Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

11 thoughts on “Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers

  1. bhagpuss

    I think it will mainly be having bigger fish to fry that might prevent SOE from spinning up yet another nostalgia server when Fippy finally catches up to the current expansion. If we were still looking at the old Sony Pictures reporting scenario of a few years back I imagine it would be very much “keep your heads down, no-one’s paying any attention to us, let’s just keep things business-as-usual”. That would mean servicing the existing fanbase and not losing any more subs than they could manage and I don’t think there can be any doubt that the aging Everquest core audience would bite SOE’s hand off if offered a new Prog server, especially if the devs could come up with a few new twists and wrinkles to make it sound even more of an Old, Unimproved Progression Server.

    That’s not the world we’re in any more, though. Since Fippy was conceived the entire franchise has gone F2P. Landmark, H1Z1, Planetside2 and (we hope) EQNext are driving the new ethos of player-made content. It’s all about monetization and revenue streams now and putting up one server that attempts to recreate a fifteen-year old MMO for a bunch of old people isn’t going to get anyone a promotion.

    Then there’s the layoff situation. Even if SOE had the will, would they have the resources to spare? They certainly make enough of a fuss about what a huge amount of work Progression servers are.

    EQ players do love new servers, though. They flock to each one as it opens, even if they are almost as quick to leave once the novelty wears off. One idea that’s often been suggested whose time might have come is the “Race to the Top” server. Instead of all that fuss and bother trying to recreate the past they use the current Live build. The server starts as a blank slate and some final finish point at the peak of current raid content is set as the finish line. As soon as the first guild crosses that line they win Everquest. Titles are handed out, the server resets and they all start over again. I could see that picking up an audience that sticks around.

    As for other MMOs that could operate nostalgia servers, there wouldn’t be many. GW1 has enough expansions but you can play them in their original format right now if you so desire, or pretty nearly. FFXI also has the expansions racked up and could do it but certainly never would because Square. Of the other very long-running MMOs I can think of there’s either nowhere near enough potential interest (Anarchy Online, Acheron’s Call) or I just don’t know enough about how they work to guess (Lineage).

    If Blizzard won’t do it I guess it’s EQ or nothing as far as nostalgia servers go. (Although I hear the Runescape project has been very successful – we do tend to forget what a big deal RS is both historically and numerically in the genre).

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagupuss – I started to explore the idea of simply opening up new servers because, as you point out, fans do seem to love a fresh copy of the same old world. But I think even that is on the unlikely list these days.

    SOE won’t spin up a fresh server because they probably can’t justify it if it is really just the same people already playing jumping to a new server. And I already alluded to the same personnel constraints you mentioned. Better to have people working on the next thing than trying to re-heat the big thing from last century I suppose.

    And Blizzard won’t do it because they already have too many servers at this point. Plus, to make such a server worthwhile for people returning, which is to say make it a level playing field, they would have to lock out the lucrative character transfer business and insta-90s along with blocking heirloom items from being mailed across servers.

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  3. Jenks

    I never thought about it, but if they fired up a new Eve server, I’d probably jump on that. I’m sure there’s not enough interest to ever make that happen though.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Jenks – Heh, I was going to make a point of saying in the post that it would be silly to bring up EVE in this context, because the game only works because it is all on one server…

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  5. SynCaine

    A fresh EVE server with all current content? I’d play that in a heartbeat, and it would be a crazy experience.

    My only experience with nostalgia was going to play a private, ‘old school’ UO server. It was fun for a few days, but UO’s PvP combat doesn’t really work in the age of big screens and fast connections.

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  6. wizardling

    I now play exclusively (in terms of MMO play, for now, anyway) on the EverQuest Project 1999 server. It’s about nostalgia, but also about having the best aspects of EQ IMO – before the old cities were emptied, travel was trivialised, twinking was ruined by items with level restrictions, and the AA grind began.

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  10. Hemvar

    I don’t bother with the Old School Runescpe servers, but Jagex also offers even older stuff. They still have three servers open for Runescape 1 (more commonly known as Classic) which I really enjoy, though few people have access to them, and even fewer play on them.

    On the topic of Runescape, though not the topic of the article, do you plan on doing something on the huge update Runescape should be getting this month. They’re adding a whole new city in the Elven lands. I doubt for some reason you’d have a high enough level character in RS to play it, but just wondering.

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Hemvar – I have never played Runescape and have no plans to start any time soon, so unless there is something that makes their update really industry relevant, something new that others should look into, I probably won’t mention it. Just not my game. Conner over at MMO Fallout is my source for all things Runescape.

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