Category Archives: EverQuest

Google Tells Me Nearly All Games are Dead

There is a game you can play with Google… well, there are probably many, but this is one of them… where you enter the name of something, followed by “is” to see what pre-filled search suggestions come up.  These results are driven by what people have searched for previously.

As I was playing this game the other night instead of doing something important, I began to notice a trend in my searches.  It seemed like Google was declaring most everything dead.

Sure, sometimes that was apt.

GSAbeVigodais

Abe Vigoda, after being reported dead by mistake on multiple occasions over the years, does indeed now sleep with the fishes, having passed earlier this year.

And sometimes the result wasn’t so spot on:

GSObamais

I’m pretty sure somebody would have mentioned if he was dead… or a mack daddy.

I decided to see if that trend held for video games on my side bar.  First on the list was, of course, EVE Online:

GSEVEis

Given that “EVE is dying…” is practically an meme at this point, that wasn’t too surprising.

Likewise, EverQuest, at 17 years of age got a similar result:

GSEQis

At least it wasn’t both “dead” and “dying” I suppose.  Of course, that last item lead me to World of Warcraft:

GSWoWis

Three of those aren’t so good, “dead,” “dying,” and “boring.”  Even EVE Online didn’t get “boring” as a top result.  That lead to a series of other titles, all of which at least got dead as a result:

GSGW2is

GSLOTROis

GSRiftis

GSWildStaris

I had a whole run there where “dead” wasn’t just a result, but the top result.  Then I started branching out from MMOs:

GSSCis

GSTF2is

I finally hit a game where “dead” wasn’t the top result, though I am not sure that was a good thing:

GSStarCis

Even Minecraft got “dead” as a result, though at least it was in fourth position, which was practically an endorsement at this point:

GSMinecraftIs

Hey, “awesome” came before “dead!”

Landmark was odd, but I think it suffers from having a generic name:

GSLandmarkis

Still, I think “dead” might be in there just for it.

Then, finally, I hit a game that wasn’t dead:

GSLOLis

League of Legends is only “dying,” not “dead.”  Also, it is “gay,” which I think says more about the demographic that is searching for things about it.  Still, it is doing better than Heroes of the Storm:

GSHotSis

“Dead,” “dying,” “bad,” and “free!”

Then at last, I hit a search where “dead” wasn’t even a result:

GSHearthis

I’m not sure Hearthstone was really winning with that draw.  I mean sure, “dead” wasn’t on the list, but the rest was hardly an endorsement.

The Last Good Day

There’s no way of knowing that your last good day is “Your Last Good Day.”  At the time, it is just another good day.

-Hazel Grace Lancaster, The Fault in Our Stars

Yes, I am going to take a quote from a movie based on a book about teens with cancer and try and apply it to video games.  I will take it as read that this makes me a horrible person and probably guilty of cultural appropriation or some other first world thought crime.  I even have a graphic just to seal the deal on my horrible nature.

Serious business...

Serious business…

Anyway, my daughter, who had read the book, insisted that the whole family go see the movie back when it was in the theater despite the fact that she knows that my wife will cry at anything sad or emotional on screen.  And tears were indeed shed as this sad and emotionally manipulative film ran on before us.

But what stuck with me, aside from the abuse of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and how much seeing this movie made watching Divergent difficult/amusing/distracting (Augustus is her brother! It is Luke and Leia all over again!), was the whole concept of there being a “last good day,” a high point in any endeavor, after which things are never quite that good again.

So, yeah, of course this applies to video games.

Well, at least to MMORPGs.  So maybe I can change that graphic.

A more general statement

A more general statement

I suppose I could make it more specific, or a version for each MMO I might play, but I think that is sufficient.  If you are dying to have one of your own, I made a background template, you just have to provide the text.  You’re on your own for the font.  I used one called “eraser dust” I found on the internet.

Anyway, that is all off the subject at hand, which is that of a last good day in an MMORPG.

There are MMOs where I can identify that last good day.  In Warhammer Online it was probably that one great keep battle we had before things went south for our group as the game emptied out.

In Rift it was no doubt some date not too long before the first expansion came out.  Everything was good, I played a character from each of the four base roles up to level cap, and then Storm Legion hit and changed the nature of the game for me.

For EverQuest it was likely to initial stages of the Fippy Darkpaw server, when Skronk and I were playing, the game was active with lots of low level players, and the whole thing felt… if not as good as day one back in 1999, then a reasonable facsimile of that time.  Certainly there was less crashing.

But those are all games I stopped playing.  Even EverQuest, for which I bubble with nostalgia, hasn’t really been a destination for me since Fippy Darkpaw.

And, in having stopped, I can pick out the high point.  I can find that theoretical last good day… or week… or era… or event.  But that might change if I would… or, in some cases, could… go back and pick up the game again.  Probably not, but there is a non-zero chance of good days ahead.

