Massively Overthinking: The future of Daybreak

This week’s Massively Overthinking topic revolves around the EverQuest Next cancellation, of course. MOP Patron Roger sent us 11 (!) questions to pick from. I’m going to break it down to just these core questions:

  • Do you believe the “not fun” excuse?
  • Could Dave Georgeson or John Smedley have prevented this?
  • Are EverQuest and EverQuest II “safe”?
  • Will Daybreak ever make another MMORPG?
  • And what’s the future of the EverQuest franchise?

I posed them all to the Massively OP writers to ponder this week.

EverQuest IIAndrew Ross (@dengarsw): The “not fun” excuse is relative. In all honesty though, I do wonder if it wasn’t seen as mainstream enough. The AI doesn’t seem that new to me in some ways, and I do believe it worked. I do believe it would have been niche though. I remember in Asheron’s Call 2’s closed beta, there was a very short lived patch in which the AI was turned up. Remember, most MOBs in general rarely healed in MMOs those days, let alone healed others or worked in groups. When the weakest mobs in the game suddenly formed roaming packs with healers that would heal each other, call out for defense, and mobs being smart enough to attack the healers, people gave up. They logged out. I was one of the few players working on defense, grouping up with others, trying to fight what felt like a real threat.

Sandbox play is fun, but it’s not for everyone. Even with smart AI, I think that most mainstream MMO players really aren’t looking for a challenge, but that should be ok. I think our community here on MOP shows that there’s clearly a market for this kind of game. However, I suspect that the new heads of the EQ franchise still think a WoW model is the best to pursue and chose to ignore something they felt couldn’t grow beyond niche appeal.

I think Georgeson and/or Smedley could have pushed the game out the door, but I’m not sure if it would have been enough. Think about Skyrim for a moment. I know a lot of RPG fans who don’t like sandbox games; they simply like strong storylines, and that’s fine. However, Skyrim did well, so I don’t think EQN would have bombed, at all. I just don’t think it could have lived up to the hype.

EQ and EQII are probably safe enough for now, but EQ as a franchise seems cloudy. Unless Landmark’s AI options will be getting the full Storybricks (inspired?) treatment, I still don’t see why Daybreak didn’t tighten the gameplay to use it in a small scale or singleplayer game. As a fan of the seemingly dead Asheron’s Call series, I know I’d eat up any content given to me, and AC is a much less well known IP. It’d certainly send a better signal about the future of the franchise, especially since Landmark dropped the “EverQuest” part of its title.

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): The truth is that game development is never straightforward, and often even the developers themselves have no idea where things went wrong. I’m not qualified to comment on why the game failed or whether the cancellation could have been prevented, but the excuse that they couldn’t make the game fun is perfectly feasible and happens all the time in game development. That does hint that EQN may have been announced far too early in development when there were still far too many unknowns at play.

I don’t think the cancellation will do anything to EverQuest and EverQuest II, other than maybe making some old players return who were banking on EQN revitalising the franchise. The history of MMO sequelisation wasn’t on EQN’s side either, as very few MMOs have so far managed to flourish alongside their own sequels in the long term. Lineage I lost about a million subscribers in the year that followed the launch of Lineage II, and EQ lost over half its subs in the years following EQII’s release. I still think that sequelising MMOs is in general a bad idea and they should instead be continually brought up to date like EVE Online.

eq1

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I’ve said my piece, but I’ll say it again: I’m sure it wasn’t fun because it wasn’t finished. I do think different developers with different priorities and funding goals could’ve made the game happen. EverQuest and EverQuest II aren’t in any immediate danger as progress on those games does continue and Daybreak is unlikely to want to become known as the console-DCUO/H1Z1-cashgrab company. I suspect that if it survives the next few years, Daybreak will make — or at least publish — MMORPGs again, but I expect it to dabble in other genres (like OARPGs) first for the cash. And I don’t doubt it will put the EQ franchise to work again in the future once the sting of Next’s lost has faded.

