Thursday, March 16, 2023

The 24 Year News Cycle

It's been a very long time since I last logged into EverQuest but I'm by no means done with the game. I even have a return strategy of sorts.  

Daybreak's free to play offer usually rolls along a few expansions behind the current endgame. Currently it's at 2019's Torment of Velious, which was added last summer. This year, most likely, the F2P package will expand to include 2020's Claws of Veeshan and then in 2024 non-paying players should gain access to 2021's Terror of Luclin, the last expansion to raise the level cap. It went up by five levels to 120. Free access to that expansion would be a natural re-entry point. 

I still enjoy leveling in EQ. It's my main motivation for taking another turn around the Norrathian block, other than making new characters on new servers, which I also still enjoy once in a while. The last time I played for an extended period was when I was raising my Magician to the then-cap of 115. It was quite hard work but I had fun doing it.

Of course, I could just buy the latest expansion, which would include every previous one, but that would require both a degree of commitment and a level of impatience for playing EQ that I simply don't have any more. I don't feel that way about any mmorpg these days, I'm happy to say.  

recently posted his thoughts about the success or otherwise of the genre's move to a broadly free to play model and I commented that, for me at least, the change has been a complete success. One of the things I most appreciate about it has been the way it's reduced my desire to play any one particular game. I feel now that I can move comfortably from one to another at will, always knowing I can drop back in on a whim at any time. It's an approach that fits my mercurial personality a lot more comfortably than the old lock-in ever did.

I'm very happy to wait a year or three to get to content I'm interested in because I have many other options now. I also feel reasonably confident most of the games will still be there when I feel like coming back to them. The flip side of the coin we were tossing around in a recent post on the extraordinary length of time it takes to develop an mmorpg is that once the games are out finally there they tend to stick around. Mmorpgs do go dark all the time but a lot more seem to just keep on going, EverQuest being the prime example.

EverQuest will twenty-four years old this month. There are going to be some celebrations, naturally, although I don't think anyone's going to claim any special significance for the twenty-fourth anniversary. That's going to come next year, when the game turns twenty-five.

A quarter of a century in continuous operation is a real milestone. It's a given that no-one on the team that made the original game had any idea it would last this long. As I remember it, John Smedley himself only gave it three years, with an outside chance of five, which is how we came to have the sequel, EverQuest II as early as 2004. Sony Online Entertainment believed they'd need a follow-up to capitalize on the unexpected success of the original a lot sooner than actually proved to be the case.

EQII itself hits a very significant marker next year, turning twenty years old in December 2024, meaning Daybreak is going to have to celebrate two major anniversaries in one calendar year. The EverQuest Show asked Darkpaw's's Head of Studio Jenn Chan about it in an interview I read yesterday.

When it comes to anything that hasn't already been announced in the 2023 Roadmap, I think it would be fair to say that Jenn is keeping her cards very close to her chest. I've seldom heard anyone stonewall so determinedly, although she really didn't have to try too hard, given the exceptionally gentle and respectful questioning she was facing. That's not to say there was nothing of substance in the interview. On the contrary, if you're the kind of person who revels in technical detail concerning the back-end operations that keep a game built on a decades-old code base viable, there's plenty to hold your interest.

She goes into the backgrounds of both the recent switch to 64-bit, the Direct X 11 port and the upcoming re-write of the UI Engine, explaining why they were deemed necessary and how they'll improve the player experience. It's useful knowledge and as an executive who's arrived in her post via a route involving more of a technician's journey than most, her enthusiasm for revealing the mechanics of the process is plain to see.

Gently pressed to offer up some firm information on either the imminent arrival of new TLP (Time-Locked Progression) and TLE (Time-Locked Expansion) servers for EQ and EQII respectively, she's much less forthcoming. She confirms the TLE server will use a PvP ruleset, with a few tweaks: "it will be a similar experience to Tarinax on Day 1, but with the PVP writs and server specific rewards. So it will be starting from fresh, we’re going back to classic to the Shattered Lands era." Not much there we didn't already know and probably nothing to trouble most EQII players other than the PvP hardcore.

For EQ's new TLP server, due in May, there seems to be something a lot more significant yet to be revealed: "it’s going to be an experimental year. We’re trying something that we’ve never really done before, and if it works out, we may introduce some of it to live servers. But that’s all I’m going to tell you right now until we released the big article with all the details." It's an announcement of an announcement. Wake me up when we get there.

As for the plans for next year's big anniversaries, Jenn has little to offer beyond a commitment to make it worth the wait:

EQ Show: That’s a big year. Are you guys planning to celebrate this big milestone?


EQ Show:
That’s all you’re going to give me?

That’s all I’m going to give you for now.

EQ Show:
Is it a big plan or a little plan?

There are big plans.

After that, it's the usual retrenchment into praise for what the franchise is really all about (Spoiler - it's "The Community". It's always "The Community" with some people, isn't it?) and some stuff about the long-delayed EQII Swag Store, of all things. I'm guessing that's a community thing too. It's certainly nothing I've ever given a moment's thought.

Finally, Fading, the EverQuest Show's interviewer, gets around to asking Chan the question we've all been waiting for; the question everyone wants a real answer to but which no-one ever gets: “What are the plans to expand the franchise?” Do we get a meaningful answer for once?

Do we hell. 

So we’re definitely always talking about expanding the franchise, expanding the IP. But we’re just not ready to announce anything just yet. But definitely some serious conversations going on right now.

I guess it's better than no conversations going on right now, eh? Or frivolous ones about things that are never going to happen in a million years. It's not like that's ever happened before, right?

Anyway, there's the interview, for what it's worth. I confess I only read the transcript. I didn't watch the video. I don't have time for that. I'm not Tobold, ffs! So if anything's revealed in the nuances of conversation, I'll have missed it.

The whole thing did have one effect on me, other than to create a sense of generalized, non-specific anticipation; it made feel like logging into EverQuest again.I guess we can chalk that up as another win for Jenn Chan. She may not tell us much but what she does, she sells better than most.

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