The Future of the Game

I’ve probably ranted about this before… but of course that won’t stop me from doing it again.

What’s wrong with EverQuest?

Honestly, if you enjoy the game as it is, nothing. Sony has laid out a path of developement for their virtual world that they are progressing down, and if you enjoy the places it goes then EverQuest is a happy fun place. If you don’t though, EverQuest is, as the popular phrase among other ranters goes, dying.

The Real World, you know, the one we live in, is huge. It has a vastness that most people never bother to try to comprehend. But if you are one of those people who try, you’ve looked at this planet and seen what the 6 billion or so people on it have done. Cities, towns, farms, roads… there are really very few places that are truely barren of human life. Places in the Arctic and Antarctic come to mind, as do a number of deserts and other places. Now consider that 70% of the planet is water and has, realistically, no population of humans.

In the world of EverQuest, much of the game is like the oceans. If you run from Qeynos to Freeport, which is 6 to 8 zones, you’ll likely run into maybe a dozen people. These are zones that at one time housed a hundred or more. 10 to 20 people per zone, and on many servers with the East Commanlands Bazaar, 100 people without breaking a sweat. The game is empty.. at least until you get to level 65 and start raiding, then you have 500 people vying for the same 3 to 4 zones and encounters.

EverQuest has become a land of raiding and high end gaming. There is little place for the truely casual player anymore, the slow and steady explorer, the quiet dreamer. If you try to play the game that way now, starting at level 1, you’ll quit in 3 months, guaranteed. Its just… lifeless. Now, if you powerlevel, and race to 65, you may play for much much longer. This is where the “game” exists. However, step away from the dozen zones built for the “high end” game, and you’ll find it just as empty.

Sony has nurtured a game that has expanded with its players, but it hasn’t grown. Arathur in Qeynos still says the same things he said 5 years ago. The same quests are still there, some are even still broken. Sony had lived under the impression that the game is better off going to new lands than to dare alter the existing game. Its true, players get angry when content they either remember fondly or have yet to experience disappears, but these angry players don’t quit. Verant understood this. While they did give up the Kunark expansion that nearly doubled the size of the world, they also gave us “Bloody Kithicor” as the once benign Kithicor Forest turned into a place of vile evil once the sun has settled beneath the hills, changing a zone for levels 1-10 into a place filled with wandering level 30-40 undead. Ask any player who played during that time, and they’ll recall it. Ask any player who started in the year or so after and they’ll have heard of it. Only 2 or more years later is it possible for a player to play the game and not hear of “Bloody Kithicor”. Verant developed player lore: stories that lasted long beyond their occurance. Sony hasn’t done that.

In the history of game expansions, EverQuest was always expanding. From Kunark, to Velious, to Luclin, to the Planes of Power, to Broken Skull Rock, to the Lost Dungeons of Norrath, to the Gates of Discord, and looking forward toward the Omens of War, only one expansion didn’t add new lands. The Lost Dungeons of Norrath added camps to existing zones, and dungeons off those and more existing lands. You didn’t need a port, or to ride a boat. It was the old world brought to life again.

Right now, there are zones in EverQuest sitting empty that are a part of storylines gathering dust. All they would need to do is resurrect those stories, revamp a zone or two, add a zone or two, add a dozen instanced dungeons, and the players would come back to the old worlds. The travel paths of old would be alive again with the footfalls of adventurers. Mayong Mistmoore could return to power and take his seat in Castle Mistmoore evoking the resurgance of evil in the Faydark. The frogloks of old Sebilis could begin to rebuild their armies in earnest, gathering strength from the growing darkness in their halls. The gnolls of splitpaw might stumble on to an enormous power, strengthening them and spilling out into the Karanas.

Everything that Sony needs to revitalize the world of Norrath is within their grasp… but the catch is, you can’t revamp a zone for only the players who pay. If Mayong returns to power in his castle, you can’t have the new Mistmoore available only to those who buy the new box down at Besy Buy or who order it online for digital download. Free content seems to be a bad word at Sony. But free content could save them.

EverQuest has peaked. At this point, the only thing they can do is retain customers. New customers (true new customers, not someone’s second or third account) will be few and far between. Players entering Norrath now are presented with an enormous empty world. The social aspect is gone at the lower levels. So eiher you suffer in a world of silence, or you have a friend who helps you catch up to the “real game”. And many new players, and players new to gaming, don’t want that… they want to experience the game, not have it handed to them. The only way EverQuest will ever gain customers again… free content. A revamping of the world so that it isn’t so empty and lifeless below level 65.

City of Heroes, World of Warcraft… there is blood in the water, and they smell it. These games are making large worlds that are vast beyond their borders, designing games to be enjoyable and populated at all levels. In City of Heroes, for example, even when you are level 43, from time to time doing missions you’ll be forced to travel back to Atlas Park, the lowest level zone in the game, for a door mission, or to talk to a contact, keeping you connected to the rest of the world.

EverQuest needs to change, or it will, as they say, “die”.

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