By now most EverQuest devotees have watched the video presentations and read all of the coverage on various gaming websites about SOE’s reveal of EverQuest Next in Las Vegas over the weekend. We’ve seen and heard all of the hype regarding the new features of EQ Next. By now everyone knows what a voxel is and we’ve seen a lot of demos of things blowing up.
After ample reflection and analysis, I think it’s safe to say that SOE will not be bringing back many of the elements that made the original EverQuest such a magical experience. EQ Next is a brand new type of highly accessible superhero low fantasy MMO aimed at an entirely new audience of gamers that are more at home with a software toy like Minecraft then they are with a serious virtual world like EverQuest.
SOE has decided to entirely reboot and re-imagine the world of Norrath with the end goal of creating an intellectual property that will be the flagship offering for a vast franchise of products and services.
As well as attending SOE Live, I have poured over all of the videos multiple times to really digest what SOE has presented to give the best analysis possible. My assessment of EQ Next is based on what we currently know. I’m certain that many of my questions and gaps in knowledge will be answered in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Let me preface this article by saying there are a lot of things I like about EQ Next (and its companion offering EQ Landmark) and many things that I do not like which I will discuss in this article: the good, the bad and the ugly.
SEO Live: The Event
Held at the aging Planet Hollywood Hotel and Resort, SOE Live was a well-planned gaming event aimed at pleasing the faithful fans. Some of the lineups to various events were quite long. The vibe was electric and the enthusiasm infectious. On a side note, the swag bags didn’t have much swag in them at all. The EQ Next poster was nice though!
I had a chance to meet some good friends that I had met during my years with the EverQuest Guide Program and picked up an EverQuest Guide T-Shirt. It was finally nice to meet Community Relations Project Manager Ashlanne in person and speak to many of the current volunteer guides. I also had a chance to speak with Jeff Butler but all too briefly. The schedule of the devs was very tight and in their spare but rare time they were doing interviews for all of the big gaming websites. I also met Steve Danuser briefly, congratulated him on his new job and commended him for an impressive presentation at the EQ Next Lore panel.
The Reveal Presentation
I don’t want to dwell too much on the actual EQ Next reveal presentation here (more on parts of it later) but I wanted to briefly list and explain the 4 holy grails that Dave Georgeson spoke about:
Grail 1: Change the Core Game – Traditional character advancement will be replaced by multi-classing advancement and character “tier” gear acquisition progression.
Grail 2: Destructibility – The environment of new Norrath will be destructible and constructable by players. Players will be able to explore deep within the world and uncover remnants of past civilizations and of course new mobs and loot.
Grail 3: A Life of Consequence (Emergent A.I.) – Every decision a player makes will have consequences and the world will remember everything you do and react accordingly. NPC’s will be have A.I. that gives them personalities that have likes and dislikes that will impact the actions or inactions of players.
Grail 4: Permanent Change via Rallying Calls – Certain areas in the world will have randomly selected dynamic areas that require players to participate in order to advance the objective from one phase to the next phase. An objective would be to build a new town or city. These events will be scheduled randomly for each server. The objective is to progress to the next phase; this can be accomplished in different ways depending on the actions or inactions of players.
Finally a Dynamic World with Permanent Change
For years I have wanted to be part of a virtual world that changed depending on the actions or inactions of players. It always irked me that every WoW expansion had to conclude with the scheduled death of the uber villain that graced the expansion box cover.
With the Rallying Calls feature, this will keep the world of Norrath from being predictable and will allow each server to enjoy a unique communal experience. It will also provide for endless replayability for players that choose to roll alts.
My one issue with this feature is that SOE should not guarantee the completion of a city (the end result of all of the phases) such as Halas shown in the example below. A city should be allowed to decay and revert to a more primitive state and if not enough players heed the rallying call then enemy forces should be allowed to lay siege to a city and ultimately destroy it. If the city is destroyed because high level players are selfishly allowing part of their factions kingdom to fail (think Nero fiddling away while Rome burns) when they are in a dungeon or raiding then there should be some form of penalty assessed.
Despite some of my concerns, this feature is amazing and top marks to SEO for having the guts to even attempt this.