This all came to mind because of a more current game.  Not EVE Online.  I made that graphic at the top for Rixx Javix a while back.  No, this all came about due to the the Legion expansion for World of Warcraft getting a ship date.

WoW Legion coming to a server near you

Just in case your forgot that since yesterday

August 30, 2016 and the whole thing goes live, while at some date a couple weeks in advance of that there will be the pre-expansion patch that will have the warm-ups for the whole thing.

I am coming up on a year of not having been subscribed to WoW.  I have a two copies of the expansion pre-ordered for my daughter and I via Amazon.  But now that there is a date set and a timeline out before me.  I won’t be resubscribing today or tomorrow or next week, but at some point over the course of that timeline, between now and August 30th, there is a date at which I probably should subscribe and get back in the game and start getting warmed up to fight the Legion.

But the announcement of the date also made me question whether or not I really want to go back.  I do not feel a lot of enthusiasm for the expansion.  In large part that lack of enthusiasm is due to how Warlords of Draenor played out for me.  It wasn’t horrible, but it was dissatisfying, and garrisons carry the lions share of the burden on that front.  Dungeons were mediocre, mostly in how sparse they were, and the story line was mostly just okay, but garrisons were the anchor.

Garrisons failed to be the right thing for me on all fronts.  They were not optional, you had to do some garrison stuff if you wanted to play through the expansion.  And they were not housing, or at least did not have any aspect of housing that I wanted.  There was no way you could make the garrison really your own.  Meanwhile, they did exactly what Tom Chilton told us housing would do, back when he was saying they would never do housing, it took people out of the world and hid them away.

In my view, garrisons were basically the worst possible set of features, doing what Blizz said housing would do without any of the beneficial “sticky” features of housing that make people feel like they have a spot in the game that is uniquely their own.  I guess if I were to make a prediction now that Tom Chilton is saying that Blizz will never do a vanilla server, I might guess that they will end up doing some sort of special rules server that will satisfy neither fans of vanilla nor more recent lapsed players, at which point Tom can say, “I told you so.”

That is all my view of the expansion.  So when I think back in search of a “last good day,” which at this point I am likely conflating with a peak of enjoyment as opposed to saying every day thereafter was “bad,” I have to go back to Mists of Pandaria to find a real happy time… which is odd because I was pretty dismissive of MoP when it was announced and didn’t buy the expansion until nearly a year after it went live.  Meanwhile, Warlords of Draenor, with orcs as the bad guys yet again, that I was up for.

So perhaps missed or misplaced expectations were the real problem?

Nah, garrisons just sucked.

Anyway, as the quote at the top says, you can never know if that last good day is happening as it happens.  You can only identifying it in comparison to the days that come later.  The question is whether or not there is a peak of enjoyment waiting for me in WoW Legion or if I have simply had that last good day already.  I guess I have a few months to consider that, but I am feeling doubtful right now.

Looking for Nostalgia in The Commonlands

In a turn of events which should surprise nobody who reads this blog regularly, having spent a chunk of the past week or so writing posts about the demise of EverQuest Next, the seventeenth anniversary of EverQuest, a new feature in EverQuest II, and related… or somewhat related… Daybreak topics, I had the urge to spend some time in Norrath over the weekend.

I am, if nothing else, predictable.  Even I could see this coming part way into those posts.

Encapsulated Norrathian Nostalgia Trigger Warning

Encapsulated Norrathian Nostalgia Trigger Warning

The question was where to go.

I am setup with Daybreak Access at the moment, so all servers are available to me.

EverQuest, the ancestral home of Norrathian nostalgia for me would seem to be the natural choice.  But EverQuest is also difficult for me to get into on a whim.  Basically, the live servers are out as everything past Luclin is “that new crap,” which doesn’t hold much interest for me.  An insta-85 character holds no fascination for me.  I could start from scratch again and visit old haunts with a mercenary in tow, but all of that is off the main path of the game and I would end up with yet another barely equipped and impoverished character.

I have a few characters on Fippy Darkpaw, but that server has probably run its course at this point.  And there aren’t even any mercenaries so I would have to wander about solo.

The Phinigel server, Daybreak’s “true box” attempt to fix one of the loudest complaints about past progression servers, was a possibility.  It has only been around since early December and is still in Kunark.  I might actually be able to find a group, though that was far from a sure thing.

Still, I wasn’t really feeling it for classic Norrath, which meant looking at EverQuest II.

I have a lot more investing in post-cataclysm Norrath, with characters between level 20-75 spread over three of the live servers (even after the server merges) as a start, plus a few characters on the Stormhold progression server.

I decided to go with Stormhold.  While it is down the path and into the Kingdom of Sky expansion, with the unlock vote in progress for Echoes of Faydwer expansion, EQII is also solo friendly enough that not being with the pack of current players won’t automatically make the whole thing a bust as it would in EQ.

