In October at GDC Online, EverQuest was inducted into the Hall of Fame, with Richard Garriott saying that "it perfected the commercial genre" of MMO games. But when the game first launched, no one could predict its success. As Brad McQuaid put it, the devs just hoped it would last for six months. They were making a game that they wanted to play, as Geoffrey Zatkin explained, and often, they were fascinated by the players and what they ended up doing in game.
During those early years, the game was extremely challenging. Grouping was not only expected but practically required, since soloing was very difficult. And the typical group experience consisted of clearing your way to a particular spot of a zone wall or dungeon and then plunking down and chain-pulling the rest of the time. Players created the idea of "camps" and would often call out for a "camp check" at popular dungeons. They made waiting lists for the popular named mobs and organized calendars for raid zones like Plane of Hate or the dragons (Vox and Naggy). Sure, there were quests, but they didn't offer much in the way of experience, and they usually required you to type the correct phrase to an NPC in order to receive them.
This was a game where travel and death could end up consuming your entire play session or even multiple play sessions. Shouting "Boat!" was an important public service, and players with teleport abilities could make a fortune sending people around the world. Leveling was slow, so slow that you had to squint to see whether your experience bar had moved after you'd killed 25 creatures. And then there were hell levels, which required double the usually amount of experience to get through to the next level.
EverQuest went on to attain enormous success, and by the time Scars of Velious launched, the game had over 700,000 fans. Those numbers have declined as the game has aged, but the game itself has always forged on with a steady stream of expansions, world events, housing, mounts, and tons of new features. Leveling is not nearly as painful as it once was, and soloing is much easier to do, especially after the release of The Serpent's Spine in 2006. Later, the Seeds of Destruction expansion brought the addition of mercenaries, which have become helpful for soloers and small groups and have been so popular that SOE recently added them to EverQuest II. The most recent expansion, Veil of Alaris, included an increase in the level cap (which is now 95) and 800 new Alternate Achievement abilities. In addition, the expansion brought to Norrath a dozen new zones, 13 new raids, and new guild halls that players can decorate.
Whether you're an old player hoping to revisit your old stomping grounds or a new player who's interested in checking out one of the grande dames of the MMO industry, the free-to-play announcement is welcome news. While the game has changed a lot through the years, it still retains much of the nostalgia that older players love while adding new content and fresh changes to keep it interesting for newcomers. There's no doubt that when it goes free-to-play, many will be giving it a try.