Reflections on the Eve of the 20 Year EverQuest Anniversary

I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last

-Prince, 1999

What to say, here at the 20 year mark of the game?  There is so much emotion and history all packed around the game, the way it has changed, how the company has treated it, how the players have held onto it, and where it stood in the context of the different times along its twenty year life.

EverQuest stuff I have about the house

I’ve told the tale many times before how hearing about EverQuest through the people playing TorilMUD, some of whom were developing EQ.  I’ve mentioned passing up on the beta.  And I’ve recounted how, on March 16, 1999 I stopped by Fry’s on the way home, picked up a copy, got home, installed it, and was instantly hooked.

It was like no other game I had ever played.  The heavy influence of TorilMUD was clear to me, but that added just a touch of familiarity to help seal the deal.  But EQ was different all the same.  In having to adapt to a 3D world, much had to change.  And it was the open world, the misty edge of Qeynos hill, the far reaches of the Karanas, the dangers of Blackburrow, the sewers under Qeynos, and the fact that the place was full of other people that made it new and different.

But here we are at the 20 year mark and I decided to dig around to see if I could come up with something new to add to what I may have written before.  The blog has been around long enough that I have posts for the eighth, tenth, thirteenth, fifteenth, and other anniversaries.

A splash screen of expansion splash screens at 17 years

Me dispensing a few words about Norrath on March 16th is about as reliable as the Queen’s Christmas Message.

Honestly, for a game I have barely played very much over the life of the blog… save for that burst of activity around the Fippy Darkpaw Time Locked Progression server back in 2010… I have a lot of posts about it.  It was, at the last accounting, the fourth most common category on the blog, and it doesn’t even get a boost in its count from the month in review posts.

Chart celebrating 15 years

Anyway, I hit upon the idea of maybe dredging up some context for the time around the game’s launch.  After all, in my brain one of the great divides in the world is before/after the launch of EverQuest.  In its way, it changed everything.

Remembering my Computer Gaming World time capsule post from late last year, I got it in my mind to go check out the March 1999 edition of the magazine. EverCrack is what they called it back then and they couldn’t open up servers fast enough for a stretch.  It had 200K players before the year was out.  It must have been a big deal, right?

The archive site was up and running so off I went.

There was nothing on the cover of the March 1999 edition, but it must have gotten a mention inside, right?  Or maybe not.  The .pdf archives are scans of the magazine, not text, so I couldn’t do a search for the name, but there was naught to be seen.  Even the Pipeline section, which tracked the game release schedule didn’t have an entry for EverQuest. (But Duke Nukem Forever was listed, with TBD as a target.)

Well, in the magazine business the date on the cover generally represented the expiration date, so a March edition might represent copy from January or early February at the latest.  So I went to April and May.

Nothing there.  No mention.  Not even ads. (There is an advertiser index at the end of each issue at least.)  Come June there had been enough lead time that EverQuest starts to show up in the listings of the mail order software ads at the back end of the magazine.

And it wasn’t as though their audience hadn’t heard about online games.  The sporadic user popularity poll (in going through the archive it felt like a few different people put CGW together so things appear or disappear from one month to the next) had Ultima Online and Merdidian 59 on the list in April of 1999.

April 1999 RPG Chart

It wasn’t until later in the year that EverQuest started to get mentioned, though in one issue they refer to the company running it as Sony, Verant, and 989 Studios in three different places.  Things were complicated before it all got rolled up as SOE.  There is a column in September 1999 issue (spurred by a mention of the topic in Time magazine) about the sale of virtual goods.  There is even a Brad McQuaid quote in that about virtual worlds.

EverQuest doesn’t even get a mention on a CGW cover until June of 2000 (EverQuest Expansion!) and doesn’t rate its own cover until the December of 2001 issue, to coincide with the Shadows of Luclin expansion.

Firiona Vie in all her mounted glory?

By that point the game was past 400K subscriptions and was the king of the still fresh MMORPG genre.  Certainly SOE didn’t buy their way into that coverage, as there still wasn’t an ad for EverQuest in the magazine.

But the real irony here is which game got the CGW cover the month before.

World of Warcraft hype three years early

That’s right, more than two and a half years after EverQuest launched and more than three years before it would launch, World of Warcraft was the cover choice for the magazine.

I realize that CGW wasn’t the be-all end-all of computer gaming magazines.  PC Gamer managed to get an EverQuest review in by June of 1999.  MetaCritic has some other early reviews noted, so there was some traction, though not as much as you might imagine.  But the CGW archive is handy and looking at the covers and reviews, they were clearly keen to cover anything that might be popular.  There are a lot of familiar games in those pages.

