All journeys come to an end. I have uncovered some additional information regarding the future of EverQuest and if you love MMORPGs, it’s not good.
In three previous articles where I speculated on the future of EverQuest, I had always assumed the new EQ would be an MMO. In my last article, I hinted it could be any kind of video game but remained optimisitic that it would be an MMORPG.
EverQuest Creative Director Luke Sigmund
My search for the EQ Holy Grail has led me back to the elusive game design alchemist Luke Sigmund. According to LinkedIn and his Twitter bio, Luke is the Design Director of both EverQuest and Planetside as is evident by his appearance on both of the official team photos:
Luke came on my radar in 2019, when he published an article at Gamasutra called EverQuest: 20 Years of Retention. Although the article had no clues about a new EQ I found it interesting and refreshing that someone at Daybreak has actually put some thought into what made EQ successful.
Daybreak Games has not enjoyed a stellar reputation with EQ fans since its inception. They are widely seen as a studio that takes advantage of the loyalty of their fans by subjecting them to excessive and exorbitant monetization policies and overpriced expansions. With the cancellation of EQNext and then Landmark, their street cred with the MMO community is at an all-time low.
As of the writing of this article, Daybreak Game has still not published an official post mortem of the failure of EQ Next and Landmark. Post-mortems of failed video games are a necessary thing in the video game industry. Failure to own up to their mistakes has become a hallmark of SOE and Daybreak over the years.
I think EQ Next/Landmark would be a useful candidate for one of Luke’s future teardowns.
EverQuest Design Director Luke Sigmund is a bit of a mystery. Unlike the high profile, outspoken, and colorful personas of other past MMO devs like Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan, Alex “Furor” Afrasiabil, Rob Pardo and Brad McQuaid, I had had no idea he existed until last year. Apparently Luke was the creative director of the ill-fated Landmark — which was the smoking ruins of what was left of the grandiose plans of EQ Next. Luke was also with Daybreak Games when EQ Next was in development. It is unclear if he had any involvement with EQ Next which was canceled in 2016 because “it was not fun.”
In the past few years, Luke has been keeping a very low-profile at SOE and Daybreak leaving others like Dave Georgeson, Jeff Butler, and Omeed Dariani to take all the heat. Other than his Gamasutra piece, there are just a handful of his interviews available for various SOE games and when he worked at Trion Worlds.
Until his recent Gamasutra piece, there was no public record of what his philosophy of fantasy virtual worlds and MMORPGs like EverQuest is. Somehow he has survived the hatchetman’s axe and worked his way up in the ranks of John Smedley’s SOE stable and now is the Design Director of EverQuest.
Heavy is the Head that Wears the Crown
Previous kings that had the same title of creative director and now design director of EverQuest have experienced a constant saga of failure since the release of EQ2 back in 2004. Even, Brad McQuaid and Jeff Butler’s non-SOE venture Vanguard: Sigil of Heroes MMORPG was a major disappointment. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.
Inexplicably, SOE and Daybreak have not been able to replicate and capitalize on the initial groundbreaking success of the EverQuest era between 1990-2004. As mentioned in one of my previous articles, Steve Jobs calls this the “second product syndrome.” Many companies fail on their second product because they never truly understood what made their first product a success.
Luke has a website where he includes his resume and some of his thoughts on game design. It is on his resume where I found some pretty strong hints that what he is working on is not an MMORPG but a multiplayer action RPG possibly with MMO elements:
Notice there is no mention of an “unannounced MMORPG” in his resume. Whatever Luke has planned for us, it’s going to be his baby from top to bottom. As he’s designed every single moment of the game’s user experience.
When I first read Luke’s GDC presentation, I was taken aback and impressed that someone at Daybreak even had the time and the aptitude to even bother considering EverQuest. On paper, Luke looks to be a smart and savvy video game designer who seems to have a knack at being able to discern what makes a great game.
I recently re-read his presentation on EverQuest, while insightful it comes off as clinical and perfunctory. I’m not detecting that he’s got any particular love of the MMO genre or that he cares about advancing the virtual world genre. That worries me.
One area of concern I have with Luke’s analysis is his discounting of the importance of the death penalty and the concept of loss aversion which transformed EQ from a mere game into a danger lurking around every corner, nail-biting experience that no MMORPG to this date has been able to replicate. Luke frequently uses the Quantic Foundry model to assess games which for some reason fails to mention the importance of loss aversion in the realm of player motivation.
