Category Archives: Daybreak Game Company

NantWorks Hands H1Z1 Back to Daybreak After Failing to Revive the Game

The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy.

-Dr. Eldon Tyrell, Blade Runner

A little over six months have passed since it was announced that Daybreak and NantWorks were forming a joint venture, NantG Mobile, in order to create mobile games based on the Daybreak H1Z1 and EverQuest franchises.

Also on the list was taking over the PC version of H1Z1, then rebranded Z1 Battle Royale, with what sounded like an eye towards restoring the title to its former glory.

It was unclear from the outside who really owned what in the matryoshka doll-like structure of the companies, and the details that have leaked… as when it came out that Jace Hall, who quickly became the face of the renamed title, was basically a volunteer when he stepped down… haven’t help much.

This past week word started to leak that something was amiss as a rumor of layoffs started to circulate.  Then Massively OP reported that NantWorks, via NantG Mobile, had posted an announcement on Steam that they were giving up on Z1 Battle Royale.

In the past few months, NantG Mobile has been working feverishly on rebranding Z1 Battle Royale and reverting the game back to its glory days. We’ve since made countless changes to Z1BR in an effort to recapture the moments that once made the game vastly popular and truly unique and special to many of you.

Despite the team’s determination and commitment to revive Z1BR’s player base with our recent Season 3 launch update, we soon realized that the road is still paved with many challenges that preclude us from long-term success, including the confusion it caused by having both NantG Mobile and Daybreak managing the same game under two separate brands.

Based on these events and the current state of the game, NantG Mobile will focus on its core mission of developing mobile games moving forward, and we have refocused our team toward this vision.

We have also decided to hand back the Z1BR torch to Daybreak Games, so that both Z1BR and H1Z1 will be under one publishing umbrella once again. Daybreak Games has agreed to keep the servers up for players and continue live maintenance on the game.

During this time period, we don’t foresee any issues of this affecting your experience with Z1BR, as we work with Daybreak on ensuring that the transition process runs as smoothly as possible without any disruption to the game’s service.

On behalf of NantG Mobile and everyone on the Z1BR team, thank you for all your countless cheers during our entire journey toward “The Return of the King.” We would never have made it this far without your passion, support and invaluable feedback.

The sunny side upshot is that the game is not going away, it is just going back to Daybreak.

Reality, however, isn’t so bright and shiny.  Looking at the Steam charts for the game, Z1 Battle Royale did manage to boost the active player base somewhat last month, hitting a peak around in early March before tapering off again.

2018/2019 Peak Concurrent Players

However, that number is far shy of the game’s overall peak back in 2017, making it look more like a dead cat bounce than a resurgence of any meaning.

H1Z1 whatever at its height on Steam

The slide down from that peak corresponds to the emergence of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on the scene, which pretty much destroyed the then still-in-early-access H1Z1.  Since then Fortnite and Apex Legends have jumped into the battle royale market, chopping off the Daybreak end run plan to finally launch H1Z1, only as free to play.

So now Z1 Battle Royale goes back to Daybreak, rejoining the PlayStation 4 version of the game that remained with the company, chugging along happily under the original title, leaving plenty of questions.

And not just “Are they going to need a bigger shirt now?”

The obvious one is what happens to Z1 Battle Royale now?  Is Daybreak going to pick it back up and run with it?

It seems unlikely to me that Daybreak would rush resources in another attempt to revive the game given that it has another battle royale title, PlanetSide Arena, in the works and slated to launch on PC and PS4 this summer.  Doing anything for Z1 Battle Royale at this point, even spending time to rebrand it back to H1Z1, might seem like throwing good money after bad and diverting resources from a better opportunity.  That announcement on Steam only promises that Daybreak will keep the servers up.

I think there is little question that the late Just Survive won’t be revived due to this turn of events.

