Another Black Eye for the MMORPG Industry as Daybreak Games Cancels EverQuest Next

This week Daybreak Games sent shock waves throughout the MMORPG industry as they announced that they had decided to cancel EverQuest Next. Here’s the most relevant part of Daybreak Games President Russell Shanks’s statement:

For those familiar with the internals of game development, you know that cancellations are a reality we must face from time to time. Inherent to the creative process are dreaming big, pushing hard and being brutally honest with where you land. In the case of EverQuest Next, we accomplished incredible feats that astonished industry insiders. Unfortunately, as we put together the pieces, we found that it wasn’t fun. We know you have high standards when it comes to Norrath and we do too. In final review, we had to face the fact that EverQuest Next would not meet the expectations we – and all of you – have for the worlds of Norrath.

The key part of this statement is that “it wasn’t fun”. Sound eerily familiar?

Deja Vu All Over Again

Blizzard essentially said the same thing back in 2014 when they announced that they had cancelled Titan. Here’s an excerpt from Polygon’s  interview with Blizzard’s boss Mike Morhaime:

Speaking to Polygon, Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime reiterated that the company has technically never officially announced Titan, though it hasn’t been shy to talk about the game over the past seven years. “We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs,” Morhaime said. “So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn’t come together.

“We didn’t find the fun,” Morhaime continued. “We didn’t find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that’s the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no.”

Both the Daybreak Games and Blizzard statements are similar in tone and rationale: 1) each admitted they were too ambitious and 2) each claimed what they created wasn’t “fun”.

It is never easy for a video game company to publicly admit they have failed and have to cancel their project. What most video gamers don’t realize is that video games are cancelled all the time as projects are conceived covertly without the public knowing about it. This was not the case with Blizzard and Daybreak Games as it was well known they were working on next-gen MMORPGs. In the case of EverQuest Next this cancellation is more tragic as they had a full blown public launch and previously to the launch they had been working on a new EverQuest MMO for years.

Problem 1: Too Much Ambition

In both cases, Blizzard and Daybreak games were trying to push the genre forward with ambitious design. It is a noble thing to experiment but at the same time it’s dangerous to move too far from standard MMORPG design as core gameplay becomes diminished as a result.  I find it very revealing that the more the industry tries to get away from the fundamentals of MMORPG design and embrace “innovation” the more trouble they have in finding the fun factor.

In the case of Daybreak Games, in a previous article I noted that EQ Next was far too ambitious a project and in light of the news this week, this is one of the reasons that helped contribute to the cancellation.

The same thing happened when they changed the formula of Coke and introduced New Coke. The soft-drink loving public rebelled and demanded they change the formula back. This should serve as a lesson to future MMORPG developers: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Problem 2: We Couldn’t Find the Fun

Imagine if one day if famed film directors like Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese announced that they have decided to stop making movies because they just couldn’t find a way to make them entertaining any more. The film industry and the film watching public would be in a state of shock upon hearing such a statement. Similarly, this is what the titans of the MMO development world have also admitted:

Sorry everyone, we just can’t make fun MMOs anymore.

Think about this: both Blizzard and Daybreak Games have the best and brightest talent in the entire world working for them. They had access to millions of dollars and untold resources at their disposal. Yet, for some reason they just couldn’t figure out how to make a fun MMO anymore?

It is mind boggling and perplexing to say the least.

Somehow both of these companies have lost their MMORPG mojo.

If it’s Not Fun then Make it Fun!

There is simply no excuse. If your proposed MMORPG is not fun, then make it fun. That is your damned job people. That is what you are being paid for.

Despite Daybreak Games owning one of the most beloved MMORPG intellectual properties in history, they still could not make it fun.

The question is:

Why?

I think a large part of the problem is that the corrupting influence of World of Warcraft upon the design community. When WoW became successful MMO designers became intellectual lazy and unoriginal in their thinking. Like mindless lemmings, they were only too happy to follow Blizzard down the rabbit hole and in the process forgot about the design principles that make EverQuest great.

We must also consider this:

What is the definition of fun? Who gets to define what fun is?

Disclaimer: I really hate the word fun. It is a crude, ill-fitting word that does no justice to the feeling of immersion, danger, challenge, fear, elation and community that I expect from a fantasy MMORPG.

One person’s fun is another person’s tedium. Fun is a subjective thing.

It could very well be that the fun that EQ veterans used to experience and are still experiencing to this very day in EQ emulators like Project 1999 is not the kind of fun that Daybreak Games was interested in creating or even allowed to create.

In my previously referenced article, I reported that John Smedley wanted to follow the Blizzard philosophy of broadening the MMO demographic for EQ Next. Perhaps the fun they were told to create was more of the same pedestrian fun of dumbed-down, convenience-driven gameplay that has come to characterize most MMOs today and has resulted in failure after failure.

I hope someday someone on the EQ Next dev team will come forward and shed some light on what happened in an honest post-mortem of why EQ Next failed.

Conclusion

We will never really know if EverQuest Next wasn’t fun. Nobody in the public has ever played it. We were never given the opportunity. Daybreak Games ceased all efforts at collaboration with their fans when they took over. Somehow we just have to take their word for it. I am just not buying it. EQ Next may have been cancelled for any other number of reasons. We may never know the truth.

The story of EverQuest Next — in its various incarnations over the years  — has been a story riddled with failure. Millions of dollars have been wasted in the process and the hopes and dreams of players who wanted to return to a re-imagined Norrath immeasurably dashed. One but can’t help but feel sorry for the employees all long this long and torturous journey who contributed so much to this project only to have it cancelled.

All of the thousands of EQ fans that supported SOE and Daybreak Games, those that went to SOE Live in Las Vegas, those that paid for Landmark and those who’ve been waiting for years — all of them have been let down this week by a company that just couldn’t get their act together and give EQ fans what they wanted: a new version of the original EverQuest.

In a previous article about the future of the EverQuest franchise, I gave SOE and Daybreak Games a clear and unapologetic blueprint for success that would have enabled them reboot EQ Next into EverQuest 3. Instead they chose to ignore it and admit failure. The goodwill, support and the passion of millions of EQ fans was never appreciated nor was it reciprocated. The problem is that they didn’t even bother to try. Shame on them.

If there’s any sliver of hope in this week’s announcement it’s this parting comment from Russell Shanks:

Rest assured that our passion to grow the world of EverQuest remains undiminished.

Who knows what this really means. It could be corporate speak that keeps hope alive for the fans when there is no real hope. I do not believe that Daybreak Games will ever produce anything from the EverQuest world that will ever stand up to the original EverQuest. All we will see will be more expansions to keep their current subscribers happy. How ironic that Daybreak Games will turn out to be the sunset for the EverQuest franchise.

The MMO industry has to get its act together and prove that the success of EverQuest and World of Warcraft was not just a passing fad. After a series of spectacular failures, this industry needs a win right now.

The cancellation of Blizzard’s Titan MMO and Daybreak’s EverQuest Next MMORPG handily proves that the so-called experts know nothing after all. Both have demonstrated that they are incapable of making another fantasy MMORPG that anyone would play. At least they now readily admit it. At least they’re honest. That is small consolation for those of us that feel betrayed. Our only hope is that the torch will be passed on to a new generation of MMORPG companies.

-Wolfshead

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