Advanced A.I. For NPCs and Mobs
It’s refreshing to see that both NPCs and mobs will get working brains, memories and motivations in the new Norrath. With the aid of Storybricks A.I. technology, mobs will be programmed with collective likes and dislikes and have the ability to migrate to greener pastures if their likes are being deprived and if their dislikes thresholds are reached. This should solve the static mob camping predictability problem that has plagued virtual worlds for years.
SEO also plans on giving mobs in combat far more advanced A.I. as well. I think this is a great idea and will make for more interesting encounters be more interesting. It should also put less pressure for game designers to worry about complex encounter scripting.
Interaction with non-mob NPC’s will also change as they will remember every decision and action that a player makes. This is what SOE terms “a life of consequences”. I think NPCs in virtual worlds have been ignored for far too long and finally they will help contribute toward the goal of a living, breathing world.
Bravo to SOE for this!
There was a very good demonstration of a wide range of player emotes that will be accomplished by either using an emote or using the SOEmote system. This is a long sought after feature that will really help make avatars come alive and has the potentially to turbo charge role-playing within EQ Next.
I hope that both mobs and NPCs will have access to these emotes as well. Again good job SOE!
Destructible and Constructible Environments
The ability for the player to change and impact the world — both geography and structures — has long been something that MMORPG players and designers have dreamt of. Inspired by Minecraft, SOE has really pushed the boundaries of what is possible with a voxel based destructible and constructible world.
Not only will players have abilities in combat and out of combat to destroy the environment, mobs and players themselves are subject to environmental damage. This should bring a whole new area of gameplay into the MMO realm.
One of my concerns is that SOE has stated that the environment will “heal” after 5 minutes. I think this is far too short as I believe that virtual worlds should have as much persistence as possible.
There is a disturbing trend right now for MMOs to sanitize their worlds. I do not understand why devs have this need to clean up and remove NPC corpses right after they are killed by players. This isn’t 1999 where an NPC corpse will create lag. Players need to know what they have done — for better or worse – has an impact. It’s rewarding to see a pile of enemy corpses after a battle. Don’t take that hard earned satisfaction from players!
If players decide to clear cut a forest it would be very interesting to see the results of it. Why should a full tree grow back in 5 minutes? 30 minutes would be far more appropriate and think of the opportunities for druid classes to help regrow and replant trees. Tunare would be most pleased to see her followers healing the planet!
One final concern is that destroying the environment should have a heavy cost. If SOE makes it too easy players will end up doing it all the time it could become annoying and disruptive. Who wants to watch a bunch of players destroy a town in minutes? If allowed, at least sick the guards on them and watch the hilarity ensue. As far as I’m concerned, the rarer it is the better.
EverQuest Next Landmark
EverQuest Next Landmark is software that will be freely available to all that’s all about exploration and building. EQ Next Landmark will also serve as a good viral buzz generator that keeps EQ Next in the minds of the public as they await it’s inevitable release. With Landmark, SOE is expecting to leverage the creativity of the community and get them to create thousands of buildings, items and other assets. With the help of voting from the players, SOE will take the best and include them in EQ Next.
It’s an ingenious idea that Tom Sawyer would be proud of. If their scheme works, SOE will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in development costs by utilizing the free labor and talent of the community. At the same time, it will also serve to generate viral interest in the upcoming EQ Next. It’s refreshing to see SOE actually thinking outside the box for a change. I hope it’s a success.
Day and Night Will Be Different
According to one of the dev panels day and night differences will shape the types of NPCs that will be out. Merchants will be out during the day, shady vendors will be out at night.
I really hope that NPCs will have their own schedules and places to live. It’s high time we got rid of NPCs that stand at the same spot for 24 hours a day.
I like the idea that outside of the core 8 classes that players will have to do some work to unlock the remaining 32 classes. Too often in MMORPGs classes are far too easy to get and rare classes would be an excellent status symbol for players in lieu of levels.
Another interesting advantage is you don’t have to create as many alts — just find a new class to play with your existing character. There are some other advantages and disadvantages that I will discuss later.
