EverQuest Next heartbreak and grappling with the new future of MMOs

eqn

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.

There’s a weird running… thing with Bio Break that major stuff seems to go down whenever I take off for a break. Last year during my youth group winter retreat, SOE got sold off by Sony and Massively-that-was got canned. This past weekend was this year’s retreat, so as I was driving off to camp for two days, WildStar’s studio got gutted and Daybreak decided that it didn’t really want to be in the MMO business any longer by canning EverQuest Next.

Again, I’m sorry. And that WildStar stuff, I’m going to have to save that for another day. I haven’t really had a lot of time to process any of this, but there’s no chance that I wasn’t going to comment on EQN.

The cynic or even the mildly attentive observer would have said that the writing was on the wall since SOE’s sale and transformation into Daybreak. We’ve spent the last year watching Daybreak and wondering what was going to result as the studio laid people off, restructured, and got under new ownership. Now the picture is coming in clearer, and it’s not pretty. We see a picture of a studio that’s been aggressively paring down its library, resisting adding new titles, scaling back communication, and making questionable moves, such as in the case of H1Z1’s split into two lesser properties. But people — myself included — had been holding out hope that in the background, devs were furiously working on EverQuest Next and this might be the year we’d see it explode into the spotlight.

Maybe there was very little to hang that hope on — just a couple of throwaway quotes from Daybreak reps, Landmark’s continued existence, and some assurances from various industry insiders that work was still being done on it. But that hope was important because this was really the only major traditional, full-featured MMO left in development. Everything else is either skewing smaller, more PvP (such as Crowfall), or straddling other genres. And heck, what we had heard about EQN from SOE Live years ago got me excited about its prospects. I think I said at the time that this might be the first EverQuest game that I’d get in on the ground floor.

But that hope is now gone. I don’t have a clue what’s going on behind the scenes at Daybreak, but I can say that I am past caring about that company. Landmark is — and I apologize if you are a fan of it — an incredibly poor consolation prize to the faithful and those interested in the next step of the EverQuest franchise. Daybreak shot itself in both feet this past weekend and undoubtedly wasted countless hours and resources by scrapping this game.

I am just as personally crushed as I was with Blizzard’s Titan announcement and the whole Project Copernicus fiasco. The potential, the possibilities, the what-ifs… and never-will-bes. As a serious fan of MMOs, it’s downright painful to have to close the chapter on my interest in a game that could have been a contender. I am deeply disappointed with Daybreak and have no reason to root that studio on in anything it’s doing. And I — like probably many of you — am left feeling more than a little down about the future of the industry.

Accept or deny it, having major tentpole MMOs in development has been a big part of the fun of being an MMO fan since… the mid-90s? People were juiced about Ultima Online back then and the stream of ambitious titles hasn’t let up since. Even if the games didn’t make it out the door (Middle-earth Online, True Fantasy Live, Ultima X) there was always a lot of projects on the horizon. Now it feels — a feeling which may not reflect the accurate reality — that we’ve entered into an era seemingly empty of that sort of thing.

It’s not the end of the world or even the MMO industry, of course. It’s not as though we lack games to play right now, nor that current live games are lacking in continuing development, patches, expansions, events, and such. Maybe it is a time to stop looking forward and instead looking around at what we have.

And it’s not that EverQuest Next was the only MMO (or MMOish title) in development; there’s lots coming of various sizes and approaches, from Star Citizen to Crowfall to Shroud of the Avatar to Brad McQuaid’s VisionQuest to scads of imports. I’m actually really heartened by the enthusiasm and embrace of the big three games we’ve gotten this spring (Blade & Soul, Black Desert, and The Division), which tells me that there’s still a lot of interest out there in checking out new properties and seeing the industry continue to roll out additional titles.

Maybe we’re in a contracting period that will one day see the birth of a new — and changed — wave of MMOs. I simply hate seeing the shell of one of the MMO industry’s leaders roll over and play dead on a potentially great game instead of standing up and fighting.

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10 thoughts on “EverQuest Next heartbreak and grappling with the new future of MMOs

  1. Grant March 14, 2016 / 9:29 am

    Make sure to give us a heads up next year when you are about to leave on that retreat so we can brace ourselves for the immanent industry collapse

  2. Athie March 14, 2016 / 10:00 am

    It’s not the end of MMOs, certainly. But it is a meaningful moment. It’s not the beginning of the end for the Western MMO industry; with the eye of hindsight the beginning of the end was probably the SWTOR launch. It’s not the end-end either; there are still a range of launched games that are still getting new content and the indies are under development. But it’s not hard to imagine the actual end from here. WoW is undeniably wobbling, GW2 is facing some turbulence, LOTRO and DDO have to be closer to sunset than launch, EvE seems to be falling in population and newsworthiness, Rift and a range of other small games seem to be holding together but on narrow margins. There are no clear examples of Western MMOs on an upward trajectory, right? And, realistically, at least some of the indie MMOs will underperform at launch. What does that look like, without the capital of a major studio to fall back on?

    It’s a fragmented market with a seemingly shrinking player base. In a few years, will I be stuck choosing among ARPGs, multiplayer shooters, and FFXIV? Thank goodness for Square Enix, anyway! Still, a grim time for our community…

  3. bhagpuss March 14, 2016 / 10:43 am

    Oh all the doom and gloom! Really? I just can’t get on message with this one, somehow.

    Whatever EQNext might have been, it was never going to be a true sequel to the franchise. I would have played it but I long, long ago ceased to be excited about it. More of a grim acceptance of the inevitable as the entire genre moves away from the control systems and gameplay I enjoy towards console-style gaming. I can’t miss it because I never played it. I think it’s more likely we all dodged a bullet with this cancellation.