And then there is the question as to what happens now with NantG Mobile, once billed as a joint venture between NantWorks and Daybreak.  The announcement says that NantG Mobile will focus on mobile titles.  Does that mean we might still see Z1 Battle Royale Pocket Edition or EverQuest Immortal available on our phones at some future date as previously promised/suggested/threatened?  Again, the statement on Steam is notable for its lack of details.  Refocusing on mobile games could be different from doing so in conjunction with Daybreak.

In the end it seems like the clock is running down on H1Z1.  Reviving it in the face of the current competition and its own legacy seems a unlikely path to success for a small company like Daybreak.  I suspect that it will hang around on life support while the company readies PlanetSide Arena.

If PlanetSide Arena takes off, expect another Friday, 4pm Pacific Time announcement, this time declaring that H1Z1 is being sunsetted.  And if PlanetSide Arena misfires at launch and fails to find an audience… well, there will be more to worry about at Daybreak than the fate of one more title past its prime.

For a brief time H1Z1 made it mark, certainly repaying the effort the company put into it.  But where one finds success like that competition is very likely to follow.

Covering the EverQuest Anniversary

I was interested to see what sort of coverage the EverQuest 20th anniversary would get.

20 Years Ago last month…

At one time EverQuest was a relatively big deal, bordering on being part of the broader culture.  But its cultural peak was brief, small, and a long time ago.  Now it is practically ancient history as a whole generation of kids have been born and grown into adults since it launched.

Where I was surprised was how the level of coverage seemed to be a bit turned on its head relative to the proximity to the topic a publication was.

That wasn’t wholly true.  PC Gamer did a series of great articles about the game, its history, and its state of play these days.

The had an interview with EverQuest Executive Producer Holly Longdale in that first link that unearthed the following gems of information about the game via quotes:

  • “We have more players now than we did in 2015 and our revenue has gone up.”
  • “I’m not allowed tell you exactly how many people have come through the game over the years, but it’s enough to sustain us.”
  • “So we just have an agreement in place that they [Project 1999] don’t launch stuff around the same time we do.”
  • “Our biggest customer service request is people asking what email they used for their EverQuest account 15 years ago, because they want to log back in and play with their old characters again.”
  • “Every three years we do a level increase, and we have changed the way some things work.”
  • A new expansion, The Burning Lands, was released in December last year, and another is on the way.
  • “But fundamentally, we don’t want to change the game. It’s like when we did the New Game Experience for Star Wars Galaxies and everyone quit.”

On the flip side though there was GameSpot, whose cultural relevance peak mirrors that of EverQuest, who just posted the anniversary trailer… early… without much comment and moved on, while Eurogamer, who is often in the forefront of video game reporting, declined to even mention the anniversary.

Then there was Variety, an unexpected source of any information that isn’t strictly a press release, which uncovered perhaps the biggest scoop about EverQuest Next we’d heard in five years, not to mention shining a bit of light on the factional strife that seemed to be going on behind the scenes… a conflict the traditionalists, with Holly Longdale at their head, looks to have won for now.

Adding on that was a post over a Gamasutra, which wasn’t strictly news coverage, by EverQuest team member Luke Sigmund.  But it did lend further insight into the team there while also throwing out a bit of information about why corpse runs stopped being a thing.  Yes, what you believe was part of the equation, but there was also a technical limitation to it as well that made it desirable to do away with this punishing mechanic.  (You do still lose experience on death though, and can still lose levels, something TorilMUD, the template for EverQuest, got rid of a few years ago.)

There was an article up at Rock Paper Shotgun that elaborated on some of the topics already covered, including more detail on the relationship with Project 1999 for example.

Finally, coming in a bit late was an article over at Polygon which started off down the same path as some of the above, about how EverQuest was pretty much set on mining their installed base rather than trying to seek new fans.  But there was a nugget dropped in the statement that one third of the games profits come from “nostalgia” players, which I would read as those interested in the progression server thing that EverQuest has been so good with.