The Combat Demo
The ill-fated combat demo now conveniently known as the tech demo, was a real disappointment. It was so juvenile and over the top that it bordered on being offensive. I just didn’t feel like EverQuest combat to me. Instead, it was full of shock and awe explosions and particle effects that looked like a 4th of July celebration meets the Avengers . Some of the mobs didn’t even fight back and were instantly vanquished.
Producer Terry Michaels later admitted that everyone was spamming very powerful high level abilities and that it did not accurately represent how a typical group fight would unfold. This silly combat display needlessly turned a lot of people off. They really should have rehearsed the combat for a more accurate representation for the audience.
I believe the ability to create new classes by picking and choosing abilities from a list of unlocked classes is over-rated and verging on gimmickry. I would hope that every class that the devs design will have the optimum skills associated with it and it’s hard to believe that players will somehow be able to choose better ones. Trion tried this to some extent with RIFT and it had little to no impact on me as a player; I felt many of the class abilities were the same except with new names and icons.
Jadeon from a really good EQNextFans thread made this really great point contrasting both the EverQuest and EQ Next class systems:
The fantastic part about Everquest was the diversity of the classes, the weakness inherent to each that had to be offset by the strengths of another to create dynamic and successful groups. Furthermore the sheer amount of knowledge and learning it took to truly master each class with the intricacies of all of their abilities was astounding. Mastering a class no longer means researching your spells understanding them fully and knowing when it may be better to use a downgraded version to conserve mana or choosing one of your 5 different nuke lines because of an enemies resistances. Instead we have 8 “amazing” abilities, and we can change them to suite our needs at any time and always enter a battle with optimal setups so long as we have farmed up the “classes” that would be “optimal” for it.
I completely agree. There is something cheap and inappropriate about the level of unearned power that SOE will be imparting to players. Players are treated like superheroes instead of being an organic part of a virtual world. This of course ties into the heroic entitlement philosophy that SOE has recently adopted that I vehemently oppose.
While it’s good to offer players the ability to customize their class it’s also problematic to offer endless array of choices. Too much choice is stifling. Often less is more.
I also feel that multi-classing feels a bit too much like a marketing hook rather than a serious MMORPG feature.
Character Advancement: Gear Tiers Instead of Leveling via Experience
The big elephant in the room in Las Vegas was that SOE is doing away with traditional Dungeons & Dragons character advancement via leveling and replacing it with “tiers” namely in the form of gear sets.
In actuality, we’ve all seen this before as gear tiers in popular MMOs like WoW have been with us for many years. Once you reach the level cap in most MMOs, the only way to progress your character is to acquire new sets of tiered gear. Completion of one tier of gear acts as a gateway to more challenging content that enables you to get the next tier of gear for your character. Rinse and repeat.
In EQ Next, gear tiers are essentially cleverly disguised proxies for character levels. Contrary to the claim that EQ Next will have horizontal progression, this is indeed a form of vertical progression. I suspect EQ Next will eventually have scores of tiered levels.
The tried and true character level system was useful because it gave players an easy way to distinguish each others comparative worth. Players need to be able to know the skill and power level of their fellow players. Without a level system to denote character accomplishments, I expect players will create their own or develop some kind of mod such as PlayerScore. Expect players to identify themselves by class and tier. We will see thing such as: T3.5 blademaster LFG and so on.
Traditional RPG Classes Will Not Exist in EQ Next
The core of any MMO is combat. As mentioned earlier SOE revealed that the time-tested Dungeons & Dragons system which has permeated the RPG world for over 35 years will not be used, other than substituting the idea of multi-classing, they failed to fully explain what would take its place leaving some in the audience in a state of bewilderment.
In fact Dave Georgeson didn’t even mention that levels would no longer be used in EQ Next which he has revealed in interviews with major gaming websites. I believe that statement, if made, would have shocked many of the people in the audience which is probably why he omitted it.
So EQ Next will not have the traditional class role structure of tanks, healers, damage classes that traditional fantasy MMORPG and single player RPG’s have relied on for years. Instead it will be replaced damage dealing classes. There will be 8 damage classes available to the player and 32 more damage classes that the player can unlock as they adventure and explore.