And I made a few characters on the server back when it went live.  They are all past the Isle of Refuge, the initial nostalgia point for the server.

Nostalgia on Wayne!

Nostalgia on Wayne!

Past that and into the game though… well… with an eye to trying something different AND experiencing nostalgia, I decided to roll on the Freeport side of Norrath, and I am not sure how well that is working out, and whether or not that speaks to nostalgia or just the way the server was configured on that first pass.

The thing is that the quest path after the Isle of Refuge, through the Freeport sub-zones, into The Commonlands, and so forth feels a bit rough.  The pacing of quest chains often seems to assume you have gained a level with each quest turn-in, and unlikely scenario with the reduced experience gain on the nostalgia server.  And then I have the occasional quest giver suddenly present you with a quest five levels or so above the last one they gave you.  Meanwhile, the quests lines themselves also are not very good at sending you on to the next quest or the next zone or whatever.  This is not helped by the fact that my knowledge of Freeport was largely formed by a single character I rolled there about eight years back.

Of course, I am sure that the old quest chains on the Qeynos side of things feel equally awkward at this late date.  However, on that side of the world you still have the ability to opt into New Halas and vicinity, which is a very good and well structured solo-to-20 experience, form which you can pick up and head to Nek Forest or the Thundering Steppes.  Not authentic nostalgia, but then what is?

On the Freeport side your alternate option is Darklight Woods and the starter quest chain there which, upon trying it, sent me scurrying back to Freeport and The Commonlands.  I can deal with the patently ludicrous “we’re the evil faction so we have to be total butts to everybody, even those on our own team” that pervades Neriak, the rightly named “City of Hate.”  Horrible role playing, but whatever.  However, the layout of Neriak seems more likely to make it “the City You Hate.”  I have complained in the past about finding Freeport overly complicated in layout, but it is the model of sanity compared to Neriak.

So I spent a good chunk of my weekend in The Commonlands, chasing down cooking ingredients for Mooshga just outside the Freeport gates and picking up what quests I managed to find along the way while trying to gauge just how “heroic” heroic encounters really are.  I’ve forgotten how to read the finery around a mob’s name plate that indicates just how tough of a fight they are… beyond “more and thicker and having an actual probably makes them a tougher fight.”  My Shadow Knight managed a few levels during that time, and sits at 17.  Not quite enough to head into Nektulos Forest yet, which is where Mooshga has me going next, so I need to find some more quests before I decide to leave The Commonlands behind.

EverQuest at the Edge of Seventeen

Today is the day, the anniversary date that I note every year, the day that EverQuest launched back in 1999.  Seventeen years have gone past since I first stepped into Norrath.  And the amazing thing is that we are not talking about the game in the past tense seventeen years later.

EverQuest

That is kind of amazing, the way that some MMORPGs hang on for so long, the way they attract a dedicated core audience that sticks with them for years on end.  Back in 1999 EverQuest was getting released along side such games as Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Homeworld, and Pokemon Yellow.

Those three games were all very popular and have all been remastered in the last couple of years.  But there was a gap along the way where very little was said about them, during EverQuest kept on going.

Yes, the whole expansion plan, and EverQuest was churning out two a year at one point… you hear that Blizzard… meant that new content was always arriving in the game.

A splash screen of all the expansion splash screens

A splash screen of all the expansion splash screens

But great swathes of Norrath still look pretty much like they did back in 1999.  And enough people have remained opted-in to their monthly subscription to keep the game going.

And how are things looking at seventeen?

Last year, after the sixteenth anniversary passed, I would have been tempted to say that things were not looking so good, that the end of MMO middle-age was coming and retirement was at hand.  Daybreak was talking about not doing any more expansions for the game.  They were talking up another progression server, but in the past SOE had done those then pretty much ignored them afterwards, letting any community enthusiasm fade in the neglect.  It was going to be bites of DLC and cash shop items for the looming golden years.

But now, a year later, things look good.  Daybreak hasn’t fumbled the progression server idea the way SOE used to, embracing it and keeping people up to date on things like unlock votes.  Expansions are back, because how can you pass up something that allows these sorts of price points.

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

The Broken Mirror? Try the broken gaming budget!

And even now, this month, Daybreak is already talking about the NEXT expansion.

That NEVER happens.

SOE had, in the later years of its life, often left their Norrath fans wondering if they were going to get an expansion at all until late summer or early fall before finally admitting they had something for a November release.  But here it is only March and Holly mentions the expansion explicitly in her recent Producer’s Letter.

The expansion for this year is well under way and looking incredible on the art front as well as design. We are really jazzed about where our new adventures will take you, and we’re excited to see what you think when we are ready to share more!

EverQuest, which looked like it was headed for a walker, a First Alert pendant (“The server’s fallen, and it won’t come back up!”),  and a spot at the old age home suddenly looks like it is driving around in a bitchin’ new convertible with a fresh set of hair plugs.