MMORPGs will be fine. I’m very concerned, however, for Daybreak itself. SOE was the genre’s whipping boy for years, first because of EverQuest’s polarizing gameplay, then for Star Wars Galaxies’ mismanagement, and then for dropping the ball on games like The Matrix Online. It’s a shame to watch it seemingly circle the drain, this company that built some of the greatest MMOs of all time and rescued several others. I’m sure Daybreak’s reputation will recover, as SOE’s did, in time, but it will no longer have the benefit of Smed’s charisma or the veteran community’s faith to rely on.

Let’s just say that Landmark had better be ready when it emerges from early access.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Oh, EverQuest Next, you were… well, an idea. And that’s about it, when you get right down to it, which is part of the problem. Conveniently far enough away that no one could really assail it, a dream whose only possible downfall would be to become flesh. That sounded poetic, didn’t it? I can entirely believe that the game wasn’t fun, and I can just as easily believe that the team was having a hard time finding the fun therein, especially since (as has been noted elsewhere) Landmark has its own problems, and one sort of hung upon the other. But “isn’t fun” isn’t the same as “can’t be fun”; it just means that it was at the stage where it wasn’t there and the company didn’t feel like pushing it over that hill.

Could having stronger voices for the title pushed it to completion? Yes, definitely… or it could have pushed to ruin. The fact of the matter is that it was always a gamble, a lot of ideas and dreams tied up in one place without a promise that the game was going to properly coalesce. Whether or not it could have been fun given enough time is heavily into the realm of speculation, and for all we know this was just pulling the plug before several more years of trying to hammer it into fun. We simply don’t have enough information; we don’t have an actual build of the game. My gut feeling, based on what we’d seen, was that the game was announced far too early, and that ultimately caught up with the team behind it.

As for the future of the EverQuest franchise… for most of the gaming world, there’s not much of a franchise. There are two MMOs, both of which have kind of been consigned to the history books now. Whether or not Daybreak will go down the MMO route again is kind of a contentious consideration, as they already have been going down that route and are still doing so, but there’s a need for a big sustained game to keep bringing in the dollars; H1Z1 succeeded in bringing big numbers in the door, but between splitting the title and the nature of its development, it’s already lost serious momentum, and it was always chasing in the me-too survival sandbox field. I’d like to think that the resources being pulled out of EQN are being aimed at something less ambitious that will come to fruition, but that’s wandering far into the speculation woods, so take it with the recommended daily grain of salt.

eq2Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I would certainly hope and think that Daybreak isn’t abandoning the EverQuest franchise entirely. If it couldn’t make EverQuest Next work (and I’m not buying the studio’s lame excuses on that front), then it needs to go back to the drawing board and figure out a project that fits its resources, time, and interests. I think we certainly do need to see a proper EverQuest MMO sequel at some point before the studio loses its nerve entirely and the community loses its interest entirely.

Maybe it does need to be smaller or built in modules or what have you, but EverQuest and EQII are already long in the tooth, and there’s little Daybreak can do to make them look or play more modern at this point.

Honestly, I’m just disheartened and weary from this news and have lost a lot of what remaining faith I had in Daybreak because of it. This certainly isn’t the SOE of yore, and if Daybreak doesn’t start creating a strong new identity for itself that’s something other than a studio that abandons or cheapens its products, then it’s going to become permanently forgettable.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Tomorrow.

OK, sorry, I’ll give more depth to my answers. Yes, I believe that EQN was likely so bogged down in features that the overarching fun of the game was likely lost on the management. However, I also believe that MMO developers solely interested in the bottomline will miss the importance of the long game. We all know that a good sandbox MMO isn’t about how much money that it make the first week, but rather how much it grows over time. And Georgeson might of convinced the powers-that-be that EQN in its current form would have been profitable, but Smed would have been more likely been able to do it. If Smed — as CEO — said that it was a good thing, then the investors would have listened; it was after all, his job to pick the projects best suited for the investors.

EverQuest and EverQuest II are just as safe as they have been. The cancellation of EQN is not reflective on the franchise itself. However, I do believe that these two games will eventually shutdown as all games must.

