Caster's Realm: Is Everquest Dying?

Is Everquest Dying?

This question seems to flood every EQ-based message forum since the release of EQ2 and Worlds of Warcraft. Is our beloved Norrath crashing to the ground? Are the city streets empty? Do lone adventurers stare over the empty wastelands of a once rich and populated land? Today we will discuss the future of Everquest and address the most difficult question we have had to answer since EQ came into being.

Let me start with the answer. No, Everquest is not dying. But let us go back a step further and define what dying and death are for a game such as this. Here is Loral's Definition for the Death of Everquest:

If SOE no longer produces new expansions or new extensive content patches, then Everquest is dying.

If SOE no longer continues to maintain the servers and we are no longer able to go online, then EQ is officially dead.

Some might argue with these definitions. Death, being a very general and melodramatic term when used for a description of a computer game, means different things to us all. To some it is the destruction of a guild. To others it is an inability to find a group. To others it is the point when previously powerful guilds are no longer able to defeat encounters they once were or no longer able to progress beyond current encounters. Others use the number of people in the bazaar to determine death or population.

But let us ignore these definitions for a moment and stick to the two I mention above. As long as SOE continues to bring out new expansions, our world will grow and continue to bring new challenges to our doorsteps. We will walk with worn leather boots across lands we never dreamed about. We will continue to grow in power, riches, and knowledge of faraway places. More importantly, new expansions keep Everquest on the shelves where new players find it and jump in.

With the release of each previous expansion, the numbers of active players increase. After a few months these numbers dip back down again until the next expansion release occurs and players come back again. As long as new expansion releases continue, players will return and new players will join. The quality of that expansion might determine how long those players stay.

Will SOE continue to release new expansions? So far, yes. SOE already began work on a new expansion. I estimate an announcement sometime in mid-January or early February for a new expansion release sometime between April and June. Only then will we know the nature and features of this expansion but given what we've seen with Omens, I am quite optimistic.

How long will SOE continue to release new expansions? SOE will continue to release new expansions as long as it remains cost effective to do so. While only the great gold-hoarding dragons at SOE could say for sure what amount of subscriptions it takes to pay for new expansion development, we can look at other MMOGs with fewer players to get a rough estimate. Let us pick three other MMOGs with lower player numbers. All statistics came from Bruce Sterling Woodcock who maintains a set of subscription numbers based on company press releases and other sources of data. Unfortunately his latest page is down, but the Internet Archive had his statistics from one year ago which is enough to work through my theory.

According to Bruce Woodcock (chuckle), Eve Online had 40,000 subscribers, Anarchy Online had about 40,000 subscribers, and Shadowbane had about 50,000 subscribers. Now you may wonder why I ignored bigger MMOGs like Ragnarok or Final Fantasy XI. I ignored them because I specifically wanted MMOGs with lower subscription numbers. The three games above had subscription numbers at roughly 10% of Everquest's subscriptions. More importantly, all three of them continued to release expansions.

Now I am jumping far out into the realm of speculation, but I speculate that SOE could continue to fund new Everquest expansions with 10% of the subscribers they had when Gates of Discord came out, roughly 430,000 active subscribers (source: GoD Press Release ).

So based on that obviously loose data, we can say that we know SOE is going to release a new expansion and will probably continue to do so for a long while. It will be a long time before EQ's population drops to less than 40,000 active subscribers.

Now obviously the number of active players has gone down in the last couple of months. This is due to a few different factors including the holidays, a slew of new and excellent single-player games such as Halo 2, Half Life 2, Grand Theft Auto San Andraes, and nearly a dozen more hot games, and yes, the release of Everquest 2 and Worlds of Warcraft.

The holidays are just about over. Those single-player games won't hold people forever. While some may leave EQ for EQ2 and WoW, some will not. Some will try out those new games for a while but return back to the game they already enjoy. This will be especially true when a new expansion comes out. Nothing brings people back like a box of new content and features to dig into.

Server consolidation is another major topic of discussion. As the player subscription numbers do go down, SOE may eventually consider consolidating servers. Such a move is very severe and may end up driving even more players out of the game. We all grow very attached to our own world and the people within it. Most of us don't want to suddenly get packed into a new world with a new name and a bunch of strangers we didn't know. I would expect, when the time comes to consolidate servers, that SOE will do a lot of them all at once. Like ripping off a bandage, SOE will want to make the pain as quick as possible and never do it again if they don't have to.

I wouldn't expect any such decisions on server consolidation to happen until after the next expansion. SOE will want to see how many players come back to EQ once the new expansion is released. If they don't see a big jump and the numbers of active and online players remains low, then they may decide its time to consider server consolidation.

Before considering anything as drastic as server consolidation, SOE will want to find ways to help people find groups and help lower-number raids find fun and meaningful content.

Change frightens us. The release of Everquest 2 brought many of questions to every Everquest community to which I belong. Would EQ2 kill Everquest? Would Worlds of Warcraft kill both? Would our groups of friends break off and never speak again? These are all scary questions. No one wants to lose their friends. The answers to these questions are much fuzzier than any single statement can articulate. Some will leave, some will stay, some will come back, some new people will join.

Is Everquest dying? No, it's not. SOE stated their continued support for this game many times. Our look at other MMOGs, their subscription numbers, and the continued release of expansions shows us that even with much lower subscription numbers, Everquest will remain alive and healthy. No one can say for certain what will happen. SOE has very smart people spending a lot of time analyzing these trends and even they cannot predict what will happen in the long run. We can be confident, however, that the world of Norrath will remain strong for a long while.

Loral Ciriclight
31 December 2004