Life is Good

Life is Good

(Life is Good guy is the property of Life is Good.)

And, of course, there are anniversary events in Norrath as well, including a drunken gnome race this afternoon.

Who knows where the game will be in a year, but it looks to be in a good place right now.  It is just the cynical bit within me that wonders if the good news we’re getting this week is to compensate for the EverQuest Next news we got last Friday.  Then again, it might be fitting.  The fact that a game like EverQuest can thrive for seventeen years is part of the reason EverQuest Next was in peril in the first place.

SOE and Its MMORPGs

This started as just me attempting to see if I could list out all the MMORPGs that spent time under the SOE banner.  Then I started adding in some details and soon I had wasted my usual allotted writing time working on this, so it became a blog post.  Perhaps it will be something of historical interest at some point.  Anyway, I guess I am carrying on with Daybreak week here, because you know I’ll have another related post tomorrow.

For this list I have stayed with what I would consider “worldly” MMORPGs that SOE developed or published, not venturing into some of the other online games they did early on, such as Tanarus, Infantry, or Cosmic Rift, any of the collectible card games, or other games that were just published under their name without any real involvement, such as Payday.

That left me with the following list of titles in something like chronological order.

EverQuest

EverQuest

  • Launch Date: March 16, 1999
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The original SOE MMORPG, the crown jewels, the foundation upon which everything else was built.  John Smedley gets Brad McQuaid, Jeff Butler, and a few other people to make a graphical version of Toril MUD.  Most popular of the “big three” early MMORPGs, which also included Ultima Online and Asheron’s Call.   Gave SOE the impetus to try to make more such games and Edward Castronova something to study for a few years.  Slated to get its 22nd expansion this fall.

Sovereign

  • Launch Date: Announced July 28, 1999
  • Current Status: Cancelled February 11, 2003
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info
Sovereign on display

Sovereign on display

Jenks brought this up in the comments after the post went live, so I am adding it after the fact.  Before The Agency and EverQuest Next, there was Sovereign, the MMORTS that never was. (Screen shot borrowed from Matthew Cox.  More screen shots are available on his site.)  There are bits and pieces about the game still bobbing about amongst the flotsam and jetsam of the internet, but I’ll let Chairmen Smed set the expectations:

We pushed the envelope of massively multiplayer gaming with 989 Studios’ EverQuest and created an entirely new set of expectations for the fantasy role player. Building on what we’ve learned and applying it to a strategy game will result in an incredible new product. Sovereign is this product, ”

-John Smedley, President and CEO of Verant Interactive.

EverQuest Online Adventures

  • Launch Date: February 11, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed March 29, 2012
  • Platform: PlayStation 2
  • Info

EverQuest moved to the PlayStation 2. (“Sony’s Cash Machine” according to CNN.)  The fact that it lasted through until 2012 speaks to the longevity of the PlayStation 2 platform and the one-time tendency for MMORPG players to settle down in a game for a long stay.

PlanetSide

  • Launch Date: May 20, 2003
  • Current Status: Still going… sort of…
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE attempts to make a first person shooter MMO and mostly succeeds.  Blighted over the years by hacks, aim bots, and company neglect, it lives on today in something of an undead state, shambling around but largely ignored, because Smed was sentimental about the game and refused to close it.  I expect it will get shut down when somebody figures out where Smed hid the last server.

Star Wars Galaxies

  • Launch Date: June 26, 2003
  • Current Status: Closed December 15, 2011
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

A controversial game.  Some people loved it and swear to this day that it had the best crafting or housing or classes or whatever.  Others look at it and saw only the problems that plagued it, which included overly complex crafting, ugly trailer park stretches of indistinguishable player housing, and the whole Jedi issue.  Famously the focus of the New Game Enhancements in November 2005 (ordered directly by Lucas Arts or Smed depending on who you listen to) which either made the game more manageable or destroyed everything that was good about it.  It is the subject of thousands of reflective editorials.  Closed down (again, on the orders of Lucas Arts at the request of EA or by Smed) so as not to compete with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

EverQuest Macintosh Edition

  • Launch Date: July 2003
  • Current Status: November 18, 2013
  • Platform: Mac OS
  • Info

EverQuest on the Mac, called out on its own because it had its own client, its own server, and had a very different trajectory than the game from which it was spawned.  Launched with the expansions through The Planes of Power, it never got another expansion.  Long ignored by SOE, it became the home of the “classic” EverQuest experience, with home brew instructions available on how to make the Windows client run on the Mac server.  When EverQuest went free to play, the Mac version was simply made free, since SOE still did not want to invest any time or effort into the game.  That lasted from early 2012 until late 2013, when the game was finally shut down.

