What is planned for the game? How will the last 12 years affect the decisions for the next 12 years? EverQuest has been one of the flagships of the genre, but how does a game of its age maintain any type of market visibility? Massively sat down with SOE President John Smedley, EQ Assistant Lead Designer Alan VanCouvering, and Associate Producer Harvey Burgess to find out. We'll also be taking a look back at the long history of Norrath and will even throw in some nuggets about EverQuest Next.
Click past the cut and let's take a look!
EverQuest launched on the 16th of March in 1999. Reading that now can almost send chills down a gamer's spine, especially when one considers how fickle the market can be. How can a game survive for so long, and how does it put out new content -- 17 expansions! -- and continue to attract new players?
If we look at popular music as a comparison, you will find bands that have outlived fads, chart-toppings, and musical trends. Normally, those bands have maintained a connection with their core audiences or have attempted to maintain a sort of consistency to their sounds. At the least, they tend to regroup and return to their original sounds after years of experimentation.
"Having a long-term community like EverQuest's can make things a lot more interesting. Players can be more vocal, more accurate when describing an issue, and much more passionate."
What about those older players? The modern-day EQ player is, according to Smed, "Seventy-nine, eighty percent, somewhere in there... male, average age of about 38, and someone who is well-educated, and who spends a lot of time in the game, somewhere around 20 hours a week. It might be a little higher than that. They're definitely really committed."
Of course, this does not mean that EverQuest has been without controversy or drama over the last dozen years. "Evercrack" is still a popular term that refers to playing the game way more than is healthy. The game was even blamed (by some) for the suicide of a player named Shawn Wooley. MMO addiction is a hot-button issue, and EverQuest was there from nearly the beginning.
"Since players can tend to burn through new content relatively quickly, keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting is one of the hardest things for a developer, especially for one that has been working on the game for 12 years."
One of the greatest challenges over the last 12 years has been keeping the players happy on a consistent basis. Since players can tend to burn through new content, keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting is one of the hardest things for a developer, especially for one that has been working on the game for 12 years. "Giving them something new to do is probably the biggest challenge," Smedley admitted.
Over the years, the game has sprouted a few offspring, Champions of Norrath and EverQuest Online Adventures for the PlayStation 2 and EverQuest II for PC. Many fans consider these disconnected projects, or at the least, something very different from the original. Smedley suggested during the interview that calling it EverQuest II was a "clear mistake" and something that the team would change if given the chance. Consider asking retailers to not only shelf one, but two titles with the same title, and you can see just a small portion of the issue. Also, EverQuest II didn't play or look much like classic EverQuest, and to this day, many players tend to think of EverQuest II as a World of Warcraft-clone (nevermind that EQII launched first!).
"We feel really really strongly about that. They are not going to see EverQuest 2.5 or a WoW-clone or anything like that. A concept of it being a world is the way to go."
So, what's Next?
With all this talk about expansions, next steps, and the natural progression of the IP, we had to ask about EverQuest Next, SOE's top-secret project. At this point, so little is known that players are speculating about a game that is either SOE's answer to World of Warcraft or a return to the once-heralded "worldness" of original EverQuest. "Next is much truer to that vision," Smedley told us, adding that SOE feels "really really strongly about that. They are not going to see EverQuest 2.5 or a WoW-clone or anything like that. A concept of it being a world is the way to go."
"Even with the controversial moves that made EverQuest more accessible, the game is still no walk in the park."
"We're not trying to recreate the wheel," Smedley cautioned. "We're trying to do something revolutionary, not evolutionary. The game looks visually unbelievable; it has its own style. We're not trying to be super realistic with it. It's a very unique style that we're going with." Unfortunately, he wouldn't give us anything juicy: "The features are going to be shrouded in mystery for quite a while."
So what do you do after 12 years of providing adventure and fun for hundreds of thousands of players? Do games like EverQuest ever have an "end"? One important note is that EverQuest has remained more or less the same game it's always been. That means graphically, as well. Some players boast running the game on original machines from the time when they first started playing. There have been a few graphical updates, most importantly to character models during the time of the Shadows of Luclin expansion, and the system has been tweaked to provide bells and whistles for players who might want them.
There are a lot of plans for the near future, as well, like enabling past quests from years of development and releasing a new open area raid. This time around, though, the devs have taken lessons learned from past mistakes and have made it easier for multiple raid groups to participate. Expansions will also continue down their normal production cycles. Every year, the developers go through a three-year plan, and each year they assume the same thing: EverQuest will continue on for at least the next three years, with new expansions in tow. Does this mean expansion number 20 is in the realm of possibility? It would be exciting, to say the least!
Here's hoping we see many, many more years of EverQuest adventures! We'd like to thank Alan, John, and Harvey for taking time out of their busy days to sit and talk with us. We'd also like to say congratulations to the team! Whether you are a long-time player or you have just recently considered diving into the world of Norrath, you will find a dozen years of stories, player interactions and adventure.
You just might get your butt kicked, too.