What Should EverQuest 3 Even Look Like?

The future of the EverQuest franchise as a whole is important to us here at Daybreak. EverQuest in all its forms is near and dear to our hearts. EverQuest and EverQuest II are going strong. Rest assured that our passion to grow the world of EverQuest remains undiminished.

-Russell Shanks, March 11, 2016

We’re coming up to the 20th anniversary of the EverQuest franchise next month.  That is a long time for a game to hang around.

EverQuest is still alive and kicking, still getting updates, and still making money so far as I can tell.  It is long past its population peak, which hit way back in 2003.  There have been multiple rounds of server merges in order to keep server populations viable.  But there remains a sizable active player base… a player base that is, in all likelihood, still larger than the initial target Sony had for the game back before it launched.

Therein lies the problem, the dilemma of these sorts of game.  Titles like EverQuest, which I will call MMORPGs, are not like single player games or even most multiplayer games.  They are more like their MUD antecedents in that they have a social aspect that attracts and holds players and keeps them playing long after they might have walked away from a game that only featured a single player campaign.  MMORPGs, if they grab a big enough audience early on, can stay viable for years and years.

Just about five and a half years after EverQuest hit the shelves SOE launched EverQuest II.  It was supposed to ship before then… at least a year before then according to Computer Gaming World back in 2003… but when do these things ever ship on time?

It was meant to replace the original, but was too different and initially too… broken isn’t the right word because a lot of regrettable aspects of the game were working as designed, so maybe just not well thought through… to lure many away from the first game and not good enough on its own to surpass the original.  And, as I mentioned, people invested in EverQuest ended up declining to  jump to a new game to start anew.  The old game was still there and they were settled in the world they already knew and loved.

So Everquest II didn’t exactly break records on the subscriptions front.

In the scale of the time, where EverQuest was the top dog, it still did pretty well.  We’ve seen the subscription chart before that shows it peaking around 350K subscribers.

Subscriptions – 150K to 1 million

That was well shy of EverQuest‘s 550K peak, but nothing to be ashamed of in the mix of games at the time.  Or it wouldn’t have been had not World of Warcraft launched a month later.

I think the the fact that you couldn’t find a copy of WoW very easily until early in 2005 kept people in EQII longer than they might have stayed.  But many of the 350K fled, either back to EQ or on to WoW.    The lesson learned, according to Smed at the time, was no more MMO sequels.  But if they had kept to that this post would stop right here.

Meanwhile WoW‘s subscription numbers distorted all previous measures.  550K looked great, until WoW was rocketing past ten times that number and continuing to climb.  WoW changed the genre and the expectations of both players and studios.  The era of insanity began, where the potential of the genre seemed unlimited.  Charlatans declared that if you weren’t making an MMORPG you were a fool.  WoW became the benchmark for success and money chased those who claimed they could reproduce that success.  However, the plan usually involved copying WoW, sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly, but WoW was the target.

EQ and EQII chugged along all the same.  They clearly had enough of an audience to remain viable.  They both got updates and expansions on a regular basis.  There was the inevitable change over to a cash shop F2P model since the audience willing to part with $15 a month for a game was limited and, it seemed, concentrated on Azeroth.

Along the way the idea of a sequel began to stir anew.  At SOE Fanfest in August 2010 SOE announced that they were working on a new EverQuest sequel, which had been given the placeholder name EverQuest Next.

The Freeport Next we never saw

I don’t have a post about the announcement itself.  That was back in my naive blogging days when I thought linking out to other coverage was enough.  Link rot has proven that idea wrong.

But I did take a closer look at what SOE considered their lessons learned from the Norrath experience so far.  They sounded reasonable enough in summary:

  • Single world without the need to load zones
  • Instanced dungeons
  • Low system requirements
  • Stylized character models
  • Fewer classes, relative to EQII
  • PvP from day one and “done right”

Basically, it sounded like WoW, except for the PvP “done right” part.  But SOE has never done PvP right in Norrath, so WoW PvP would probably have been a step up.