And that was followed by a statement about the current servers they are using, which have four times the capacity of the originals.  This led to some back of the envelope calculation by Bhagpuss in some email notes we exchanged that led to a possibility that peak concurrent players across all servers, given some assumptions such as when server status shows “full” that a given server is at 50% capacity, might be as high as 60K players some days.  That could explain the initial statement on which I based a post a while back trying to compare how many people play EverQuest versus EVE Online.  And since we know concurrent players peak in the low 30K range in New Eden, perhaps that was the basis of the original premise.

All of which made for some interesting reading last month.  Every anniversary brings out some trivia about the game, bits of nostalgia or some form of infographic.  But this year it feels like we learned a few interesting facts about the state of the game and the team that runs it.

Quote of the Day – EverQuest Next Reality

There was a real nugget of an idea there, but a technical hurdle the team just couldn’t get over. All the other stuff that EverQuest is kind of got lost because it was focused on voxels and a dynamically-generated changing world. There was not enough computational power. If people are digging holes, you have to update pathing for the entire world.

-Holly Longdale on EverQuest Next, Variety interview

With the 20th anniversary of the game Holly Longdale, the executive producer of the EverQuest franchise, has been available for interviews, several of which I referenced in a previous post.  The post a Variety showed up last week and I dismissed it at first because of the source.  Variety sticks its nose into gaming rather sporadically, so it isn’t any sort of a focus for them.  Given that they can be quite superficial when it comes to things on which they do focus… I was reading the film section regularly when into Fantasy Movie League… I wasn’t expecting much.

The only reason I even saw the article is that Variety uses the WordPress platform and I watch the “everquest” tag in the WordPress Reader.

But yesterday, on a whim, I read the whole thing.  Not much new appears under that tag these days, so it hadn’t fallen down more than a couple of entries.  And, in reading it, I was a bit surprised at the details that were revealed.  Sure, some of it was the “reacquisition” plan we had heard before. But then Holly started spilling some tea about EverQuest Next.

A Firiona Vie that we’ll never know

Just a bit over three years ago Daybreak announced that they were cancelling EverQuest Next.  In the big statement from then-president Russell Shanks, which is available at that link, the key take away that people saw was:

Unfortunately, as we put together the pieces, we found that it wasn’t fun

And that was that.  People were angry, disappointed, dismissive, and there was much throwing of metaphorical stones at Daybreak.

But other than that we didn’t get a lot of details.  I mean, we had heard rumors that things were not coming along, that the SOE Live demos were all live people rather than any of the AI dreams they had been peddling.

Now she is saying that it wasn’t going to work as envisioned in any case.  Emergent AI and being able to change the world weren’t in the cards with the current level of tech.

She calls the cancellation a “deep burn,” but then goes on to deliver something of a burn herself.

Of the team that exists now, we spent two and a half years defining what the franchise really is, going to our archives and retconning some stuff to prepare it for a really strong future.  EverQuest Next is not a game I would have made. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but we’ve been evaluating what makes EverQuest EverQuest. In my opinion, that wasn’t where the game was going with EverQuest Next.

It sounds as though there was a struggle over what EverQuest really meant as a franchise and that the fundamentalist wing won out in the end, which probably also meant the end of Landmark, which fell under the EverQuest franchise umbrella.

And Holly Longdale is of that fundamentalist breed.  Early on in the article she plays up the social interdependence of the game, even going for the reputation card, how being bad would make you an outcast server-wide.  Anybody familiar with Dunbar’s number can spot the hole in that idea… Fansy the famous bard was the outlier exception, not the rule… but certainly in smaller circles you had to get along or find new friends.

And in the past she has made her own questionable statements when it comes to the purity of the EverQuest game experience.

What we don’t want to do is instance raids, which is what casuals want us to do because they want to fight Nagafen. Casuals shouldn’t be allowed to fight Nagafen… that diminishes the achievement of others. That’s part of the challenge: You have to be better than the other guy; you have to be more strategic that the other guy.

The EverQuest team did walk that back eventually.  Raids got instanced on the progression servers after all, if only because the company couldn’t afford the resources necessary to mediate all the disputes that open world contested raiding brought about every single time it was a feature of the game.  Even the hardcore raiders want to be able to just go and do the raid when they’re all together rather than having to cancel because somebody got there first.

