EverQuest 3: The Time is Now

I have always been enthralled by the original EverQuest. Being immersed in the world of Norrath was an experience that changed my life. In the past 16 years that have passed since its release, I have never stopped caring about the world of Norrath and its future. So it gives me no pleasure in saying the following: after two torturous years of SOE and now Daybreak Games showing us nothing of substance since the initial announcement back at SOE Live in 2013,  it’s time to burst the methane vaporware balloon known as EverQuest Next.

While not officially dead, EverQuest Next in its original conception is for all intents and purposes dead. The decaying corpse that is EQ Next needs to be buried in an unmarked grave and forgotten. No resurrections please.

If EverQuest Next isn’t already secretly dead or about to be redesigned, then there are plenty of reasons to demand its immediate demise which I will offer in the paragraphs ahead. For those with short attention spans here they are in a nutshell: overly ambitious and bad design, poor planning, poor execution and failure to respect and continue the EverQuest legacy.

Here are some facts:

  • SOE and now Daybreak Games has been developing a successor to the original EverQuest since 2009.
  • Incredibly, we are now 6 long years into this task with still no MMORPG in sight.
  • It took Blizzard just 4 years to develop World of Warcraft.
  • The earliest we can expect a new EverQuest is in 2016.

Why on earth is it taking so long?

In this article, I will attempt to chronicle the state of EverQuest Next and the host of problems surrounding this alleged upcoming title. After that, I will offer a deceptively simple solution on how to save the EverQuest franchise.

John Smedley’s Resignation as Daybreak Games CEO

As I was getting this article ready for publication, John Smedley resigned as the CEO of Daybreak Games. Pantheon’s Chief Creative Officer Brad McQuaid who is one of the creators of EverQuest has penned a worthy tribute to John Smedley where he chronicled Smedley’s contributions to EverQuest. No matter what you think about John Smedley and his stewardship of the EverQuest franchise, without him there would be no EverQuest and without EverQuest, there would be no World of Warcraft. Of course, credit should be given where credit is due.

In the article, Brad reveals that both he and John disagreed about the future of the MMORPG genre. Eventually, Brad explains the details of that disagreement where he believed there was still room for a hardcore MMORPG while John believed that it was time to grow the genre and start appealing to younger gamers and newer audiences. Given this new insight, it is now crystal clear to me that it was John Smedley all along who was the impediment to those of us that wanted SOE to finally return to the design values of the original EverQuest and modernize it with state of the art graphics, animations and usability.

Throughout this article, I have placed blame at SOE when in reality it was most likely that John Smedley making all of the decisions and had veto power over the direction of the franchise. I do not blame the employees as every employee must listen to the boss and dance to his tune. It is only fair that the buck must stop with Mr. Smedley. Under his stewardship, the EverQuest franchise never even came close to realizing its full potential. There is no reason that the EverQuest franchise should not be currently enjoying the kind of worldwide success that Blizzard has been having with WoW.

Now that John Smedley is no longer in charge of the future of the EverQuest franchise, I believe the EverQuest franchise actually has a chance for a prosperous future.

The Decline of Public Interest in EverQuest Next

It’s safe to say that interest in EQ Next has pretty much dried up. These days few if any articles are ever written about this proposed MMO. Most EQ Next fan sites have died off and various YouTube e-celebs have run from EQ Next like they are fleeing from a plague.

These days forum posts about EQ Next are more likely to question whether it will ever see the light of day or the competency of SOE now named Daybreak to create a MMO. That’s a sad state of affairs. It seems EQ Next has been unceremoniously banished from the MMO zeitgeist.

Even interest in their Landmark product has ebbed to dangerously low levels. Log on to Twitch.tv and you’ll almost never see anyone except the occasional Daybreak Game dev streaming Landmark. What EQ fans are streaming instead is the amazing EverQuest emulator Project 1999 or gameplay on new wildly popular EQ progression servers.

Now that most of the bandwagon jumpers, MMO tourists and sycophants have left the building, it’s time for some honest analysis. Most avid EQ fans have lost faith that Daybreak Games will deliver the goods and give us EverQuest Next. To see interest in a proposed MMO all but die is a complete and total public relations disaster. To see EQ fans lose all hope of EverQuest being resurrected and updated is frankly depressing. This is a failure of SOE’s management to actual manage public expectations. Instead of under-promising and over-delivering, they over-promised and under-delivered which is a cardinal sin in the video game industry.

