When EverQuest Next had its big reveal last week, during the presentation, my thoughts couldn't help turning toward the potential effects this could have for the in-game community. EverQuest and EverQuest II have solid communities with devoted players to this day, and it will be tough to follow in several ways. Yet some of what EQN sets out to do might mean some potentially awesome things for community building if they are successful.
The chatter around the Internet after the reveal was decidedly mixed, with the stylized art seemingly the most contentious point. The features got a more enthusiastic response, though some seemed to feel like we've seen some of it before. Fair enough, since MMORPG gamers can be a tough bunch to please, even with a sea of games out there. One of two things can be a total dealbreaker for some of us. It all depends on what you value. There's no doubt that EQN is at least trying to do certain things differently, even if the inevitable doom and gloom calls and comparisons to WoW have already gone out. Maybe it's a little early to consider the potential ramifications on the community, but the reveal had me doing just that.
EverQuest and EverQuest II have generally regarded good communities, and players can enjoy everything from questing to arranging their homes. There are a lot of features in a game like EQII that are amenable to the PvE-focused, the role-players, the socializers, and the more traditional fantasy players among us. EQN will have its content, but there will be an open, multi-layered world, with skill-based progression. But the most exciting part is the ever-changing world. This means that players can help shape their own adventures in Norrath, and even below it. The addition of EverQuest Next Landmark and Player Studio could mean a lot to those who enjoy the more social side to MMORPGs.
Community impact has to begin with this player-generated content and material. With Landmark coming this winter, it will kick off relatively soon. It is a system , along with Player Studio, that will let the community have a leading hand in building the world. That, folks, is huge. The amount of choice as to what players want and want to see in the world is a big development. It's no secret that players sometimes just feel like the developers aren't listening. Whether it's PvPers feeling like there's too much of a PvE bent or role-players feeling there's not enough effort put into the RP side of the coin, and things lacking in the world. Well, these player-generated ideas and construction of parts of the world could potentially remedy the situation for some and attract them to EQN.
What if you have a guild that likes to stage battles and wants an arena. You could create it. Players want to create a town for RP purposes? Create it. Need some specific items? Create them. SOE will have its hand in approving creations, but it seems a logical guess that if something you want to create is beneficial to the world or has a specific purpose, and isn't vulgar or infringing on someone's copyrights, there's a good chance you will be able to see it come to life. A guild I co-created had an in-game location once where we took new members to formally welcome them. After that, we'd party in there. Now, that location was something I picked out and wasn't custom. But what if it was? SOE will have to update us on the final details, but these possibilities sound exciting. If you are a roleplayer or even just someone who wants to make the world feel like more your own, realistic, or even simply less static, this could be a real change in an MMO of this scope.
Instead of feeling like the devs didn't serve your needs or development resources go into things other than what you want, now you can try to make what you want a (virtual) reality. With regards to what I like to call “social infrastructure” and have discussed in this space before, the potential for progress here is substantial. Yes, the developers will have dungeons and raids and repeatable content, but with an interactive, destructible, moldable world, being able to make the things you want to see is great if it works out as intended. The world will be able to heal itself after an unspecified time, so things created, if I'm interpreting this right, will probably remain as long as they're really needed or used. Should your guild play actively for months but then see a dropoff in numbers, perhaps your created space isn't needed anymore, well then let it go and build something more appropriate elsewhere. Destroy it? Maybe.
I feel that what EverQuest Next is rolling out is an experiment. But if it's successful, then putting the players in the role of creators, building and introducing things they want and need without having to wish and hope that the developers will do it, could be a linchpin of not just community aspects, but of happier players overall. Players, being in the thick of things every day and knowing their own wants and needs, will be able to be more responsive and even think of things the devs probably never considered. Some might dismiss this as 'having players do the devs' work for them', but that's overly cynical in my opinion. Releasing as a free to play game, EQN needs a steady player base. If the features and resources you want can be built, then it could have an impact on players' commitment. Development takes time, and no dev team is ever big enough to handle every single individual request. So instead of something taking a long time to happen or never happening at all, getting a few players to make it a reality could just make people happier and more invested.
There's a lot to love about these features from a community aspect. If they come to fruition successfully and players truly get excited about what they can do, then perhaps this sort of involvement and player impact could spread to more titles of this scope. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Still, the potential is big.
Christina Gonzalez / Christina is a freelancer and contributor to MMORPG.com, where she writes the community-focused Social Hub column. You will also find her at RTSGuru as the site's Associate Editor and news writer. Follow her on Twitter: @c_gonzalez