We heard nothing much else for a long stretch (the usual SOE method) until June of 2012, when it was announced that everything we saw or heard in 2010 was obsolete and should be disregarded.

Come SOE Live, the new name for SOE Fanfest, of August 2013 we were treated to a new vision of an EverQuest sequel.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

There was definitely a new plan with a new set of parameters:

  • No Levels
  • Limited Skills Available
  • Skills Specific to Weapons
  • 40 Classes and Multi-classing
  • Six Races
  • Destructible Terrain
  • Parkour-like Movement
  • Combat Roles beyond the WoW Trinity
  • Emergent NPC AI
  • Sandbox nature
  • World Changing Quests

They also adopted EverQuest Next as the official name.  I wrote a long post about each aspect that was covered and linked out to what other people were writing about it as well.  And a lot of people were writing about it, excited by the prospect.

That went on in fits and starts, with long periods of silence, until early March 2016, when the whole thing was finally cancelled.  I declared that the end of the classic open world MMORPG.  Nobody seemed likely to make anything like the original EverQuest again, despite that quote at the top of the post, which came straight from the copy of the EQN cancellation announcement.

But we were into the Daybreak era by then, and closing games had become the rule rather than the exception for the team in San Diego, so a cancellation seemed par for the course.  The development tool-become-game Landmark was all that survived of EverQuest Next, and even its time was limited.

Which brings us to today.  It has been nearly three years since EverQuest Next was cancelled, and I suspect that we will hear no more about it or the goals it had.  Yet still, the rumor of sequels persist.

I had a tip sent to me about two years back that suggested that Daybreak was working on a small scale game based in Norrath, something more like a co-op RPG rather than an MMORPG.  But that was when H1Z1 still included what became Just Survive, which was also supposed to be small scale, with many servers and a co-op or PvP mechanic.  But I haven’t heard anything like that since.  Perhaps the decline and eventual demise of Just Survive kept that from becoming a thing.

Then there was the post-layoff rumor post from last May which had this gem in it:

Everquest 3 has been back in development for a year and is being rebuilt from the ground up. It aims to compete with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and to be the first fantasy MMORPG to put an emphasis on team battle royal PvP.

Battle royale EverQuest, because when you have a hammer that worked really well for a bit, every problem looks like a nail?  As PlanetSide Arena suggests, Daybreak is still trying to recapture that battle royale magic that they so briefly held with H1Z1.  And I am not sure that really competes with Pantheon.  But Pantheon is still a vision and some demos five years down the road, so who knows what it might end up being.

And then, back in September of last year, there was the NantWorks joint venture announcement which, among other things, seemed to promise some version of EverQuest on your phone.  But the press release also suggested that H1Z1 and some version of EverQuest were running on the Daybreak’s “well tested game engine,” which might have been a mistake, might have been marketing being unclear on the concept, or might have been a slip that indicated that something in the EverQuest domain was up and running on that engine.

So, with all of that context, where does an actual EverQuest 3 fit into the world?

Wait, I’m not done with context.  Did I mention that it isn’t 1999 anymore?

I realize that the fact that time has moved forward ought to be self-evident, but I don’t think that always sinks in as deeply as it should.  There will be somebody out there who wants the original EverQuest, death penalty and corpse runs included, on an updated platform.

And, I have to admit I have pined for that sort of thing myself at times.  Wouldn’t original EverQuest on the WoW engine be something?

But part of what made EverQuest great and popular and a legend is that it came out in 1999, which I am sad to say is now twenty years gone in the rear view mirror.  At that point in time it was a perfect storm of features and design.  Now though?

So what should an EverQuest 3 look like?

Suggesting going back to 1999 feels like trying to get lightning to strike the same spot a second time, only the storm clouds have long moved on.

Building something more WoW-like with the Norrath lore might have some draw, if done right.  But is the lore enough of a draw if the game is otherwise just another free to play, cash shop, and loot box clone in the genre?