EverQuest II

  • Launch Date: November 8, 2004
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The Prince Charles to EverQuest’s Queen Elizabeth II, often better informed or more progressive yet still doomed to live forever in the shadow of its parent on a small island that used to rule half the known world.  EQII has always had a funny path to walk, needing to keep some affinity for old Norrath while trying to distinguish itself at the same time.  After a decade, 12 expansions, and 4 adventure packs, I think it is safe to call it a success or sorts, with its own dedicated following.  It has also had to live long in the shadow of WoW, which is probably the ascendant new world in that initial analogy.   Was two games for a while, when the EverQuest II Extended free to play trial was going, but that was merged back into the main game line.

The Matrix Online

  • Launch Date: March 22, 2005
  • Current Status: Closed July 31, 2009
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The first of the misfit MMOs for SOE, and another in the long line of troubled titles.  Launched by Sega, the game had problems, but SOE took it over in August 2005 and revamped it.  A strange game, and one I found dissatisfying when I tried it.  Perhaps best summed up by Ben Kuchera when he wrote, “The Matrix Online offered a weirdly meta experience, as real people created virtual players to go online in a virtual world pretending to be a virtual world.”

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2007
  • Current Status: July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

The next on the island of misfit MMOs, the way, way over ambitious brain child of Brad McQuaid was supposed to be launched by Microsoft.  That agreement fell through, so Brad cut a deal with his old pals at SOE to publish the game.  The launch was so bad… the game was essentially broken, while going live within a week of World of Warcraft’s Burning Crusade expansion helped bury any news about it… that in something of an anti-Victor Kiam move, SOE ended up buying the company.  A hero for saving the game for its few fans, SOE spent a lot of time simply fixing it.  After running hot and cold on the game for years, SOE finally converted it to a free to play title in August 2012… and then closed it when it still didn’t make any money after the initial conversion enthusiasm died.

The Agency

  • Launch Date: Never launched, originally announced July 11, 2007
  • Current Status: Still a legend told around the campfire, but died on March 31, 2011
  • Platform: Imagination
  • Info

In something of a foreshadowing event for EverQuest Next, SOE showed demos of The Agency at a couple of Fanfests and even sounded like they had a launch date in mind at one point. (Brenlo nearly slipped and said it on one of the SOE podcasts.)  Then there was a horrible Facebook game launched as The Agency: Covert Ops. to tide us over while development continues.  But the spy shooter MMORPG never made an appearance, finally being laid to rest on March 31, 2011.

Pirates of the Burning Sea

  • Launch Date: January 22, 2008
  • Current Status: Left SOE January 31, 2013
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE using its expertise to go into the MMORPG publishing business.  In this case, the Flying Labs Caribbean ships and pirates game.  Ship to ship combat was pretty neat, but everything else was poor by comparison.  Eventually the game left SOE and is now run by Portalus Games.

Free Realms

  • Launch Date: April 28, 2009
  • Current Status: March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, Mac OS
  • Info

SOE was going to burst onto the free to play scene with a dedicated free title… a free title for the whole family.  Amusing to me was the fact that it took a year longer to get it out on PlayStation 3 than Mac OS.  Like most online games, it garnered a small but dedicated following.  However Smed seemed to think it was more trouble than it was worth.  After the shut down announcement Smed said, “No more kids games.  Kids don’t spend well and it’s very difficult to run a kids game.  Turns out Kids do mean stuff to each other a lot.”

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Adventures

  • Launch Date: September 15, 2010
  • Current Status: March 31, 2014
  • Platform: Web launched Windows and Mac OS client
  • Info

Considered by me to be the bone that Lucas Arts threw SOE when they were told they would have to close down Star Wars Galaxies, this mini-game focused online encounter is getting to the far edge of what I might consider an MMORPG.  There was a lobby as opposed to a world, but you could still interact with other people.  It was from a period when every show on Cartoon Network got a web launched MMO like this.  Still, it got 10 million registered accounts.  Thrown out with the bloodbath of 2014.

EverQuest Next

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2010
  • Current Status: The dream was over on March 11, 2016
  • Platform: Windows and PlayStation 4
  • Info

I, and a bunch of other people, just wrote a lot of words about this.  (Words and links here)  Years after saying that MMORPG sequels were a bad idea, SOE decided it needed to carry on the world of Norrath in a new way.  Every fan of EverQuest then proceeded to project their dreams on this title.  It was The Agency all over again, only on steroid enhanced expectations.  I still think the name was a bad idea.

DC Universe Online

  • Launch Date: January 11, 2011
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, coming to XBox One
  • Info

SOE’s entry into the super hero market.  Started as a subscription, which got Smed to make statement about regarding what subscribers should expect from such a business model, expectations which were not met.  Later converted to free to play.  Alleged to be an economically viable title on PlayStation, causing Daybreak to want to move this five year old title over to XBox.  Not my cup of tea, but super heroes never were… and the console focused control scheme on the Windows client made it even less enjoyable for me.

