With the release of the Serpent's Spine behind us, now is the perfect time to step back and consider the possible future of Everquest. This article will attempt to predict what changes we will see in Everquest over the next two years.
Let us start with the easy ones. SOE will likely release four expansions between now and December 2008. These will likely include both large expansions with lots of open content and smaller expansions with more focused instanced content. The release schedule will likely continue every six months.
Expansion releases will continue as long as SOE sees a profit from their development and release. Because the associated costs for distribution are so low, expect to see SOE continue to release expansions for download only. Retail boxes will likely focus exclusively on compilation packs and be released in early spring.
The fall 2008 expansion will likely include another level increase to level 80 including all of the associated spells and AAs. Expect to see a continuation of the spell system found in TSS in the future.
It would appear, based on this last year's release schedules, that SOE plans to push EQ2 to new players with retail boxes released during the holidays. EQ releases will focus on keeping existing players interested in continuing their subscriptions.
The Serpent's Spine was SOE's attempt to bring in new players into the game but, without a retail package, it is unlikely to have accomplished this goal. I would not expect to see another low-level expansion within the next two years.
Everquest's population will continue to fall. Without bringing in new players, old players, however much SOE attempts to either keep them or bing them back, will still leave and some will leave for good. The attrition will not happen in great numbers all at once. The fall will be slight and steady over a trend of bumps and dives as expansions are released.
Another server migration may occur later within the next two year period depending on how far the population dips.
Everquest will not end over the next two years. This is easily predicted as we watch SOE's support for Everquest Online Adventures - a game with a far smaller population. Throughout its life, SOE has never attempted to migrate EQOA players to another game, nor have they shut the game down. With a very small population of players, SOE continues to keep EQOA alive.
EQOA is our canary in the cave. We can watch it and see how long SOE is willing to keep a low population game alive. As long as it survives, EQ is more than safe.
Do not expect Everquest to make any radical changes to characters, combat, or any other aspect of the actual game outside of what we already understand. SOE learned what can happen when it makes radical changes to a game's core system with the combat changes in Star Wars Galaxies. There will be no class mergers, no removal of classes, no migrations of classes, and no huge change to combat.
SOE will not attempt to merge EQ with EQ2. This rumor seems to keep popping up but when one really considers what it would take, one understand that it just won't happen. There is no way to migrate EQ characters into EQ2. They are too far different and nothing would be gained in the process.
With Blizzard's recent announcement that it plans to focus raids at a maximum of 25 players and with Everquest 2 continuing to focus at no more than 26 players, Everquest clearly has the market cornered on large-scale 54 person raids. Expect SOE to continue to cultivate these large raid encounters over the next two years and likely indefinitely.
With EQ2 and WOW also including a lot of solo content, expect Everquest to continue focusing content around six-person groups. While more solo options may become available in small amounts, do not expect a drastic leap in solo content such as great improvements in solo ability or in solo instances. Solo content will likely focus around single-person quests.
I do not expect SOE to return to the days of heavily flagged content such as that found in Planes of Power or Gates of Discord. End-zones will continue to require some sort of quest, task, or series of raids to enter, but SOE understands how it segments their market to flag entire sets of zones as they did in the past. I do not expect them to make that mistake again.
Over the past two years, SOE has included some radical changes in Everquest's features. Monster missions and spirit shrouds were two of these features. I do not expect to see SOE stepping out that far again in the next two years. With a clear focus on keeping existing players and bringing back retired players, EQ will focus its content and features around those that made it successful over the past seven years.
Now for some wild predictions:
Sometime over the next two years, SOE will release a rebuild of Plane of Knowledge. They will finally accept that this is the most popular city in Norrath and will always continue to be so no matter how many rebuilds of Freeport or new cities of Crescent Reach they create. SOE will attempt to bring the culture of old cities to the neighborhoods of Knowledge.
SOE will look for ways to make it easier for low and mid-level players to reach the raiding game. This may include things such as new reward systems for pickup-raid friendly content or ways to increase player power more quickly than traditional hunting and grinding. With a clear focus on and market advantage of high-end raid content, SOE will look for ways to open up this strength to more players.
SOE will not attempt to reduce downtime any further than they have. With WOW cornering the market on short-term MMO gaming, EQ will continue to focus on gaming in two to four hour sessions.
SOE is unlikely to close the equipment gap between raiders and non-raiders although hopefully they will attempt to reduce this gap and make it easier to tune high-end content for both sets of players. More likely, however, SOE will try to show non-raiders the advantages of raiding and make it easier for them to join in.
And now my final prediction: SOE will return to Kunark! With the old popularity of this expansion, SOE will release a "Ruins of Kunark 2" expansion that takes us back into the world of the Iksar and the Ring of Scale. Whether this is a LDON-style expansion or a larger TSS style expansion, I couldn't say. Perhaps SOE will combine two sequals into one and create Lost Dugeons of Norrath 2: The Dungeons of Kunark.
So there are my predictions for the next two years. However it turns out, I look forward to seeing the future unfold.
2 December 2006