The reckless squandering all of that goodwill after the official announcement back at SOE Live in 2013 is a catastrophe that should be taught at Harvard School of Business as a cautionary tale for future MMO CEOs and impresarios to heed.

EQ Next fans — what few are still left — are in the dark. It seems all of the bold and gimmicky promises that EQ Next would be the first crowdsourced MMORPG (i.e. developed with input from the community) have fallen by the wayside. With the exception of a recently released Producer’s Letter penned by EQ Next Jeff Michaels, nothing official has been released by Daybreak Games on the state of EQ Next after the sale of SOE.

There was zero mention of EverQuest Next at E3 Expo in Los Angeles. It is unclear if Daybreak Games even had a booth. This can only mean that the release of EQ Next is not even on the horizon.

What the heck happened?

SOE’s Disloyalty to the EQ Veterans

Despite the occasional lore book and some videos with devs, for the past 2 years very little information has been released about the progress of EverQuest Next. After the big reveal at SOE Live in 2013 where everyone raised a glass of sparkling wine to toast EverQuest Next, the momentum for this MMORPG has evaporated. Part of the problem is that the then SOE CEO John Smedley engaged in a bait and switch scheme. He baited all of the original EverQuest fans with EverQuest Next and instead gave them Landmark — EverQuest meets Minecraft.

In the realm of politics, it is foolish for a political party or candidate to alienate the base in favor of the possibility of attracting new voters. The base are the faithful who have been loyal supporters for years. They are passionate about the party, its values and goals. They get involved, they donate, and they volunteer. They are the true believers and they make things happen for the party.

Too often the base is often taken for granted by rookie political consultations fresh out of university with political science degrees. The election is held and the base doesn’t show up all at the cost of gaining a scant few new voters. The result is usually the same: failure.

SOE made the same rookie mistake with EQ Next.  They figured the EQ veterans and hardcore fans would always support them no matter what and instead tried to attract a new generation of video game players weaned on Minecraft. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They were wrong.

The Landmark Gambit

After the grand reveal of EQ Next at SOE Live in Las Vegas in 2013, we all thought that EQ Next would be going into beta within the year. It was also reasonable to think that EQ Next would be released in 2015. Both assumptions proved to be wrong as SOE changed its focus to Landmark. This was a big gamble.

Landmark had four goals:

  1. It was supposed to be a bridge offering that SOE would use to buy time to create EverQuest Next.
  2. The creations of Landmark players were going to be used as crowdsourced graphic assets for EverQuest Next.
  3. Landmark creators would also sell their creations to other Landmark players and SOE would make commissions on the sales.
  4. SOE had hoped that Landmark would be a success in its own right and would take the world by storm by riding on coattails of the insanely popular Minecraft.

One thing is abundantly clear, the bizarre premise of the hodgepodge that is Landmark failed to capture the imagination of the public. So here we are, two long years later with still no successor to EverQuest.

With no substantive EverQuestiness about it, it’s no secret that I’ve never really liked or cared for Landmark. Making Landmark for EQ fans made as about as much sense as Led Zeppelin releasing a polka album for their diehard fans. SOE dropped the ball with Landmark. By focusing on the development of Landmark instead of EQ Next, they chased away most of the anticipation, buzz and interest that both old and new fans had for EQ Next which was touted as a successor to EverQuest.

Additionally, in the two years that they have been working on Landmark, they could have hired professional zone designers, world builders and artists to create the new Norrath. This is just more evidence that SOE squandered not only resources put precious time.

SOE gambled and lost. The level of hubris at SOE — represented by the ebullient Dave Georgeson — was stratospheric as the powers that be figured that EQ Landmark was going to be the next Minecraft. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way. Eventually, Sony saw this as well and decided to sell SOE.

EQ Next’s Flawed Design: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

There are many reasons to be suspicious of EQ Next in its current incarnation. There’s the awful Forgelight engine with it’s washed out colors. There’s the perennially ugly character models that have regrettably become a SOE trademark. There’s the childish superhero movement system. Even the name itself — EverQuest Next — which sounds like something from a sci-fi TV series is horrid. Yet all those things might be tolerable if they hadn’t botched the basic design of this new MMORPG and failed to pay proper homage to the design tenets made popular in the original EverQuest.

The central problem with the design of EQ Next is that SOE ignored proven MMO features and mechanics made popular by the original EverQuest and replaced them with unproven and untested assumptions based on current gaming fads such as MOBAs and Minecraft. Given the proven success of EverQuest and it’s influence on mega-successful MMOs like WoW, doing this was a needless and risky gamble that managed to alienate most of the original fans.