Let’s compare the class roles of the original EverQuest to the class roles of EverQuest Next. (Note: the EverQuest list is by no means complete):
- tanks -warriors, paladins, shadowknights
- healers – priests, druids, shaman
- damage dealers – wizards, necromancers, rangers, mages, rangers, monks, druids
- crowd control – enchanters, monks
- pullers – monks, rangers
- debuffers – enchanters, shaman
- damage dealers – every one of 40 classess
The comparison between EQ and EQ Next is sobering. The first thing one notices is how one-dimensional gameplay is going to be in EQ Next. Damage dealing is everything and the only thing.
A Host of Unintended Consequences
The very best game designers can see the future, just like the very best chess players can see many moves ahead. Every design decision is prone to creating a plethora of unintended consequences that can ruin a virtual world in short order.
Virtual world designers are in reality social engineers. By their design decisions, they can create good communities or bad communities.
With the abolition of traditional MMORPG combat mechanics and class roles, SOE is heading into uncharted waters here that could potentially spell doom for EQ Next.
If they continue upon this current course, EQ Next will consist of groups of damage dealing players that nuke down anything in their path as is now the case in other “revolutionary” MMOs like Guild Wars 2. Since damage is king, the min-maxers will have a field day gravitating to classes that are heavily weighted towards DPS. Once the theorycrafters such as Elitist Jerks have done the math, I envision most players following their lead and gravitating to probably about 4 popular overpowered classes. This is what will happen when you remove the necessity of having roles in a MMORPG.
Instead of caring about group dynamics and strategy, players will do as they please and behave recklessly. Since there are no tank classes that can keep aggro, most encounters will be about doing as much damage as fast as possible.
Without well-defined class roles, players will be forced to think of their own safety first before the safety of others. This will breed a contagion of self-absorbed players who will not stop to think of their fellow players because they don’t have to.
With minimal need for cooperation, I predict communication among players will be non-existent during combat as players will be busy watching the fireworks. When you remove the need for communication in your most fundamental activity in a MMO you are ensuring that you will have a poor community.
No Tanks and Healers Allowed but Feel Free to Play the Way You Want
One of the mantras that the EQ Next devs have been expounding is that “we want players to play the way they want”. What if players want to play tanks, healers and support roles? A number of questioners in the class panel made this very clear to the devs.
SOE is making a rather arrogant assumption that players attracted to their re-imagined Norrath somehow hate playing tanks and healers and just want to be damage dealers and enjoy being in the thick of the mayhem and confusion of combat. With everything they supposedly know about EverQuest they are demonstrating that they do not fully understand and appreciate their core audience.
Not everyone wants to play a damage dealing class. Look at any military organization and you’ll see that for every soldier on the ground, there are numerous support staff. For every top gun fighter pilot and sniper there are scores of military people in support roles. Not everyone wants to be in direct combat or is cut out for it.
To use a football analogy: not everyone can be or wants to be the quarterback or the wide receiver.
In both cases, the people occupying those roles have the same level of enjoyment and dignity as those on the front lines getting all the glory. SOE is desperately trying to make a diverse bunch of polygonal pegs fit into their circular slots.
EQ Next: More God of War than Classic EverQuest
Another clue that the only role in EQ Next will be damage is the fact that the only targeting system is positional. You just press a button and whatever happens to be in front of you will get hit. That’s it folks. Since you can’t target, you won’t be able to heal or buff specific targets except yourself.
The end result is going to be a fast-paced action video game with lots of moving around. It’s hard to see what inspiration if any, they took from EverQuest and EverQuest 2 for their combat system.
Multi-Classing: Better Suited to Traditional MMORPG Class Roles
At one point in the EQ Next character panel, Jeff Butler gave an impassioned speech about how he had selflessly played an off-tanking role for a MMO guild he was in and that he had seen too many raids and guilds suffer because a player playing a core class such as a tank or healer failed to log on thereby cancelling the raid which enjoyment of the guild members. I sympathize with him but throwing out the traditional class system is not the answer.
In my mind, the multi-class approach of EQ Next is the perfect solution for this problem and paradoxically it makes far more sense for EQ Next to embrace traditional RPG class roles then the current schema that offers only damage dealing classes. If a required class fails to log on then most certainly there would be raid members that could press a button and switch to their tank, healer or support class. Problem solved without destroying a time and battle tested system that has served the RPG world for 40 years.
