan turned Director of Global Community Relations, by far the highest number opted for...fifteen-year old Everquest. Not-so-closely following but still in second place came the ten-year old sequel, EQ2. Together those two titles comprise well over half of all the interest shown.
Concluding my series of pieces on EQNext after last year's reveals I suggested that the third installment wasn't being aimed at the existing fanbase but rather at the incomparably greater demographic that had managed to resist Norrath's charms for fifteen years straight. That was certainly how it appeared at the time and for a while, not least with the reveal of H1Z1 and Landmark choosing to distance itself from the EQ brand, everything seemed to confirm a company set on outgrowing its trademark High Fantasy genre roots.
And then we're back with competitions in Landmark to "create the Foundation Museum for the dark elf style guide in game!". I'm confused. Everyone's confused. If anything's clear, though, it's that a gathering of your most hardcore fans is probably not the ideal audience for your New Direction.
When Sony Online Entertainment decided to go with the current open-door, open-arms, we're all devs now approach, inviting everyone with the odd twenty, fifty or hundred dollars to spare to come on board before the the first coat of varnish had even dried on the deck of the new ship, I don't think anyone realized just what a long, slow, tedious voyage they were letting themselves in for.
Triple-A MMOs seem to have a development cycle of around three to five years and in the traditional, old-school beta process a few, hand-picked players might have gotten their hands on the partly-finished product somewhere around a year out but most beta testers saw no more than the final few months. Now everyone is jumping in on the adrenaline rush of hype and promos only to find the game they imagined is just that - imaginary.
All there really is to look forward to is month after month of iterative system-building laying the foundations for gameplay that might, someday far in the future, offer something approximating entertainment. John "Smed" Smedley seems to have picked up on this, if a little belatedly, with this observation on the pending release of a playable version of H1Z1 on Steam's Early Access program : "We just realized ... it would be smarter to announce it after our feature list was complete".
Talk about your epiphanies! I wonder if he feels the same about EQNext? A year on from SOELive 2013 a lot of us are starting to feel like Ashgar of Ash's Adventures, whose "very strong suspicion that EverQuest Next in the previously demonstrated form is vaporware" was re-blogged to a larger audience by Syp as yesterday's "Quote of the Day".
There are five panels on EQNext scheduled for this year's convention. There's a "Keynote", which if previous keynotes are anything to go by will be a lot of hot air and some "concept art". Then there's "The Tech Evolution of the World", during which we'll no doubt hear a lot about voxels, most of which we'll have heard in countless Landmark discussions already. Speaking of which, third up is "Landmark and EverQuest Next — how they relate", a question a lot of people have been asking ever since we heard of Landmark but to which I very much doubt we'll get a definitive answer.
Finally we come to two panels that might, just might, offer something solid to get our blogging teeth into: "EverQuest Next: Combat & Classes" and, saving the best for last, "The Content of EverQuest Next". Well, thanks. That's really what we'd all like to know, isn't it? That and the release date, of course.
I'll be following SOELive as best I can from 5,000 miles away but I'm not going to let my enthusiasm run away with me this time. Here's hoping we just get some real, confirmed, hard facts for a change; not least an idea how far away the damn thing is. Right now even my worst estimate, a full launch in 2016, is starting to look wildly optimistic.
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