Another problem is that the nihilistic designers of EQ Next gutted most of the intellectual property of the original EverQuest.  They did this to ensure that the lore would fit with their tier system and the destructible nature of the voxel system that EQ Next is built on. There were trying to find a way to merge Minecraft with EverQuest and the existing lore was a casualty. In doing so, Norrath had been radically changed and was in effect Norrath in name only.

What SOE did to the existing lore of EverQuest was madness. This would be akin to Disney or some other entertainment company creating a new version of Middle-earth by removing iconic locations and characters and replacing them with new and improved ones. If this kind of blasphemy ever were to happen, I guarantee you the fans of Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings would revolt en masse in a spectacle of protest and nerd rage that the world has never seen. You don’t screw with the lore like this and expect to get away with this but this is exactly what the brains at SOE did.

So let’s explore the design flaws of EQ Next in more detail.

Gutting Level Based Advancement

The design of EverQuest Next is inherently flawed because it guts the traditional RPG and MMO character advancement found in EverQuest and replaced it with a simplistic 4 tier level system and a 4 tier gear collection system. This would never have worked. Without an experience based advancement system that includes level based features such as character skills and abilities, zones, mobs, and itemization it would be all but impossible to balance and test all those systems and features. Not only that, with such a limited menu of goals to strive for, players would have soon gotten bored and stopped playing.

All the SOE devs gave us at SOE Live in 2013 was pure theory of how their system would work. They had no evidence to offer that players would respond to their new system.

Although the level based MMO is not perfect, it is still one of the most successful and most fundamental MMO mechanics ever created. In this case, the cure was worse than the disease. But somehow the EQ Next designers knew better despite years of evidence of the proven success of MUDs, level based RPGs, MMORPGs and their own beloved EverQuest.

Level based progression and character advancement is the bread and butter of how fantasy MMORPGs work and it most likely always will be. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it needs to be replaced.

Gutting the Traditional RPG Class System

It wasn’t enough that they gutted the level-based advancement system, the EQ Next designers also foolishly gutted the traditional MMORPG class system with its classic roles and turned it into a MOBA style action game meets Pokémon. The EQ Next designers envisioned that players could create their own classes by collecting new classes and mixing and matching them.

I believe that EQ Next offered far too many class choices and permutations that would have ultimately confounded and confused players. Too much choice can paralyze consumers as Barry Schwartz noted in his excellent book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is is Less.

Regarding choice, classic EverQuest players were offered ample amounts of choice. Class choice was balanced with the provision that most classes had distinct class roles that offer specialized services to their fellow players. The tank, the cleric, the magic users, the rogue, the crowd controller, the bard, the puller all offered the player a diverse menu of choices to suit any player’s fancy. The original EQ even had a healthy offering of hybrid classes such paladins, shadowknights and rangers.

Specialized class roles also offer the player a sense of strong identity and belonging within the virtual world. Contrast this the untested wishy-washy amorphous mix and match class system of EQ Next and we can see why the design of EQ Next was heading into dangerous waters.

The Erosion of Social Cohesion and Class Interdependence

Specialized class roles are one of the most fundamental and greatest attributes of the classic RPG in that they are central to the design concept of class interdependence. Class interdependence is where each class has a certain role to play within an adventuring group which creates a synergistic advantage to all group members where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

A MMORPG that is designed with class interdependence in mind benefits everyone because it encourages players to group with each other which builds social cohesion. A fantasy virtual world without strong social cohesion and social interaction is not a real virtual world and is nothing more than a single player MMORPG.

The MOBA style design of the EQ Next classes that makes all classes damage dealers with little emphasis on tanking or healing causes me great concern that EQ Next will have any form of class interdependence that was a staple of the original EverQuest and popular MMOs like World of Warcraft.

Not every player wants to play a damage dealing class. Some actually like to play tanks, healers and support roles. Players like these were not welcomed in EQ Next and many voiced strenuous objections to SOE’s rigid one size fits all class design philosophy. Players should be offered classes to play that they can identify with and classes that are an extension of their personality. At least EverQuest had a myriad of classes that could fit almost anyone’s personality.

It is also important to mention that the traditional MMORPG class system is symbiotically tied into level based character advancement system. As classes rise in levels, the class gains more abilities and becomes more unique, grows in stature and utility and expands its relative worth in the virtual world.