But that is where you end up when you take a hard look at what made a game what it was.  You start back down the path of the original features and have to examine things like corpse runs and instancing and the like.

There is nothing concrete in the article about any future games, such as an EverQuest 3, but neither is that sort of thing ruled out.  But she does say that the two key elements of EverQuest are “classic high fantasy and community dependency.”

“Anything we talk about in the future, those are the two nuggets.  I would never say that there isn’t a world where I wouldn’t love to do another co-op or even a single-player experience that tells some of these amazing stories that we’ve fleshed out over 20 years, but the social dependency is who we are. It’s questing with other people. It is having a role on a team. I don’t think we’ll ever move away from that, even if it were a single-player game like ‘Dragon Age,’ that’s our special sauce and what our players would expect. You don’t think ‘EverQuest’ and think ‘single player game.’

And on the topic of MMOs allowing a single player experience she responded, “That will never be us.”  Maybe this is why the team had such an odd view of what “super casual” meant on the first round of the Selo progression server.

Of course, my post from yesterday might indicate that the game is not so pure on that front as one might assume, given her statements.  When you give players mercenaries to tank, heal, or DPS, you’re pretty much catering to solo.

Still, you can see why rumors of an EverQuest 3 put it as something that would compete with Pantheon.  I’m still not seeing the battle royale aspect of it, though maybe with that part of the business falling flat at Daybreak, it will be allowed to die in the context of any new EverQuest title.

Overall though, Daybreak continues to cater to the core EverQuest audience with annual expansions and updates for the audience on the live servers and new progression servers on a regular basis for the nostalgia audience.  It seems to be working.  As I quoted last week, the franchise has more players now than it did back in 2015.

Daybreak Updates Its Norrath Anniversary Progression Server Plans

As I have no doubt mentioned a few times already, and will likely mention again before we’re there, this coming March 16th is the 20th anniversary of the launch of EverQuest.  This is a big deal for me, having been there for the launch, and for Daybreak, as this is the oldest title in their catalog and the foundation of the company that was once Sony Online Entertainment.

So naturally enough Daybreak has some special things planned for Saturday, March 16th, including the launch of four different special servers.  Two are focused on the original EverQuest while the other two are in EverQuest II.

That we’re getting two EverQuest II servers seems a bit odd to me, as that title has its fifteenth anniversary coming up in November of this year.  But maybe they just want to get in on their ancestor’s glory moment.  We’ve already heard that EverQuest II is getting an expansion this year, so maybe that will the the focal point of its 15th anniversary.

Anyway, the official rules for these four servers seem to be set, so let me review what we have here.

The rules for the two EverQuest progression servers were announced a couple weeks back and met with some push back from the players.  Daybreak said they would take this under consideration and came back on Friday with an update heralded on Twitter with this message:

Hail, Norrathians! We heard your feedback, and have made changes to the upcoming Selo and Mangler Progression Servers so that you can get excited about finding a new home in Norrath on March 16th.

So what did they change?

Selo – Ultra Casual becomes Fast

The Selo server was probably the most controversial because Daybreak said in advance it would be “Ultra Casual” and then didn’t define what that meant.  As one might expect, that let everybody interested in the idea set their own mental expectations, so when the rules for the server came out they seemed for many to be at odds with their personal view of the situation.  The Selo server was going to start three expansions in, be true box, unlock an expansion every month, and offer faster experience gains than other progression servers, but still slower than live servers.

Beware of an old game in a hurry

Reading the forums, that seemed ideal for the hardcore raiders, who as a group are always antsy for the next raid unlock, but not exactly casual.  Meanwhile, if you read any of the forum posts on this topic, what constitutes casual is a pretty wide topic.  I personally expected mercenaries or multi-boxing to be allowed and probably experience at the level of a live server.  Others were calling for slower progress, or less experience, or whatever their hearts told them.