PlanetSide 2

  • Launch Date: November 20, 2012
  • Current Status: Still Going
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

Smed’s pet project, PlanetSide redone.  Has, at times, suffered from the same neglect and hacking issues as the original.  A troublesome title when it comes to revenue (“really struggling” was the quote, also “China“), since you can shoot people for free, and the pay to win options that people might spend money on don’t grant enough advantage.  Not sure that this will be on the train to an XBox One port.

Wizardry Online

  • Launch Date: January 30, 2013
  • Current Status: July 31, 2014
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

SOE decides to see if it can make any headway with an Asian import game.  Wizardry Online at least had some name recognition in the West because of its roots in the old game on the Apple II.  However, the game’s lineage changed a lot since the early 80s, having turned decidedly… well… Asian in flavor since then.  Fails to grab a big enough audience to survive.

Landmark

  • Launch Date: Announced August 2013, set to launch Spring 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

Originally a tool that was to be used to create EverQuest Next, it was weaponized and made into its own product.  Something of Minecraft with higher resolution graphics, I am still not sure what niche it will really fill.  More on that here.  Will not be free to play.

Dragon’s Prophet

  • Launch Date: September 23, 2013
  • Current Status: November 16, 2015 (US only)
  • Platform: Windows
  • Info

After grabbing Wizardry Online, somebody at SOE apparently felt they needed for another title from Asia, only this time without any name recognition to carry it along.  Its main claim to fame was being from the same developer who made Runes of Magic.  I completely missed its launch and barely noticed when it closed down.  Still available in Europe where a different company published it.

H1Z1

  • Launch Date: Announced April 2014
  • Current Status: Split into two games
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The original… and I use that word a bit ironically… zombie genre game idea from SOE.   Built off of the PlanetSide 2 platform, sold a million copies in Early Access.  Was slated to be a free to play game… until it sold well in Early Access.  No longer a single title.

H1Z1 – Just Survive

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The spirit of the original, the small world co-op MMORPG (despite what Smed said) vision of the game.  Has its moments.  Currently no launch date has been announced, is clearly in the back seat relative to its sibling King of the Kill.

H1Z1 – King of the Kill

  • Launch Date: Announced February 8, 2016, slated to launch Summer 2016
  • Current Status: Early Access
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 4
  • Info

The arena death match vision of H1Z1, with clear esports aspirations.  This is Daybreak looking for something they can grab a headline with.  Also, no longer free to play.  Daybreak will continue to collect $20 if you care to give it a try.

So that is the list, 22 games of various sorts.  I decided that the title of this post had to be SOE and not Daybreak because everything here was started before the Daybreak era began a little over a year ago.

From that list, Daybreak has the following to work with:

  1. EverQuest
  2. EverQuest II
  3. PlanetSide
  4. DC Universe Online
  5. PlanetSide 2
  6. Landmark
  7. H1Z1: Just Survive
  8. H1Z1: King of the Kill

And of those, only half are on the Daybreak All Access plan… though the other half are either in Early Access or free.

Daybreak All Access - March 2016

Daybreak All Access – March 2016

So that is the Daybreak lineup.  I suppose the real test of what Columbus Nova Prime has planned for the company will be if we ever see another new title.  A new title would mean plans for the future, while none would seem to indicate that the plan is just to milk the old SOE cow until it is dry.

EverQuest Next and the End of the Classic MMORPG

Well, that didn’t take long.

Just a couple weeks back I was on the Couch Podtatoes Podcast where we were talking about Daybreak’s first year.  Izlain and I were both very happy with how things seemed to be going with the classic Norrath team, EverQuest and EverQuest II.  They seemed to have had a great first year, even with a couple of initial stumbles.

However, we were both concerned about EverQuest Next.  We hadn’t heard anything about it lately.  Certainly nothing of note had come up since I marked the passing of the five year anniversary of the title’s initial announcement back in September.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

The Firiona Vie we’ll never know…

Well, the silence is over.  Just a few days shy of EverQuest’s 17th anniversary, Daybreak has a post up from Russell Shanks, the President of Daybreak Games, announcing the demise of EverQuest Next.  Quoted for posterity:

To Our Daybreak Community,

I’m writing today to let you know that, after much review and consideration, Daybreak is discontinuing development of EverQuest Next.

For the past 20 years EverQuest has been a labor of love. What started as a deep passion of ours, as game creators, grew into a much larger passion shared by you, millions of players and Daybreakers alike. Watching EverQuest’s ability to entertain and bring people together has inspired and humbled us. It’s shaped our culture and has emboldened us to take aggressive risks with our game ideas and products. When we decided to create the next chapter in the EverQuest journey, we didn’t aim low. We set out to make something revolutionary.

