Category Archives: EverQuest

EverQuest Expansion Plans and Progression Server Polls

On the one hand, the news out of Daybreak is a little sad.  We now know what the last EverQuest expansion is (a question I was pondering eight years back) because, according to the latest producer’s letter the game is following its younger sibling, EverQuest II, into the realm of adventure packs.  I’ll quote from the letter because I don’t know how long that link will last.  Daybreak is still running on the Sony domain.

We expect to do two campaigns a year with our first coming this fall. Our primary goal is to keep the world vibrant with content and respond to player needs and issues. We will still provide new lands and character advancement opportunities with our campaigns.

In our two campaign releases each year, we plan to release about the same amount of content as we normally would in one annual expansion. This is important to us because it will allow us to deliver content to you more often as well as respond to an ever-changing player base. For example, the Progression Server is just one thing we are doing in response to recent community feedback. I’ll also say that pricing has not been determined for the first campaign coming in fall, but we’ll share details when we get closer to our release.

So The Darkened Sea will be the end of the line, the twenty-first and final EverQuest expansion.

And yes, there is a discussion to be had as to what going to smaller DLC means and exactly how different that will be from the “expansion every autumn” plan that both EverQuest and EverQuest II have followed for more than half a decade. (Before that it was two expansions a year!  Oh heady days of too much content, broken or not, and speculation about SOE abandoning EverQuest!)

The change was not unexpected I suppose, and the idea of smaller, more regular DLC is certainly part and parcel of the whole free to play idea.  Of course, so is the whole throwing up an alert in the middle of combat asking you to become an All Access subscriber, where “All” has a curious definition.

All the games we say, not actually ALL the games...

For specific definitions of “All”

I mean at least The Elder Scrolls Online says they are limiting their on screen ads to once per day.  Daybreak pops that “Go Gold!” ad (and why is it “Gold” one moment and “All Access” the next?) a couple times an hour if you haven’t subscribed.  But I guess at least it goes away when you’ve subscribed.

Anyway, an end of an era, with the last expansion box, virtual though it might have been, having left the building.

On the other hand, the new progression server plan seems to be taking on more life, and getting more thought, than the past couple of runs.  Seriously, from the outside at least, the next progression server feels like it is getting more thought that the last two runs (plus the 51/50 server) combined.  There is a progression server FAQ, which is getting updated regularly, in the forums (I guess I should be happy it isn’t on Reddit) that goes into a lot of detail as to what is being planned.

High on the list of good ideas is applying their zone splitting tech to the low level zones so they don’t feel a need to roll another server immediately to cover the influx of new players.  That, in the past, has always led to a lesser, underpopulated server over the long run and calls for server merges, which are a pain.  So the following zones will be able to spawn additional versions to cope with the expected initial load:

  1. North Qeynos
  2. Surefall Glade
  3. Qeynos Hills
  4. West Freeport
  5. Commonlands
  6. Nektulos
  7. Misty Thicket
  8. Everfrost
  9. Steamfont Mountains
  10. Greater Faydark
  11. Butcherblock Mountains
  12. Innothule Swamp
  13. Toxxulia Forest
  14. Paineel
  15. Field of Bone

That doesn’t seem like quite enough for me, though that is likely because I will roll up in Qeynos (screw Freeport and its fancy new graphics!) and West Karana will likely be heavily used as well, if past experience is to be believed.

Zone Line - Well Marked

Just look at the corpses at the zone line

Also, no Blackburrow?  Ah well, we’ll see how this works.  And the crowds won’t be there forever.

The FAQ also indicates that they have updated the progression speed options that they are allowing people to vote on.  In addition to the ones I listed previously, there is now the  Level Cap Bias option, which plays out like this:

  • Ruins of Kunark:         8  months
  • Scars of Velious:         3  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      3  months
  • Planes of Power:        3  months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       2 weeks after PoP
  • LDoN:                           4 weeks after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       4 months after PoP, then every four months

I am not sure how that really matches the name, but the FAQ says that they would have to work out the unlock schedule.  I am torn on this, because 8 months to Ruins of Kunark means we spend the maximum amount of time in classic EQ, which favors my own bias.  So, with the poll already up in-game, I voted for that as my first choice, with Maximum Nostalgia as my second.

