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Russell Shanks on the Cancellation and Future of the EverQuest Franchise

William Murphy Posted:
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Today, after more than a year in the dark, it was announced by Daybreak Games that development has ceased on the highly anticipated MMORPG, EverQuest Next.  As players and fans, we’ve been in limbo for so long, but it still comes as a blow that such a wildly impressive concept will never see the light of day. In response to his letter to the community, we reached out to Russell Shanks, President of Daybreak Games. Read on for more insight to the cancellation of EQN, in our exclusive interview.

MMORPG:  This news is going to shock a fair number of people, but also probably not. News on EverQuest Next development has been somewhat dark since before the company’s transition to Daybreak Games. What ultimately made Daybreak decide to cease development?

Russell Shanks: EverQuest Next was an ambitious project and in no way was this an easy decision to make. At Daybreak, while we of course want our products to be successful, we ultimately pursue the kind of experiences that excite and engage us both as creators as well as players.

With EQN we set out with lofty goals, and when the game vision came together, it required us to push our boundaries in just about every facet of game development – voxel world tech, dynamic and motivation-based AI systems, and fully 3D, vast, real-time, modifiable gameplay spaces are just a few examples.

Creating systems in and of themselves is time and resource consuming; trailblazing new technology is even more so. Ultimately, we realized that cutting some features or going with a piecemeal solution was not going to deliver on the original vision or hit the expected quality bar.

MMORPG:  Do you worry this will hurt your relationship with EverQuest franchise fans as a whole?

RS: We know that the fans of EQN will be disappointed by the news; we are too. It was an extremely difficult decision to reach, but neither we nor our players would be happy with a game that didn’t live up to expectations.

MMORPG: What’s next for EQ as a franchise?  Both existing games and potential future installments?

RS: EverQuest and EverQuest II are still in active development and we are excited for what’s to come in 2016. The team will continue to explore new ways of bringing stories to life in Norrath including EverQuest’s 17th Anniversary on March 16, and EverQuest II’s 100th Game Update later this spring.

MMORPG: Was this decided before John Smedley left, or was it something you came to recently?  Has it been a process?

RS: The decision was reached recently. Game development is an involved process with many checkpoints and lots of iteration. If we reach the point where we know something isn’t going to come together, it’s time to make the hard decision.

MMORPG: Will you strive to make quicker games moving forward? Like H1Z1, like Landmark. Is this a model you’ll be working with going forward?

RS: Our focus is making fun games. And usually in game development, the quicker you find the fun the better, so we are streamlining our development process to spend more time on core gameplay rather than reinventing required tech. What matters to us is fun first; everything else follows.

MMORPG:  Does this mean we'll never see another grand adventure MMORPG like EQ or EQII from Daybreak?

RS: The future of the EverQuest franchise is important to our company and you have not seen the last of Norrath by any means. It’s just as engrained in our hearts as it is for our players. We helped usher in the era of MMOs because we loved the idea of bringing gamers together within the game worlds in massive numbers, and we’ve continued to build on that over our 20-year history.  The adventures within the worlds of EQ and EQII continue unabated today, and there is plenty of room for more.

MMORPG: Do you think the genre of MMO, MMORPG, MMOG, or whatever you want to call it is just in a different place these days? There are a handful making a lot of money, and plenty of smaller niche titles carving out their own fanbase. But where you do you see the genre headed, as a company and as a fan?

RS: I believe the magic of MMORPGs and MMOs in general has not been diminished.  In fact, games like Destiny incorporate many of the compelling elements of classic MMOs, which expose them to a new generation of gamers.

Good MMOs bring players together. The activities within the games provide social opportunities, as well as challenges and achievements that build lasting friendships, camaraderie, and long-term enjoyment.  These elements, combined with scale, differentiate MMOs from most other forms of entertainment.  I don’t see them going out of style, ever.

MMORPG: What ideas from EQN could you see working in a new MMO?  What ones just couldn’t work?

RS: We encourage the cross-pollination of ideas and design between games and teams. There are a number of EQN ideas that will definitely benefit games of the present and the future. Landmark is already taking advantage of the advanced voxel world tech and I would expect to see variations of other EQN designs appear in Daybreak titles.

MMORPG: New ideas in the pipeline? New MMOs? Give us some teasers.

RS: Right now, we are focused on launching Landmark, advancing H1Z1: Just Survive, bringing DC Universe Online to Xbox One players, and launching H1Z1: King of the Kill on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.  We are going to wait on discussing anything else.

MMORPG: A lot of people, ourselves included, were really holding out hope forEQN.  We all believed in the ideals set forth by the team when it was announced. So many anxiously awaited what you proposed with that game. What words of encouragement do you have for folks who were holding out hope that EQN would still come out?

RS: While it is tough to hear that EQN development won’t be moving forward, know that our passion for EverQuest and the worlds of Norrath remains strong. There was a lot of good work and learning that came out of EQN that we intend to build upon to make our future games even better.

MMORPG: Thanks, Russ, for your time. And be sure to keep the dream of a new Norrath alive.


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.