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.
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.
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.
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?