Server detail vote

Server detail vote

That does, however, give Ruins of Kunark, the best expansion ever, a pretty short run.  It deserves more time.  That made another question, the opening day content question, more difficult.  I eventually went for classic only, but I was not wholly against day one being classic plus Ruins of Kunark.  That makes for some gear mis-matches and the level 50 raid content becomes odd when you are cleared to level 60, but Kunark does have a lot of nice low level zones that tend to get bypassed when everybody is already 50 when the expansion unlocks.

Opening up with classic, Kunark, and Velious though, that seemed like too much.  I couldn’t go there.

I also picked expansion unlocks on a schedule versus via a vote.  Voting has been so problematic over the life of the Fippy Darkpaw server that I would rather just not have it than have more close votes where people are saying that the poll wouldn’t open for them.

Starting content and unlock process

Starting content and unlock process

Finally, there was the vote on a name.  I had to go with the simplest name to remember.

Name choices

Name choices

I am not even sure what “Ragefire” is in the context of EverQuest, but it sound nice.

And the final bit of interesting news, for me at least, was the fact that Daybreak plans to have a beta to test the mechanics of the new progression server.  Imagine that!  Those who participate will get some sort of non-power goodie, with an extra large bag having been mentioned as a possibility.

So not only does it look like a progression server is going to happen, but it is starting to feel like Daybreak might be serious about the whole thing.  Of course, they seemed serious about past incarnations of these servers as well, right up until they launched, at which point then ceased to be mentioned ever again.

Anyway, those of us looking forward to this sort of thing… which seems to be Keen and Bhagpuss, along with myself… will no doubt be in there and voting and covering events as they come up.  The age of EverQuest and the nature of its growth (with lots of segregated content added over the years) makes this sort of server viable in a way that something like LOTRO can likely only dream of.

 

EverQuest Progression Servers – How Slow Can You Go?

About a month back I posted about Daybreak putting up a poll about the next round of progression servers.  The options for that in-game poll were:

  • Existing Rules
  • Slower Progression
  • Locked Progression
  • Seasonal Challenge

You can read the details about each option in my previous post on the subject, but the results are in and posted on the EverQuest forums.  Slower progression won.

Slower progression isn’t a bad choice I suppose.  That is what I voted for.

Progression Server Polling...

Progression Server Polling…

What was the right choice depends upon your point of view, and there are any number of factions interested in the next server.

The raiders, who tend to drive the whole progression server thing, will probably be okay with slower, depending on how much slower things end up.  But if you had your hearts set on a classic server, one that stops progressing at some point, then you are probably not happy with the result.

Personally, I fall into the “everything after Ruins of Kunark is crap” camp, so my motivation is to have any future progression server spend as much time as possible on the base game and Kunark.

The only fully good MMO expansion ever

The only fully good MMO expansion ever

And yet I am not all that interested in a locked server stuck in Kunark for all eternity.  I like the progression idea, that the server moves forward and unlocks content, and that the game changes and evolves.

I am not sure that such a server needs to pass through all twenty-one expansions.  There comes a point when the server is close enough to live that it makes little difference and it might as well be rolled into a live server.  Where that point is would no doubt make for a lively debate.

Anyway, with the first poll out of the way, there is now a second in-game poll up.  This time the choice is about how much slower should the expansion unlocks should be.

The original progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out back in 2006, were driven forward entirely by unlocking raid content.  There were no brakes on the system and, while I do not have a timeline for those servers, I recall the response by many non-raiders as being “too damn fast.”

The still active Fippy Darkpaw server was put up as a “time locked” voting server, where by there was a minimum amount of time that had to pass after raid content was finished before an unlock vote for the next expansion could take place.  That slowed things down some.  Here are the unlock durations I recorded for the “important” expansions.

  • Ruins of Kunark:        3.75  months
  • Scars of Velious:       2.75  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      2.75  months
  • Planes of Power:        2.75  months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       1 month after PoP
  • LDoN:                   1 month after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       4 months after PoP

So the server unlocked Ruins of Kunark in just under four months, because there was a special delay, after which each expansion unlocked in just under three months.  The exceptions were Gates of Discord, which failed three unlock votes, and Underfoot, which failed at least one, and then Legacy of Ykesha and Lost Dungeons of Norrath, which are considered mini-expansions and so get unlocked on a set timer after Planes of Power.

