After months of rumors of imminent studio changes, last week, Daybreak Games finally announced it was splitting into 3 studios. One of their new studios named Darkpaw Games is solely for the purpose of continuing to develop the EverQuest franchise.
In 2019, I penned two articles that speculated that Daybreak Games is working on a new version of EverQuest. Whether it is an MMORPG or a MOBA or some variant in between is still not known. Combined with this latest news and now it seems all but certain that a reimagined Norrath is about to emerge.
The Game is Afoot or Should I Say Apaw?
Previous to the just-released news about the formation of DarkPaw Games, I’ve been doing some more sleuthing to solve this mystery. Today I would like to provide some additional findings that seem to suggest that Darkpaw Games is working on a new EverQuest video game.
In one of my previous articles on this subject, I discussed EverQuest Creative Director Luke Sigmund’s EverQuest presentation at GDC and EverQuest Executive Producer Holly Longdale’s promising comments about the future of the franchise.
In my most recent article, I revealed that noted D&D lore expert and EQ superfan Brian R. James had made three tweets related to lore in EverQuest. One tweet, in particular, caught my eye:
After doing some research on LinkedIn, I found that Brian James was working for Daybreak Games as a loremaster and “compiling lore for an announced game” for a period of 8 months between Aug. 2017 and March 2018:
What could this unannounced game be? When you are meeting both the Creative Director and Executive Producer of the EverQuest franchise there can only be one answer: a new version of EverQuest.
At the same time that Brian was working as a loremaster for Daybreak, someone named Rob Chestney was also employed by them 5 months earlier and stayed with Daybreak after Brian’s term was over. Here is his LinkedIn profile for Daybreak:
The second sentence is the one that matters which reads:
“Coordinated with internal and external stakeholders to reimagine EverQuest lore.”
The stakeholders comment is very interesting. Internal stakeholders obviously refers to Daybreak Games which owns the EQ IP. What does external stakeholders mean? Could there be outside investors that are going to help bankroll a new version of EQ? Or does this mean he worked with Brian?
We can see that Rob, an established professional sci-fi and fantasy writer who’s worked with Bioware and Zenimax, was brought in on Mar. 2017 to clean up and retcon the official EverQuest lore. Holly Longdale made reference to retconning EQ lore in an interview with Variety in 2019. A few months later, Brian James was brought in to help Rob with the lore.
As is common in the video game industry, both Rob and Brian endorsed each other and from this, we get glimpses of each person’s role in laying the all-important lore foundation for a new EverQuest.
Here’s Brian’s endorsement of Rob:
The most interesting part of this endorsement is the following:
“Rob architectured a bold new vision for one of gaming’s most storied franchises.”
Clearly, the venerable EverQuest fits the bill for being one of gaming’s most storied franchises. But still, there is no mention of EverQuest.
Now read Rob’s endorsement of Brian and finally, the gnoll is let out of the bag:
So now we know that both Brian and Rob worked on reimagining the existing lore of EverQuest for some new incarnation of the franchise.
Also, Brian’s Twitter bio now states that he is an EverQuest Loremaster:
Now Brian’s 2018 meeting with Luke Sigmund and Holly Longdale makes perfect sense. It was to discuss the new version of EverQuest. In Brian’s tweet, he left the meeting with the understanding that the official announcement would be made in 2019 but he could not reveal it until then. Clearly, he left the meeting very stoked about the discussion and went to Twitter to share a cryptic message.
Obviously, the announcement did not happen in 2019. But now with the recent news of Daybreak creating three distinct studios, I believe the foundations are all in place for an announcement later in 2020. It’s very possible that Darkpaw will announce the new EverQuest at a Fan Faire type event.
Holly’s First Bark at Darkpaw
In the past year, Holly Longdale has been a treasure trove of information about the future of EverQuest and a source of hope for many of us EQ veterans who’ve been wishing for something as straightforward as a modern version of EQ with state of the art graphics and tech.
Holly, a writer by trade, just released an uplifting and whimsical producer’s letter to the EQ community. In the letter are more hints that something new is coming for the franchise:
“Darkpaw Games will operate autonomously and focus on the EQ franchise, its community, and its future.”
