Friday’s announcement that EverQuest Next would never see the light of day sent shockwaves through the gaming industry. Fans, media, and developers all reacted to the news with emotions ranging from dismay to sadness to anger. On some level, it seemed inevitable, given how long it had been since we’d heard anything from Daybreak Game Company, but some – myself included – still held out hope that the ambitious MMORPG would still see the light of day and enliven a torpid genre.
That hope is gone now, along with more wasted time and resources than can fit in all of Norrath. It’s going to be interesting to see how all the players, from Daybreak to the MMO industry as a whole, fare in the light of EQN’s cancellation, but here are a few things I think will result from the tragic loss of the newest “next big thing.”
Daybreak is in big trouble
When’s the last time Daybreak Game Company launched a game of its own? Fully launched, not early access, and not an imported game made by someone else, like Dragon’s Prophet?
The answer is PlanetSide 2, back in November 2012. It’s been three and a half years since the company created and fully brought a game to market, a streak that should end with Landmark and H1Z1: King of the Kill this year. Those games have certainly brought in money, but still – not being able to actually finish a game isn’t a great sign.
Last year, when talking about the issue of having so many unfinished games, John Smedley told me that “the only solution is to look toward the company and the track record they have.” That track record is pretty ugly, when you examine it closely. Since PS2’s launch, eight SOE/Daybreak games have been shut down – which does include published games like Dragon’s Prophet and Bullet Run – or nine, if you count EverQuest Next.
As I’ve said before, I think this has little to do with Columbus Nova. Sony Online Entertainment was in trouble long before it became Daybreak Game Company. Of those game closures, only one (Dragon’s Prophet) took place under the new management. Columbus Nova isn’t publicly traded, but Sony is, and I discovered the following nugget on page four of Sony’s FY 2014 financial report, dated March 31, 2014:
Any way you slice it, “$60 million write-off” doesn’t sound good. Three SOE games – the ones mentioned here along with Magic: The Gathering – Tactics – shut down the last week of March 2014, the same time of that report, with two more in July. Eleven months later, SOE was sold to Columbus Nova.
If EverQuest Next had been progressing more smoothly, and other games had been doing well, Sony might not have been so eager to sell the studio off. Don’t blame Columbus Nova for killing off EverQuest Next; Daybreak’s been struggling for years.
This might be the end of new full-featured AAA MMOs
No, I’m not going to say “MMOs are dead,” like some others have. But there are still a lot of people out there who want to recapture that initial glorious experience they had – probably in World of Warcraft, but maybe in another game – of an all-encompassing MMO that presented a huge and glorious world with everything to do and everyone to do it with, taking over their lives and becoming the only thing they wanted to do for years on end.
My suggestion: It ain’t gonna happen, and it’s time to stop waiting for it.
There are games like that out there: Guild Wars 2, The Elder Scrolls Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and yes, still World of Warcraft. EverQuest Next was supposed to be another. But those kind of mega-huge, AAA MMOs are big risks for companies, the likes of which they’re going to be even more averse to now that EQN has failed.
Need further proof? Blizzard knows how to make this kind of game, right? And even that company pulled the plug on its “next big thing,” Titan.
I don’t see anything on the horizon that fits in the “something for everyone” MMO category now that EQN is gone. Instead, there are smaller, more custom-fit MMOs, and MMO-like games, that might do great PvP or crafting or exploration or PvE – but not all at once. Those can be great fun, but if you’re waiting for the next big thing to come along, it’s going to be a long wait, if it comes at all. It’s better to settle for what you’ve got now, whether that be an existing AAA MMO or a smaller, niche title that suits at least one of your needs.
Free-to-play is undeniably shrinking
Take this statement two ways. First, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, I think we’ll see fewer free-to-play games on PC going forward. Just like it wasn’t enough to try and make a game “just like WoW” and have it succeed, it’s not enough to slap a free-to-play label on an MMO now and think that’s a recipe for success. Everyone’s doing it, so it’s just the same as if nobody’s doing it. It doesn’t make your game stand out at all, and might hurt it in the long run, depending on your implementation.
The second point is that F2P games themselves are “shrinking.” This is somewhat tied into the last point, in that I think F2P might be more easily executed with smaller titles that don’t “try to do too much,” such as world-spanning MMOs. When you have that many moving parts, it’s nearly impossible to set up your cash shop that will please everyone. It might be better to have a single experience, such as a MOBA or arena battler or tank game that has relatively few dials to tweak – and less that can go wrong.
Daybreak Game Company, and SOE before it, seemed to be trying to change that. It was producing big, AAA games, and boldly announcing them as free-to-play – not after they failed to win fans with a subscription, but right from the start. Now we know that John Smedley hated F2P and that it wouldn’t work for H1Z1 and Landmark and probably not EverQuest Next. Future companies will look at what happened to Daybreak and shy away from going full-bore into F2P for their big game projects.
(A final thought on Smedley… I know he’s gone from the company now, but the bulk of the development and the creative vision behind these games came on his watch. I’m not sure how much was him pushing for something that couldn’t be achieved or from his superiors dictating terms to him. If I’m going to be fair, I think he’s responsible for some of the issues DBG is facing, but not the sole reason. What I do know is that it makes me wary of anything else he promises, especially after Hero’s Song’s short-lived Kickstarter disaster.)
I really don’t think we’re going to get a big, new F2P MMO, not for a long time and maybe not ever. We’ll get conversions, like Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR, but nothing like that will be promised as F2P right out of the gate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Final Fantasy XIV and ESO are doing just fine, and the existing crop of F2P and B2P MMOs is quite strong. Now’s a good time to revisit something you may have written off when it launched, to see if it better suits you now.
And, as much as I’d like to say this will put the brakes on early access/Kickstarter/throwing-your-money-at-a-game-company-based-on-pie-in-the-sky-promises, that’s probably just wishful thinking. It’ll take something more calamitous than this failing (Star Citizen?) to keep people from jumping on the hype train when they desperately want to believe. In any case, are you willing to believe anything Daybreak says about a future product any more? I’m not, and that might be the greatest damage done by this whole affair.
Hey, are those Landmark refunds still available?