(All of the Fippy Darkpaw unlocks I managed to record are available here.)

The vote underway now is to decide how quickly to unlock expansions.  It has three choices, which I will list out from fastest to slowest.

Add 50%

This option would add a 50% boost the the minimum unlock time that we had for Fippy Darkpaw, so the unlock schedule would look like this:

  • Ruins of Kunark:        4.5  months
  • Scars of Velious:       4.5  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      4.5  months
  • Planes of Power:        4.5  months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       3 weeks after PoP
  • LDoN:                   3 weeks after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       3 months after PoP, then every three months

I think somebody forgot we were given extra time before Ruins of Kunark, though they did remember that LoY and LDoN were both unlocked two weeks late due to technical glitches.  Still, that does give the base game and RoK a longer run than they had before.  Estimated total time to run through the expansions is five and a half years.

Maximum Nostalgia

The second proposed rule set would put a six month gap between server unlocks up until Gates of Discord, after which expansions would unlock every three months… because who cares about that shit.

  • Ruins of Kunark:        6  months
  • Scars of Velious:       6  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      6  months
  • Planes of Power:        6  months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       2 weeks after PoP
  • LDoN:                   4 weeks after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       3 months after PoP

So the time until each expansion could be unlocked would be fairly flat, with the server spending more that two years getting through Planes of Power, with the whole slate of expansions taking six and a half years to work through.

Half Speed

This is the most radical of the three proposals.  This would run the progression server forward at half the pace of the actual, real world release schedule of the expansions.  So the run up through Gates of Discord would look like this:

  • Ruins of Kunark:        6.75  months
  • Scars of Velious:       3.75  months
  • Shadows of Luclin:      6     months
  • Planes of Power:        5.5   months
  • Legacy of Ykesha:       4 weeks after PoP
  • LDoN:                   10 weeks after PoP
  • Gates of Discord:       7.75 months (after PoP)

After Gates of Discord the schedule calms down a bit, with expansions hitting about every three months through the “two a year” era and then every six months after Secrets of Faydwer.  At this pace it would take eight years to get through, since EverQuest is just celebrating its sweet sixteen.

What to Pick?

Give those three choices, I am inclined to go and vote for the Half Speed server, as it gives us the longest run from the base game to Ruins of Kunark, though the Maximum Nostalgia option isn’t completely off the table, as it would give us a full year of just base plus RoK, thus not selling that huge expansion short.

In addition to the three server types to choose from, there is a second vote up about whether or not expansion unlocks should be put to a vote every time… and thus possibly delaying releases… or if things should just unlock on a schedule.  I am in favor of the latter.  I would rather have expansion releases on the calendar so that the raiders, who will be part of the progression server community, can plan their activities.  One of the problems for them on Fippy Darkpaw has been knowing when to call everybody back to the game to move on. (Though most of the time that has been SOE screwing up the unlock for whatever reasons as opposed to unlocks being voted down.)  The raiders are not there for the same reasons I am, but I don’t think that should give me license to screw them over on a server that has been billed as progression from the start.

Anyway, I am happy to see that the progression server idea is moving forward though, like Bhagpuss, I have to admit that planning something that could take as long as eight years to get through might be an act of extreme optimism for Daybreak at this point.

Will there still be an EverQuest… or a Daybreak Game Company… in 2023?

Sweet Sixteen for Norrath

It was sixteen years ago today that I picked up a copy of EverQuest at Fry’s on my way home to work, only to get completely hooked on the game almost immediately.

EverQuestHere it is, many years, many changes, and twenty one expansions down the road and thinking about that first evening of discovery still strikes a chord within me.

I haven’t played the game by any definition of the word for over a year now, but I still might at some future date, if Daybreak takes a run at another round of progression servers.

So, without much to say, I’ll point you at Bhagpuss who is reliving some EverQuest moments in Neverwinter, thanks to Tipa’s hard work.

Of course, if you are still actively playing EverQuest, there are a whole series of events going on for the anniversary.

Progression Servers and Post-Cataclysm Norrath

We came up short as a group in Azeroth this past weekend.  Life will get in the way and the whole group has gotten older over the last eight years we have played.  But three of us, Potshot, Ula, and myself were online.  We got on Skype together as we went about doing some garrison things and quests and what not.  Blizzard has made “soloing in a group” work a bit better over the years, but sometimes it still feels like the optimum open world group size is one.