The Realism Fallacy
I would also like to rebut a point that some of the panel members made during the class panel. They used what I call the “that’s not realistic” fallacy that I’ve been hearing for years in the MMO world. This fallacy can be used to attack almost any feature in a MMORPG on the basis of “that’s not realistic”. Since most MMORPGs are fantasy, there is very little if anything that is realistic rendering the argument rather meaningless.
The devs stated something to the effect that it’s not realistic for a mob to wail on a tank just because he’s taunting him and since EQ Next mobs have advanced A.I. they will naturally want to kill the primary damage dealers first and not the tank. I would counter that not all mobs will have the same A.I. Some will be very stupid, some will be very intelligent and many in between. Not all mobs should be smart enough to figure it out.
Also, in mobs that have increased intelligence, player classes could blind mobs and cast spells that could befuddle mobs. Intelligent mobs could also be rooted, stunned, stupefied and snared. Any number of solutions that make for more interesting combat strategy and contributions from other classes could be employed here to still allow the existence of traditional class roles.
Eliminating the need for tanks, healers and support classes is going to cause far more problems than it solves. It will erode — as one questioner brilliantly stated – the sense of teamwork and strategy that makes grouping and raiding both fun and interesting. It will also erode the diversity of roles that one rightly expects to see in a MMORPG.
Passing the Community Test
One final but important point needs to be made about all of this. How will SOE’s decision to eliminate class roles impact the sense of community that SOE prides themselves in creating and nurturing all these years?
When I scrape away all of the hype, I see no meaningful class interdependence in the current design of EQ Next. That is a disgrace and an insult to the legacy of EverQuest and EverQuest 2.
The remove of the traditional class paradigm will also erode the natural sense of community gleaned from class interdependency. Every feature, mechanic and element of EQ Next should have to pass the community test. If it does not enhance community then it should be either improved until it does or gutted completely. Creating community is far more important in the long-term than the creation of a talking point that will keep the PR and marketing types at SOE happy.
What is true in real life is also true in MMORPGs. A basic understanding of types such as the Myers-Briggs personality type indicators shows us that players are human beings with diverse personality types that have aptitudes for various roles.
TLDR version – People are different. Not everyone is the same. It is short-sighted to think that everyone will want to play a damage dealing class. You’re making a virtual world here. Be inclusive and make sure there is a role for EVERYONE. That’s your job as game designers.
Combat and Classes: the Core of Fantasy MMORPGs
The core of any fantasy MMORPG is the combat and class system. Every other feature and mechanic is subservient to this. All of the wonderful new features proposed for EQ Next will mean nothing if the devs fail to get this right.
Unique roles for classes are what defines us as players within a virtual world. Forcing players to conform to a one-dimensional, fast action philosophy of combat is a risky gamble.
I believe in time and with a healthy dose of logic and gentle persuasion from the community, the EQ Next dev team will see the error of their ways and bring back a robust class system that encourages class interdependence. Jeff and company, I beg you, please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Fix the chemistry of the bath water instead.
Very Little EverQuest in EverQuest Next
Even though SOE cleverly introduced the EQ Next reveal by leveraging touching stories from EQ and EQ2 players, in reality there is precious little of EverQuest within EQ Next. Even the scintillating new theme music by Jeremy Soule doesn’t sound at all reminiscent of the original inspiring EQ theme.
The term “reboot” has enjoyed immense popularity since the recent success of J.J. Abrams Star Trek films and The EQ Next dev team have used this terminology extensively when speaking about a new and reimagined Norrath. To be accurate, the new Star Trek films are far closer to the original TV series than EQ Next is to EverQuest.
SOE has also used the term “franchise” quite frequently. Clearly SOE fully intends to follow the lead of Blizzard and create an entire industry around their EverQuest intellectual property with books, calendars, lunch pails, toys and possibly TV shows and films ahead in the near future.
