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12th Anniversary Roundtable Interview

By Michael Bitton on March 16, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

12th Anniversary Roundtable Interview

Today is the 12th anniversary of the MMO that really started it all: EverQuest. Just two years ago SOE was celebrating 10 years of the game and I found myself in awe that the thing was still going strong all these years. Fast forward two years later and the game is still going and even adding expansions.

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I recently had a chance to participate in a roundtable interview with SOE President John Smedley, EverQuest Assistant Lead Designer Alan VonCouvering and EverQuest Associate Producer Harvey Burgess to discuss the 12 year anniversary and just about all things EverQuest.

Progression Servers

The discussion kicked off with a question about the EverQuest Progression Servers. For those of you who don’t know, SOE has run a few progression servers which basically start the game out as it was when it launched and gradually unlocks the expansion content in chronological order as players move through the content.  The previous progression servers weren’t pure classic, however, as the slower experience gains of the original EQ Classic and even corpse runs weren’t present. SOE is allowing players to vote on the inclusion of these aspects now, for example, there is an ongoing poll for corpse runs (which is losing, by the way!). The goal with this latest progression server is to tailor the experience to players’ desires while emulating as much of the original experience as possible.

12th Anniversary Festivities

The team briefly touched on anniversary plans as well. Much of the previous anniversary content will make a return, but there will be a few new additions as well. New quests and even a new raid styled along the lines of the old-school open area raids of yore, but those of you worried about snags associated with previous open area raids need not fret. We were assured that the team has learned from past mistakes and that they expect multiple raid groups to be able to tackle the new raid content.

EverQuest Next: Online Worlds vs. Online Game

SOE President John Smedley took a question regarding the vision for the original EverQuest, namely, the desire to create an online world as opposed to simply an online game. When asked whether or not it made sense to go back to that sort of vision Mr. Smedley teased, “I would say, without giving away too much, and this is actually giving away a lot, EverQuest Next is much truer to that vision, and we feel really really strongly about that. I think players are going to be pretty surprised; they are not going to see us do EverQuest 2.5 or make a WoW-clone or anything like that. We have an entirely new direction and we believe very strongly that the concept of it being a world is the way to go.”

Oh, and for those of you wondering when EverQuest Next would be coming out, all we learned is that it’d be out “when it’s ready.” It sounded like the game is a way’s off as well, as it was noted that many of the features would be under wraps for some time to come, though they would say they are not trying to “reinvent the wheel”, opting to go for a revolutionary instead of evolutionary approach.  With that said, the team reiterated that gamers would be surprised to see the direction they’ve taken with the game (both in features and even style) and that they hope to attract both existing EverQuest fans and of course the always coveted new blood.

Of course, if EQ Next doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea for whatever reason, we were assured that the game would have a life independent of its predecessors; EverQuest Next isn’t going to replace EverQuest or EverQuest II.

EverQuest II

On the co-existence of EverQuest and EverQuest II, Mr. Smedley, decided to forego the “politically correct” answer that they are both “doing great” and instead admitted that they made a mistake in naming EQ2, well, EQ2. Smedley noted that we were all sitting here talking about an MMO’s 12 year anniversary, which he stated was a feat in of itself. Back when they created the original EverQuest they had no idea that the game would last as long as it did, instead, they figured it would work as any typical retail game would: have its day (or couple of years) in the sun, and then fall off, allowing for a sequel to come along and replace it. This obviously wasn’t the case with EverQuest, and so Smedley admitted that if they could go back and do anything over it would be to not designate EQ2 as a sequel to the original EverQuest, especially given how different they are and how they appeal to different audiences. The naming issue even presented problems at retail as SOE has had an “interesting time” convincing retailers to keep both EverQuest and EverQuest II on their shelves simultaneously.

Expansions

SOE has introduced a whopping 17 expansions to EverQuest since the game’s launch in 1999 and for those of you wondering if SOE plans on stopping anytime soon you can rest assured that won’t be the case. The EverQuest team reassesses the game every year with a “three year plan” and they currently expect the game to be around for at least the next three years following their last review and they plan on continuing to put out expansions during that time period. Basically, if people keep playing the game and want new expansions, well, there will be new expansions! Simple enough.

Community

One interesting topic that came up was the kind of broader topic of community. We were reminded that now that the game has been out for 12 years there are people who have been playing since they were say 20 years old and are now 30 or so with kids of their own that they’ve introduced to the game, something pretty unique to EverQuest as such a long running game. Some fun facts: the EQ population is 79% male, with an average age of 38, well educated, with a significant portion of players who spend an average of 20 hours or more in the game per week.

At the same time, SOE does recognize that while there are a lot of people that have been playing for a long time there are also still new players coming into the game and they have taken a number of steps to make that a less daunting endeavor. After all, there are so many expansions and zones in the game, a new player would probably be overwhelmed. To that end, SOE has introduced “Fellowships” which allow you to group with more than six players and coordinate better, NPCs in the Plane of Knowledge offer useful tips to new players such as information on where they can get their spells, and centralizing a lot of the introductory content into the Plane of Knowledge are some of the few steps SOE has taken to help new players get their bearings.

Adapting to a Post-WoW World

EverQuest was heavily inspired by text-based DikuMUDs and introduced a lot of those aspects to the MMO space with its launch in 1999. Many of the trappings we expect to find in a traditional MMO even to this day take a great deal from EverQuest, however, World of Warcraft challenged a lot of that and went its own way in 2004 and the MMO landscape looks a bit different nowadays. I wanted to know if the team was interested in adapting EverQuest to the realities of a post-WoW world or if the game kind of continues on its own path at this point.

The team admitted that while WoW is a brilliant game, it would be a mistake for them to follow it with the original EverQuest, though they have certainly picked up a few things here and there. SOE feels that EverQuest is really its own thing and it’d probably be a bad idea to adapt it to a game that came out long after it, instead they aim to make EverQuest “more EverQuest”.

EverCrack

In the early days of the MMO genre EverQuest was a firebrand for controversy. Stories of addiction to the game were rampant, and things finally came to a head when Shawn Woolley, an EverQuest player, committed suicide. John Smedley addressed the topic of “EverQuest addiction” then and took some time during the call to discuss it again. Obviously, no one would be happy to hear these sorts of stories attributed to their game and Smedley was no different, but he feels that now that MMOs are better understood as just another form of entertainment more people understand that these games are like anything else, too much of anything is no good, whether it be watching TV or being an obsessive football fan, moderation is key.

EverQuest in Your Browser?

Finally, the team addressed a question on the idea of EverQuest in the browser. Smedley revealed that they haven’t really talked about EverQuest in particular in this regard, but that they are majorly exploring the potential for browser-based MMO experiences. The problem, Smedley says, is that porting an existing MMO into the browser tends to introduce a number of issues as it really only works best when the game is designed from the ground up to focus on the browser-based experience.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager.
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