Traditional class advancement which allows players to earn more more power, more status, more survivability and more utility is a central motivating factor in why players continue to embrace and support traditional RPG level and class based systems that were found in the original EverQuest.

The Importance of Challenge and Exploration to Advancement

Additional MMO design pillars such as challenge and exploration are also tied to the level advancement system. As the character’s level gets higher, they can enter more exotic zones that have more dangerously and appropriately based challenges. Prohibiting low level players from entering high level zones and ensuring they work for the right to do so is yet another powerful motivating factor that is a fundamental principle of MMORPG design that the EQ Next designers casually discarded.

It just boggles the mind of how the designers of EQ Next were completely prepared to throw all of these solid, time-tested design conventions overboard on the basis of some unproven assumptions. It is nothing short of a stupidity and foolishness to gamble the future of EverQuest on untested theory.

Overly Ambitious Design

While I do not agree with the proposed class system, the advancement system and new lore in EQ Next, I did appreciate the fact that the EQ Next devs promised to make advances in dynamic content and NPC behavior. Both of these new features built onto a classic EverQuest design would have been enough but the EQ Next developers became obsessed with feature creep. It is well known in the industry that feature creep is a silent and deadly killer that has doomed many video games.

The problem with these new and ambitious features is that SOE bit off more than they could chew. Combine that with the risk factor of creating an entirely new and unproven character advancement system and EQ Next was headed for trouble.

What EverQuest 3 Should Be: Challenge, Consequences, Community and Freedom

At last it is time for some ideas on where I think Daybreak Games needs to take the EverQuest franchise.

EverQuest means something different to everyone who played it. For me, the original EverQuest experience was mainly about challenge, community, consequences and freedom. Each one of these design philosophies has been significantly eroded if not completely ignored in most modern fantasy MMORPGs to the ultimate detriment of the genre.

EverQuest design pillars

Each of these design pillars symbiotically supported each other and created a cohesive experience that to this day people are still trying to understand and deconstruct. They are the following:

Challenge

The most fundamental requirement of any game is that is provides the player with challenges. Challenges are overcome by the player exhibiting skill. Great challenges are overcome by the player exhibiting mastery. Unfortunately, most MMOs today have abandoned this in favor of giving the player a casual stroll in an amusement park experience. The only challenges these new MMOs provide are at the far end of the spectrum with some hardcore dungeons and raids.

The notion that players should be challenged and that players should develop a high level of skill is a philosophy that should permeate all aspects the player experience from level 1 to the level cap. Challenge can mean being exposed to danger. It can mean having to deal with hardship. It can mean trying to just survive and thrive in an unforgiving world. All of those examples require varying degrees of player skill and mastery of those skills to overcome. EverQuest required players to constantly up their game by increasing the challenge and requiring more skill from players as they advanced in levels.

Without a sufficient injection of challenge, a virtual world becomes little more than a virtual amusement park where players placidly wander around like tourists.

Challenge is a cardinal design virtue that has has been discarded by many MMO developers these days. The tried and true risk versus reward equation now favors reward over risk. When challenge is removed accomplishments became cheap and loot flows like water. Unlike the easy mode MMORPGs of today that offer equality of outcomes, EverQuest offered an unforgiving virtual world fraught with danger that provided equality of opportunity to all.

Progress in EverQuest was never easy and as a result it forced players to find ways to overcome serious challenges. As the player leveled up the challenges became more intense. This had the added effect of making players improve. Attainment of levels gave the player a satisfying sense of well-earned honor, status and respect that is missing in most MMORPGs today.

Community

Another benefit to offering serious challenges is that it forced players to band together to form groups and raids to overcome adversity using their social skills to canvass other players to join existing groups, raids and guilds. This was accomplished when the EQ designers utilizing the theory of class interdependency and created their class system. Class interdependency is when each class is designed with specific roles to compliment other classes, has strengths and weaknesses and when different classes are put together creates a synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Those players who wanted to survive and thrive in Norrath realized they could accomplish more by working together. So just like in the real world, friendships, associations and communities formed out of necessity and this is one of the greatest and most priceless contributions that EverQuest bequeathed to the video game genre.

Few other video games have created a fan base where its players are so socially intertwined that they become lifelong friends and even get married.

Consequences

Every aspect of a player’s virtual existence life in Norrath was predicated on the fact that actions had consequences. EQ’s brutal death penalty is the best example of this. Every player could potentially lose months — if not years — of progress at any time due to failure. This had the effect of making life in Norrath gripping and pulse-pounding experience that has never been equaled by any other MMORPG since.