“We will work toward expanding the franchise and invest in our future as a studio.”
“….our focus is on the fans and investing in our current games and the business of starting new ones.”
“More than anything, we want to deliver on what players love and go even further. We are going to think outside the box a bit, so hold onto your tails!”
I believe these quotes speak for themselves as predictors of what is to come for the EverQuest franchise. And yes, we’ve been holding onto our tails for many years. To say that EQ fans have the virtue of patience would be an understatement.
In preparation for this article, I’ve been reading a lot of news and comments about the recent Darkpaw announcement and I’ve noticed plenty of healthy skepticism about the studio and the future of EverQuest. No one can dispute that SOE and Daybreak have a checkered past. Players have every right to be skeptical and yes, even angry over the betrayal that was EQNext/Landmark fiasco. Talk is cheap, in a world ravaged by hype and Kickstarter scams.
Despite all of that, I believe that the formation of Darkpaw Games is a opportunity for a fresh start and a reset. The undying loyalty of the EQ community — both current and past — is the greatest asset that the EQ franchise has. Over the years, I feel that some EQ devs have forgotten this and need to be reminded of this reality and change their dismissive stance towards players. Showing players proper respect on the forums would be a good first step and a much-needed olive branch to reciprocate the loyalty of the community.
This is not 1999 anymore. You can’t keep doing the same thing and think it’s okay. Over the years, SOE’s antiquated seniority system has kept deadwood from being pruned. Twenty years of bad habits, cronyism, creative sloth, and endemic dysfunction are not going to cut it today.
The original EverQuest was a masterpiece and for 4 years it ruled the roost until World of Warcraft dethroned it. For all those years, SOE and Daybreak has been trading on their past glory of the original EverQuest. Under the leadership of John Smedley, they were never been able to equal the level of success and impact that was bequeathed them. The history of the EverQuest franchise from 2004 and onwards, has been a tale of perennial failure, unrealized potential, and wasted opportunties.
A new version of EverQuest will only succeed if the executive team at Darkpaw has enough humility to allow that community to be involved in the development process. As a designer myself with a strong set of design beliefs, I know that unchecked excesses of ego, arrogance and pride is something you must always be aware of. If the EQ community is only given only token acknowledgment and ignored, then the new EQ will surely fail.
At this point, we don’t really know what kind of game the new EverQuest will be. It could be an MMORPG. It could be an action RPG like Diablo. It could be a Fortnite clone. It could be a MOBA or a battle royale. It could be a hybrid or contain few elements. Right now, it’s anyone’s guess.
If the new game is to be a MMORPG, here’s one last bit of advice: make the new EverQuest that the fans have been wanting all these years. You’ve tried it your way with EQ Next and you failed. Now it’s time to give the fans their due. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At the very least, give us the core EQ golden experience: advancement, class interdepencey, socialization, exploration and achievement via the crucible of shared adversity and challenge.
Despite the myriad of years of questionable decisions, broken promises and design missteps, it would be too easy for me take the well-trodden path of skepticism and take a glass half empty stance on this. Instead, I’m going to be cautiously optimistic and take a glass half full approach because I want the new EQ to succeed.
But neither am I a gullible fool nor will I suffer fools gladly. I have plenty of serious concerns about Darkpaw Games and their new EverQuest venture that I hope to share in future articles.
Once the announcement is made there will be a deluge of opinions flooding the various discussion forums — some good, some bad and some hostile. All of the pre-production work (design, mechanics, artwork, lore et al) of the new EQ game will come under intense and relentless scrutiny. I hope they are ready for it and do not adopt a kneejerk defensive posture and retreat into a protective bunker.
Lastly, I hope they will have some form of official program to invite EQ veterans and volunteer guide alumni to contribute their opinions. You can almost bet they will have some kind of Kickstarter type platinum inner circle membership pledge level. I fully expect them to adopt a robust crowdfunding strategy given Intrepid Studio’s success with raising money for their upcoming Ashes of Creation MMO.
Making a successor to both EQ and EQ2 is an awesome responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Everyone involved is very lucky to have this chance to evolve this classic high fantasy property. The new EverQuest will either make or break Darkpaw Games. This is the last chance for them to get it right. Good luck and Godspeed!