For those familiar with the internals of game development, you know that cancellations are a reality we must face from time to time. Inherent to the creative process are dreaming big, pushing hard and being brutally honest with where you land. In the case of EverQuest Next, we accomplished incredible feats that astonished industry insiders. Unfortunately, as we put together the pieces, we found that it wasn’t fun. We know you have high standards when it comes to Norrath and we do too. In final review, we had to face the fact that EverQuest Next would not meet the expectations we – and all of you – have for the worlds of Norrath.

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.

Yours truly,

Russell Shanks
President, Daybreak Games

And so it goes.

EverQuest Next follows The Agency into SOE history, games that were shown and hyped and which got people excited, but which never got there.

The irony here is that I could swear at one point that Smed said, after the launch and rather tepid response to EQII, that MMO sequels were a mistake.  And yet there was EverQuest Next, a placeholder name that became the real name for the game that never was.

I know what I wanted out of it, what a lot of people wanted out of it.  I wanted classic Norrath, lore and places and things I knew and loved, mixed in with some new dynamic that would make the genre feel fresh again.  That’s it, just an impossibly perfect mix of the new and the unknown, the fresh and the familiar.  That’s all we wanted.

And SOE seemed to be on the case at times with a story about a dynamic world and voxels and that whole Storybricks AI thing and updated stylized graphics.  People were excited after a couple of those SOE Live presentations.  I know I was.

Then, in that SOE way, things would go quiet, all the hype would peter out and we would be left wondering what was happening.  As with The Agency, the quiet turned out to be for a reason.

So what happens now?  Is this the end of the road for the classic Western PvE focused fantasy MMORPG?  Is the lineage of Diku MUD dead now?  Should we be happy or mourn its passing?

Because, as I mentioned in my previous post, it isn’t like EverQuest itself is gone.  It and EverQuest II are still there and chugging along and keeping the core fans happy and generally refusing to die… which is part of the problem when you want to introduce a replacement.  That was certainly what happened with EverQuest II.  The genre may be in jeopardy, and there may now be nothing in the pipeline that really represents how we got here, but the individual MMORPG is a tough beast to kill.

So, to sum up the life of EverQuest Next, here is the tale as I have traced it over the last five and a half years:

At least I will never have to see the UI they had in mind to run the game on both Windows and PlayStation 4.  Dodged that bullet.  But what will I spend all that Station Cash on now?

Of course, this announcement is kind of a big deal in our little corner of the web.  So here are some other people posting about the EverQuest Next news:

I will add more as I see them.

Market Saturation and the Cash Shop

In which I prove I can be both cranky and cynical at the same time.

I seem to have two standard sort of Friday posts.  One is a set of succinct bullet points.  The other is a rambling wall of words that never quite gets to a real conclusion.  This is Friday post is the latter.  You have been warned.

So the topic du jour lately has been Black Something Online.  I honestly cannot remember as I write this, and I have probably read the name five dozen times over the last two weeks.  So I suppose you can add “jaded” to the my blogging super powers.  (The missing word is “Desert,” but I had to tab out and look Feedly to find it.  Black Desert Online.  I kept wanting to write Black Diamond Online.)

Anyway, since it is free to play, the cash shop became an issue… once everybody was done gushing about the character creator at least… though there is some contention as to what the actual issue is.  Is it that the cash shop is too expensive or that people are too cheap or that the whole thing lacks ethics or what?

I think only Bhagpuss has spent much time talking about actual game play, and even he seemed to be tiring a bit.

But game play isn’t where I want to go.  I want to join in on the cash shop fun.

Random internet picture captures the morality...

Random internet picture captures the morality…

I have my own view on cash shops and free to play, which I generally sum up as tired resignation.  They are the reality of the MMORPG market today.  What started as an attempt to by troubled titles like Anarchy Online, Silk Road Online, and eventually Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, to grab some sort of competitive advantage over their monthly  subscription based rivals quickly became the default method of operation.

Remember back during the pre-launch hype around Warhammer Online when Mark Jacobs said he was considering charging MORE than the then industry standard $14.99 a month for the game’s subscription?  Those not caught up in the hype dismissed the idea while even those who were looking forward to the game seemed to think that Mark had better have something pretty fucking special up his sleeve in order to that route.

He didn’t and that whole idea sank quietly into the swamp, foreshadowing the story of the game itself.

But that is sort of how things are today.  If somebody comes along and says they want to launch a fantasy MMORPG with a $14.99 a month subscription as the only option, you would be right to dismiss that as crazy talk.  The Edler Scrolls Online and WildStar certainly got schooled on that front, both admitting defeat in under a year.

Only three games seem to be good enough for that route, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, World of Warcraft, and EVE Online.  Basically, the new champion of the fanatsy MMO experience, the old favorite, and the odd-ball that doesn’t fit nicely into the genre.  And the latter two have the WoW Token and PLEX, so you can play for free so long as you can get somebody else to pay.