As noted above, that philosophy of serious consequences for failure also meant that players would seek out other players to mitigate those consequences. Failure is a great teacher. The serious consequences that EQ offered made you improve as a player and promoted a culture of skill, excellence and diligence within the player base.

Freedom

EverQuest had no story arc or narrative. It was very much like a sandbox where the player enjoyed autonomy and self-determination. This lack of an on-rails amusement park experience gave players a true sense of freedom where they could live their virtual lives free from the tyranny of the lore and quest developers who are always telling players where to go and what to do. The EverQuest player experience was essentially self-directed. This gave players a chance to create their own stories and memories free from the constant meddling we see by current MMORPG developers like Blizzard.

Unlike the MMOs of today that have shackled players by providing them a scripted predictable on rails player experience, EverQuest was a virtual world of considerable freedom with few restrictions that is absent from today’s MMORPGS. You could communicate and group with anyone. You could attack any NPC at any time. You could loot corpses of mobs that other players killed. You could purchase items sold by players from vendors. You could give weapons to some NPCs who would equip them. Almost nothing was off limits. Mobs seemed to have more a persistent nature were not leashed and would pursue you. Mob hit points would not miraculously reset if you died or left the zone and returned.

The sense of freedom even carried down to loot. EQ had no level restrictions on loot which is shocking compared to how regimented gear is today with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

EverQuest was so wide open that emergent gameplay flourished as players invented and carved out all kinds of unique roles for themselves. Each class had countless ways of being played which allowed EQ to appeal to almost anybody.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one thing new MMORPGs are doing right. Similar to the notion of player freedom is the idea of customization. Players now have more options to express themselves via armor choices and by choosing unique talent builds which reflect their personality and playstyle. This is one area that new MMORPGs have been excelling at and a new EverQuest would certainly do well to incorporate.

Every feature in a new EverQuest should have these question asked of it:

Challenge: Does this feature require player skill to master?

Community: Does this feature help to build community?

Consequences: Are players accountable for their actions? Is the risk versus reward equation balanced?

Freedom: Does this feature enhance the player’s freedom and empower the player’s sense of self-determination?

Signature EverQuest Features Needed for Inclusion in EverQuest 3

To the developers at Daybreak, the recipe for success is very simple and it has been staring at you all along. Daybreak needs to bring back the original hardcore no compromise, no hand holding, balls to the wall design and feature set of EverQuest that started the entire MMORPG ball rolling and unapologetically incorporate it into EverQuest 3.

Here are the core features and mechanics from EverQuest that need to be brought back:

  • Bring back the lore complete with all of the gods and goddesses.
  • Bring back all the towns and cities.
  • Bring back all of the races.
  • Bring back all of the classes and embrace class interdependence with unique roles, abilities and spells:
    • Core class roles: tanks, damage and healers.
    • Supplementary class roles: pullers, crowd control, teleportation, binders, rezzers and buffers.
  • Bring back all of the EQ mechanics such as:
    • Horizontal experience-based character advancement and leveling system — levels should take weeks if not months to achieve.
    • Public dungeons with NO INSTANCING!
    • No artificial limits to the number of players that can attend raids.
    • Death penalties with experience loss and corpse decay.
    • No leashes on mobs. Mob trains!!! The more the merrier!
    • Grouping should be encouraged.
    • Player freedom:
      • Every NPC should be killable and should give experience.
      • Allow players to buy items from vendors that were sold by other players.
      • Allow players to loot expired NPC/mob corpses.
    • A real day and night system where night time is actually dark and dangerous.
  • Bring back GMs and live events.

I am not saying that all we need to do is bring back these features and simply re-create the original EverQuest. Rather, these features are the core of the classic EverQuest experience and in my mind should be used as the building blocks for a new, more detailed and expansive EverQuest. After all, these signature features are what distinguishes EverQuest from WoW and the multitude of WoW clones out there. If these features are brought back and used as a foundation, then it is almost impossible for Daybreak Games to screw the new EverQuest up.

If Daybreak still has plans to introduce more dynamic content and responsive NPCs who have needs, goals and aspirations then all the better!

EverQuest Was Not Perfect

Although I respect the masterpiece that is EverQuest and think more highly of it than any other MMO I have ever played, it was not perfect. Every game and every sport has certain flaws and over time players tend to find the flaws in mechanics and exploit them to their advantage.