With regard to the lore and the geography, they’ve brought professional writers on board and recreated the entire Norrathian mythos from scratch. Many of the cities no longer exist. Some races like halflings may never even come back. Traditional combat is gone. Traditional classes are gone too. I would wager that classic EQ features such as corpse runs will never return either.
While I appreciate and respect the fact that SOE is trying to advance the genre, they have not done enough to leverage the passion and nostalgia that we in the player community have for EQ for the previous lore.
Avatar Models: Ugly and Disneyfied
Despite the 10o°+ degree heat in Las Vegas, the part of the EverQuest Next reveal received the coolest reception was the reveal of the Keran warrior. It looked like a cartoon lion reminiscent of Disney’s Simba the Lion King or Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes Tony the Tiger. In all honesty, the Keran looked completely ridiculous and I cannot believe that SOE could not produce something more professional looking to show to the entire world at SOE Live.
Even worse was the fact that the Keran warrior was decked out in WoW vanilla tank gear — almost an exact replica of a certain armor set my warrior used to have. On one hand they violate a Blizzard cardinal rule of not releasing something until it’s done and in the other hand they copy Blizzard famous shoulder pads look. It’s disheartening and speaks volumes about the difference between Blizzard and SOE with regard to their standards of excellence and level of polish.
During the world panel, a questioner took the EQ Next art lead Rosie Rappaport to task for such terrible looking avatar. She appeared distraught after hearing the questioner’s statement. Clearly the Keran avatar was not ready for prime time and I find it hard to believe that the EQ Next devs would have not objected to it and prevented it from being released in its current woeful state.
The Keran in the official EQ Next poster is what they should be aiming for, not Simba the Lion King.
The human avatars were not much better and were very Disneyfied. I found them somewhat reminiscent of the cartoony characters SOE used in Free Realms which I actually thought worked well with those environments. As an aside, it’s worth noting that Rosie Rappaport was the art director of Free Reams and incidentally the one constant member of the EQ Next team in all its iterations.
SOE needs to go back to the drawing board revamp their childish avatar models to reflect more of a mature, high fantasy feel. I would suggest using the wonderful character models that were created by the talented Milo D. Cooper in the original EverQuest for inspiration.
Lack of Cohesion between Character Models and Environment
Another problem with the graphics that has bothered me is the lack of cohesion between the caricatured cartoon avatars and the somewhat more realistic looking environments. The avatars look like they don’t belong in Norrath. Contrast this with the Free Realm characters that feel right at home in those stylized environments.
For my money, the environments are spot on and have the right amount of stylization versus realism. What needs to be changed are the characters.
Some Additional Thoughts…
What Happened to the Sandbox MMO?
For months SOE has been talking about EQ Next as the triumphant return of the sandbox MMO. At SOE Live, we heard nothing about that at all.
Perhaps they pivoted and decided to make EQ Next Landmark the sandbox MMO. They need to clarify this and set the record straight.
No Endgame in EQ Next
Apparently there is no endgame in EQ Next as revealed by Dave Georgeson in this video. (Go to 5:28 in the video).
I’m ambivalent about this. The current endgame in most MMORPGs has become very cliched and stagnant. Yet many folks like the current endgame activities for the challenge, cooperation and loot. To be sure MMORPGs need plenty of challenging content for players to the top levels.
Since there are no levels, I have this feeling that the real endgame will be in the Rallying Calls, as they seem to be the best legitimate place for uber bosses to appear, harass the world and mobilize the player community. The best part of this speculative EQ Next endgame is that everyone would be able to participate in taking down a uber boss mob since it would not happen in an instance. That kind cooperation and camaraderie is something we sorely need to get back to in MMOs.
Crafting in EQ Next?
Again lots of hype about crafters being respected but no real details or presentations on the subject. All we know is that crafting will be integral to EQ Next and used for in Rallying Calls and for weapon augmentation.
Will EQ Next Foster Player Interdependence, Social Cohesion and a Sense of Community?
Probably the number one complaint that I and many others have had about the abysmal state of the fantasy MMORPG genre in the past decade has been the erosion of player interdependence and the terrible community that results. So one of the big letdowns for me and others who attended and watched the EQ Next reveal presentation and many of the panels was the lack of emphasis on community. Since SOE Live, I’ve seen many comments on various social media sites alluding to this and frankly SOE really dropped the ball here failing to promote proposed community aspects of their new MMO.