Does Luke Have What it Takes to Lead Us to Victory?
While the late Brad McQuaid had his failings with regard to staffing, product execution, and business acumen, his passion and eloquence in promoting the MMORPG genre was unequaled.
As well as having impeccable design chops, the person who is responsible for the next EverQuest MMORPG has to be someone who cares deeply about the genre and has the ability to evangelize it effectively. Selling a 20-year-old, stagnated franchise to both a new generation and an old generation will be no easy task.
Before we can advocate for victory, we have to define victory. Victory has to be more than just financial success and cultural ubiquity of a World of Warcraft or a Fortnite. At least for me, victory is taking the fantasy virtual world to its full potential with a truly persistent and dynamic world that goes beyond 5-20 minute Groundhog Day respawn mechanics. Players need to be given a sense of ownership where what they do in a fantasy virtual world has an impact be it ever so small.
Now more than ever, the virtual world genre desperately needs a Henry V, George Washington or a Winston Churchill who actually gives a damn and who can rally the troops to take this genre to new heights of glory to a place beyond the polish and attention to detail that WoW brought to the genre.
Is Luke Sigmund the leader that EverQuest so desperately needs?
Time will only tell.
Luke Sigmund seems to be fascinated with MOBAs like DOTA 2 and Battle Royale games like Apex Legends. Most game designers design what they play. It is clear that he and his team have been evaluating the top MOBAs and battle royale games to find their strengths and weaknesses and in order to apply that knowledge to an EverQuest themed multiplayer action game.
I wonder if Luke plays EQ, EQ, WoW retail, WoW classic or any other MMORPG right now? Not just for research purposes but for the sheer joy of it? From personal knowledge and being around the industry for quite a while, I suspect that many MMO devs do not even play the MMOs they work on in their spare time.
Evidence From Daybreak Job Listings
My search continued and I found that Daybreak Games Studio in Austin job postings also mentions “multiplayer action RPG” in a game design job descriptions:
- Collaborate with other designers and disciplines to design and document multiplayer, RPG, action-based game systems.
- Design, develop and maintain combat systems.
- Create NPC AI and player character classes.
Here’s a listing for an art position in Austin:
- Stylize characters from world class, iconic IP
- Help Invent a next generation character creator
- Wide Variety of detailed characters & creatures
- Collaborate with concept and animation for characters
Given the evidence from these job postings, it’s quite possible that the next incarnation of EverQuest will be created in Austin, Texas.
My best guess — I hope I am very wrong — is that a new EverQuest video game will be a multiplayer action RPG with some MMO elements that include:
- It will be available on both the PC and consoles
- It will feature fast-action gameplay
- It will appeal to casual gamers
- It will be a persistent virtual world
- It will rely heavily on instancing
- It will allow you to create your own custom character
- It will take place in a reimagined and retconned Norrath with humans, elves, dwarves, ogres, trolls and more
- The bestiary will be essentially the same with gnolls, orcs, dragons and more
- It will either be top-down isometric like Diablo or 3D world similar to Fortnite
- It will look like EverQuest but not play like EverQuest
- It will be free to play and have a cash shop
Unless the EQ IP is sold to a sugar daddy like Jeff Bezos or Markus Perrson, I highly doubt there will be new traditional EverQuest MMORPG in the near future.
If indeed Darkpaw Games is seriously considering making an EverQuest multiplayer action RPG, it is not going to be well received by EQ fans and veterans who have been begging the powers that be for an updated version of EQ/EQ2 for at least 15 years. I’m sure Darkpaw feels that it can continue to release rote expansions for EQ/EQ2 veterans to keep them happy.
The announcement of MOBA, a battle royale game or a Diablo clone action RPG instead of a real MMORPG would be a grave mistake and a deep insult to the EQ community. It would not be respecting your players. If Darkpaw Games is foolish enough to do this, they deserve every bit of scorn and derision that will surely come their way.
Having EQ veterans turn on you would not be good for Darkpaw Games. As we have seen with various Blizzard fiascos in 2019-2020, gamers do not suffer fools gladly and are tired of being lied to and betrayed. DarkPaw Games needs to officially apologize to the fans for EQ Next and Landmark debacle. Nothing less than a full-throated and heartfelt mea culpa is acceptable moving forward.
