Game Update 63 is now scheduled for April, not February. Furthermore, there are only three planned updates this coming year, rather than four, along with an expected expansion at the end of the year. Let's look at some reasons for the change in schedule and what it means to EverQuest II fans.
Not the first time, not the last
As usual, Morgan Feldon from EQ2 Wire did a great job of summarizing the news. Thanks to his video-blogging of Fan Faire, he was able to go back and highlight the planned update schedule for 2012. Originally, fans would be seeing new updates on a quarterly schedule, with expansion nine arriving by the end of the year. Now, it's down to three updates, with the first two Velious-themed updates being consolidated into one. It's not exactly news to celebrate, but I don't think it's cause for alarm just yet.
First off, it's not the first time that SOE has delayed an update or expansion for EQII, and it probably won't be the last. And the game is in good company when it comes to that, since there are plenty of other titles that have had to push back release dates for things. So it's hard to read too much into the delay.
Also, even though the devs won't be launching the update until April, they have been doing hotfixes and smaller updates. Just last week, they patched a small update that squashed bugs and tuned some of the fights in Tower of Tactics and Tallon's Stronghold. It might not be as flashy as new content, but it is a nice sign that the team is trying to go back and address some of the problems that players have struggled with. The last thing players need is a new layer of content that ends up needing fixes because of (or in addition to) current gameplay issues.
Did F2P cause the delay?
It's unclear at what point SOE decided to make EQII free-to-play on all servers, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't in the plans when the EQII team announced its update schedule at Fan Faire last summer. If true, that might explain the delays coming up this year, since the time and effort that was needed to bridge the free-to-play servers takes away from building content and features. Of course, it just makes those who aren't fans of F2P more resentful of the transition.
Us vs. them issue
That resentment trickles over into the lingering feeling that it's "us" vs. "them," or that it's the paying subscriber vs. the free-to-play visitor. Any time that happens, the same stereotypes rise up: The subscriber is the "true" EQII player, the one who pays the bills and gets the most out of the game, while the free-to-play player is a freeloader who likes vanity items from the cash shop and won't stick around for the long haul. In reality, it's a much broader spectrum of players, and it's impossible to accurately pen them into two camps. Many free-to-play players, for example, are longtime fans of the game who had stopped playing and are now giving the game another shot. And there are plenty of subscribers who play casually and love the Marketplace.
So when Game Update 63 does arrive, what can we expect? The team hasn't released all of the details, but we do know that PvP will be receiving some much needed attention. Also, a recent tweet from Georgeson said, "DoV, Book 2, Chapter 1! (GU 63): Withered Lands and Skyshrine. A big new overland, group instances, a contested dungeon, raids, and more!" It looks like fans who are patient will get to see quite a bit of new content in April, and it will be free.
Further down the road, fans will see Qeynos get a facelift, similar to the one Freeport got when Age of Discovery launched. As for the expansion, there hasn't been much at all, but you'd have to assume there's a pretty good chance players will see another increase in the level cap, since that hasn't happened in the past two expansions.
The Marketplace, the mail, the timing
What makes this even harder for EQII fans is that they just got a promotional email for the game, and the main selling point was the amount of cool stuff on the Marketplace. Its header is a command for us to "See what's new in the EverQuest II Marketplace," followed by highlights of flight wings, prestige homes, and vanity armor and weapons. It's only at the bottom of the email that you see a promotion for the AoD expansion, and even that is heavy on features and light on content. By itself, the promotional email is fine, but in the context of the announced change to the update schedule, it leaves the longtime and more content-focused fans feeling a little down.
On the upside, it's hard to draw the conclusion that the game is sliding toward maintenance-mode. If the recent numbers are accurate, the free-to-play transition brought in many new and returning players, so it wouldn't make sense right now to put this game on the back burner. And the reality is that there's no shortage of content for those leveling up. If anything, there might be too much for newer players to consume, and it's not unheard of for players to level-lock and temporarily shut off adventure experience so they can avoid outleveling content. The main issue is fresh content at the level cap, and longtime players are itching for something new. It's going to take a little more patience than expected, but hopefully, it will be worth the wait in the end.
From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to firstname.lastname@example.org.