Here are a few issues with the original EverQuest:

Sometimes It Was Hard to Find a Group

On low population servers and during non-peak times on regular servers it was difficult to find other players to form groups which made players who still wanted to progress to gravitate to soloing. The solution of not being able to find a group is not to let everyone solo which has been the case since World of Warcraft and beyond. One possible answer is to reduce the number of servers and adopt mega servers like Zenimax has done with Elder Scrolls Online. In ESO the mega servers are always bustling with people and it’s fairly easy to find groups. An additional bonus is that towns and cities actually feel alive because they are full of players.

Poor Class Design and Class Penalties

Class design is probably the hardest thing to accomplish in a MMORPG. Due to the reality that every group needs a tank and a healer  — most often a warrior and a priest due to their ability to perform their role so perfectly — and due to pure mathematics these two class roles immediately represent 33.3% of the group roles leaving DPS classes and hybrid classes who are far more numerous to compete for the remaining 4 group slots which constitute the other 66.7%. This reality of EQ had the effect of some classes were not as desirable as other classes in groups. This is not the fault of the player playing the class; this is the fault of the class designers who failed to design enough tanking classes, healing classes and grant enough utility for hybrids and DPS classes to be wanted in groups. The solution is obvious but certainly not easy: create an equal number of tank, healers, and DPS classes and ensure that each class has enough utility that makes all classes equally desirable in groups.

Hybrid Classes and Experience Penalties

As implied above, hybrid classes in EverQuest were substandard and most often seen as second string tanks to their richer cousins the pure tank: the warrior. The three hybrids were: paladins, rangers and shadowknights. These hybrids were essentially tank versions of other classes — not good enough to be true tanks and not good enough to be like their parent classes: clerics, druids and necromancers.

To make matters worse, SOE saddled them and certain races with onerous experience penalties that make them very difficult to level. Even today in EverQuest server emulator Project 1999, the experience penalty exists for hybrids. This partially explains why there are so few hybrids in Project 1999. Solution: get rid of experience penalties for races and classes.

Respawning, Spawn Camping and Spawn Contestation

The essence of a fantasy MMORPG is a band of adventurers entering a dungeon and going deeper to complete some objective such as killing a boss mob to take his stuff. This is the classic dungeon crawl which is the Holy Grail of a fantasy virtual world. However, this scenario is not so easily achieved in a virtual world where there are other players and groups within that very same dungeon with similar and competing goals.

Perhaps the Achilles heel of MUDS and MMORPGs and easily the most contentious issue in the original EverQuest (and still today in Project 1999) was the mechanic of mobs respawning in dungeons and the world above dungeons. In every MMORPGs mobs both — generic and named — magically respawn after they are killed. They respawn within a range of one or two levels and thanks to a random number generator the also drop random amounts of coin and loot. For years this mechanic has been the order of the day in MUDS and MMORPGs.

The problem with mob respawning is that player has to suspend their disbelief to accept the fact that a dungeon teeming with vicious orcs can be killed and within a few minutes they can miraculously respawn again at full health and at full power and will complete set of armor and weapons. Where do these orcs come from? Where did they get the weapons and armor from? Were they resurrected? If yes by whom? No MMORPG developer has ever been able to answer these questions.

The respawning dynamic created big headaches for SOE back in the day as players felt shut out of dungeons. Certain locations in EQ dungeons would be claimed by players and groups of players who were “camping” a particular location where a named mob would spawn who dropped common and rare items. This became a big problem as certain people would never leave these locations or they would give them to their friends or guildmates thereby preventing anyone else from having a chance at getting rare drops.

Guilds would park spotter characters at the spawn locations of prestigious world boss mobs to check to see if they had spawned. Often guilds would cause other guilds who were raiding at the time to wipe and then start killing the world boss mobs themselves. This was the cause of a lot of drama.

SOE even tried to remedy this problem by employing the instancing mechanic with the Lost Dungeons of Norrath expansion. Blizzard’s answer to this problem was to make all dungeons instanced which I will explain more about below.

Solutions to this problem are not easy to come by. I would suggest that better staging of respawns might be part of the answer. Another way to remedy this problem would have more random and triggered events happening within the dungeons themselves which helps bring more life and unpredictability into the dungeon environment to distract the player from the checking his clock to see if the mob in the next room is about to spawn.

