A memory of the Great December Downtime in EverQuest II
It was just about ten years ago.
EverQuest II had be live for a little over a month. There were troubles. After having a couple weeks to itself in the market, World of Warcraft launched and the harsh comparisons began. It wasn’t that EQII didn’t have some better features than WoW… for example, I have always felt that EQII’s version of in-game maps was superior… but in a market that, up until that moment, had been dominated by EverQuest, it was something of a fight to see which of the two would become EQ’s true successor. After all, EQ was more than five years old at that point, and who plays a five year old game? It was practically on death’s door, waiting to hand off to a new generation.
And in that fight, EverQuest II was not faring well. Some people I knew who came from EverQuest had either gone back or moved on to WoW at that point. EQII was down, but not out. The game was still growing, this still being the age of the slow ramp rather than the sudden spike.
SOE was trying to fix things that were becoming a hindrance to players. We were destined to get floating quest markers over NPCs and changes to the woefully inadequate quest log and the first of many revamps to the crafting system. SOE knew they had to adapt. They could see WoW.
In our guild, a mash-up of players from the EverQuest guild Knights of Force, the TorilMUD guild Shades of Twilight, and a few fellow travelers from the Old Gaming Veterans clan, things were holding on. A few players had dropped out of the game, though they were mostly the non-MMO players from OGV who went back to playing Desert Combat. But for the most part we were holding in there, grouping up to run through zones or crafting away.
On voice coms we mocked those who ran off to Blizzard’s cartoon MMO, though there was a feeling that maybe EQII wasn’t the true successor to EQ. The early buzz around Brad McQuaid and Vanguard had started. That was going to be the real deal. But for now, EQII was the best we had, so we put up with locked encounters and experience debt and system requirements that burnt out more than a couple nVidia 6800 GT cards in our guild. (I was running with a 6600 GT card, which meant I had to keep the graphic settings modest, but I also didn’t need to replace the damn thing… or my power supply… over and over like some. There is probably a post in “video cards I have run” some day.)
We were coming up to a good stretch of game play. The holiday’s were coming. Like many people in our guild, I had a stretch of time off and was looking forward to some good, solid chunks of game play time.
Then, as we were headed to that first weekend, SOE applied some updates and restarted the servers.
And they did not come back up.
Here is where the details get a bit vague. I recall the game, or at least our server, being down pretty much Friday night through Sunday, a huge patch of premium gaming time washed away.
But concrete details are not easy to come by.
The SOE forum posts, all the status updates and such, have long since been washed away by changes to the forum software. The conspiracy nut in me suspects that they change the forums every few years just to dump bad memories and excess baggage.
I mentioned that Massive Magazine did an article about the incident in their first issue. That was just about two years after the event, when memories of the whole thing were sharper. I think I still have a copy stuffed away in a box. But we packed up and moved houses since then, so if it is in a box somewhere, it appears well hidden.
Digging around the web, I found some references to what happened. Terra Nova mentions the event, but links the SOE forum thread, long since gone, and a site called MMORPGDOT, also a distant memory. (And looking at the internet archive only shows them making a very brief mention of the event.)
Likewise, there is a mention of the even happening at Slashdot, written by Michael Zenke, which links to a few sources, including the SOE forums, all of which are long gone save the Terra Nova post mentioned above.
Other news sites that cover MMO don’t go back that far (Massively) or went through changes or otherwise appear to have purged their archives beyond a certain point.
This is one of those points when I wish I had started blogging sooner. Two years earlier and I would have written something about this, as I wrote about the great Sony hacking of 2011 which brought down both the PlayStation Network and SOE. (Not to be confused with the great Sony hacking of 2014.)
So I started nosing around at various blogs just to see what people were writing about when the downtime occurred. A lot of the self-hosted blogs from that era have disappeared, or have had database problems, but a few still linger. (My Great Survey of Linking Blogs post helped out. I will have to do another of those at some point.)
However, it did not seem to garner much attention. The event coincided with Raph Koster’s book, A Theory of Fun, hitting the shelves. There was a discussion of niche games in the MMO market, which still seems relevant today, and something about what WoW would mean to Dark Age of Camelot. (Or something of a contrary view.)
The only real mention I could find amongst the few blogs remaining from the time was by Tobold, for whom the server down time meant moving to WoW ahead of his initial plan. (Poking around also got me to this then-so-current WoW vs. EQ2 post at GameSpy.)
So here I sit, vague memories swirling, wondering how big of a deal the whole thing really was at the time. Certainly evidence of the event has faded from the internet and worse things have happened. Didn’t Arche Age just have a similar incident.
I think our own guild was emotionally entrenched in EQII at the time, so we just carried on once things were up again.
Do you remember the Great December Downtime of ten years ago?
Can you find anything else about it on the net? If you find something I’ll add a link to the end of the post.