Sunday, October 13, 2019

Don't Fear The Reaper: EverQuest, EverQuest II

As I was sleeping the news broke about the latest round of layoffs at Daybreak, the fourth such retrenchement in two years. I was planning to write about something else this morning but as I was hammering out a comment on Wilhelm's short post about it I realized I had rather too much to say to fit into a thread.

The first thing I have to say is that I'm amazed Daybreak even had seventy employees in total, far less seventy they could "let go" and still retain enough people to keep the lights on. These companies seem to be like icebergs, mostly hidden out of sight.

I always thought ArenaNet, with their three-hundred-plus people working on Guild Wars 2 (before the big cull earlier this year) sounded like a mega-corp but given the sheer number of people DBG has cut in the last two years, they can't have been far off that themselves.

Game development (and its far less glamorous sibling, game maintenance) is a volatile enterprise. Job security is tenuous at best. It must be difficult for everyone to be cut loose and thrown back into the job market but for those developers who've worked for years on one particular game and may have a deep emotional attachment to it, it has to feel closer to a bereavement or the collapse of a relationship than just a change of employment.

Fortunately, of late the trend seems to be for up-and-coming studios with games in development to snap up ex-colleagues of the devs already working there as soon as they become available. I wouldn't be surprised to see some more ex-DBG names turning up at Intrepid, for example. Not to mention those new studios started by the likes of Raph Koster and Mike O'Brien.

While the layoffs were probably part of the ongoing restructuring at Daybereak, presumably the total lack of impact that Planetside Arena has had was also a factor. When your Steam figures show a 24-hour peak of fewer than a hundred and fifty people and an all-time high below fifteen hundred, in a genre where those figures for the competition are often orders of magnitude higher, you have to admit your game has tanked.

Planetside Arena always looked like something of a Hail Mary pass at best. Had it taken off I don't imagine the PS team would have been so badly impacted but now it looks like the last throw of the dice for that particular I.P. I imagine it will be maintenance mode for Planetside 2 from now on.

The news for the EverQuest I.P. is a lot more encouraging. It seems as though the faction within DBG that sees EQ as the core has won out, something we suspected was happening from things Holly Longdale has been hinting at over the last few months. The interview she gave to The EverQuest Show, which should be out very soon, is going to be very interesting indeed.

Maybe that will give us some hard data to work with. Holly has already made it quite plain that none of this is any kind of panic move or knee-jerk reaction. There's a medium-long term plan for the future of the company in play right now, something that's evidenced by the setting up of all those new trademarks and social media accounts.

Until we know more it's all down to wild speculation. If I had to guess, I'd bet against an outright sell-off at this time. I doubt the owners (whoever they are...) want a fire sale unless they're in a similar financial situation to Trion, which they shouldn't be. They would hope to sell the I.P. s and games on from a position of relative strength and these moves we're seeing may well be positioning for that to happen.

I think they are going to hunker down on the I.P.s they have (or rent, in the case of DCUO) while also working on something new that will be EQ-related. They would hope to consolidate the value they have and enhance it somewhat with hype about a new generation of EverQuest, something more realistically achievable than the smoke-and-mirrors fantasy of EverQuest Next.

As someone who has little or no interest in either Planetside or H1Z1, a consolidation to the original core I.P. doesn't worry me unduly. If anything, it's mildly reassuring. A few years ago it looked as if all SOE/DBG really cared about was following the fad of the moment and expanding onto consoles.

Stay down! He might not notice us!
It looked for a while as though no-one at the company had much interest in a couple of ancient, legacy titles, played by a boring bunch of old people. The only interest the management team at that time seemed to have in the franchise was in converting the value of the name into something tweens and teens might not find horribly embarrassing: hence EQ Next.

In the absence of real numbers, I'd guesstimate that EverQuest is most likely relatively commercially stable. If you watch the server status, those progression servers and a couple of the Live ones sit at "High" population most of the time. Several others float around "Medium".

EQII is another matter. It relies on a core audience of longish-term veterans and that audience is slowly bleeding out. Many of them haven't entirely accepted some of the systems changes that have been made over the past few years and decisions on gameplay variations that came with a series of expansions proved less than popular, particularly with the hardest-core raiders.

Some of that bad feeling has been rowed back over the last 12-18 months. The last expansion was relatively well-received and the updates have generally gone down fairly well, too.

The EQII team has also made great strides in changing the way it approaches conversations with the audience. There's an unfortunate history of confrontationalism on both sides but it's currently at a low ebb, thankfully. There seems to be a willingness on both sides to be constructive and build bridges, something that, I feel, has come directly out of the prevailing sense that even if the company as a whole doesn't much care about Norrath, the teams working on the titles themselves most definitely do.

Hi! Let me introduce myself. I'm Larry the Lion. Maybe you know my cousin, Tony the Tiger?
Unfortunately, EQII is curently undergoing some major technical issues that could undermine all that good work. It's something I haven't experienced as I happily solo away but apparently the raiding game has been suffering from apalling and so-far unexplained lag.

The devs have been attempting to isolate the cause so they can fix the problem but so far they haven't managed to pin it down. Worryingly, the steps they're now having to take are themselves disruptive to the extent that players are threatening to quit because of them.

Then again, threatening to quit is the first response of some EQII players to anything that alters the status quo. If there was an Oscar for throwing the most hissy-fits in MMORPGdom, EQII fans would at the very least be nominated every single year.

And so we carry on. We do, at least, seem to be closing in on some kind of end-game after many years of obfuscation, secrecy and weirdness. If nothing else, by the end of 2019 we ought to have a considerably clearer picture of what business Daybreak Games thinks it's runniing and where it hopes to be in a year or two's time.

If we get that it will be a lot more than we've had for many a year.


  1. I am not happy that H1Z1 failed to revive or that PlanetSide Arena has fallen on its face, but I was never going to play either. With the EQII 15th anniversary coming, I hope they have something special set. As for Daybreak itself, I am not sure whoever owns it has a real plan. I just hope they don't trash the place too much as they thrash about looking for one.

    1. Honestly, that assessment would fit half the MMORPG studios I can think of - at least. ANet, CCP, Funcom, they all seem to have little or no idea how to manage and maintain the properties they own so as to sustain a business that will last for the next five years. Trion couldn't do it and they had what looked like a very solid portfolio of games.

      H1Z1 had a very good run - it just got overtaken by better iterations on its no-longer Unique Selling Point. Planetside2 did okay for a while but PS Arena looks to have been a mistake. Then again, if it allowed DBG to consolidate some engine issues that can be used in whatever they make next, maybe it isn't all money down the drain.

      There were some hints about proper announcements coming sooner rather than later. They've been very quiet on the EQII 15th anniversary front, too. Something is going to have to surface soon...


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