Caster's Realm: Why a Classic Server is a Bad Idea

Two weeks ago I wrote about how Everquest players have changed. I wrote about the nostalgia many players experience for the days-of-old. We fondly remember what it was like to experience the vastness of Norrath, to see travel as a goal upon itself, and to feel the great accomplishments that came from facing difficult challenges.

For years now the topic of a Classic server pops up across the forums. Some players ask for a return to those days of old. They want travel to mean something again. They want to face the challenges they remember in their youth. They want to bond with their comrades as they travel across the seas, not by the power fo magical stones, but by the power of wind and waves. This classic server would return to the days of Kunark and Velious, maybe Luclin, but certainly not Planes of Power or beyond. It would let players grow slowly once again, facing the challenges of the environment without the advantages of today's Norrath.

Building and releasing this classic server would be a mistake and over the next seven hundred words, I will explain why.

Earlier in 2005, Everquest consolidated all of their play servers. While most of the consolidations went smoothly, specialized servers such as PVP, Firiona Vie, and the premium Stormhammer server faced much more severe problems. Because of the different rulesets on these servers, consolidation becomes a much more difficult consideration. Which rule-sets fit which servers? How are character transfers handled?

Building a new unique rule-set server would further complicate an already complicated task of future merges and character transfers.

Everquest has limited development resources. Spending development time on a unique server and maintaining that server independently from the others takes away the services of all Everquest players. The time spent figuring out how to patch a classic server as well as patching the main game would stretch thin the resources that are available.

SOE should focus its resources on the bulk of the player-base, not split it between baseline servers and a single unique server. All servers should be the same so that no individual development has to occur on unique servers.

The concept of a classic server is by itself flawed. The push for a classic server assumes that the evolution of Everquest since Luclin has led Everquest into a worse state than it was before. Years of development went into the most recent expansions and included features that have kept Everquest competitive with the most recent massive online games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest 2.

The mission system gives a group of players a clear group-oriented goal within an instanced zone and rewards them for the completion of this effort. The guild lobby removes the extreme burden of corpse recovery from the deepest and darkest corners of Norrath. Anyone who ever took a day off of work because of a bad Fear raid knows how valuable this tool is. Monster missions allow players to cross the gaps between levels and productively hunt together regardless of class or level. All of these features disappear on a classic server. Five years of Everquest evolution, research, and development disappear. A classic server isn't an improvement, it is de-evolution.

Our memories of the old world of Norrath often focuses on the positive experiences but forgets the barriers that kept us from simply enjoying a hunt. Kill stealing, rare random drops off of rare mobs, six hour corpse recoveries based on a 30 second mistake, equipment progression based entirely on random rewards, group hunting that consisted of sitting on a wall and pulling the same beasts for eleven hours; these are the experiences that we forget. There is a reason current EQ players no longer act the way we acted back in the old days. The game has improved over the last three years and a classic server ignores these improvements.

The largest reason that a classic server is a bad idea is that nothing shows it will be successful. Servers like Zek and Firiona Vie already struggle to get enough players playing to keep the server healthy. Stormhammer was recently closed because of a lack of active players. With as much conversation as we have seen on the topic of Classic servers, nothing shows that player who try it will stay there, especially as the baseline Norrath continues to improve. The server may be a novelty, but it isn't likely to hold a lasting player-base.

In 2001, Jeff Butler and Brad McQuaid, two of the minds behind the original Everquest and the first three expansions, left Everquest to begin developing Vanguard, Saga of Heroes. Sigil Games, building Vanguard from the original Vision of Everquest, hopes to recapture the Everquest classic feel. Looking at the Vanguard FAQ, one sees how this philosophy manifests itself:

"Death will have a sting, and it's mostly classic corpse retrieval with a few variations like we'll make it easier to find your corpse, yet you'll still have to fight to it."

"If I had to compare it to another game, take original EQ, Kunark, and Velious -- that sort of challenge."

Brad McQuaid wrote a wonderful article covering the state of massive online games entitled Instancing in Online Gaming which goes quite a bit beyond its title.

Players yearning for the classic days of Everquest may very well find what they seek in Vanguard. Now whether they actually want it is yet to be seen.

Loral Ciriclight
30 December 2005