Anyway, Daybreak fixed all of this by changing the description of the server from “Ultra Casual” to “Fast Progression.”

Seriously, looking at the FAQ for the Selo server, nothing else has changed.  Given that, I would claim that the message I quoted above was pretty much a lie when it comes to the Selo server.  I’m not saying there was a right answer for everybody who was complaining, but this looked like no answer at all.

Mangler – Plain old Progression Server

Mangler was supposed to be the hardcore server.  Again, what constitutes hardcore is up for debate.  Some people want slower progression, others want to wear the hair shirt and have slow exp.

Hair of the dog

As with the Selo server, Mangler was supposed to start with the Shadows of Luclin expansion, but move more slowly with a much more oppressive experience curve.

In the update, Daybreak has relented and will start a progression server on the 20th anniversary of the classic launch at classic content.  That seems fitting.  But with that, they decided it will be standard progression server, with 12 week unlocks until the Gates of Discord expansion and 8 week unlocks there after for any expansion without a level cap increase.

There is a FAQ up for Mangler, but if you’re familiar with any of the last few progression servers, you won’t find anything new.

Nagafen – Another Shot at PvP

On the EverQuest II front, the previous big news was Daybreak trying to revive PvP with the Nagafen server.  PvP servers have tended to be self consuming for EverQuest II, with the population dying off, followed by players complaining in the forums, then SOE making changes which have tended to only to make things worse.  But they’re willing to give it another try, so if you’re willing to subscribe to all access, you can have a PvP server to play on.

Nagafen’s all consuming fire

The server will be free-for-all PvP and will only allow you to make a single character per account.  You can kill anybody from any faction, with the only safe areas being Qeynos and Freeport.

The newbie starter areas will only allow you to attack people +/- 4 levels from your own, while in the open world you will be restricted to +/- 8 levels, save for the level 40+ zones, where there will be no restrictions at all.

The Nagafen server FAQ covers the plans for seasons, itemization, and expansion unlocks.

Kaladim – A New Gimmick

Finally, there is the Kaladim time locked progression server.  I think there is a message in the fact that Daybreak thinks they can launch a plain vanilla progression server for EverQuest, but for EverQuest II they need something to spice it up.  Not that I am against a gimmick.  I like me a new gimmick now and again.  But it seems odd that Kaladim needs one while Mangler does not.

Kaladim is a dwarf place, so a dwarf

When it comes to the Kaladim server the twist is that you will be able to earn account-wide rewards for completing heritage quests and special account-wide titles for collection quests.

In addition, you will be able to go to the old starter home areas.  This is something of a mixed blessing to my mind.  On the one hand, it will be nice to see old areas of the game that have since been removed.  On the other hand, few things were as disappointing as the racial ghettos of the two starting cities when EverQuest had a unique hometown for every race.  While I missed the old Isle of Refuge starting area, my memories of Greystone yard in Qeynos are mixed at best.  Barbarians and dwarves started there, and little about the place reflected either race.

Also, I had never heard anybody refer to these areas as “hoods” until the Kaladim announcement.  When I saw the word “hoods” I literally thought there was going to be some new cosmetic head gear.   But I guess they cannot call them ghettos, the way I do.  I am certainly using that word in the pejorative sense.  And they aren’t home towns, but places where they are sorting our refugees from the great cataclysm.  No wonder I have little affinity for them.

Anyway, as with the previous three servers, there is a FAQ for Kaladim that goes into more detail.

Which to Choose?

So that is four new servers, all launching in March 16th in celebration of the EverQuest 20th anniversary.

Honestly, I am not enthusiastic about any of them.

If I was part of a group that was keen to visit any of them, I would probably go along.  But for just me, there isn’t much of a call for any of these four.  In this they are unlike the LOTRO Legendary server, where I knew that I could at least progress through and see all the sites on my own.

So where does that leave my plans for the 20th anniversary?

I think I might just stick with the Vox server, where I am already through the tutorial and in the Plane of Knowledge with my cleric.  I am not sure if there will be anything special for him at his low level, but There will be banners and special NPCs to see if nothing else.