Potshot and Ula were off on a quest chain to unlock a garrison upgrade while I was running around Azeroth visiting elders for the Lunar Festival.  I was sparked into late action on that when I read that 40 tokens from elders will buy you a 60 to 90 heirloom armor upgrade as part of the whole new heirloom system that came in with patch 6.1.

Blizzard has found a way to get me to do holiday events again, gotta give them that.

Anyway, as we were off on our tasks, we started talking about the possibilities of the EverQuest progression server that may (or may not) be showing up at some future date.

Potshot and I are pretty much on board for it… same as it ever was.  We will be there for the dawn of whatever new server they put together.  We also sold Ula on the idea for the moment of going back in time to a world of simple graphics, bad linoleum textures, and limited skills and spells.

Bandit fight in West Karana

Bandit fight in West Karana

Depending on when (and if) Daybreak gets this going, a progression server excursion might make a nice break from Azeroth for a bit.  I would call it a hiatus, but I think we would need to play more to qualify for the term.

On conversation meandered about on the idea of EverQuest nostalgia and then I started to compare old EverQuest to EverQuest II, which in many ways seems to be almost the antithesis of EverQuest, at least when comparing the early versions of both.

Vinkund's hot bars

At what point in EQ did you need 3 full hotbars?

Of course that made its way around in my mind to what an EverQuest II progression server would be like.  How do you take what there is out there today, the game having just hit the 10 year mark back in November, and recreate the 2004 experience?

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 - Nov. 14, 2004

My earliest screen shot of EQ2 – Nov. 14, 2004

Even the EverQuest II team, during their recent “Don’t go, we’re still alive!” live stream the other day spoke of a desire to do something like a progression server for EverQuest II, if they could figure out how.

And therein lies the rub.

I must assume that the EverQuest II team is stuck with the same restrictions that the EverQuest team faces when doing progression servers, which means working with the current client and server and zones and just playing with some of the flags and settings in the background.

In this EverQuest has a clear advantage in that SOE hasn’t spent a ton of time going back and revamping old zones.  Yes, they redid Freeport and the Commonlands and the Desert of Ro, for which they will spend time in purgatory I am sure, but a lot of the old zones are still the same ugly ass stuff we thought was the bees knees back in 1999.  This is why I always roll on the Qeynos side of Norrath.

Qeynos... at night!

Qeynos… at night!

SOE added a lot of stuff to EverQuest, including a starting tutorial and some new starter zones, but they left a lot of the old stuff intact.  Camping bandits in West Karana in 2011 was very much like camping them in 1999.

We're hunting bandits

We’re hunting bandits

EverQuest was ever looking forward to the next expansion, the next round of content, then next increase in the level cap, the next pack of AA skills.  It isn’t like it launched perfectly.  There were many problems, some of which took years to fix.  But the team seemed to have their eyes constantly on the horizon as they chased a crazy two expansions a year dream, which ran unbroken for a five year stretch of time, from Legacy of Ykesha to Secrets of Faydwer.  Success allowed that.

Meanwhile, EverQuest II has spent a lot of its first decade trying to fix, change, or simply forget about what the game was like at launch.   There have been a lot of revamps of game mechanics, as there have been with EverQuest.

But the EverQuest II team has also spent a lot of time going back to the original content to change and update things.  Qeynos and Freeport have been changed and revamped and updated to the point that it is difficult to compare the 2004 versions with the what is there now.  There is no Isle of Refuge on which to start anymore… unless you want to run around your own version… and I am not even sure you can still get to the swamp where that first screen shot above was taken.

And zones that made a huge impact on me back in the day, like the Thundering Steppes or Nektulos Forest, have been changed so much over the years that they hardly feel like the same places.

Taunting centaurs

Remember when centaurs were all group encounters?

Given all of the changes that have rolled back over the original game over the years, I am not sure that much of 2004 can be really recreated given the limitations that the EverQuest II team will face.  They are not going to be allowed to roll a special client or a special version of the server software, which leaves us with what?