Regarding competition between guilds for boss mobs, MMO developers like Blizzard have traditionally seen it as a bad thing. I believe that kind of competition is good thing. Competition for raid and world boss mobs was very common in EverQuest and many guilds would race to see if they could take down a these bosses before the other guilds could.  Yes, conflict would result but I believe that kind of emotion and drama is healthy for a fantasy virtual world. This competitive aspect added a completely new and exciting dimension to EverQuest that is almost non-existent in MMORPGS like World of Warcraft. A fantasy MMORPG is not supposed to be a fast food drive thru where everything is available 24/7. A fantasy virtual world should be difficult and victory should never be assured or severed to players on a silver platter.

Lack of Content

A big part of the problem is that there just wasn’t enough dungeons in the original EverQuest to adequately satisfy the player population with regards to experience and good loot drops which were essential for characters to improve their gear. The problem was so bad that many players resorted to killing guards and quest NPCs just to get experience. Eventually SOE created more servers to help address the problem but even so, there was still a shortage of droppable gear.

Five years after the release of EverQuest, Blizzard’s solution to this problem was to employ the technique of instancing in every dungeon in World of Warcraft. Instancing is where every group gets their own copy of a dungeon. In essence, it is a private dungeon where other players who are not in the group are not allowed to enter. This technique allows the game designer to view the entire dungeon as a complete experience from the point the group enters at the beginning and exits after the dungeon boss is killed.

Instancing looked revolutionary in the short term because everyone had access to content 24/7 with no competition from other players. The problem is that in the long-term instancing had many deleterious effects.

The problem with instancing is that the cure was worse than the disease. As dungeons became all about killing mobs as fast as possible, dungeons were no longer social places where players would hang out and talk to each other.  Killing a boss of a dungeon was no longer special as the very same boss was being potentially killed by hundreds of other players on the same server. This has the effect of eroding the status of killing a boss.

With instancing came other problems, the main one being that too much loot was entering the economy which quickly devalued it. Prestige loot dropped by the mob was also less desirable and less valuable due to the fact that it was no longer rare and as exclusive as it would be if it dropped by a named mob in a public non-instanced dungeon.

Not only has instancing created an obscene glut of loot, it has cheapened the MMORPG experience and created an unhealthy sense of entitlement in today’s players. Instanced dungeons have become all about efficiency and are transactional in nature as the group kills enemies as fast as possible so they can finish their daily quest. Even worse, it has destroyed the social and cooperative fabric of the genre in that players do not even speak to each other while they are inside dungeons. Additionally, the private dungeon on demand scourge of instancing also kills immersion and the notion of persistence.

Daybreak Games needs to avoid the easy fix of instancing and bring back public dungeons.

Some Tips for Daybreak Designers

Tip 1: The Group is the Foundation of the Fantasy MMORPG

Every MMORPG designer is standing on the shoulders of two giants. The first giant is J.R.R. Tolkien who invented the popular RPG template of a group of adventurers on an epic quest exploring a dungeon in his fantasy classic The Lord of the Rings. This band of adventurers dubbed the Fellowship of the Ring was comprised of people from different races (wizard, hobbits, men, dwarves and elves) and different skill sets (wizards, fighter, captain, ranger and thief). This is the basis for what we know today as the traditional fantasy RPG groups and the notion of group/class interdependency.

The second giant is Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and founder of TSR. If I have to tell you what Dungeons & Dragons is then you are in the wrong line of work.

Gygax said this in his classic 1987 book: Role-Playing Mastery from Chapter 4: The Group: More Than its Parts:

Group operation and cooperation are at the nucleus of any RPG activity … Despite this, many long-time participants in a single RPG system do not truly understand or appreciate the interrelationships of the varying approaches to the game system or to the dynamics of a group that is balanced and works well as a team.

The highest expression of activity in a MMORPG is the group. The group experience and the community that results is the foundation of the MMORPG.

Tip 2: Unlearn Most of What Blizzard Taught You in World of Warcraft

Some of you probably never played the original EverQuest. Naturally, all of you have played WoW. If I had only one thing to say to you it is this: forget everything you know about the design philosophy of World of Warcraft. In its insatiable lust for profits, Blizzard has all but destroyed the MMORPG genre by trying to make WoW an accessible McMMO to the masses. Blizzard owns that genre now so forget about ever trying to compete with them. Unlearn everything you learned about MMORPGs from WoW.

What you should copy from Blizzard is their high standards with regard to art, animations, usability and polish (attention to detail). Everything else is crap.