The only way any incarnation of EQ can succeed is to have the blessing and participation of the veterans and existing players. I strongly urge Darkpaw Games to also reach out to the community to allow veterans, fans, former and existing devs and guides to help shape the destiny of a new Norrath. For over 20 years, many of us have been and are still emotionally, financially and physically invested in Norrath. Do not let this goodwill go to waste.
The magic of EverQuest is not the intellectual property or the lore, rather it’s the totality of the entire fantasy virtual world experience and the resulting social kinship that it offered. The IP and lore are just one ingredient in the recipe. Let us be honest, there’s nothing really remarkable about Norrath’s lore. In truth, it was highly derivative of Tolkien and D&D replete with traditional fantasy tropes and the usual suspects like humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs.
If Darkpaw Games wants to fully realize the potential of the EverQuest experience, then they should leverage and reciprocate the 20 years of fan loyalty by releasing a new EQ MMORPG. If that is successful, then and only then should they consider expanding that universe to include RTS games, MOBAs and Battle Royal multi-player action games. First things first. Play to your strengths.
That is not to say that there is no room for improvement or innovation in the basic MMORPG DNA that was established by SOE with EverQuest. Intelligent NPC AI with true dynamic content is one area that Darkpaw Games could blow the doors off the atherosclerotic MMO status quo.
It’s been 21 years since the release of the original EverQuest and for some reason, SOE and Daybreak Games have not been able to get their act together and replicate the success of EverQuest. The longer they delay a new EverQuest, the fewer people will care when it eventually does come out. The patience of the EQ community to expect something of substance coming from Daybreak Games is on life-support and fading fast.
While Darkpaw Games may not be the perfect studio to create a modern EverQuest, right now, they are all we’ve got.
To this day, I’m amazed that with the exception of EverQuest Executive Producer Holly Longdale, nobody at Darkpaw Games talks about the vast potential of fantasy virtual worlds to provide the most incredible experiences of pulse-pounding immersion, challenge, community, and participatory escapism. Keeping EQ and EQ2 alive seems more like a job to them. This is a surefire sign that the devs are Darkpaw are not spending any significant time inhabiting their own virtual worlds.
Love and passion for the genre are things that you can’t buy. You either have it or you do not. Please, for the love of Tunare: stop hiring your friends and start hiring talented people with passion who actually CARE.
The reason I am so critical of SOE/Daybreak/Darkpaw is that these people have collectively squandered the legacy of one of the most iconic video games in history. Yes, I’m looking directly at you John Smedley and the merry band of cronies you’ve hired along the way.
The design for-profit model has decimated the integrity of MMORPGs since the release of EverQuest with shameless pay to win cash shops and the scourge of Krono. The further our industry moves from the pillars of EQ, the worse things seem to get and subscriptions coincidently plummet. Many MMO gamers are clamoring for the classic experience they found in EQ and now in WoW with WoW Classic.
It’s worth remembering that the very first fantasy virtual worlds were MUDs. These were free to play video games created by hobbyists without the purpose of profit and existed solely for the sheer enjoyment of the community. That altruism is no longer the case as today’s modern video game designer is chasing the lucrative dragon of mass-market Fortnite success with the hopes of creating an addictive entertainment phenomenon.
Game designers who intuitively know what is fun are relics of the past. They have been replaced by the scourge of AMR (acquisition, monetization, retention) technicians. Today’s predominantly mobile McGames offer the tasty but empty calories of accessible gameplay and are specifically created with retention and profit in mind. The incremental erosion of the integrity of the World of Warcraft’s gameplay over the space of 16 years is a prime example of this.
Instead of visionaries and dreamers, we have accountants and custodians who believe in maintaining the status quo and concocting clever monetization schemes to impress their bosses. As Steve Jobs noted, these are the kind of people that get promoted, not the creative types. What a tragic shame that this industry has fallen to such a disgraceful low.
As the years pass, the reality of a new EverQuest fantasy virtual world ever coming to fruition remains unrealized. So, my journey of speculation and wishful thinking is at an end. I had my hopes up but now after everything I have read, I realize that a new EQ MMORPG is probably not going to happen. At least we still have Project 1999 and WoW Classic as the remaining tributes to this golden era of persistent fantasy virtual worlds.