As a business model the “monthly subscription only” idea is nearly extinct.

But now the cash shop is the market default.  Free is no long a competitive advantage, it is now a requirement to even sit at the table.  Everybody is free.  Everybody has a cash shop.  And most MMORPGs seem to be able to eke out some sort of livelihood in that market… which is a problem in and of itself.

MMOs don’t die very easily.  They linger on and on.  They don’t necessarily attract new players or grow, but they figure out how to hold onto their core players and get them to cough up enough money to keep the servers on and development going.  EverQuest and EverQuest II still have expansions for their core base.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has gotten past hot bars and seems to be doing okay selling content… and the forcing people to subscribe to access it. (But a new Star Wars movie probably helped a lot as well.)  Hey man, whatever you have to do.  DDO still have levels to add and new classes to sell.  LOTRO has… erm… let me think about that… no more expansions… no more Euro data center… oh, yeah, Tolkien!

But the market has grown, there are a lot more MMOs out there than back in 2004 when WoW and EQII launched.  Go look at the list of games that launched back in 2004.  It feels like ancient history.  Battlefield: Vietnam! Half-Life 2!  Halo 2!  Katamari Damancy!  Pokemon FireRed & LeafGreen… on the GameBoy Advance!

Imagine a market when you wanted to launch a new shooter but people wouldn’t stop playing something that went live 12 years ago?  And not just a few cranky hold outs on old hardware who couldn’t run your game even if they wanted to, but the mainstream of your market.  This is sort of what SWTOR launched into and for all of its faults, it was in large part fighting for market share of an audience that tends to stay fairly loyal to their favored game for years.

We’ve heard and dismissed past estimates of how big the potential MMO market is.  People thought it was 100,000 players big or 500,000 or a million or five million or whatever.  Those estimates turned out to be far too low.  But there was an effective upper limit out there somewhere, a hard stop where the genre simply ran out of players willing to commit the time and effort that MMOs demand.  I don’t know how big that number is, but it feels like it has stopped growing and may even have begun to shrink.

This was another Mark Jabobs thing, that the MMO market was going to be bigger than anybody thought… which was true enough.  But maybe not as true as he hoped, as he has gone from ironically saying “MMOs are a niche market” to making a niche title because the market isn’t all that big after all.

So in a genre where there are only so many people who will even hear about any new MMO coming out (MMOs are no longer news unless EVE Online has another big space battle or WoW launches an expansion), a subset of which would be willing to commit the time that an MMO requires, and where a good number of those players are already in a long term relationship with their favored MMO, any new title shows up has a steep hill to climb for success.

I am therefore not surprised that any new MMO that comes along goes straight for the cash shop antics that piss a lot of people off.  Any MMO that launches eventually has to buy into the trifecta of annoyance with over-priced items (to harvest whales), lock boxes or random card packs (to prey on those with poor self control), and constant reminders about the cash shop and sales and what is new and hot (to cajole the rest of us to buy and keep buying) because that is what it takes to survive and they don’t yet have the luxury of a core audience that would buy things like expansions.

What does surprise me is that anybody thinks they can wander into the MMO market with a game that is a rehash of WoW (2004)… which itself was just a rehash of EQ (1999)… with a few cosmetic differences (as I noted, most of the non-cash shop things I have seen about BDO has been about character models) and some slightly different game play (which is true to anybody besides the connoisseur) and expect market success.  It boggles the mind.

Of course, there is no doubt a message in the fact that the last few attempts have been Asian imports warmed over for the western market.  Nobody who has to pay salaries in US Dollars or Euros seems interested in going there from scratch.  (And just on cue, EverQuest Next has been cancelled.  More on that in another post.)

The right move seems to be to go niche, stay small, and build a following around a specific vision, as with Shroud of the Avatar, Project: Gorgon, Camelot Unchained, Crowfall, or Star Citizen…  and then maybe gouge the whales on the real estate or spaceship market.  Even Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and its plan to farm the failed mechanics of the past seems to be a better plan in today’s MMO market than going for a release with broad appeal.

Of course, we have yet to see any of those titles… aside from Project: Gorgon, which may be the smallest of the lot… actually deliver on their vision in any substantial way yet.  We shall see if that ends up being a good path forward when… and if… those titles reach a salable product state.

So that was about a twelve hundred word stream of consciousness ramble.  But at least I linked out to a few people.  Hi blog neighbors!

I suppose I need a point of some sort to sum up now.  Let me see… here are a few.  Pick one you like.

(There is an oh-so-clever poll below this, which sometimes gets eaten by AdBlock, in case you don’t see it.)


I look forward to a few angry comments about completely tangential items that I brought up briefly along the way.  Early guesses include “BDO isn’t like WoW,” “LOTRO is doing great,” “Game X has changed/will change everything,” and something about Star Citizen.

Now when is WoW Legion going to ship?