I suppose there would be some interest, some value, some fun to be had in simply rolling up a fresh EverQuest II server that required Station Access or SOE All Access or Daybreak to Dusk Access or whatever the all-in-one only subscription option will be called some day, starting with just the original zones, and then not allowing transfers or level 90 character boosts.  Maybe they could tinker with the experience table or toughen up the mobs a bit.  It could be a hardcore or challenge server maybe.  But I bet it would be tough to justify keeping the cash shop limited, especially if it turned out that the people who jumped on that server were subscribers already.  Siphoning your most dedicated players off to their own isolated server can’t be viewed as a win in accounting.

So where does that leave us?  Back with the status quo?

Of course, it is also reasonable to ask about how much nostalgia there is for the early days of EverQuest II.  In many ways 2004 in Norrath feels like a survivors tale of horrible ideas we’re all pretty much glad we no longer have to deal with.  Is any significant population of players really longing to go back to early days of the game?

There is an EverQuest II emulator project out there, but it doesn’t seem to generate anywhere close to the amount of interest that classic EverQuest or World of Warcraft or even Star Wars Galaxies server emulation does.

The cliche response is always that you can’t go home again, but in this case, do we even want to?

Progression Server Progress in EverQuest

Color me surprised.  I mentioned EverQuest and progression servers at the top of the week, then left that behind, expecting to hear no more about it for many months, thinking on the Galactic Student Council and the Crowfall Kickstarter campaign and the WoW 6.1 patch and other more current items.  Plenty of time for these things before EverQuest news shows up again.  There isn’t even a community team left to put our EverQuest news, is there?

And then I saw this tweet from Holly “Windstalking” Longdale, now executive producer of both EverQuest and EverQuest II, last night.

Wait, what?

Sure enough, the link to the EverQuest forums resolves to an actual post talking about proposed progression server models.  That is like moving at light speed for the organization formerly known as SOE.

The forum post explores four potential progression server models they might pursue, and I am going to copy the text for each wholesale here because you just KNOW that this company change is going to end up with another revamp of the forums and the inevitable loss of old posts.

The proposed models are:

1. Existing rules – A restart of what we have on Fippy Darkpaw

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

2. Slower progression – Fippy taking it easy

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a three-plus month countdown timer starts.
  • When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • This progression can continue until the server is no longer able to defeat raid targets or until it catches up with live servers.

3. Locked progression – Fippy that won’t progress to live, possible classic server

  • Server starts with only the original EverQuest zones active. Players start at level 1.
  • When players kill a set of predefined targets, a two-month countdown timer starts. There is a three-month timer before Kunark and Velious can unlock.
  • OPTION: When the timer is complete, a two-week vote starts that will enable the next expansion. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Dev determines the unlocked progression based on the player completion rates.
  • At a specific point, determined by Dev, votes are no longer available and progression is complete.

4. Seasonal Challenge Server – Constantly refreshing Fippy

  • The server starts with only original EverQuest zones active, or with content enabled through a later expansion. Players start at level 1.
  • OPTION: When players kill a set of predefined targets, a vote begins within a week. Each vote lasts two weeks. If the majority chooses ‘yes,’ the expansion unlocks at the end of the voting period. If the majority chooses ‘no,’ a new vote begins immediately.
  • OPTION: Alternatively, Dev may choose to unlock content when progression targets are complete.
  • Players have a set period of time (one season) to complete as much content as they can. The player(s) who get the farthest will receive recognition and a prize (to be determined later).
  • Once the season is complete, the server is reset and the challenge begins anew!

Of those four, I would be happy enough to see any of the first three, as they contain what I consider the key element of fun/interest for me, which is everybody starting together at level one in the old content.  Honestly, once the game gets past Ruins of Kunark, my interest starts to fade, so slowing things down a bit or not holding out until the bitter end of the last expansion before syncing up with the live servers makes sense to me.

Not that the fourth option doesn’t sound interesting.  That might be the old school raider progression vehicle of choice, with a constant stream of raiding goals and prizes and what not.  I just wonder how that will play out given how raiders behave every single time there are contested open world raids.  Because once the GMs have to get involved and make a schedule (or start their own fight club) somebody else is controlling the flow.  Don’t try to tell me it will be different THIS time, because it won’t.