But it is a reminder that EverQuest wasn’t the hot property at launch that some part of my brain thinks it was.  That popularity came later.  While I remember going to Fry’s to buy it the day it launched, I cannot remember how I knew that was the day.  I was aware of it through the TorilMUD connection, so maybe that was it.  And its growth over the first few months was very much a word of mouth affair.  I played on the first night, then came into the office to tell some co-workers that they had to get this game.  They then spread it to other friends.  Eventually it came around and I would run into people and find that they were playing already.

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

After a while the game started bubbling up other places, it started being called EverCrack, virtual worlds and virtual economies started to be a topic of discussion, and songs about lost corpses started to make their way around the web.

1999 EverQuest Trivia

It was different for later games from SOE.  You can see PlanetSide mentioned on that EverQuest cover.  Star Wars Galaxies started getting mentions in CGW well before its launch.  And come the EverQuest II launch in 2004, there is a scantily clad Antonia Bayle on the cover of the December edition, along with a six page ad spread inside (plus another two page marketing co-op ad from nVidia and a two page spread for Star Wars Galaxies).

EverQuest II on the cover of CGW – December 2004 Issue

Jeff Green was in there with coverage of the game titled The Once and Future King.

If only.

By that point MMORPGs (and gold sellers) were well represented in the CGW ads, with Dark Age of Camelot, Saga of Ryzom, The Matrix Online, City of Heroes, and a little game called World of Warcraft all represented.  There is some irony in how the magazine’s focus turned around, with WoW getting a cover before EQ, then EQII dominating the launch cycle coverage against WoW.

But SOE arrived there, with the assumed natural heir to dominance in the MMORPG genre, because of the way EverQuest took off.  EverQuest and Norrath are the natural foundation of the house that Smed built.  EverQuest remains viable and expanding 20 years later because of what it sparked in so many people back when it launched.

Ultima Online came first, EverQuest II looks better, World of Warcraft took the crown, but nothing so far has sunk what EverQuest started back then.

Maybe some parties were meant to last.

And speaking of lasting, this also happens to be post number 5,000 on the blog.  It seems fitting that it should coincide with the EverQuest anniversary.

Others on the topic of 20 years (I’ll be returning to that first link in another post):

7 thoughts on “Reflections on the Eve of the 20 Year EverQuest Anniversary

  1. Isey

    I did accept the beta, and funny, today, I was running around on a level 18 bard in p1999. Didn’t even remember it was the anniversary. I had done posts in the past, but not this year – nothing to add to what I have already written.

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  2. Kaylriene

    I’ll have to grab a photo or two, but I have that initial CGW WoW issue mounted on my wall from subscribing at the time. It was a great magazine to young me, but it definitely followed a lot of trends – discuss the big, popular, well known titles, and then maybe a quarter-page review for the less-known titles that would average a 3.5 star rating and on they went. I remember reading more about EQ in other, more general gaming magazines that lasted for such small lives I forget the names, but it wasn’t until 2002 or so that I really started hearing about EQ and had friends playing it and discussing it.

    As much as I liked CGW, I had a lot more interest in the hardware discussions back then and eventually moved on to MaximumPC before the internet consumed magazines whole.

    I still have some old CGW demo discs though (their Impossible Creatures demo hooked teenage-me on that game) and I got to meet Jeff Green at PAX 2013 and snapped a photo with him while discussing CGW, which was pretty cool.

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  3. Bhagpuss

    I keep a weather eye on DBG’s server status page and even though I never see the page at NA prime, there are always two (Coirnav and Firiona Vie) and sometimes as many as four servers showing “High” population. EQII, on the other hand, almost never shows more than a single high pop rating. Of course, we have no way of knowing either the relative or absolute sizes of those populations but it’s encouraging all the same.

    It was very interesting this week to see Holly Longdale let slip some information about how well EQ is still doing. She din’t give numbers but I got the distinct impression she wished she could. It confirms what some of us have believed for a while about the continuing success of the aging game and it also bodes well for its future. I wouldn’t bet against a 25th anniversary right now.

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  4. Telwyn

    I can vaguely remember seeing various EQ boxes in game stores around 2007ish when I was first getting into online gaming (via World of Warcraft). I think I remember a gaggle of guys discussing the latest expansion in store while I was browsing the Guild Wars boxes and I remember distinctly being tempted. I got into online gaming because of one particular close friend who played SWG and then WoW. I don’t doubt that if he and his circle of online gaming friends had gotten into UO or EQ back then, I would have too. SWG didn’t have enough story to capture me, but EQ would have I think. The sub was no doubt a barrier, but then in the end that didn’t stop us getting heavily into WoW so my gaming history could have been very different…
    Grats on the post milestone!

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  5. Redbeard

    I never played Everquest, but what I remembered the most was that it kept Larry Elmore’s art out in the public eye long after TSR had largely moved on from Larry’s work. So it was great for a long time RPG fan to see Everquest everywhere.

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