Interestingly enough, SOE opened up the EQ Next reveal presentation with quite a few moving videos from players who talked about how the original EverQuest had changed their life. The common thread in all of these videos was that EverQuest created a passionate community that actually brought people together both online and in real life. This is far different from how the term community is often misused today in our culture. EverQuest had a real community with a caliber that no other video game or MMO has been able to equal or surpass.
However, as the presentation commenced and finished I was struck by how community was barely even mentioned as a goal of EQ Next. SOE simply cannot rely on their existing fanbase to transplant a sense of community in a new and re-booted Norrath; it must have a purposeful and inherent capacity to attract new players that will create, grow and nurture unique communities of their own.
Is Community the Hidden Grail of EQ Next?
Just when I thought all was lost and with only a few minutes left in the EQ Next Q & A Panel, the following conversation happened:
Paul: I’ve been playing EverQuest since I was twelve years old. Been playing a long time with all my buddies. We’ve gotten used to, you know, playing in groups and having lots of friend connections in the game. That being said, having 40 different classes and you being able to change whenever you want, granted it might be hard to get each of them. But once you get them does that mean that the game is going to be more solo based because you can just change to something that you need to be to complete something?
Darrin McPherson: Oh, no, we certainly have content that will require you to be with other people.
Paul: Other than the rallying call stuff?
Darrin McPherson: Oh, totally, we’ve talked about Rallying Calls as one of the pieces of content and we’ve mentioned dungeons and raids in some of the panels. There’s group content out there that requires a group. It doesn’t matter how many classes you collect, you’re still only one dude.
Jeff Butler: It’s a great question, right, in all of our panels and in the debut we focused specifically upon what’s new and what’s different about EverQuest Next and EverQuest Next Landmark. We have not necessarily spent a lot of time talking to you about what is the same. There is a lot that is the same. One of the things are the mechanisms that allow people to create and perpetuate social bonds so that the critical mass that we gain, in whatever way, related to the game that we’re building remains so that you can entice your friends based on the enjoyment you’re having in the game. You can get them to come and join and then stick around — so that you don’t have to worry about who you have to group with next week. Dave talks about his “grails”, right, there’s lots of hidden grails, the community is one of them. Everything that we’re doing, our entire focus is driven towards building that community and keeping it.
Dave Georgeson: You may not look for a specific class to overcome a challenge but you will be looking for good players.
Jeff Butler: Skilled players, people who care about their game, who invest time into the game, who are fun to hang around with, who have great emotes. I mean literally we’re trying to give every tool in the toolbox to people to reach out and find those folks who they share like interests with and to form those in-game relationships.
Terry Michaels: Yeah, social interactions and social bonds are extremely important for MMOs, they’re the backbone of what an MMO is, we take that filter when we’re looking at everything and how it’s going to promote that sort of things.
Paul: Just ’cause I highly doubt any game is ever gonna be as hard as EverQuest to get to the top.
Terry Michaels: EverQuest is probably the best example I can think of for promoting social interaction and social bonds, more so than any game I’ve seen in the last decade. I think that’s accurate.
Dave Georgeson: I mean our goal is the same, it’s just our mechanisms might be different.
Jeff Butler: But certainly our understanding of interdependence and the need for your fellow community members couldn’t be stronger.
Jeff Butler is spot on here. After I watched this part of the video, I felt reassured that EQ Next would not forget to include content for groups and require some form of player/class interdependence which are the fundamental ingredients in creating a good and cohesive player community.
Part of the problem is a lack of communication. The marketing team became too obsessed with all of their promotional hype which has been primarily focused on new and possibly gimmicky features such as emergent gameplay, destructibles, multi-classing and a dynamic world. Creating EQ Next is not all about just the new features; it should be about reclaiming what was once great about EverQuest: the features that fostered community. Failure to strongly promote community as a holy grail design ethos needlessly alienated a lot of EverQuest fans that were hoping for something more from EQ Next.
