Sunday, 13 September 2015

Daybreak Over Norrath

A few days back Wilhelm took time to review the history and progress of EverQuest Next, such as it is. My own view is best summed up as "If it comes, it comes". I've emotionally disinvested.

What interests me more is the change in attitude and approach to the existing games in the franchise, something Wilhelm alludes to in passing:

"...most of my attention has been on EverQuest and EverQuest II when it comes to fun times in Norrath.  Holly “Windstalker” Longdale has done a better job at getting and keeping attention to the games in her part of Daybreak than her predecessors"

That's very true. When Dave "Smokejumper" Georgeson was leading the charge Holly Longdale seemed quite diffident but since she's had the place to herself she seems much more active and in control. Her hand feels steadier on the tiller than I, for one, expected.

It's been a turbulent few months for the company we used to know as Sony Online Entertainment. First there was the sudden and unexpected news that the entire operation had been sold off to an "investment firm" called Columbus Nova, a name I venture to guess not one person reading this had ever heard before.

That was followed by the inevitable restructuring and lay-offs, leading to the departure of several big names including EQNext's public face and most active PR man Dave Georgeson and the eminence gris behind the whole project, Jeff Butler. The dust had scarcely had time to settle from all that before continuity President and ship's captain John "Smed" Smedley got into an unseemly spat with some internet pirates and either jumped or was pushed off the bridge.

At first, the main reaction among people still playing the variety of disparate, unconnected MMOs that sheltered under the old SOE All Access umbrella was, naturally, anxiety. How would the change in ownership affect the future of the games themselves? Did they even have a future? All of them, some of them, any of them?

Columbus Nova made reassuring noises but the general theory seemed to be that the new owners were after two properties under development - H1Z1, which at the time was receiving a lot of media attention, not all, of it good, and EQNext, interest in which had blazed up and then dimmed down since that 2013 media blitz. Prognostications from the miserabilist enclave that has always tended to dominate SOE's and now DBG's forums painted a very gloomy future for the older games.

When one of the first pronouncements from the new regime was that there would be no more expansions, either for EverQuest or EQ2, it seemed that perhaps those fears had merit but six months on that's not quite how things feel any more. So far about the only interest group able to claim the change of ownership has been wholly detrimental to their game of choice is probably that handful of builders and decorators still clinging on to a forlorn hope that Landmark might one day turn into an actual MMO like Smokejumper always promised.

For the rest of the stable things have either carried on much as before or, arguably, have improved. From my perspective there seem to have been several significant, positive changes in direction, approach and execution. DBG appears as willing to experiment and innovate as SOE ever was only now the experiments and innovations seem...less insane. Okay, there's Drunder, but let's not go there. Literally.

The retro-servers for both EverQuest and EQ2 won the franchise a huge amount of attention in the MMO gaming media and perhaps even a little further afield. More importantly people are playing on them. When I logged into EQ2 this morning to vote in the naming poll for Freeport (I went for Skyfire in the end) Stormhold was showing as the busiest server on DBG's snazzy new EQ2 home page, with the Timelocked PvP server Deathtoll second-equal alongside longtime most-popular, RP server Antonia Bayle.

The vanishing expansions turned out to be more of a renaming than a removal. Whether you call your paid content drops DLC, Campaigns or Expansions seems a lot less important than whether you actually have paid content drops and as Holly "Windstalker" Longdale says chirpily of the upcoming "Campaign" in her latest Producer's Letter "We haven't stopped working on it! When we get into the fall timeframe, we'll start talking about the details. And we can't wait! Prelude events for the campaign will start as early as September!".

Two of the more intriguing aspects of the revamped company are the speed in which decisions are now taken and implemented and the significantly more focused approach. When Smed was at the helm and Smokejumper at the mic it seemed no plan was too ambitious, no claim too grandiose. Landmark was not only going to be the architect's office and builder's yard for EQNext but a fully-fledged MMORPG in its own right. H1Z1 was going to be bigger than Vermont.

A few months back Landmark was effectively mothballed as far as work on turning it into an MMORPG of its own goes. All resources were re-directed towards EQNext and any updates to Landmark will be backfilled from there. Last month a planned massive extension of the H1Z1 map was shelved, at least for the time being, in favor of working to finalize the much smaller map they already have.


