A Vision of Norrath at Daybreak

…because the Everquest franchise is our lifeblood and we treat it with the respect it deserves.

EQN has the largest development team at SOE. It is going to be more than ok.

John Smedley, on Twitter (one and two), post layoff.

The web sites are all still flavored “Sony Online Entertainment,” and I haven’t even seen an official logo yet for Daybreak Games Company, but the wheels of the Columbus Nova Prime acquisition continue to grind forward.

The week before last we had the “straight from the acquisition playbook” layoffs when DGC shed those it saw as redundant, low performers, or possible trouble makers when it came to their plans.  None of those who were let go had anything bad to say about DGC, but a good severance package can have that effect.  I don’t know if Columbus Nova Prime when full EA in the fine print, telling people they would want their money back if they said anything negative about Daybreak, but I wouldn’t count that out.  Not that I expected negativity.  The first day there is generally too much shock and dealing with the business at hand, and later, if you’ve left friends behind, you don’t want to shit all over them.

With that settled for the moment, DGC had to turn around and reassure the customer base, and especially those customers who are invested in the company and who are paying the bills for just about everything, which is the Norrath fan base.  Smed himself seems to spend all his time and energy on everything besides Norrath.  I think he may have said more about EVE Online in the last few years than he has about straight up, old school, made the whole company possible, EverQuest.

H1Z1 isn’t making any money yet, Dragon’s Prophet seems dubious as a cash cow, PlanetSide 2 is finally carrying its own weight, and DC Universe Online appears to be doing well on the PlayStation, but I wonder how much of that money flows back to SOE and how much stays behind to bolster PlayStation Plus revenues.

So, from the outside, it feels like Norrath is still paying the bills.  Michael Zenke came back from talking with Smed some years back with the impression that EverQuest was so cheap to operate on a day-to-day basis that it might literally hold out until the last subscriber walks away.  Throwing away the cash cow, or letting it starve, seems like a bad play.  And when the layoffs seemed to be focused primarily around people working on Norrath related projects, some of the vocal members of the fan base were clearly running scared and talking about swearing off any form of EverQuest before the place ended up a stagnant backwater.  So something had to be done.

That something was live streams.

I will say right now that I hate live streams for developer updates.  They are fine for a special announcement or some such… SOE Live or BlizzCon level events are okay… but as a method for delivering more mundane updates or plans, I really don’t like them.  They involve too much personality and not enough detail and you end up with half-considered statements that people will glom onto, like Tom Chilton saying that he felt Warlords of Draenor was further along back at BlizzCon in 2013 than Mists of Pandaria was when it was announced at BlizzCon.  That practically became “Draenor by February!” in some corners.   Plus, I must admit, I am old and grumpy and actively resent a developer group making me sit and watch something for an half an hour to glean maybe five minutes worth of actual details if I am lucky.

So I skipped what I could on that front and have depended on the MMO focused gaming media to deliver tidbits about what transpired.

Most of the coverage was about EverQuest Next, as that is the future of Norrath on which any number of former, but never again, EverQuest and EverQuest II players have pinned their hopes on.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Still looking at this picture of EverQuest Next vision…

On the interesting side of things, there is apparently some hedging as to whether or not EverQuest Next will be free to play, or at least free to play in the current SOE model.  I suspect that might be wishful thinking, because unless Daybreak really has something new and different that can command a box price or a mandatory subscription, they might do themselves more harm than good going that route.  And my confidence in Daybreak being able to recognize a good idea from a bad one, given their track record, is pretty low.  But I couldn’t tell you if, in the long term, F2P has been the salvation that has been claimed on the Norrath front.

Then there is EverQuest Next on consoles.  Given what Smed has been preaching since the acquisition has been announced, that feels more likely an outcome than not.  The question then becomes one of balance… as in how many PC players will stop playing the game when they find a clunky UI designed to be used with a gamepad?  There is going to have to be a lot of XBox and PlayStation interest to counteract shitting all over the main fanbase if we end up with a DCUO interface.

And then there is the question of what EverQuest Next will be now that Daybreak has cut its ties with Storybricks.

I refuse to go full Tobold here and declare that this move means that EverQuest Next is likely to be a boring old WoW clone.  On the break with Storybricks, Senior Producer Terry Michaels said,

We made the decision that it was in the best interest of the game to take that work in-house. They did a lot of work for us and we’ll be utilizing that. It’s not like that work is lost.

So I am not sure you can make the logic-defying leap and declare that EverQuest Next is going to be completely 2007 or whatever in makeup because of this change, at least not without a supporting argument along the lines of “SOE is lying to us again” or some evidence that they are, indeed, trashing all the code related to Storybricks’ involvement.  Of course, bringing all of that work in-house isn’t likely to make EverQuest Next appear in the “near future” as was recently mentioned.