Daybreak was founded on MMORPGs, so yes, I believe that the owners will not completely remove themselves from that root. However, I think the definition of MMORPG is changing, as seen by the fact that many people are calling The Division an MMO. It is? That’s a question for another time, but I do expect to see Daybreak make games in the same vein as its previous work: Landmark, PlanetSide 2, DC Universe Online.

I can’t predict what Daybreak is going to do with the EQ franchise at this point because I don’t think the devs even know, so we have to watch it day by day. If I were in charge, however, I would look at what’s innovative and working in other genres. That would point me in two directions for EverQuest: action-combat and open-world in the vein of RPGs like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. But then, I would attempt to take the franchise in a direction that pays homage to previous versions of the game but is different enough so that people can play the new game without thinking that they were just playing EQ or EQII with better graphics. I would make EQ: Science Fantasy, set it in the distant future of the EQ universe where both science and magic rule together and in opposition to each other.

h1z1

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): To be honest, I was answering these in my EverQuesting column, but went back to change the focus a bit so I wasn’t repeating myself here. There could be validity to the unfun excuse, but I am not really buying it. I want specifics. “Unfun” is a blatant cop-out to me, and honestly I don’t put much stock in the speaker as far as being someone who understands what the real vision of EQN was. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t necessarily, but I haven’t ever seen him tied to or speaking about the project previously. To sound genuine, I want to hear that from those who have been passionate about the game and its features — and I want details about what was so unfun. Heck, I want to play it myself and be the judge.

You ask if I think Georgeson or Smedley could have prevented this, and I say absolutely yes! I have no doubt in my mind that Georgeson could have delivered, though it might have taken some time. I still hold to my assertion that letting him go was the biggest mistake. I am on the bandwagon of wishing he could get ahold of it and continue, but we know that’s not going to happen.

As for EQ and EQII, I feel those titles are relatively safe; as long as Daybreak exists, so will they. It does make money off of the games, and what tiny bit of good will can still be mustered for the company would be forever squashed if anything short of the shutting down of the studio shuttered those titles. Daybreak simply couldn’t afford to lose those games and still exist. As far as new ones, will the studio make another MMO? I am leaning toward no. I hate to say it, but they are strained and need easy, fast bucks, and an MMO would bring neither. After everything that has been moth-balled that was beloved, I don’t even want to see another MMO from them. Maybe something else, but not an MMO. Not for quite some time at least.

Patron Archebius: I don’t believe the “not fun” excuse at all! Games spend most of their lifecycle being “not fun.” Even games that take a vertical slice and iterate out from there – Crowfall’s Hunger Dome being the closest MMO example I can think of – aren’t that fun, not in the way you expect from a virtual world. Most development time and money goes towards things like animations, design, back-end programming, graphics, engine development – and then you use those things to make something fun. Was the movement agony? Was the database incurably malevolent, deleting items on a whim and replacing them all with rat pelts? Did the bump maps make small children cry? What about the game caused such sadness that it couldn’t be worked around?

I believe that the game wasn’t fun in its current state, sure. After months of silence, I kind of assume the project has been stalled or understaffed for a while (“These reductions will not affect the operation of current games,” Smed said at the time) – so I’m sure that if they shoved the game out as-is, it wouldn’t be fun. But I think it’s more likely that “not fun” is code for “we don’t believe it’s financially safe to continue work on this game.” That would sound terrible in a press release.

Whether Georgeson or Smed could do anything is really up for debate. Looking back at the timeline now, it seems doubtful that any of their corporate overlords – new or old – had much faith in the game.

But they were bought, and anyone who buys a company generally expects to see a profit. If they were to shut down EQ or EQII, that would dry up their main source of revenue pretty quickly. So long as Columbus Nova (company slogan – “Our name is an explorer and Latin, give us money”) continues to operate it, I imagine we’ll see things remain relatively stable. No big shutdowns, no new development. If they can sell it for a profit, though, I’m almost certain they would. And that would change things pretty quickly.

Your turn!

