I agree one hundred per cent with Wilhelm when he observes that EQNext "was in its ideal state for a few hours after that first SOE Live presentation about it". It was a great presentation. One of the best I have ever seen for a game. It had verve and enthusiasm and punch. What it didn't have, as became increasingly obvious in the weeks and months that followed, was a game.
Actually, if all the team working on the project hadn't had at that point was a game, they would have been in a much happier place. After all, making games is supposed to be what they do. They could have come up with one in a year or two.
But it was much worse than just not having a game. They also didn't have a game engine or a voxel engine or an AI engine. They didn't have any of the basic infrastructure they needed to hang their game on when they made it.
It didn't stop there. In addition to having no game and no game engines they didn't even have a game plan. Instead they had "open development". That high-concept take on game-making amounted to not much more than a sporadic series of talking shops that asked questions that no-one cared about and didn't even listen to the answers to those.
There was a series of videos offering the unedifying spectacle of various staffers goofing with each other and sending up the project even as they were supposed to be promoting it. There was a whole beta application process, made hideously complicated and controversial by the involvement of PSS1, all for a product that had no earthly chance of entering any kind of beta in any reasonable time-frame.
|Let's see, how about we put Qeynos...here!|
And, of course, there was Landmark or, as it was initially known, Everquest Next: Landmark.
Landmark came as a total surprise. I never heard anyone claim to have anticipated or expected that SOE would simultaneously announce that they were going to make a new EQ MMORPG and a voxel-based, Minecraft inspired quasi-MMO at one and the same time, let alone that the latter would be available to play in less than six months.
They did, though, and it was. Or it was for those early adopters and curiosity-seekers willing to shell out the price of a triple-A release for what turned out to be a poorly-optimized tech demo.
The weirdest thing about Landmark and its controversial alpha-launch is that, if you go back and read the coverage from those first few months, it seems a lot of people were having a really good time. I was. I bought the most expensive pack for Mrs Bhagpuss as a birthday present and the cheaper one for myself so I could play too.
I have never regretted it for a second. I believe we got good value for our money. If you read my blog posts from back then you can see I was having a lot of fun. A couple of months of fun for the cost of a regular game is about what you'd expect. Of course, some of the supposed perks that were included in the price, like Early Access when the game launched and the ability to carry some of your work into release will never be fulfilled, but I knew then that I was paying a fee to get into the alpha. Everything else was just window-dressing.
I really enjoyed those first two or three months in Landmark. In many ways I liked it best back then, when it was rough and ready and there wasn't much to it. Over the years it has been smoothed and rounded and plumped up so that it's actually quite presentable, although that means it now runs like a three-legged dog on my aging PC.
I'm not so pessimistic as some about Landmark's upcoming launch. It's always been a fun...toy. It's not really a game. At $9.99 it could be a bargain. I'm looking forward to playing it again, whenever I finally upgrade to some tech that can handle it.
|Wherever there are Combine Spires there'll always be Norrath|
Landmark wasn't only (many would say "even") a "game" in its own right. It was also supposed to be the test-bed for the systems that would drive EQNext. And it was, controversially, the crowd-sourced sweatshop for some of that putative game's actual content.
Landmark players were set contests to design and build what were intended to be the cities of Norrath's future. I forget which ones they got around to doing - Neriak was one. The prize was supposed to be seeing your work immortalized in EQNext; to be part of Norrath, forever.
Now there won't be a new Norrath. Of course, it was actually going to be a very old Norrath, a Norrath from the deep past. Another swirl in the mist of confusion that obfuscated everything about the project and made it harder and harder to explain or sell as time wore on.
There won't be a new Norrath in Landmark. Officially, that is. The precarious thread between the two has finally been broken. When the game launches you should, as always promised, be able to build whatever you want. I'm betting now that someone, probably a lot of someones, will build Norrath. Just because.
So, we'll have Landmark, if anyone wants it. We won't have EQNext. I'm glad about that. Let's be honest, it looked awful. Other than that jaw-dropping first presentation, when did anything about the project inspire excitement or anticipation from anyone with a strong affection for the franchise?
EQNext was going to be a bright, brash technicolor ARPG in which cartoon characters bounced Tigger-like across frangible landscapes with all the subtlety of a runaway wrecking ball. It would have been a center-targeted, left/right mouse button hammering, console-favoring experience that bore little or no relation to any previous version of Norrath's story.
I would have played it despite almost all the features Dave Georgeson and Jeff Butler crowed over, not because of them. Just because it would, in some peripheral sense, have continuity.
|They call this place The Graveyard of Dreams.|
I'm very sorry so much time and energy and effort and money was wasted on such a hubristic project. I dearly wish they'd stuck with whatever the first iteration of EQ3 was, all those years ago, before they scrapped it, what was it, four more times? If they'd just have aimed squarely at their core market we might have been playing EQ3 for five years now and I could be writing a piece today speculating on when we might see EQ4.
This is the problem with MMOs. It's great to have a franchise. It's great to have a loyal core audience that wants more of the same. But, unlike a franchise in movies or novels or comics you can't just keep churning them out and selling them to the same people because when it comes to MMOS those same people are still playing your last franchise game.
All that happens if you try to sell them another one is that your same audience splits into smaller parts. Which is why, instead of making new MMOs you make expansions and stack them on top until the whole thing teeters and totters and anyone not already on the top floor gets a stiff neck looking up at what she'll have to climb to get to where everyone else is supposedly having the time of their lives.
That, I guess, is why Smed and Smokejumper and Jeff "No Gamer Name" Butler were so keen to break out to find a brand new audience. They must have known as well as anyone that all their core audience really wanted was EverQuest with better graphics. That's all the core audience ever wants (although the evidence from EQ's various graphical overhauls suggests that even when they get it they don't like it. Then again, that sums up the average EQ or EQ2 player's response to everything).
Well, the dream of growing the EQ franchise into a new zeitgeist and a global brand is over. It was never more than a pipe dream, at that. The people behind EQ already changed the paradigm once, when they laid down the framework for Blizzard to follow as they made World of Warcraft. You don't often get to change the paradigm or dictate the zeitgeist twice in a career and never by doing the same thing over again.
|DCUO: doing much better than clinging on by its fingertips.|
What the fallout from this admission of defeat will be remains to be seen. I thought Russell Shanks' statement was quite informative, especially if you read between the lines, as I always try to do. He as much as says that they bit off more than they could chew and that's a lesson SOE never, ever learned. If all that comes out of the fall of EQNext is a realization at DBG that projects need to be proven to be practical, realistic and manageable before work begins on them, that will be a fine legacy.
I believe the EQ franchise has been better-served under DBG than it was for many years under latter-day Sony management. The games run well, get regular updates and new content. The small teams working on them are doing a stellar job. GW2 players can only wish they were getting the same level of service from ANet's vastly larger workforce.
It may be over-optimistic to hope that EQNext going down the pan will free up some extra resources for the older Everquest titles, let alone that we might actually see a new, less insanely ambitious EQ game announced at some point. More likely the individuals not required to work on EQN any longer will be re-assigned to DBG's now-flagship titles, which would be the twin H1Z1s and DCUO.
Whatever happens, though, I am sure it will be better either than the endless silence and suspicion of an unreleased EverQuest Next or the inevitable media car-crash that would have ensued should that unhappy game ever have seen the light of day.
Goodbye EQNext. We never knew you and you won't be missed.