It also raises the likelihood that I will head off into Moria once SSG figures out when that will unlock on the Legendary server.  I don’t expect Daybreak to make any changes to the servers announced at this point, but we shall see.

PlanetSide Arena Delayed Until Summer for a Simultaneous PS4 Launch

The launch date for PlanetSide Arena keeps moving further away, and at an accelerating rate.

The game, aimed to be a combination of Battle Royale and classic shooter scenarios, was announced back in back in December with a January 29th launch target.  I mean, it was just PlanetSide 2 recycled into an arena game.  It isn’t as though Daybreak hadn’t already built an arena shooter in H1Z1 already… and H1Z1 was built off of PlanetSide 2.  Seemed like a reasonable target or a low bar, depending on how you looked at it.

Meet the Promised Battle Modes

Then, just days before the promised launch, Daybreak came out and said it wouldn’t go live until March 26th, though if you had pre-ordered on Steam… because of course there was a pre-order offer… you would be invited to the Founder’s Season on February 20th.

Then, five days before that Founder’s Season, Daybreak has announced that the whole thing is being pushed out until Summer.  At least that was the correct usage of the Friday afternoon press release.  But here I am on Monday morning dredging it all up again.

The ostensible reasons given were related to feedback received during the closed beta as well as a desire to launch the game on across both the PC and PlayStation 4 platforms simultaneously.  We’ll see if a cross-platform launch includes cross-platform play, something Sony says it wants but acts like it is keen to avoid.

Maybe the reasons behind the push for a summer date even true.  But there are some other factors in the wind here.

One might be the recent launch of EA’s free to play entry into the Battle Royale arena, Apex Legends.  The title launched at the beginning of the month on Windows, PlayStation 4, and XBox One and is reported to have had more than 25 million downloads and 2 million players going at it concurrently.  Launching into the teeth of that with a pay to play title might be a big ask.

And then there is the refunds for those who pre-ordered.  Per the announcement:

In light of our revised launch plan, we are refunding all Planetside Arena pre-orders.

My guess is that while Fortnite alone didn’t scare them off the selling the box, the emergence of Apex Legends might have.  I expect, at a minimum, that this will mean PlanetSide Arena will be moving to a free to play model while Daybreak watches the market and starts building up a cosmetics cash shop.  They’re going to need to work hard on that, because I’ve never thought PlanetSide 2 was a pretty game.

Meanwhile, the pessimist in me thinks that this might be their Infinite Cisis, Turbine’s attempt to get in on the MOBA market that was too little and too late and which pretty much broke the company. (We got some dirty laundry aired after that.)

Not that Daybreak is down to just two aging fantasy MMORPGs the way Turbine was at that point.  No, Daybreak has two aging fantasy MMORPGs, an aging superhero MMORPG, an aging MMOFPS, and that Battle Royale game, though that last seems to be part of NantWorks at this point.  Also unlike Turbine, they don’t have a big company like Warner backing them.

We’ll see when the next bit of news about this hits I suppose.

EverQuest 20th Anniversary Progression Servers Announced

More build up to the EverQuest 20th anniversary next month.

As promised in the previous Producer’s Letter there will be two progression servers set to open on Saturday, March 16 as part of the anniversary celebration.

Let’s take a look at what we’re getting.

Ultra Casual

The first of the pair will be called Selo, a name no doubt derived from the bard class song Selo’s Accelerando, which let your group move more quickly.

Selo moves you faster

This is appropriate because the Selo server will be the fast/casual progression server, with an experience curve that will  likely let you get to level cap much faster than you ever did back in 1999.  It will still be slower than live servers, but not as slow as any past progression server.

It will also advance much more quickly, starting in the Shadows of Luclin era and opening up a new expansion on the first Wednesday of every month thereafter, starting with the Planes of Power unlock on May 1, 2019.  That will give people a little extra time to get ramped up on those initial levels.

