I see it around me
I see it in everything
-My Sundown, Jimmy Eat World
Here we are at EverQuest’s nineteenth birthday. Cue the usual tale about buying it at Fry’s on the way home from work back on March 16, 1999, arriving home, installing it, and being instantly hooked.
And, as I have opined before, if you had told me I might still be able to play the game in 2018, that it would still be live and viable and getting expansions, I am pretty sure I would have at least politely agreed to disagree on that.
Back in 2007 I put up a post wondering how many more expansions we could expect from EverQuest. The game just turned eight years old, the producers had announced that they were cutting back to a single expansion every year, the Sayonara Norrath video had already been making people misty eyed for a couple years, and I was guessing that it would make it at least to the ten year mark, maybe getting expansions out to twelve years.
In reality last year saw the Ring of Scale expansion launched, the 24th expansion for the game and here we are again for my annual homage to the world of Norrath. How does it do it? How has the game lasted so long?
Sure, it isn’t the oldest game out there. It isn’t even the oldest MMO. But a lot of things its age are quirky niche games in an already niche genre or are being run more as a hobby or labor of love than as a viable business venture.
EverQuest has followed the industry trends over the years, easing the death penalty, instancing content, focusing on quests, and going free to play. They have even taken a shot at upgrading the graphical quality of some of the early zones. I am not sure how much any of that has really helped though. Did free to play bring enough new players? Did anybody like the reworked Freeport and Commonlands?
What keeps EverQuest going?
I think it helps that Daybreak owns the IP. A licensed IP means writing a check to somebody else every month, not to mention the need to protect the IP, which means the owner might not want it attached to some maintenance mode shanty town.
Likewise, I think that its age is actually a benefit. It stands out as one of the early archetypes of the genre, the trail blazer of what became the path most followed. Also, having been initially built in during a time that pre-dates the rise in popularity of the genre meant that much of the game had to be built from scratch. That means less third party tools and middle-ware that has a regular license fee attached. It isn’t as simple as just having enough money to pay the electric bill and the network connection fee (and the domain registration, let’s not forget that… again). I am sure there is a hefty database in there that has an annual maintenance contract.
So, while EverQuest does cost money simply to run (probably more than you or I think), and even more to keep people maintaining it, the absolute base line level to keep it alive is considerably less than a game like Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has bills every month for a licensed IP, the HeroEngine on which it was built, and probably a pile of additional middle-ware and tools for the team, not to mention the revenue expectations of EA which, as a public company, has to trim products that are not performing. (I bag on EA a lot, but they are a product of the Wall Street environment.)
But the strongest card in its hand seems to be nostalgia, wherein it also benefits from its age. If you wandered into the MMORPG genre in 2008 or later, you might have picked one of any number of games… though you probably went for World of Warcraft.
However, if you started playing before the year 2000, you likely played one of three titles, Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, or EverQuest… and it was probably EverQuest. Even if you moved on to other games, or moved to WoW and never looked back like a lot of people… EverQuest remained the foundation of the genre for a lot of players. While the subscriber base peaked just past 500K, millions of people came and went from the game by the time WoW showed up at ate the genre.
And so EverQuest plays on that, and rightly so. It works. Expansions revisit old themes like elemental planes, pirates, or dragons, along with old locations such as Faydwer and Kunark.
But most of all this nostalgia is harnessed via special servers. This is the magic… and money making magic, since you have to opt-in on an old fashioned subscription in order to play… that seems to keep people interested and returning to old Norrath. Subscriptions for the nostalgic and expansions that hearken back to familiar themes for those who never left.
And so it only seems natural that today, on the game’s nineteenth birthday, Daybreak is launching yet another time locked, true box, instanced raiding, multi-zone spawning, something something, progression server, Coirnav.
Coirnav the Avatar of Water is a raid boss from from the plane of water, thus rolling back on that elemental planes theme I mentioned above.
There is a FAQ for the Coirnav server, though as far as I can tell it matches what they did for the last such server, which I think was Agnarr. I believe with this there will be six such progression servers running for EverQuest, which leads one to the question of when should they end and be merged back into the live servers. The problem is that EverQuest has so many expansions to unlock that every 12 weeks you still end up with a five year mission.
But roll on nostalgia if it keeps people interested and playing/paying. I believe the best part is the first few months when everybody is new and the possibility of finding new people to play with is very real. Once you get past Ruins of Kunark things settle into the more traditional fixed groups we know from many other MMOs.
I won’t be joining in for this round. I had a good time with the Fippy Darkpaw server (which is still running) back in 2011, but I am not sure I am ready for any sort of serious return. (Follow the tag for the life and times of that server.) I read somewhere that the internet has brought about the post-nostalgia era, since nostalgia means a longing for something gone and you can now find just about anything on a web page somewhere. Certainly the knowledge that EverQuest is there and that I could go wander around the world and play for a bit should I ever want keeps me from missing Norrath as much as I might.
Future grad students will have a bounty of information about all of our trivial thoughts when they look back on the dawn of the 21st century.
Anyway, here is to nineteen years of EverQuest!
It is a nostalgia post, so I might as well close with a nostalgia video. Here is the updated 720p version of Sayonara Norrath from 2004.
I am not sure it needed to be upped to 720p. Certainly the graphics from the game were not up to that standard at the time. But I still get a little misty eyed seeing all the old locations go by.