Friday, January 25, 2019

Twenty Years : EverQuest

2019 sees both the twentieth Anniversary of EverQuest and the fifteenth of EverQuest II. Anniversaries, especially when they end in zero or five, offer a significant opportunity for aging games to grab some much-needed publicity. Daybreak has a big opportunity in the year ahead.

For most companies, such opportunities are extremely limited. Just surviving isn't enough. Not anymore. According to the Wikipedia list (by no means exhaustive), close to a hundred still-active MMOs have been around for more then a decade. How many of those had tenth anniversaries that you heard about?

What's more, there are dozens more coming up right behind them. According to that Wikipedia list, 2019 will see ten anniversaries for games that debuted in 2009, including a few names you might recognize: Champions Online, Fallen Earth, Spiral Knights, Hello Kitty Online...

2019 isn't the best year to come of age - any age. World of Warcraft turns fifteen and the sound of those celebrations would have been likely to drown out everything else even had Blizzard not caved on Classic.

In EverQuest, DBG does at least have a name that retains some traction. It may not mean much outside the genre, but as we saw at both the dawn and demise of EQNext, invoking the EverQuest name can still get you headlines - and death threats.

Timing is also on Daybreak's side for once. Blizzard will suck all the oxygen out of the publicity ecosystem over the summer but EQ turns twenty in the spring. Just enough of a window to let in some publicity sunlight before the Azeroth Deathstar blots out the MMO news sky for months on end.

This view is from 2006. I doubt it's changed much. Or at all.

EQII, celebrating its fifteenth birthday in November, might  also, just conceivably, escape WoW's slipstream, which could be fading by then. Fifteen isn't twenty, though, and EQII isn't EverQuest, so I wouldn't count on it.

It's a very big year for Norrath in more than just numbers. Last year's much-discussed (at least by Wilhelm and myself) insider leak suggested 2019 will see the end of content-driven development for both the EverQuest titles.

The next couple of months should theoretically set the seal on that, one way or the other. I'm on the alert for any implications as the publicity rollout begins although I'm certain DBG will attempt to keep the bad news under wraps for as long as they can possibly get away with it.

This week saw the opening salvo. Executive Producer Holly "Windstalker" Longdale released a Producer's Letter setting out the stall for EverQuest's celebrations. As is always the way with these things it's a top-level overview without a great deal of hard detail but there was plenty to catch the interest of players both current and past.

Our anniversary events in game in March include a brand new land, raids, and rares with a story about preserving our past, and it’s free. 

That's mostly for the hardcore, I'd guess. And EQ has a substantial hardcore following, still. By some dark measures it's reckoned to be one of the company's best-populated titles, even now.

We’re working on pulling together an EQ fan event so we can hang out with you, our honored guests. Timing for that event is likely to be summer, but I’m hoping to announce more details on timing/location in March for those who want to plan ahead with your own family, guildies, and friends and join us!

Also for the committed but potentially quite significant. Cancelling the annual Fan Faire (later known as SOE Live) celebrations was one of the most unpopular decisions DBG made when they took over from Sony Online Entertainment. This may be a one-off but if it happens it will be interesting to see how well-received - and indeed how well-attended - it is.

If I was submitting a 15 second clip I might prefer it to be of someone who was actually there twenty years ago.
Well, nineteen anyway...

In keeping with previous anniversaries there's also a big focus on how EQ has touched players' lives outside of the game. The media, even the non-gaming media, has repeatedly been proven willing to fall for stories of gamer love matches, births, deaths and marriages, not necessarily in that order. With the big two-zero incoming, there's naturally a hearty push against that half-open door.

We’ve heard so many amazing stories of EQ bringing people together in love, marriage, and even into the joys of parenthood. We’ve also experienced the power of our game community during the hard times, softening the pain of illness and tragic deaths by participating with EQ families. We all have an EverQuest story to tell. 

We're looking for player stories to help us commemorate this crazy occasion. Please send us a 20-second or less video of how EQ changed YOUR life... You can also submit a 15-second clips featuring your main character on your most played server to become a part of our EQ 20th Yearbook album that will come to life on Facebook later this year.
I'm quite tempted, although I'm not sure just how much of a change-of-life tale I could cram into twenty seconds. I most likely will submit a fifteen-second video of someone. I wonder if they'll actually check that it's your "main character on your most played server". Or, indeed, how?

The part of the letter that interested me most, though, was this:

We are aiming at two new progression servers with two approaches – one hardcore and one ultra-casual. Rules will be coming soon as we sort them out over the coming weeks with both new servers launching around the anniversary on March 16.

There has been plenty of speculation over whether DBG would ever launch another Progression Server. The novelty has long worn off and there's more than a suspicion the nostalgia-well that fed this highly successful income stream in the past might have finally run dry.

It seems not, or at least it seems DBG think there could be a few drops left in the pipe. And I think they could be right. While these servers do inevitably split the existing playerbase and cause problems for active guilds on both regular ruleset and pre-existing prog servers, they do still cause a buzz that makes the game feel more alive - for a while.