Anyway, that is the meat of what I saw over the weekend, which really wasn’t all that much, as the game is still out in the future.  I am sure I missed some details on the EverQuest Next front, I’m just not sure they matter until the game is an actual thing on Steam access at a minimum.

I had to go to a more a dedicated site, the ever alert EQ2 Wire, to find out what was going on when it came to news from the EverQuest II stream.  That appeared to be much more focused on simply reassuring the fan base that EverQuest II was still a going concern.

This treasure... you cannot have it

Is there still treasure in post-cataclysm Norrath?

The core of that seemed to be that updates and events and what not would continue on as before along with an acknowledgement around some pathological desire in the fan base to have a duck mount.

Then there was the EverQuest stream, which as far as I can tell, no MMO news site even bothered to dig into, so I had to actually go listen to that video once it was up on YouTube. (I put the video in the background because people sitting around talking wasn’t exactly adding to the flow of information.)

There the talk started off with some of the diminished team introducing themselves, and a statement that Holly Longdale was taking over as executive producer, putting her in charge of both EQ and EQII.  There was mention of new updates coming up in the next couple of months, including a new loot system and some vague statements about this year’s expansion, so I suppose that isn’t totally out the window, along with some minor talk about what they want to add to the game going forward, including making the UI better.

The biggest part of that whole stream for me was the mention of continuing to do things that work well with EverQuest, including progression servers.  There wasn’t anything concrete about how they want to do them going forward or what form they would take, but they were definitely on record that they want to do them again, which is great.  I thought we had kissed that idea good-bye forever once free to play hit everywhere.

Timeline stuck in time

So many expansions to unlock

For a game that has such nostalgia value for so many people, the whole progression server idea has always been a winner, delivering a lot of bang for the buck for bother players and the company.  There are a lot of players who will jump on board, even if it is subscription only, to have a “Day one, everybody level 1, lets go camp bandits!” experience.  It would just be nice if Daybreak could actually really run with the idea and promote it and keep people interested.  My past experience has been that progression servers get attention for about five minutes on the front page and then never get mentioned again, while in the forums, the most common company presence is SOE-MOD-04, the harbinger of locked threads.  The Fippy Darkpaw progression server just passed the four year mark last week and I still can only find updates about it when Daybreak screws something up.

Anyway, those are my notes from the weekend on the Norrathian front at Daybreak. (I will also say that the new company name is just the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to post titles.)

A few other blogs are writing a bit about these topics as well, including:

And the beat goes on.

14 thoughts on “A Vision of Norrath at Daybreak

  1. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @SynCaine – If they don’t ship EQN in some form… and I won’t commit to any format or timeline or platform for the game… it will be because Columbus Nova Prime has managed to fleece EA… or somebody as dumb and as rich as EA, but I cannot think of anybody who meets both requirements there… by selling them the whole Daybreak package for a serious markup. At that point Daybreak will be pulped for juice and discarded like almost every other studio EA has gotten a hold of.

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  2. bhagpuss

    Smed is the undropped shoe. When he goes we might finally learn something tangible about the future of the franchise and the games, not least from looking at the resume of whoever is appointed to replace him. I suppose there’s an outside chance he might stay on indefinitely but I kind of don’t want to think about that.

    In the end though, SynCaine’s amusing asides aside, you’d have to say that the Everquest franchise is pretty much what Columbus Nova bought. DCUO is presumably owned to all intents and purposes by whoever holds the DC trademarks and copyrights these days (is that still Warners?) and PS2 and H1Z1 are presumably only of interest (and income) as games to be maintained and operated. Dragon’s Prophet is surely not even worth mentioning.

    If you imagine CN buying the business with the intention of breaking it up and/or selling it on at a profit you have to ask just what they could sell that anyone would buy. There’s the games themselves and the EQ name. Is there anything else? Do they own a lot of valuable real estate? Patents? Maybe but I doubt it.

    That’s why I feel reasonably confident the games are safe at least in the medium term. Without the games CN have nothing to recoup their outlay from let alone make a profit. In fact, I feel the games are probably safer now than they were under Sony’s recent ownership.

    Time alone will tell for sure.

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  3. cuppy

    “H1Z1 isn’t making any money yet”.