And then there are those lessons learned.  There are some tasty tidbits there.  But Daybreak has already folded on that hand once.  Why would I possibly believe they could revive it again?  It may very well be that the “no sequels” lesson was the one they ought to stick with.

During the coming 20th anniversary of the original I suspect/hope/dread that Daybreak will tell us about plans they have for the future of the franchise.  It seems like the optimum point in time, when nostalgia for the franchise will swell and attention will be drawn to the game as it reaches that milestone.  But I am conflicted as to how I will greet the news of any such successor.

8 thoughts on “What Should EverQuest 3 Even Look Like?

  1. bhagpuss

    This is one of those topics that’s more suited to a long session in the pub than a blog comment. Where do you even start?

    Perhaps the most ironic thing is that, had SOE stuck with that 2010 version and been able to release a fairly unambitious, reasonably traditional EQ3 around 2014, it might have had something of a chance. We were still in the post-WoW era then…just about. Then again, who runs three different versions of the same MMORPG, targetted at largely the same audience (oh, wait, NCSoft almost did that with Lineage…). If they had ever gone down that route either the new EQ would have flopped or it would have killed one of the old ones, most likely EQ2, so I guess it’s just as well it didn’t happen.

    EQNext bamboozled me for a while along with everyone else but I thought it was apparent within the first year that it was in deep, deep trouble. When the story leaked that the entire SOE Live demo had been faked, and when I saw first hand how incapable the development team were of managing their own tools in Landmark, I realized it was all just one, big vanity project. The smartest thing Smed ever did with EQN was sell it on and the smartest thing DBG ever did was close it down for good.

    So where does that leave us? The idea of a version of EQ that aims simultaneously to “compete” with Pantheon and also become the first Battle Royale Fantasy MMORPG is pure surrealism. Competing with Pantheon is the equivalent of aiming for a niche audience in the high four figures, isn’t it? Or is anyone really expecting Pantheon to make a noticeable impact? As for having Battle Royale inside the MMO – didn’t work for Fortnite, didn’t work for H1Z1, isn’t even being planned for Planetside2. If it just means there will be a standalone EQ-themed Battle Royale, then I guess maybe, although the question there would have to be, who would care?

    The real question is just how marketable an IP is “EverQuest”, anyway? Yes, EQNext got a huge amount of attention within the genre but a lot of that was because Smed was promising the moon. Who actually knows what Norrath even is these days? Most people who would call themselves MMO veterans haven’t even heard of it. It’s true that a lot of people did play EQ once upon a time but how many of them still play MMOs now? Yes, gaming isn’t just for kids any more – or students – but while people may carry on playing video games they generally don’t carry on playing MMORPGs. In fact, chances are most of the ones that do are *still* playing EQ right now…

    I’d love to see a good single player or co-op RPG set in Norrath. I was asking for one of those on the SOE Forums in 2003! If they’d made one then it would have sold a ton, too. Whether anyone would be more interested in such a thing in 2019 than they would bein any generic fantasy RPG, though, is hard to say. I guess it would have *some* name recognition.

    Perhaps the most interesting possibilities lie with Consoles and Mobile. We all know that’s where the future of gaming lies. PC gaming is on borrowed time already. Instead of EverQuest 3, how about EverQuest Online Adventures 2? I’d buy a console for that.

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  2. Naithin

    Carrying on from Bhag a bit, particularly on:
    “It’s true that a lot of people did play EQ once upon a time but how many of them still play MMOs now? Yes, gaming isn’t just for kids any more – or students – but while people may carry on playing video games they generally don’t carry on playing MMORPGs.”

    My gaming preferences, specifically in the MMO-type arena have changed a *lot* over time. There is probably something of a blog post in and of itself in that, but my first MMO was Asheron’s Call, also in the 98-99 era. If I recall correctly, in launched out of beta in Nov ’99, although I managed to get in around the Beta 2 stage.

    My exposure to gaming before that had been largely level based, even Tomb Raider which had fairly expansive levels by that day and age were bound to a strictly defined area.