I think that the marketing team needs to recalibrate their plans and talking points so as to reassure EverQuest fans and the millions of players who have become disillusioned with Blizzard’s World of Warcraft and other MMORPG offerings.
A Video That Says it All About Player Interdependence and Community
This is probably the most moving and honest video I’ve ever watched about the power of EverQuest and how it changed people’s lives. These are the kinds of people that I knew and met in EverQuest. I want a MMORPG that will do that for me again. I just hope that EQ Next team has the courage and vision to make that happen again.
Some Final Thoughts
Something seems amiss in EQ Next. Perhaps it’s the lack of a high fantasy feeling that is absent in the voxel formed and Minecraft inspired environments. Or maybe it’s the overly stylized and caricatured superhero characters that stampeded their way around the comical live demo. Honestly, I think it’s something much deeper.
I believe what is really bothering me is that I feel betrayed by SOE and the EQ Next dev team. I feel that SOE forgot about us. Even sadder is the possibility that EQ Next was never intended for us.
Many loyal fans were expecting that EQ Next would include some semblance of the original EverQuest’s design elements. We were extremely disappointed to learn that it would not be the case. Regrettably, it seems that EverQuest Next is EverQuest in name only. I hope they understand that there is no way that thousands of loyal fans would have spent thousands of dollars each to fly to Las Vegas and rally around a new MMO if it didn’t have the word “EverQuest” in it.
Part of me feels that SOE, perhaps not intentionally, took advantage of our trust and enthusiasm in order to promote EQ Next — a MMO that barely resembles the original EverQuest in appearance and in spirit. To make matters worse they didn’t even have the decency to announce that SEO Live attendees would be guaranteed a spot in the EQ Next beta.
I know that I am not alone. I’ve seen a lot of angst and disappointment expressed on various forums in the aftermath of the SOE Live EQ Next reveal. After coming to terms with that EQ Next will not be what we desired, I feel like I’m going through the stages of grief. Today I feel particularly angry about the whole thing.
Maybe there is enough in the current proposals for EQ Next to keep EQ veterans happy. Right now, I’m not at all convinced. I give it a 60% chance of succeeding right now given the design, the assembled talent and SOE’s track record.
As much as it pains me to say this, it needs to be said: if SOE fails to properly execute their vision for EQ Next, Blizzard could take all of those new concepts and just as they did with the original EverQuest, they could turn it into a polished successful MMO in the near future. If that were to happen, it would be the ultimate irony. You can bet the clever people at Blizzard are all over this — hurriedly taking notes and making plans.
If there is any silver lining in all of this is that SOE seems to have turned a new page in MMO development with regard to their relationship with the community. They seem to want the community to participate in the development of EQ Next using both Landmark and the suggestions and concerns of players via their Roundtable website. I sensed a genuine desire for community collaboration during the various panels.
One way that SOE can help alleviate the concerns of their loyal fanbase is to for them to honestly acknowledge the problem, reach out to the real EQ community and find ways to bring back more of the EverQuest spirit and magic back into EQ Next.
I also feel that if enough respectful pressure is applied upon SOE that reasonable people like Dave Georgeson and Jeff Butler will take heed and listen. After all we have invested many years of our lives into SOE and EverQuest. We are family. We have paid our dues unlike the new gamers that they seem to be EQ Next’s target audience.
Given what I saw at SOE Live and given the history of the MMO industry, I suspect that EQ Next will go live in 2015. It goes without saying that I really wanted to like EQ Next and I really wanted to believe all over again. I wish SOE and the EQ dev team all the best in the next two years as they break new and untested ground both literally and virtually. I predict the MMO we saw at SOE Live will be drastically different when it is finally released.
I commend SOE for what they are trying to do in moving the genre forward in such a bold and original way. Since they have claimed this is collaborative work in progress, they can’t do it without us and we can’t do it without them. As a software developer myself, I know what it feels like to have ideas of mine rejected. It’s tough and it hurts, but you need to have humility and be open to criticism if you want to succeed.
We all want EQ Next to be the best MMORPG on the planet. SOE has revealed a lot here and we’ve listened patiently. Now it’s the community’s turn to tell them what we think and it’s their turn to pause, take some time and listen with an open mind.