    It’s been in the top sellers on Steam since it launched in early access. I wouldn’t say it’s not making any money…it seems to be a nice little cash cow for now. :)

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  4. cuppy

    Also, I don’t think it’s “blind optimism” that EQN will eventually ship. It has the largest team at Daybreak on it, and a bunch of super talented devs. But I know it’s cooler to doom & gloom the whole damn thing because they lost a couple of good talkers.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Cuppy – You cannot honestly believe that those early access packages are enough to off-set the cost of the development team working on H1Z1. EverQuest is a cash cow, H1Z1 is an investment in hopes of future revenue. And given the reviews it has on Steam, Daybreak is pissing on its own hopes by launching early access a little too early.

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  6. cuppy

    @Wilhelm, I actually am very aware of the details of how small the H1Z1 team is and how long they’ve been working on the game. So, yes, I can honestly believe that.

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  7. Gevlon Goblin

    H1Z1 looks like a bad indie game written by 2 guys in the dorm. While I’m sure there is more work in it, I’m sure they got their development cost back from early access money.

    Also I have a slogan for Daybreak: “we break a game every day”!

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – For Daybreak Game Company I was going to go with Dubious Goals Committee to match their acronym, but then I found out that was actually a thing. Maybe I’ll stick with Durban Girls’ College.

    And while they may have borrowed PlanetSide 2 code and half-assed their way into a zombie knock-off, they still set up a couple of servers in the US and Europe which I would guess is a non-trivial expense… though the way Smed keeps tweeting about them being down, I could be wrong on that front as well. Still though, H1Z1 brought in some cash this month, but they gotta pay the bills and the devs every month. Not a money making game yet.

    Anyway, running it all on the cheap and exposing people to it too early just reduces the likelihood anybody will be interested a year down the road.

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  9. Jidhari

    @Cuppy
    “Also, I don’t think it’s “blind optimism” that EQN will eventually ship. It has the largest team at Daybreak on it, and a bunch of super talented devs. But I know it’s cooler to doom & gloom the whole damn thing because they lost a couple of good talkers.”

    I suppose there weren’t talented devs working on Copernicus or Blizzard’s Titan project? Not to mention the fact that EQNext has been rebooted at least twice and its pseudo-prototype Landmark is at best directionless, Yes, I would call it blind optimism.

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  10. Topauz

    I just do not see CN all of a sudden becoming a game developing company. They are going to sell off the assets at some point. The EQ IP has to be the most valuable asset. I do think that EQN will continue to be developed but probably released by whatever company that buys the EQ IP.

    As for Storybricks, have we ever actually seen what their coding really can do? All of we have is the word from SOE that it is the best/newest AI. I am sorry but SOE has not been that honest with players in the past. I just feel like we have heard that from other companies boasting about their new game having a great AI to just try and hype their own game up. I do not remember seeing anything concrete.

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  11. SynCaine

    Best case right now for EQN is that the work being done is to create some form of a semi-viable demo to show to others and sell off that piece of Daybreak. Dumping storybricks is a step towards that, as you cut a dependance and cost that someone new might not want.

    H1Z1 is a cash grab. The game is hot garbage, but is entertaining some in a similar way to the Bonus Room entertaining some in EVE; it won’t last, but get your rocks off while you can.

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  12. HarbingerZero

    Again Syncaine, as bhagpuss points out, who in the world would they sell it to? Turbine? EA? NCSoft? Ubisoft? ::shudder:: I’m not sure what the plan is here, but selling it off will be a last resort. It usually is where acquisitions are concerned, at least in my experience.

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  13. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @HZ – I have to disagree. If they had been acquired by a competitor I would be on board with you, a sale would be unlikely. But Columbus Nova Prime is an investment firm.

    Having twice worked for companies that were purchased by an investment firm, having run through this with Potshot who does the legal legwork for these sorts of deals, and having gone to school with a couple people who ended up on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto, where these firms congregate in Silicon Valley, investment firms do not, as a rule, invest in companies to run them in the long term. They invest with an eye to cashing in. And there are two paths to that, bring the company public or sell the the company as a whole to somebody else.

    Getting to either eventuality requires trimming the company back and doing well with a product or two so that the financials for the company look enticing for a 12-24 month period of time. They will be lining potential buyers/investors up and pointing out how much of a cash machine DGC is. Going public is the big win, the Zynga level deal where they cash out and leave everybody else holding the bag. But that would require DGC to have a real break out, mainstream title. Probably not going to happen no matter how much Smed likes to mention mobile and Xbox.

    So the likely scenario seems to be to polish up DGC and sell it to somebody else. I am not joking when I say EA is rich enough and dumb enough, but they are not the only option. Nexon/NCsoft still longs to expand their US market presence and Perfect World Entertainment also has money and a lackluster US lineup. A trimmed back to the bones, cash producing Daybreak with the EverQuest franchise in tow might bring them to the table.

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