    When I logged into Asheron’s Call for the first time, and it dawned on me that there simply was not any (for all intents and purposes) bounding box or end of the world it was mind blowing. In an almost literal sense. I still vividly remember coming to a complete stop on the far bank of the Holtburg river, looking back in the direction I’d come, over the marsh, seeing campfires of Drudges.

    It was almost more than my mind could take, so far out of my experience and knowledge of what a game was.

    By today’s standards, it was a punishing game. You could lose equipped items on death, you took stat penalties that had to be worked off and could stack to pretty substantial levels (40% loss of power was the cap).

    But I loved it. I even went all in on the PvP server when that became a think, the ‘Black’ server in beta which ultimately became Darktide.

    I was a PvP advocate, trying to explain to anyone who would listen the absolute joy there was to be had in a full PvP game like this. I was on the side of the ‘Anti-RPKers’ (or Anti Random Player Killers, RPKs being those would kill anyone on sight without cause, such as the Blood guild), we protected key leveling spots, raided known RPK hotspots, fought for control of land for the Anti-alliances.

    EVE gets a lot of credit for the stories it creates, and it is well deserved, but AC had its own war stories such as the RPK taking of Ayan Baqur by an unheard of at the time RPK alliance to battle our own.

    But if you told me there was a graphically modernised version of Asheron’s Call: Darktide coming out today, with all the same rules, I’d not have a bar of it.

    I struggle to pin it down to a set of specific changes or reasoning within myself, but I know a part of it is that back then the MMO world was my social oyster. Anyone was a potential friend (or foe), getting to know my guild mates and get invested with people online was something I was much more willing to do.

    For better or worse, I now tend to stick to a relatively well known friend group. Depending on the game and the activity and my own comfort level with it, I will still PUG. But except for in very rare circumstances, I never expect to talk to these people again.

    I don’t know if this was an internally driven change, or a change that has come about and I’ve ‘adapted’ to with the more modern MMO setups of LFG, cross-realm play, etc, both seem equally possible to me at the moment.

    To answer your actual posted question somewhat — the dream sold of EQ: Next was something I loved the sound of. It was pretty clear that dream was in dire trouble even in the 2-3 years before the official closure of the project, but nonetheless, I hoped.

    Conceptually I would still love to see a ‘virtual world’, with strong sandbox elements. But my wants of such a game are so high that I don’t know they would EVER be achieveable.

    Given that to be true (at least now), I find myself settling for MMO-lite type titles a lot more.

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  3. Ishamel The Red

    I still think that Everquest carries enough name recognition that it would be looked at if an MMO could be made. Though very few people have played the game, enough old farts like myself have talked about the in my day moments that I believe it would at least be looked into.

    I think the lore and holy trinity setup would fit in to the gaming world. Niche mmo games are much easier to come by these days in the genre, there is no need to be a WoW killer. And thank god, because the chasing of WoW led to the death of a lot of games, particularly SWG (oh how I loved that game). I don’t know why anyone would worry about Pantheon after how terrible Vanguard was. Though I will admit that I hope beyond hope that Pantheon goes well as the systems in Vanguard were amazing, just terrible coding.

    I personally just want to see something in the EQ universe. MMO, RPG, hell give me a 3d MOBA a la Paragon. I just want to play an EQ style monk.

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  4. anypo8

    One word: sandbox. Three words: player-driven content.

    This is hard as hell, both from a technical and especially from a game design standpoint. That said, I’d play the living daylights out of a fantasy-genre game that combined the best elements of EVE with the best elements of WoW.

    MUDs, which inspired all this, were player-driven. The MUD content developers were drawn largely from the playerbase (and vice-versa). If there were zones or quests or whatever, it’s because the players wanted there to be. Text made this feasible for spare-time independent game developers.

    Most MUDs didn’t do the sandbox thing too well. For every LambdaMOO (*too far* in the sandbox direction) there were several Dikus. The part of the sandbox MORPG that MUDs got right, though, was the social aspect. Most of the players were engaged with each other as well as the world. Significantly, this was in an environment where cooperation rather than competition was the norm. There was some PVP, but it was Player vs Player, not faction vs faction or guild vs guild.