After it catches up to the current expansion level, something that will still take close to two years (so many expansions, and probably a new one at the end of the year), it will become a normal live server.  There is a FAQ for the Selo server available.

Hardcore

The second server will be named Mangler, named for the black guard dog that hangs around in one of the back rooms of the Fool’s Gold in Rivervale.  It is of the more traditional progression server style.

Yes, my dog bites

The experience rate for Mangler will be somewhat slower than the usual, already slowed progression server norm, and is aimed at the more hardcore raider faction.  For this server, expansions will unlock every 12 weeks until Gates of Discord opens, after which expansions that include level cap increases will last for 12 weeks while those without will last for 8 weeks.

That still puts the life of this server out in the five year range.

There is also a FAQ up for the Mangler server.

True Box

Both of these servers will be in the “True Box” model that Daybreak has adopted, which means that you will not be able to multibox.  Multiboxing was deemed the literal worst thing ever by a loud faction of the progression server community.  And I get that it can be annoying to see one obvious group all being controlled by a single person owning your favorite spawn.  Further, I agree that on a server like Mangler, it is probably in the zone.

My Reaction

I want to say right up front that the idea of starting a progression server on the 20th anniversary of the launch of EverQuest that kicks off anywhere but classic is complete bullshit.

Seriously, who at Daybreak thought, “Let’s celebrate classic by bypassing classic!” was a good plan?  That was enough to make my playing on it go from “sure thing” to “maybe.”

That aside, I am also confused as to what “ultra casual” means to the team at Daybreak.  On hearing them use the term “casual” I thought they might relax the whole “true box” thing so people could dual box a tank and a healer or something, like I did back with Fippy Darkpaw.

Or, even better, maybe allow mercenaries onto the server from day one… in classic… so that you could hire your own in-game healer to follow you as you explored.  But neither will be the case.

I guess I am okay with the faster XP curve.  I can see the argument for not wanting to wear the hair shirt if you’re in for a casual tour.  But the whole faster expansion unlock thing?  That seems to be the opposite of what casuals have been asking for out of a progression server.  It is the hardcore raiders that always want the next unlock once they’ve finished up the current expansion.  Casual players have traditionally been the holdouts looking for longer stretches with each expansion since they tend to play at a casual pace.

Giving substance to that unlock history, it seems as though the hardcore raiding guilds are planning to avoid Mangle altogether and hit Selo instead, since it pretty much gives them what they have been asking for; the ability to level up more quickly in order to raid and faster unlock times for expansions so they can have new content for their guilds more often.

The casuals… well, if you trust the Progression Server section of the the EverQuest forums… are feeling left out.  I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks that starting anywhere besides classic is simply wrong, but there is the usual amount of arguing back and forth as to what the server ought to be, interrupted only by the person who opened a thread asking for a PvP progression server.  That seemed to unify a lot of people… against PvP.

But the key factor here seems to be badly set expectations.

Daybreak told us there would be an “ultra casual” progression server back with the Producer’s Letter, but did not bother to explain what that might really mean.  So for a couple of weeks people got to make up their own idea “ultra casual” server in the head, setting the expectations themselves in the big blank that Daybreak left open.  I certainly did so with my thoughts about mercs or true box.

And then Daybreak told us what they had in mind and it failed to match almost everybody’s self-constructed view.  No surprise there I suppose.  Remember when they told us H1Z1 was going to be for Star Wars Galaxies players?

We shall see if the heat in the forums leads to any changes.  Unlike EverQuest II, where the company often seems to blow with the loudest wind in the forums, the Progression Server section of the EverQuest forums has a long standing tradition of being ignored by Daybreak.  An actual post by a Daybreak employee there is generally looked upon as something akin to a miracle.

But starting a progression server anywhere except at classic… no… just no.  That has got to be fixed.  On a server where the unlocks will be once a month, I can’t even imagine an argument for skipping straight to Shadows of Luclin.  It will be unlocked soon enough already.  Seriously, what the hell?

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.