I was reading through the comments of the previous Everquest Next column, and I picked up an idea from the discussion that I thought was interesting, if not a little thought-provoking for me as a gamer who’s been playing MMOs since 2006.
DMKano wrote, “The biggest issue with Landmark is the biggest issue with this site...sloooooooooooooooow development. When you open up Alpha to the public you need *fast* patch iteration, at least a patch every week or 2.”
His comment made me ask myself if that was an accurate assumption on Landmark’s behalf and why excitement for Everquest Next appears to have dwindled online, save for the most heavily invested players of Landmark and of the Everquest franchise.
I figured it had something to do with how we expect games to be, and not how games actually are.
The Magic Trick
The thing about video games is that they’re very complete experiences, for the most part. With the exception of recent history, most games are actually meant to be feature-complete and marketed to allow people who want to know about how the game to whet their appetites further.
In other words, players get more excited when they’re teased about how the game was developed.
This is the magic trick, I think, behind most games. We’ve grown accustomed to – perhaps even taking for granted – games magically being created from the aether that we forget that there’s a development cycle for the game that comes from blood, sweat, and toil.
I would assume that most gamers want an experience without worrying about the nitty gritty of the creation of the game. To that end, the opposite is likely to be a new sort of experience.
Breaking the Illusion
For most early access games, especially with regard to a protracted, collaborative development cycle like the Landmark-EQ Next saga, this magic trick is foiled.
How so? Well, to take the analogy further, how would one lose interest in a magic trick? When someone explains the inner workings of the trick to someone who once quietly enjoyed ignorance about magical illusion, that’s one of the possible things that happens.
In the case of Landmark and Everquest Next, the hype has died down partly because we’re treated nearly weekly to new announcements and developments in the creation of the final game.
As players who double as co-partners in the testing and development of Landmark’s systems, they can longer can feign ignorance regarding the trick of game development: that the games they play take time to build, manpower to test, and development cycles to further iterate and improve.
The busywork has killed the general enthusiasm for the game, even as SOE earns money from players who want to come and test their creations.
No Magical Salve
There’s not a lot that can be done once the illusion is shattered for a particular game. You either change your mental paradigm, accepting the development process for what it is, or you find something else to play.
Sadly, the lack of a magical salve to bring back ignorance doesn’t necessarily make a game bad. Landmark does certain things well, and these will carry over to Everquest Next, I’m certain.
The prolonged wait, along with knowing that you’re both playing and testing a game for SOE, however, may turn out to be anathema to a common gamer who simply wants to experience magic in front of him.