Ten years is forever in MMO-land. Games are announced, launched, and then forgotten or shut down entirely in the blink of an eye. Some don’t even last one year, much less a whole decade.
EverQuest II is one of those rare birds, though, that has survived, and even thrived, since its launch on Nov. 9, 2004. It hasn’t been easy, though. Just two weeks after its debut, World of Warcraft hit the scene and could have sucked away all of EQ2’s players before it really got started.
When the MMO scene became oversaturated in the latter part of the 2000s, it plowed ahead, going free-to-play in December 2011 to stay competitive. And there have been the usual bugs and patches and expansions and the usual player fatigue associated with any MMO over those 10 years – not enough to individually capsize a game, but the wearying effects of which add up over time.
On the eve of EQ2’s 10th birthday, we got the chance to chat with EverQuest II Senior Producer Holly Longdale, who gave us a little insight into what keeps the game ticking, even after all these years.
Jason Winter (JW): With all the new and shiny MMOs out there, how do you keep a 10-year-old game fresh and interesting?
Holly Longdale (HL): We are always using new techniques and technology to improve the look and feel of the game and I think we do a pretty good job. The new Aerakyn player race is outstanding and looks amazing next to our older characters (but not out of place). The world just gets better all the time. The new terrain zones are really a big next step for us in technology and appearance and our ability to be really flexible in our zone development.
JW: Along those lines: Say I’ve never played EQ2 and you want to convince me to do it, despite all the other stuff that’s out there. How would you do that?
HL: For me, that’s easy. There’s something that appeals to just about every kind of gamer. I always revert back to role-playing and being evil. Playing EQII with at least one friend is a really fun challenge if you do it right. I do it all the time. It’s a great pastime for me that requires cooperation and skill if you’re going to push the limits of your character and the game. I love the stories in our world and they keep evolving and improving too.
JW: How much of a challenge has it been to produce content for a free-to-play game, always knowing that, directly or indirectly, what you make has to drive players to buy and spend their Station Cash?
HL: In an odd way, it’s the best kind of challenge. The success of the business relies on our players liking our game and what we are doing enough that they are willing to give us a bit of money for it, either through membership and/or items in the store. We have changed several things in EQII in the past year where we don’t hamstring free players. We want to provide cool options that our players are willing to pay for because they get pleasure and happiness out of it. Nothing we offer is required at all. That’s our goal. Delight or intrigue someone enough that they’ll support us making more stuff. We have done so much content in the past year for free; it was really a breakneck pace.
JW: It seems like SOE gathers a lot of data on your games to make informed decisions on how to create or change content. Can you give me an example of something that seemed unintuitive or unpopular with the players, but the data supported it, so you took action?
HL: We would never be that draconian (maybe in our boss fights… but not where the business is concerned). There certainly is plenty of data, but what we rely on most is what we know we would want to play or even pay for. All the content and features are based on what we feel we want as gamers, listening to the community, and also looking at data. The data is often last because it can be misleading. But I will say, that sometimes we do things that players don’t know they want until we create it. At the same time though, we never create content knowing the numbers are against it.
JW: So, what would you like to do with EQ2 over the next 10 years? Be as unrealistic and pie-in-the-sky as you want 🙂
HL: Flying dragon combat. Booya.
JW: Finally, because every gamer wants to do this: Tell us about your character!
HL: Dark elf shadowknight… always. I can’t tell you why other than I am a huge R.A. Salvatore fan.