EverQuest Next (as we knew it) is dead

Everquest Next is dead

2016-03-14 Edit: this article is the old, oft lambasted prediction that things were not healthy @ Daybreak Games in EQNext’s regard – for the updated article look here.

… not officially, mind you. The project that I had been following with great interest that has the title “EverQuest Next” is still around. It is no longer, however, the same project it started out as.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Sony Online Entertainment is no more, purchased by Columbus Nova a NYC investment firm, and renamed Daybreak Game Company. Now just being bought from your original company does not mean the loss of the team responsible for EQ, EQ2, and a slew of other titles over the years; that’s just business. When I read the details a few weeks ago about SOE being acquired and becoming Daybreak I had a gnawing in my stomach about the future of EverQuest Next. “It’ll all be fine” I told myself. “This happens with game studios sometimes” I told myself.

But down deep inside I knew that there was a disturbance in The Force. Wait… that’s the wrong nerd franchise… Seriously though, something told me that it wouldn’t be business as usual despite the reassurances that this was a good thing in the PR notice. All buyouts are “good things” on paper, but something or someone always suffers as a result. Having been on the “bought” side of the transaction I speak from some degree of experience here. This is not to say that my limited sample size (1) of data affords precisely a scientific viewpoint, mind you.

A week after the acquisition came the news that a large number of people were being laid off, and we’re talking big name people here including David Georgeson, Director of Development for EverQuest, EverQuest II, Landmark and EverQuest Next. Rumor has it that the total layoff was around 40% of the SOE staff.

When news of the layoffs came around I started to put together the pieces to figure out what happened (or didn’t) and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First, a little history

I started playing EverQuest back in 1999 and I was “all in” from the start. I spent so much time in Norrath that I knew some of the zones better than I probably know my hometown. I played for years in various capacities and varying devotion. I was in a few guilds over those years, and culminated my time by co-leading a “Family Raiding Guild” on the Rathe Server with a friend I’d met all the way back in 1999. We were making good headway into current expansions, though by no means “elite”, we were just having fun. Then came WoW and EQ2… By 2005 I had lost a lot of my online friends to WoW and EQ2. I didn’t have a desire or the time to invest in a new game. I was working odd hours and only participating in raids and guild leadership via the EQ Instant Messaging program (remember that?). So I took some time away from the game which stretched into about 2 years away.

By the time I tried coming back in 2007 or so the game had evolved past what I was prepared for and almost all my friends had moved on to other games. I started to get into the emulation scene to go back to what I was familiar with. Then came the 2011 announcement that EQ2 was going Free-to-Play. I was interested, so I rolled up a character and messed around a bit. It was interesting, but ultimately I decided “this isn’t EverQuest” and walked away. (Note: I have since returned to EQ2 numerous times and have found it a very entertaining game, if only in short bursts). Somewhere along the line I beta tested and played LOTRO and many other MMOs for several years, but I always continued in the emulated EQ world and pretty much resolved to hang out there for the foreseeable future. I finally dabbled in WoW with some friends and it’s a very enjoyable game. It’s easy to pick up and play, yet challenging in its own way. Warlords of Draenor was one of the best expansions I’ve played in an MMO, and I’ve played a bunch. I still found myself pining for a “new” experience; something like the first time I set foot in Norrath. I realize this may be impossible, but I hold out hope.

All this to say, “I love me some EverQuest”.

His Hype level is over 9,000!

Hype level over 9,000! 

When EQ Next was initially revealed back in August of 2013 it caused a surge of hype, at least is my circles anyway. The voxel based terrain with deformation and destruction, the building, and the adaptive AI were strikingly different from current MMO offerings. The sense of “anything could happen” that the new AI might afford was very appealing to me and several of my friends. Then came the part of the reveal when they said that Landmark would be the base that EverQuest Next would be build upon. “Cool. Neat idea. Clever!” I said. My friends and I were very excited for EverQuest Next, to say the least. Even my wife who couldn’t get into EverQuest was interested.

I signed up for Landmark beta and was accepted. I beta tested it. It was a great idea, and developing nicely each time I went back to it. The vision of EverQuest Next built on top of Landmark’s voxel system (which is borrowed and enhanced from Planetside 2 engine) was a very exciting prospect. Then we noticed that official news of EverQuest Next started slowing down and ultimately petered out almost completely. The alpha that was said to be months away never surfaced. It’s now almost 18 months later and the game has been living in the shadows with no dates attached to it. H1Z1 has been conceived and released to Early Access in that time.

That awkward moment when you know

When news broke yesterday of Storybricks (the team largely responsible for the innovative AI aspects of EverQuest Next) closing up shop and the founders moving on to other ventures in AI it drove home the point that the game that is EverQuest Next will not be the game that was supposed to be EverQuest Next. The framework for the AI system may be in place, the concept art may be largely complete, the story may even exist in a skeleton form; but you can’t replace the passion of the people you’ve lost along the way. These people all believed in the game they were making, they had visions for what it was supposed to be and now they, and the passion and vision they brought with them, are gone.

I surmise that feature creep is largely to blame along with the constant hyping of the dream features. I feel like the development team was super excited about adding to and tweaking the game and that excitement was contagious. I personally got excited every time Georgeson would post something interesting about it to Twitter. I imagine that the project being in a seemingly never-ending development cycle (thereby eating up resources instead of earning money) was a large contributing factor to the grand kibosh that happened to the heads of story, development and so forth.

Over the last year or so my enthusiasm deteriorated to cautious optimism, then hopeful pessimism (please prove me wrong here, guys!), and on to complete indifference, which I argue is the worst of fates for a game. I just can’t bring myself to care about it anymore. Maybe it’ll come out and be everything I hoped, but I’m done following it rabidly and I’ve lost all faith that it will be worth anything until it’s in a playable state that I can try out. The fact that the company got rid of the people passionately driving the project tells me they are likely going to try to cut their losses, get it out the door quickly (if at all) and recoup some of the financial losses incurred by the long development cycle.

Until further notice, EverQuest Next is dead to me; and likely will remain dead as the visionaries that were driving its development are no longer involved. I could be wrong, oh how I would love to be wrong…

What do you think of the current state of EverQuest Next? Am I right? Am I wrong? Leave a comment; we can commiserate!

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