Last week, Sony Online Entertainment announced the upcoming release of The Serpent's Spine, Everquest's twelfth expansion. This expansion breaks away from expansions primarily tuned for higher-level players and returns to expansions such as Ruins of Kunark and Shadows of Luclin by including a new race and content beginning at level 1.
Back in April, at the Spring 2006 Fan Faire, SOE had discussed a few of the details of this expansion, though the name was not yet released. The developers described it as a new beginning for Everquest. New players would have a chance to enter Everquest and progress from level 1 to level 75 without ever leaving the expansion. New players would be able to buy this expansion, take it home, and get right into the game as though it were completely new.
More surprising than the announcement of the new Drakkin race - the impact of which I will discuss in a future article - was the announcement that the game would only be available for download only. This method of distribution has not taken place since Legacy of Ykesha. Every other expansion has been a box on a shelf.
The choice to release the Serpent's Spine only as a download contradicts the intent of bringing new players to the game. New players aren't likely to surf around to SOE's website and wait for half a day to download a gigabyte of code and artwork. They are much more likely to buy a new glossy package on the shelf. A retail box is the best way to get new players into EQ.
I cannot begin to understand why anyone would think this is a good idea. Perhaps a boxed version of this expansion, or a new compilation pack including The Serpent's Spine, is due for release during the Christmas season. Perhaps SOE's marketing department knows secrets we can't possibly understand. Perhaps, and pardon me if I slip into paranoia, SOE is purposefully reining back Everquest to improve the sales of Everquest 2. As it appears now, the attempt to draw in new players with the Serpent's Spine seems cut off at the knees.
This is unfortunate since every other attribute of this expansion seems strong. A new player race, new level 1 to 75 content, the new level increase, and a focus on large open zones and numerous quests could all build an excellent new expansion.
SOE should reconsider their plan to release The Serpent's Spine as a download-only expansion and release a full retail package. With a retail package, the Serpent's Spine would be the strongest new way to get Everquest in the hands of new players.
16 July 2006