    WoW’s forced Alliance/Horde binary seems like a good thing on the surface, but I think it ultimately was a mistake. Faction warfare wasn’t what drew players to the game and kept them there, and for social players it was and is an obstacle to overcome. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that WoW could have been even bigger and sustained itself better if they’d stayed away from it.

    What’s the direct relevance of all this to the sandbox? In a well-constructed sandbox, *the players decide.* Most folks want to group up and fight each other? Good, do that. Most folks want to share a world and keep PVP fights small and local? Good, do that.

    Everybody bemoans EVE’s Blue Donut and the lack of large-scale gudfites, but y’know…if everybody wanted it all to become Epic Warfare 24/7 the only thing standing in the way would be a lack of sandboxiness in EVE. One could argue all of this either way, mind you, but in MUDs you could hardly argue that the players were “forced into” any playstyle they hated; at least in that time and place that seemed to be casual mostly-friendly play.

    I am not a professional game designer, and EQ3 should have several. That said, a player-driven fantasy sandbox is where I would head. I’ll happily pay $20 / month for the feeling of playing a modern MUD with more scalability and flexibility and with real graphics and physics. Those were the funnest MORPGs I ever played.

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  5. Archey

    @Naithin: it’s so good to hear from another AC Darktide player. I was there from approximately launch for 2-3 years and it was one of my most absolutely formative gaming experiences. I was also on the anti-RPK side – House of Sagacious (now there’s a name I haven’t thought about in years!)

    About the EQ series: I was never quite clear on why they would make a sequel besides “that’s just what you do” for successful games. WoW2 was called Cataclysm and arguably it accomplished what they set out to do with an EQ sequel, without sacrificing player base. That said, I wonder if EQ + EQ2 population is greater that what EQ would be today by itself. If so, maybe they’re having the last laugh after all.

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  6. Telwyn

    Not a popular opinion, but EQ2 with updated graphics and a smoother levelling curve would suit me fine. I want an expansive world with quest, story-rich driven gameplay. There are several fairly high profile survival sandboxes now, would a sandbox MMORPG really make that much of a splash, if MMO lite gameplay is the new thing, do enough people want grindy gameplay where you’re enjoyment is mostly dependent on enough other players of the right mindset being online when you are?

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  7. Naithin

    @Archey House of Sag! Man, that brings memories back. My main guilds back in that era were Towel and then Adnan. After that initial burst though, I kept coming back in a fairly regular 6-8 months on, 3-6 months off. Over that time I was largely in Khao (sp?) but also had short stints of running independent guilds with friends.

    I started out as Unarmed character named Naithin, but only made it somewhere in the level 70-80 range on that character, before switching to a War/Life spec mage named Naati who I consider as my main as they made it to ~120 or so, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find in actual fact I had more play time on Naithin. :)

    Anywho, yes! Awesome to see another from that era still around and kicking. Was such an incredible game.

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  8. Will

    I began playing EQ upon it’s release in ’99. I still play and began a new toon on the Mangler TLP server. I had long forgotten how brutal and unforgiving the classic was and that was one of the things that made it great. No other MMO that I have played is as challenging. It required you to group and socialize and you would bond with your in game friends while waiting, sometimes hours, for that boss to pop, only that he didn’t and you would have to repeat the wait the following day and , perhaps, the next (and so on and so on). The penalties for dying made the game scarier and made you more cautious which added to the flare and excitement. Zones seemed larger than life and (prior to Luclin) travelling on foot was dangerous as well as adventurous. Trains were wicked and brutal as were corpse runs. I recall spending hours one night, with friends, trying to retrieve my corpse only to leave many more corpses along the path before getting to my original. Pulling Cazic Thule and his minions on guild raids was a blast and each time receiving his death touch (except for one night when, for some reason, his DT fizzled and I lived! Everyone was shocked) Ahh those were the days.

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