Not that I would even be able to get into the raiding bit.  And I must admit that a server that basically pwipes at intervals and starts everybody back at level 1 again has a certain appeal.  Some of my best times on TorilMUD were at pwipes.  That would essentially replay what I consider the best part of the whole thing over and over, like some demented shared Norrathian version of the movie Groundhog Day.

The problem is that I do get attached to my characters.  I like to see them progress.  And even when they don’t get very far, I like that they at least made SOME progress and got to KEEP that progress in anticipation of my return.  For me it starts to get into the “death or rebirth?” discussion, and having that happen at regular, and presumably short, might end up wearing me down.  Or it might let me jump on the ride when it starts up again.  I am not sure.

Anyway, as mentioned in the forum post, there is a poll up in EverQuest currently that allows you to vote on which of the formats you might prefer.  I actually got out the EverQuest client and pushed the button for one of the options.

Progression Server Polling...

Progression Server Polling…

The poll itself had some trouble recording my vote because… well… EverQuest polling is like that.  See the forum thread related to any Fippy Darkpaw expansion unlock vote, there is always a few people who are not able to vote because the client is just not feeling it at that moment.

Of course this might all be for naught, at least if the discussion in the general channel on the Vox server is any sort of barometer of player sentiment.  After I voted I watched a stream of vitriol about the whole progression server idea flow past in text form.  I would politely sum up the general sentiment I saw as, “Progression servers just steal players and developer resources from the real game and nobody wants to go play the 1999 version anyway because it was horrible.”

Meanwhile, all is not peaches and cream in the progression server sub forum either, where vocal members of the various factions that haunt that section are calling for any number of impractical or unlikely suggestions that have piled up over the years.

We shall see how this plays out.  This could mean that DGC might roll out some new form of progression server in time to take up the slack of the summer hiatus.  Or the whole thing might just fall down a well, never to be heard from again.

What kind of progression server would you like to see?  Or is that even your thing?

Also, if you want to see the progression of the Fippy Darkpaw server up through July of last year, when the vote to unlock the Underfoot expansion failed, you can find it all summed up here.

Addendum: Keen, who is also interested in the whole EverQuest progression server thing, has his own post up on the same topic.

A Vision of Norrath at Daybreak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That something was live streams.

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

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

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

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Still looking at this picture of EverQuest Next vision…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This treasure... you cannot have it

Is there still treasure in post-cataclysm Norrath?

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

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

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

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

Timeline stuck in time

So many expansions to unlock

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

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

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

And the beat goes on.

The 2015 List – A New Year Brings New Predictions

Hey, it’s 2015!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

A graphic with the number 2015 on it!

And as happens with the change of the calendar around here, it is time for some forward looking silliness that I can evaluate at some point 11 months or more down the road, giving me something of a framework for what really happened versus what I predicted.  There is, at this point, a history of this, which you can find at the links below.

Since I squandered my free time before the new year playing video games rather than writing about them, this will be an even more hasty, pulled from my posterior end list than usual.

Predictions

For scoring purposes, predictions are worth 10 points each unless otherwise noted and partial credit is possible.  Remember, I am taking a stab at what might happen, not listing out what I want to happen.  The latter would be a very different list indeed.

