A few weeks ago, anxious EverQuest Next fans – and pessimistic EverQuest Next doubters – got a bit of good news. Producer Terry Michaels recently talked about a big internal playtest that was going on, and fans reacted like it was the only news we’d heard about the game in about a year, since last August’s SOE Live. To the best of my recollection, it was.
The “vaporware” calls persist, though, and there’s been plenty going on at SOE/Daybreak over the past year to make people skeptical of EQN’s future: the Columbus Nova acquisition, the layoffs, John Smedley’s tumultuous year and departure, and the overall silence regarding the project. All of those are certainly factors that will impact EQN’s development and timeline, but there’s a bigger issue out there that Daybreak has no control over whatsoever.
Go small or go home
We joke about it a lot, especially on the F2P Cast, whenever “yet another MOBA” is announced, but that’s not the only online game type we’re seeing explode in recent months and years. A couple of weeks ago, I considered putting a poll on this site asking what people were more tired of seeing announcements for: MOBAs, card games, or arena-type shooters. There’s at least one game announced seemingly every week that fits squarely into one of these three categories.
Almost as an afterthought, I wondered if maybe I should add “MMORPG” as a category for the poll. Because those are still out there… occasionally… well, Skyforge was a fairly big deal this year, and after that, there was… uh… Cabal 2? Echo of Soul? Hey, remember when we used to get one or two “big” MMORPG launches every year? What happened to those?
There’s a simple reason why a lot of companies are trending toward those more “self-contained” games mentioned above and eschewing MMORPGs. MMORPGs require several different game systems, from combat to crafting, PvE and PvP, guilds, huge worlds, dungeons and raids, all of which require a lot of time and a lot of money. By comparison, a MOBA or shooter is simpler, consumes far fewer resources, and carries much less of a risk if it doesn’t turn out well.
All games are passion projects, to some degree, but they still need to make money to justify their often-sizable budgets. In the past, if you were going to try and find a purely pragmatic reason for making an MMORPG instead of one of those “smaller” games, it was the potential payoff. Sure, maybe WoW-caliber dreams of having millions of active players have gone by the wayside, but an MMO with a few hundred thousand players could still be considered a major success.
Nowadays, however, other games are realizing that same level of success without MMO-sized budgets and time frames. Sure, League of Legends, Hearthstone, Team Fortress 2, and World of Tanks might represent the World of Warcraft-sized success stories of their individual genres, the kinds which aren’t likely to be repeated. But smaller games, like SMITE, Duel of Champions, Warframe, and War Thunder are part of that solid “second tier” of games that can still be very successful, and do so with a smaller outlay of resources than your typical MMORPG.
A big part of this is the changing gaming habits of a large portion of the gaming audience. We don’t as often find ourselves with the two or three spare hours to accomplish something meaningful in an MMORPG, so we opt for the 20-minute MOBA or CCG match instead – or, for some people, a quick session of a match-three game on their phone. That’s just how it is now.
So it all boils down to this: Why make an MMORPG when you can spend less money and less time to put out a game that has the potential to bring in just as much revenue? This is the conclusion Blizzard likely reached regarding Titan, which was canceled as Hearthstone was ascending and (in theory) to make room for Overwatch, and it’s undoubtedly a conversation that’s come up more than a few times in the Daybreak offices: They know we have EverQuest, a diminished but still significant MMO property, but the world has changed. Can they make a game that people in 2016 (or beyond) will actually play enough of to justify the expense?
The waiting game
If there’s a bright side to things, I think that the lack of information and seemingly endless wait for the game might be a good thing. Take Star Wars: The Old Republic as an example. It launched in late 2011 and was immediately dismissed as a fancy WoW clone, which it was. Design on the game probably started in 2006 or 2007, when “fancy WoW clone” was the way to go; five years, and a few dozen of those types of games, later, and SWTOR seemed archaic right from the moment it launched.
I think Daybreak is watching the skies, so to speak, and trying to tinker with EverQuest Next on the fly, adjusting what needs to be adjusted in order to keep it looking like a “modern” MMO, and not one that started development five years ago. We already know about some of its “forward-thinking” features, like dynamic events and user-generated content, but the dev team wants to avoid making too many “promises,” in case something that sounds cool now is less so in two or three years, when the game actually launches.
That’s not what people who want to see the game now want to hear, and that’s understandable, but simply being a big-budget MMORPG these days puts EQN at something of a disadvantage. This is the biggest risk SOE or Daybreak has ever taken, and they need to get it right. If it fails, it could take the whole company down with it.