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Progression Server Update

EverQuest Progress Reports - By Laura Genender on December 31, 2007

Progression Server Update

On March 16th, 1999, Sony Online Entertainment opened the virtual doors to the world of EverQuest – one of the most successful and popular games of its generation. While comparatively small next to the modern EverQuest world, consisting of over 400 zones and 14 expansions, the game at release contained a large amount of content for such a relatively new genre of gaming. Many gamers began their MMO careers in Norrath, and many still reside there today.

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On June 28th, 2006, Sony introduced two new EverQuest servers. These newest additions – Combine and Sleeper – operated under a whole new rule set not seen in EverQuest or any other game. Known as the progression servers, Sleeper and Combine opened up with original EQ content exclusively. Ruins of Kunark, Shadows of Luclin – all expansion content had to be unlocked by the defeat of raid targets and the completion of quests.

While my article in April discussed the server (by then Combine and Sleeper had merged)’s first 9 months of existence, I’ve now had a year and a half to form opinions about the concept and the reality of progression.

The progression server concept is nothing short of a brilliant design tactic which invokes a sense of nostalgia in old EQ players and a good deal of curiosity in the new generation of gamers who missed the roots of the genre. The server also evokes a sense of achievement, a need for cooperation, and a deep-rooted feeling of competition by leaving the expansions in the hands of the players. Being the first shaman to complete the Epic 1.5 quest is no small deal, and even gets enshrined on the Progression Timeline. Players have created their own form of tracking each guild’s progress, and every major guild religiously updates their status on the Big Kill Board.

But concept and reality are never quite the same. The original concept behind the progression servers was to create a community bond where everyone had to work together to complete goals and unlock the next step in the server; in reality, if you look at the Timeline and Big Kill Board, you’ll see that one or two guilds are unlocking every achievement. While most guilds are progressing at their own pace through the content, the server is really only a progression server for the number one guild. For everyone else, the progression is player-created and could be practiced on any EverQuest server with just as much success.

This is further aggravated by the slow shrinkage of the Combine population. Last April, the server was home to 9 healthy raid guilds; 6 of these are left and no new raid guilds are forming. The high end guild, Realm of Insanity, is undisputedly the number one guild on the server; there simply isn’t a large enough hardcore raider population to support a true competition.

Guilds have almost entirely segregated themselves into niches. The hardcore raider has two guilds to choose between; the semi-casual raider has three, and the casual raider has one. These choices are further restricted by playtime availability, class/level, and more.

Community isn’t the only issue with the progression servers; there have been several mistakes in content, as well, which have broken the immersion. As stated in my previous article, a task (Furious Jailor) from the 10th expansion was available to Progression Servers on unlocking the 5th expansion. My guild alone has killed the Furious Jailor over 100 times, and we aren’t even at the 10th expansion yet!

Progression servers also had early access to the Veteran Rewards. The end-game boss of Planes of Power, Quarm, is made trivial by the use of one of the Veteran powers. And finally, the new Legends of Norrath loot cards have made EXP, HP, and mana potions – and mounts – widely available to a number of players.

Despite its flaws, the system has still worked relatively well and has provided a great amount of fun for progression server players. From a development standpoint, the progression server required very little in the way of new assets (graphics or sound) and allowed designers to recycle material to new and old players alike. As beneficial as this is to Sony and its users, no other game could really pull this off… yet – the success of this program is due to EverQuest’s immense size and the enormous scope of content.

As for the future of progression, there are two questions on the tip of every player’s tongue. Firstly, what will happen to the server when it reaches “the end”? Does Combine become a regular EverQuest server, or does it have to unlock each new expansion? What will happen to the population, and will the server be merged into a more established community?

And then – will Sony do it again? Many players have begged for a “Classic” server which includes only the first 3 to 4 EverQuest expansions, rather then progressing onward into more modern content. Other players may desire a second chance to motor through progression, or a progression server based more on your individual or guild accomplishments (i.e., each guild would have to personally unlock their content).