Mobhunter: Is SOE Abandoning Everquest?

Almost since its birth, players have been asking about the possible death of Everquest. Any game requiring a company's commitment as much as a massive online game will put doubt in the minds of the players. What happens if the company loses its motivation to maintain the game before the players lose the motivation to play? The remaining players of Asheron's Call 2 found out when it closed down shortly after an expansion's release.

Let's take a look at the current status of Everquest.

Is Everquest dead? That requires a personal definition for a dead MMO. For the sake of this article, I will define MMO death as the lack of any support at all. Only when the servers are shut down, when all the developers are moved off to other projects, when all the support shuts down, and when players are unable to play; only then is a MMO really dead. Everquest is a long way from dead.

Is EQ dying? As long as new expansions continue to be produced and released and as long as there are enough players to allow groups and raids to face existing encounters, a MMO isn't dying. By this definition, Everquest is not dying.

But back to the original question: Is SOE Abandoning Everquest?

This is a harder question to define but let us consider a few known variables.

SOE is a different sort of company than other massive online game producers. While other MMO companies might focus on a single title, SOE has built a business around running multiple games with the same back-end infrastructure. They act as a MMO service provider. Not only do they run games with few actual players but they even pick up games that might be struggling. Matrix Online is one such example.

One element easily used to gauge the health of Everquest is to watch Everquest Online Adventures. EQOA has a lot of difficulty to overcome. It is a console title for an older system. It required specialized hardware, a wired network adapter and keyboard, to run. It had very little expansion or patch potential since patches had to fit within a Playstation 2 memory card. How EQOA ever got out the door is somewhat of a miracle. It isn't a bad game but it required a lot of work from the player to even get started.

Everquest Online Adventures still operates today, four years after its original release. With the release of the Playstation 3, it would still seem that EQOA's future is even more bleak but still it hangs on.

EQOA is the MMO we should watch to see just how long SOE will keep a MMO alive before deciding to pull the plug. Right now it would appear that any loss SOE accepts in relation to EQOA is low enough to make it worth keeping around. They can lower this loss by tying it into the rest of the server, network, and support infrastructure used by all of the other games they support.

This broad MMO infrastructure means that any of the SOE-branded MMOs are likely to stay online for a very long time. EQ, as one of the more popular SOE MMOs, is no exception.

SOE continues to announce and release new expansions for Everquest twice a year. While some, like the Serpent's Spine, have more to offer than others, like Prophecy of Ro, a lot of new content gets released every year into a game now eight years old.

SOE recently made a strategic decision that had many questioning the health of the game. The Serpent's Spine, an expansion intended to bring new players into the game by offering a new player race and large hunting areas, quests, and encounters for levels 1 to 75, was released only digitally. They did not sell it retail and did not offer a boxed version. For an expansion intended to bring new players into EQ, this seemed a strange decision. This practice continued with the Buried Sea.

This shift to online only releases seems to dictate that SOE has changed its philosophy in relation to EQ. Rather than attempt to bring new players into EQ, SOE hopes to bring older players back to EQ and keep current players playing. Given the very stiff competition of World of Warcraft, this might be a smart move. In the mind of one pompous egotistical high elf, EQ cannot compete with World of Warcraft for new players.

SOE recently announced the release of a new compilation pack for Everquest called the Everquest Anniversary Edition. This $20 boxed package will be available retail and includes Everquest and every current expansion. That is an amazing deal considering that, for us old timers, the base game and all thirteen expansions cost about $400. The release of the Anniversary edition could do a better job of bringing in new players than the release of the Serpent's Spine. Only time will tell.

What of Everquest 2? How does it relate to SOE's attitude towards EQ? We cannot know what is in the minds of the management at SOE but we can make assumptions on their overt behavior.

Everquest 2 cost a lot of money and a lot of that money likely came from Everquest's profits. SOE put a lot into the technology and marketing of EQ2 going so far as to release an entirely new set of player models strictly to market to Asian gamers. One cannot help but wonder if the money spent on Asian-friendly player models might instead have been spent on new player models for Everquest. Since the first days players asked for new player models we heard that the costs were simply too high. Yet a short time later SOE announces the release of new player models for EQ2. It is possible that these models were financed by the Taiwanese developer of Everquest 2, Soga, but I could never get a clear answer when I asked this question to SOE.

While SOE chose to release The Serpent's Spine download only, they still released and heavily marketed Echos of Faydwer Everquest 2 expansion to retail shelves. Again one could speculate that this shows SOE's desire to market only one of these games to new players. We cannot know the exact resources SOE spends on one game over another but we can safely speculate that EQ2 takes up significantly more resources than EQ. When one company runs two games, or in this case even more, there are times when its resources have to go one way or another.

What does this all mean for existing Everquest players? Not much. As long as we desire it, Everquest is likely to continue. As long as expansions are profitable, we will continue to see them every six months. As long as SOE has a team of artists, designers, and programmers dedicated to Everquest, we should continue to see improvements in the game.

There are areas where SOE's focus on EQ2 hurts Everquest, however, and it is important that our voices are heard. Better quality control, new player models, better server and network stability, and improved exploitation prevention are all important topics to existing EQ players. These requests also require significant resources and only by speaking out can we clearly show SOE that it needs to spend the required resources Everquest deserves.

Is SOE abandoning Everquest? Only if we let them.

Loral Ciriclight
22 April 2007