Embrace the heart and soul of the original EverQuest. Look at the amazing community it created. Look at the sense of urgency, the danger and the pulse-pounding fear it created when you logged on to your character and entered the world of Norrath. Being part of a world where you could lose the months you invested in your character by falling into a hole in a deep dungeon made it feel real and this is why the original EverQuest experience was so magical and addictive!

I have authored articles on EverQuest that have attempted to explain how and why this venerable MMO captured the hearts and minds of gamers who love fantasy role-playing games. From my perspective, nothing more needs to be said about why the original EverQuest was so amazing and why such a passionate and vibrant community formed around it.

Tip 3: Play EverQuest on Project 1999

Project 1999 is a non-profit series of two servers (PVE and PVP) that faithfully emulate the original EverQuest and its subsequent two expansions with pure fidelity. If you want to know what the true EverQuest experience was like then you absolutely must create a character on Project 1999 and immerse yourself the magnificence and majesty of EverQuest. Community is king on P1999. People actually talk to other players. It is the most amazing experience and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone — especially EverQuest Next game designers.

Quite simply, playing EverQuest on Project 1999 will make you fall in love with Norrath all over again! Special thanks and heartfelt gratitude to Daybreak Games for making an agreement with Project 1999 to continue.

 

The EverQuest Franchise Needs a Strong Visionary Leader

Who is the evangelist of the EverQuest franchise right now at DayBreak Games? The problem is that nobody is and that is a glaring problem.

I really believe that to make a successful product or video game you need to have someone in command who has a crystal clear vision. You need a mercurial figure who has a burning passion, who believes in what he is doing and who can share that passion with others. You can’t produce something amazing from a mere committee. It is not going to happen.

Daybreak Games needs to hire someone from the MMORPG world that has a Herculean and unapologetic passion for EverQuest. It should be someone that truly understands and believes EverQuest. It needs to be someone that can win over the EQ veterans and at the same time convince new players of the magic that is EverQuest. That someone needs to be a leader that can effectively communicate their vision for EverQuest to the world.

Conclusion

The story of SOE began with the groundbreaking success of EverQuest and then ended with a series of disappointments and lackluster offerings. Throughout their journey, they’ve been distracted by every seductive fork in the road that has led to a dead end. Even with Blizzard’s MMO polish success template revealed to them via World of Warcraft, they still could not produce a popular fantasy MMO if their lives depended on it.

If Daybreak Games continues to adhere to the initial ambitious and misguided design philosophy of EverQuest Next, I predict that this proposed MMORPG has almost no chance of succeeding.

The continued popularity of Project 1999 and the overwhelming success of the new progression servers for the current EverQuest have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is worldwide interest and excitement for a hardcore fantasy virtual world.

I believe gamers are craving a no compromise, full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes hardcore EverQuest experience that they are not getting today’s dumbed down, kiddy friendly, everyone’s a winner fantasy MMORPG. While I applaud SOE/Daybreak for trying new things at some point you have to realize that you have the magical formula all along. There’s no need for a New Coke when Classic Coke was loved by millions around the world. There’s no need to improve on a Stradivarius by redesigning the venerable violin. Go with what you know and what works.

The millions of people who played EverQuest over the years have not gone away. We are still here. We are waiting to once again heed the call to battle to venture forth into the magical and dangerous world of Norrath. Sixteen long years later, we and a generation of new gamers are craving an authentic, hardcore MMORPG experience that changed the video game industry and put EverQuest on the map.

Today gamers have grown tired of the unearned heroism and the vapidity of childish video games and instead are supporting hardcore games like Dark Souls that require actual skill and have the effect of giving players an immense and rare sense of satisfaction in victory.

There is but one path that leads to the Holy Grail and that is back to genius and magic of EverQuest itself. It is time for Daybreak Games to stop being ashamed of EverQuest and start embracing everything that made EverQuest great. All you need to do is take the design and lore of original EverQuest, expand and deepen it, add new art, new animations, update the user interface and combine it with the polish of World of Warcraft. Even the early expansions — minus the dreadful Omens of War — could be repeated and released. The entire blueprint and roadmap is there waiting for Daybreak Games.

Now that the future of EverQuest is in the post-Smedley era, this is a time of great opportunity. Daybreak Games needs to listen to the fans and create a successor to EverQuest that is worthy of the name. If they can accomplish that, then all is forgiven. Millions of long-suffering EverQuest fans have waited long enough. It’s time to reboot the reboot. Daybreak Games please create EverQuest 3!

-Wolfshead

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