From the first Fabled event, all the way back in 2004.

The coming of WoW Classic means that the MMO zeitgeist this year should be particularly sensitive to this kind of trigger and in "hardcore" and "ultra casual" DBG may just have found the buzz-words they need.

Before this Producer's Letter appeared I would have said I'd completely lost interest in re-starting on an EQ progression server ever again. I played on the first and on several subsequent versions and much though I love the early levels I might have sated that particular appetite by now.

But... ultra-casual. Hmmm.... That sounds very appealing. I would want to see the small print, but a Progression server with accelerated leveling rates, relaxed penalties and fast unlocking of expansions, now that could be interesting. If it meant a server that could take you to current cap in no more than a couple of years then I'd very much be on board for that.

Whatever Daybreak's plans for the future might be - and as we saw with Trion last year, it all comes down to money in the end, not just the strength of your games or the loyalty of your fans - this is going to be a gala year.

March is so close, too. It's going to be upon before we know. I hope we're ready for it.


  1. That ultra-casual caught my eye too. I have never played on a progression server on EQ1. With my limited play time, I never wanted to take away time from my characters on the Live servers.

    I am not worried, yet. I do think it is interesting that there is a Producer's letter out for EQ and not EQ2.

    1. I have kind of lost track of who is Producer of what these days. I think Windstalker is in charge of both EQ games but I'm not sure. If someone else is officially Producer of EQ2 I couldn't say who without googling it...

  2. While people naturally go on about the games that have been closed, because only once something is really gone can you truly miss it, I remain more surprised at how many titles linger on, muddling through with a small but loyal audience.

    Somebody has to be spending money on these games. It costs more than just the electric bill to keep them up. The connection to the internet costs and somebody has to mind the server.

    I heard from an IT guy at SOE that the only reason that Dragon's Prophet lasted as long as it did there was because there was a small group that literally bought every item that was posted to the cash shop.

    1. If you look at the extremes of the genre, the titles even most committed, longtime MMO players have probably never even heard of - and again Auteria and The Hammers End come to mind - it completley mystifies me who might be keeping them alive. Fact is, whenever I get a random whim to log in to one of these outliers, the server is usually up and the game is available. What's even more surprising is that, if I play for an hour or two, I'll usually see one or two other players, or hear them speak in chat.

      It seems incredibly unlikely that I would just happen to log in (in EU daytime hours, mostly, with these being, as far as I know, US-based games) at the same time another random person happened to get the same urge so I guess there's some kind of minimal but steady population. But how minimal? I find it very hard to imagine even a hundred people playing some of these MMOs regularly. And yet, there the games are, still runing, month after month, year after year...

  3. I would probably stick my head back in in for a new "ultra casual" server.

    The progression path in modern EQ gets very muddled once you make it to around 40 or so. I ended up giving up on quest lines altogether some time in the 40s and just grinding my brains out in level appropriate areas until I got bored and left.

    If they have some mechanism in place so that I can make it further without getting bored, I would certainly try it again. I don't have to have quest based progression to stay engaged. But progression between zones needs to be pretty quick if that's all you are going to give me to do, and gear upgrades need to be pretty frequent. If you try to make me stand in one spot killing gnolls (or bixies or whatever) for a solid week of my spare time I am not going to stick around.

  4. Edit: "I ended up giving up on quest lines altogether some time in the 40s and just grinding my brains out in level appropriate areas until I got bored and left" the last time I played. I think I made it to 55.

    1. It's quite a while since I levelled up from scratch. When I play these days, which hasn't been often this last year or so, I mainly try to chip away at the low 90s on my Magician. A very good solo session with her might get me 20% of a level.

      Soloing in EQ was never as difficult as people liked to claim but it was also never very quick. If you want to level fast, grouping has always been the way to go. Even back in the bad old days you could get a Hell Level done in a good session if you got the right group. Nowadays, if I grouped, I could probably do in a day or two what it would take me literally months to solo in the last quarter of the level range.

      We'll have to wait to see what they mean by "ultra-casual" but if they can really do something to allow people to solo to cap (in each expansion as it opens) in a matter of days rather than months then they might find themselves with a lot of interest. The inevitable problem, if they are successful, is that every other player in the game is going to demand those "ultra-casually" leveled characters are never allowed to pollute the clear waters of the "Live" game and locked servers usually end up as dead servers sooner or later.

  5. I can see myself actually giving EQ a try, but only if I had a leveling static group to play with. I tried it solo over the summer on a normal/live server and I just don't see it as that fun a game to play solo (for me). An ultra-casual version might be interesting as it would attract like-minded players to myself more.

    1. I do think that to expect anyone not already inured to the look and feel of pre-WoW MMORPGs to come to EverQuest in 2019 and have a good time is a big ask. Even with friends. EQ's prolonged survival probably depends mainly on holding onto what it has and periodically pressing the nostalgia button on the several million ex-EQ players still lurking out there somewhere.

      An ultra-casual server would certainly be one of the few posible entry points for the curious uninitiated, though.


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