    As for Daybreak, let’s be straight here: you didn’t play any of their MMOs when SOE was in charge, did you? The last few years under SOE were a nightmare. Remember the PSS1 deal? SOE lost control and direction the day they were moved from the movie division to the playstation people. You can chart the decline from there.

    DBG has done a great job of righting several listing ships since Columbus Nova took over. EverQuest and EQ2 have been better served under Holly Longdale’s tenure than they ever were under her recent predecessors. The company now appears to be cutting its coat according to its cloth and is looking all the better for it. I’ve been a subscriber through every iteration of the company since 1999 and I feel happier about that as a customer now than I have for the best part of a decade.

    As for the genre and the “industry”, time moves on. Tastes and fashions change. Are movies made today shot the way they were fifteen years ago? Does music sound the same? Well, some of them are and some of it does because that’s how our overlapping cultures work in this post-post-modern world. Everything feeds off everything else. Nothing is ever un-invented. Someone is going to be making a diku-MUD based hotbar-clicking MMORPG in 2030 or 2050 the way there are 19 year olds now starting bands that sound as though they stepped straight out of 1983.

    Will there be huge, hundred-million dollar WoW-style MMOs? I doubt it. Does that matter? I shouldn’t think so. And, what’s more, had EQNext ever appeared and been the mega-hit Smed promised it would be it would have indeed broken the paradigm and made the futrure appearance of more AAA MMORPGs that looked and felt anything at all like the genre as we’ve known and loved it until now even less likely. EQN’s demise will either have no impact on trends at all or, conceivably, it will limit the damage that might have been done had it ever appeared.

    So, no, I’m not displeased to see the end of EQNext and I don’t read it as any kind of death-blow to the genre it was supposed to be a part of. At worst this is all part of a shaking-out the genre has needed for a long time. Fewer, smaller, better MMOs is not a future to be feared.

  4. Aywren March 14, 2016 / 10:47 am

    Times they are a changin. I’m sorry that we’ll never see what EQNext could have been, but it is what it is. I’ve not lost hope that we’ll see something amazing come out of all of this, though, as the industry learns and, hopefully, makes something good out of something that seems bad.

  5. Tyler F.M. Edwards March 14, 2016 / 11:53 am

    I think people are making too big a deal out of this, honestly.

    Yes, it’s disappointing that EQN was cancelled. I was interested in what they were trying to do. I think even if I hadn’t wound up enjoying the game itself, it could have moved the genre forward in interesting ways. I am disappointed a game that dared to be different is never going to see the light of day.

    But it’s just one game. It was never the last hope of the genre. The sun will still rise tomorrow, and we as MMO fans still have no shortage of good options. I very much doubt this is some kind of death knell for Daybreak, let alone the genre as a whole. I do not understand why so many people have such a strong emotional investment in a game that none of us have ever played. EQN was an interesting idea, but it was never anything more than an idea.

    Maybe the overreaction is due to WildStar’s bad news coming around the same time, but let’s be honest: the writing’s been on the wall for WildStar for a long time. Even back when I played the beta, I could tell this was a game whose developers were utterly divorced from the reality of the market and its desires. It sucks for the small number who do enjoy the game as it exists, but anyone could see this was coming.

    For my part, I mourn what EQN could have been, and I feel bad for the Carbine employees who lost their jobs, but the fact remains we live in a world where the only way I’ll be able to play all the MMOs I want to the extent I want is if I win the lottery and then discover a way to go without sleep.

  6. Athie March 14, 2016 / 1:21 pm

    Bhagpuss and Tyler, I can’t really speak for anyone else — but for my part the gloomy outlook I see for the MMO space isn’t particularly about the cancellation of EQNext, or about the bad prognosis for WildStar. It’s also not particularly about Funcom’s desperation move to re-purpose its MMOs as single-player narrative games or as non-MMO survival sandboxes. Or about Blizzard’s cancellation of Titan or its apparent disinterest in World of Warcraft. Or about Trion’s evident challenges in retaining audiences for its MMO titles. Or about the fact that the only Western MMOs currently in development appear to be high-risk indie titles. Or about the evidence from player data, Google Trends, and so forth that the genre seems to have lost about half of its audience over the last five years. Or about the way that people in charge of actual MMOs like ESO want to call their games by any other conceivable label.

    Instead, it’s the combination of all of the above. Remember the adventure games of the 1980s and 1990s? And the way the genre failed and simply disappeared from production for about a decade?

  7. Isey March 14, 2016 / 1:30 pm

    With all of the “failures”of MMOS the last half decade the sad truth is that people are just going to stop trying to make that “AAA” MMO title (I hate the AAA designation, but its the point!) You already see it with only Kickstarted niche titles as the options. Maybe I missed a major upcoming MMO announcement.. but I don’t think we have any that aren’t straight from crowdfunding.

  8. Chris March 15, 2016 / 6:50 am

    With all these AAA MMOs collapsing under their own weight, I think it will be a very long time before we ever see a true AAA MMO ever again. Maybe the genre was never about being AAA, but about being a world with a community, built by people that actually wanted to play the game they where making.

    I think the indie companies that are trying to bring smaller MMOs to market will actually be more successful.Lower budgets with low overhead actually means they can launch and be profitable with a relatively modest player base. Having less then 100,000 players can still equal success. The mistake those canceled/failed AAA titles have made is they simply went too big, and the market can’t support them.

  9. baldwinp March 15, 2016 / 8:15 am

    Although your breaks are bad for MMOs, it could be worst. Over the last few years, my cousin has lost his father, mother, and brother when my parents have been off on a cruise ship (all in separate incidents).

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