These, in my ignorant, uninformed opinion, are Good Signs. The various teams appear to be far more concerned with things they can do effectively, within a reasonable timescale, things that might appeal to the players they already have, while at the same time attracting, or at least not actively repelling, new customers. This seems like a huge improvement over promising everyone the moon on a stick with another moon stuck on the top, which seemed to be the default mode for several years.

Of course, we're only at the half-year mark. How this will all pan out in the long run no-one can say. Neither is it easy to work out whether the improvements are the result of escaping out from under the dead hand of SonyCorp, the removal of the unbalancing influence of certain key, charismatic individuals or just a new sense of self-determination and purpose.

Whatever happens, whether we ever get to see EQnext or not, my instinctive reaction is that where we are now is a better place than where we would have been had the status quo persisted. Maybe tomorrow it'll all fall apart but really it always could have done that at anytime. Onwards!

10 comments:

  1. Hail Holly, who even with a few gaffs now and again, has done more for old Norrath in the last six months than SOE likely did in the last few years. Well, at least she doesn't announce something and then hide for months at a stretch.

    One of the downsides of the merger and layoffs seems to be the ascendancy of the "we didn't come here to make friends" contingent of the community team. I don't want to point fingers too blatantly, but let's just say that "X" marks the spot. The main focus now seems to be to disappear posts, lock threads, delete forums, ban players, and push people to Reddit where it will all be somebody else's problem.

    So perhaps Holly felt she had to pick up the torch for her games, because the community team seemed to lose even the tepid interest they seemed to have in such things previously.

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    1. I rarely go to the EQ2 forums any more but just from reading EQ2Wire I get the impression all is not right there. We have the odd scenario of Feldon's sterling work being highlighted by the in-game MOTD not long after he was banned from posting on the forums. Of course, the EQ franchise has a long and unpleasant tradition of aggressive, difficult community reps and moderators - it would be hard to think of anyone less suited to the role than Abashi for example.

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  2. H1Z1 is still doing well on Steam. It's in the Top 20, and has about double the numbers of the original it copied (DayZ). There are lots of other copy-cat survival games (some with zombies, some with dinosaurs etc.), but the only one beating it out is the smash-hit ARK (the one that has dinosaurs).

    It will be interesting to see if Daybreak "pivots" away from the bigger MMORPGs, and goes for the smaller pseudo-MMOs like Trove and H1Z1. The bellwether on this will probably be what happens to EQN.

    -Simon

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    1. Good to hear an update on how H1Z1 is doing. I'm still waiting for it to launch before taking a look since neither zombies, survival games nor FPS controls are really my kind of thing.

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    2. I am curious as to what the lessons learned will be from H1Z1. What do you do when you find your free to play game is viable when you charge up front for it? Do you change your plans?

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  3. Spot-on post, as far as both my observations and gut have me of late. I have nothing to add, as I think you articulated the fundamental points of what the heck seems to be going on quite nicely. Likewise, the screen captures are lovely and fitting.

    Fingers crossed-ish (because reasons/past experience) but, yeah... Hail, Holly (and Kander and Gninja, and ttobey and wb Domino, et. freakin al.)

    -- 7rlsy
    AB/Stormhold

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    1. I'm pretty sure at least one of those shots is actually dusk not daybreak. And yes, they seem to have a solid team on EQ2 now. Long may it last.

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  4. I am on a "wait and see" mode before I have a good opinion. I want to see how the server merges come and how the "expansion" turns out.

    My main worry is that they will charge the same amount for a full expansion for a smaller amount of content. And this is after they released the Rum cellar saying that what content we receive in an entire year would equal one total expansion. Are we going to end up paying more $ for less content?

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    1. The VentureBeat article I linked above has a very interesting financial observation:

      "I imagine Columbus Nova will look to expand revenues on consoles, PC, mobile, and tablet and then decide what to do with Daybreak,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter told GamesBeat. “They typically buy these businesses for cash flow, and it’s likely that they paid five-times current cash flow and will try to double that cash flow.”

      I guess there are many ways to double cash flow but making customers pay more for less would certainly be one option.

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    2. Interesting. I'll have to go read that article. I always thought that the initial development we saw for EQ Next looked like it was being made for a PC and a console. maybe that is the plan all along.

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