  • At BlizzCon we won’t hear about the next World of Warcraft expansion.  Blizz is going to avoid the year long run up to a new expansion and focus on what we’ll get in Draenor in 2016.  That’s the plan going forward; a shorter run up to the next expansion, more focus on the current one, same two year gap between launches.
  • Blizzard will also punt on its PLEX-like item idea as foes of the idea in the forums will keep screaming “Diablo III real money auction house fiasco!” until the idea is put back on the shelf.
  • BlizzCon will also see the announcement of a new expansion for Diablo III, breaking the “one expansion” trend for Diablo games.
  • Heroes of the Storm will go live, at last, after BlizzCon.
  • Overwatch, though, will stay in closed, invite-only beta in 2015.  We’ll hear good things, but we won’t get anything until next year.
  • EverQuest Next will not ship in 2015.  At least not by any definition I would consider a real release.  Rather, it will enter the “pay to play our unfinished free to play game” state that has haunted Landmark for the last year.  And it won’t even get to that state until after SOE Live.
  • Push is going to come to shove at SOE, with EQN and Landmark drawing on more in-house resources but not necessarily providing more revenue.  One of the two Norrath games, EverQuest or EverQuest II, is going to get shorted on the expansion front this year.  There will be a virtual box to buy, but it will really be just a features and fixes expansion with no new levels, races, classes, or overland zones.  A few dungeons/raids and the usual set of AA options will be all somebody gets.
  • Also on the SOE front, Dragon’s Prophet will get the axe in 2015 and some new Asian import will get its chance.
  • GuildWars 2 is going to ship an expansion in a box, virtual or otherwise, that will be the classic “give us money and get new content” exchange that we are all quite used to.  It will be a big win, hugely popular with the fan base, have many jumping puzzles, and ArenaNet will grumble all the way to the bank about how NCsoft made them do it.
  • WildStar will go free to play.  NCsoft has a deal for the China market, so they can’t shut the thing down just yet.  But to get to China I am going to bet they have to go F2P.  And if you’re going to do the work for China, you might as well apply it in the west as well.
  • CCP is going to break sovereignty in null sec in 2015 and cause a great upheaval in EVE Online.  Most sov will effectively be dropped and chaos will ensue.  Much mocking will come from other quarters of the game, until the wise realize that all those null sec players need to go somewhere, and it is either leave the game or bunk with them.  Soon the cry to fix null will be universal, just to save the game and everybody’s sanity. CCP will take one of their full five week dev cycles to fix it, but there won’t be any roll back.  Instead they will have new sov mechanics in place and will declare a null sec gold rush/thunderdome.  Hilarity will ensue and it will become one of the great legends of the game we tell to new players.  Meanwhile, the sov map will look pretty much the same at the end of the year.
  • CCP will sell, transfer, or otherwise hand off responsibility for DUST 514 to Sony, including the employees left working on it.  It will remain connected to EVE Online, so orbital bombardment will remain a possibility, but Sony will be running.  It will end up in the laps of SOE in San Diego which will prompt another round of “SOE is buying CCP!” hysteria.  (But that won’t happen until 2016.)
  • The Elder Scrolls Online will muddle along in 2015, fixing bugs and waiting for the console version to ship.  The console version won’t ship until after summer however, and things will seem somewhat grim as the push to get it out becomes an “all hands on deck” development task, leaving the Windows version to drift for a couple months.
  • Funcom will also be in a bit of a muddle as LEGO Minifigures Online continues to under perform.  This will cause a replay of the LEGO Universe fiasco, with LEGO HQ wresting control of the software from Funcom, as they did with NetDevil, leading to about the same result as LEGO runs the thing into the ground and shuts it down.
  • Hacking and cyber attacks will be on the rise, and a major MMO studio will be kicked completely offline for a full week at some point during 2015.
  • EA’s claim that Star Wars: The Old Republic’s earnings are disappointing is a sign of something.  I expect less voiced content, if any, and more features like Galactic Starfighter, things that can boost cash shop sales.  Double credit if they use my droid battles idea from last year.
  • At Turbine, things will go as they have been for the last few years, with a slow retreat into its core money making items.  Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 will go the way of EverQuest Mac the first time they need an update for a vulnerability.  A WB exec will order the plug pulled before the end of 2015.  They will be gone along with the pipe-dream promise of running your own server.
  • Likewise, it will be a slow year for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online unless Infinite Crisis is a break-out success in the MOBA world.  It looks like it will be lining itself up against Heroes of the Storm, so that looks like a vain hope indeed.
  • Brad McQuaid, failing to find a reliable source of suckers funding, will throw in the towel on Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, leading wags to ask if this was supposed to be the rising part of the prophecy or if it was still part of the fall.
  • Project: Gorgon will finally catch a break and gain traction via early access at Steam.  Some money will come in and allow development to move more quickly.

No Shows in 2015

A quick list of titles I do not think will ship in 2015, with “ship” being defined as no longer in beta or otherwise restricted or branded as being in development.  These are worth 5 points each and are pretty much pass/fail.  Things either go live or they do not.

  1. Line of Defense
  2. Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtue
  3. Camelot Unchained
  4. World of Warships
  5. H1Z1
  6. Star Citizen
  7. EVE Valkyrie

That gives me a total of 200 points in the first category and 35 points in the second for a total of 235 points.  We’ll see how I did in about a year.

Other Predictions

Elsewhere in the blogesphere others are making their own predictions, which are probably more rational than my own.  I will link those I find below: