The April 30th EverQuest Producer’s Letter contained the following statement:
In this Producer letter I am proud to announce that we’re changing our tactics so we can accomplish what we have set out to do and do it with the quality we know we can deliver. Our next expansion will be released in November. This will give us more time to polish the game content and features. I am also happy to announce that November will be the month for all future expansion releases as well. We realize that many players want more content but would like to be able to play through the last expansion before feeling like they are falling behind when a new one comes out. Our goal is to focus on the overall quality and let the players have time to enjoy the great work that we put into each release.
This has brought about some discussion on the future of EverQuest, both in the short term (how will expansions benefit from this?) and the long term (what does this say about the future of EverQuest?).
This generated two good posts over on MobHunter, “What Does a Yearly Expansion Cycle Mean for EverQuest?” and “Is SOE Abandoning EverQuest?”
I think the answer for the first is probably positive. Expansions will get better, and this will spell the end for the “runt” February release.
On the bigger question though, I think this is also a signal that wind-down for EverQuest is beginning. This signals more updating of zones, some very good, broad-based content to flesh out the game further, and a general trend of setting up the game to be put on the back burner in favor of newer projects.
But how many more EverQuest expansions will we see?
My first, gut reaction is five more expansions based solely on the fact that EverQuest seems to have more stamina than anybody ever imagined. That would get it out to November 2011, giving EQ twelve years of full life. But who will be left playing in 2011?
My pessimistic streak says two more real expansions. We’ll get the one promised for 2007 and one more in 2008, both of these will be heavy on graphics updates. 2009 will feature a final major face lift, a serious update to the client application itself, and some small addition to high end content to celebrate 10 years. Shortly after that, SOE will announce an incentive program to move people off of EQ to one of their other games (Vanguard might be ready by then). Incentives might include a special server dedicated for EQ players, a way to move or reserve guilds and player names over as a group, in-game items, titles, and maybe even some trade-in value on the piles of platinum stored away in EQ bank accounts. (1 plat = 1 copper for trade?) For those who remain, servers will be merged together drastically, and the game will be put in to a mode of patches for bugs and compatibility issues only. Servers (or server) will remain running as long as there are enough players to pay the bills.
Somewhere in between these two may be the correct answer. A real, 10 year anniversary expansion with rich content might be too hard to pass up. I think that how well Ultima Online does with its 10 year anniversary revamp will influence what happens for EverQuest in and after 2009.
In the end though, one of these expansions will end up being the last one. And at some point after that, maybe long after that, the last SOE EverQuest server will shut down. The last expansion will come sooner rather than later I think. The dream of the loyal EverQuest player base, the ability of EverQuest to attract sufficient new players to keep the game viable and expansions coming, is a false hope. Price cuts, expansions, free trials, and technical updates are not enough.
EverQuest is yesterday’s game. There is no crime in that. It will always have some fans no matter how out of date it gets. But the reality is that its days of growth have passed.
How much longer do you think EverQuest has?