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110 Comments on "Massively Overthinking: The future of Daybreak"

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Zer0K
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Zer0K

Oh, and let me just add, do you think this doesn’t sound like FUN? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLyROHFNsl0

left1000
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left1000

I’m at the point where I see daybreak, an investing group. I see what they’ve done to their game development staff. They did not buy SOE to make profit from games. They bought SOE’s goodwill, bilked some more investments from investors for their future projects, while at the same time firing every they could as fast as they could.

They stopped development on next about a year before they admitted it, and they only admitted it because the lie was impossibly unbelievable anymore for their investors.  They’ll continue to destroy the company to try and make a quick buck and then they’ll close it.

A year ago maybe I could’ve believed they had a desire to make a profitable game, but I can no longer believe that with basically no staff left unfired.

Zer0K
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Zer0K

Do you believe the “not fun” excuse?

PARTIALLY.
How could they say it wasn’t fun, when they really didn’t have Everquest NEXT in any kind of playable state in the first place which represented their original vision?  You rip out Storybricks (for whatever reason they think makes sense), and there you have one of the biggest draws (in my opinion) about what will help Everquest NEXT standout.  Who’s decision was it to rip out Storybricks? Storybricks people will claim it’s not Daybreak’s fault.  There’s more behind the story about that which they are not telling us.  
I don’t know how they can say the game is not fun YET.
But I say PARTIALLY because, due to their own MIS-MANAGEMENT of the game’s scope(goals and objectives), they probably thought the game wouldn’t be fun anymore.

Could Dave Georgeson or John Smedley have prevented this?

I’d say that John Smedley could have had enough power and influence to direct this at an executive level.
However, I’ve never really trusted this guy’s decisions.  i.e. SWG debacle, and the decision to pretty much abandon Vanguard:SOH in favor of Free Realms.  Free Realms, which incidentally closed down sooner than Vanguard:SOH.
Ultimately, I think he bailed, along with Dave, as Daybreak’s approach to EQNEXT differed in the original vision of the game.
I think due to those irreconcilable differences, these guys left.  I doubt they’d ever admit to that though.

Are EverQuest and EverQuest II “safe”?

If they’re making money, they’re safe.  As soon as it becomes too expensive to keep the lights on, they’ll be sold off or closed down.

Will Daybreak ever make another MMORPG?

I certainly hope not.  Good luck trying to gain back all the trust they threw out the door when they decided to manage EQNEXT into the ground.

And what’s the future of the EverQuest franchise?

I prefer the IPs of Everquest, Everquest II and Vanguard: SOH be sold to a developer house that will treat these titles right, provide the attention and innovation needed to make them successful.
Ultimately, to create a worthy successor in the Everquest IP without looking to scam people to buy in to it ahead of time just so the company can use that money/time to test the feasibility of their new MMO.  i.e.  Don’t ask for money unless you know damn sure all of what you’re proposing is achievable, and you have the capital and resources to make it happen.  You’re a big game developer, not an indie crowd-funder.  You should have had made darn sure that you could feasibly deliver on your sales pitch of EQNEXT back in the day.

TrueGamer99
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TrueGamer99

I have some reservations about the “not fun” being anywhere near the top of the list of reasons why  EQN was cancelled. Landmark wasn’t and isn’t really fun. It was somewhat interesting and offered some short-term amusement, but no more than that. For a product that was so complex and yet so not fun being one of the main cornerstones of EQN was the top mistake IMO. I think Landmark was a gimmick that got out of control and I blame Smedley and Georgeson for that.

dragoon0705
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dragoon0705

The whole “Not Fun” Excuse is such a loaded thing to say….They have to go into what was not fun about the game. If everyone who worked on it said why they promised was 100% possible…then there is no way that can be “Not Fun”. Now if they came out and was like “Over a long period of testing, the emergent AI was causing a lot of issues with playability making the game more of a Hide and seek experience. That and the whole World of Layers aspect combined had players being lost for long periods of time with nothing to do” THEN i would be like Ok i can see that. I can also seeing that going back into the game and trying to remedy those issues…and those aspects being 2 of the main aspects of the game might have just been to daunting or impossible to fix. But don’t for one second say “Not Fun” and expect us to eat it up like. Have some damn respect for your fans and consumers For being so loyal over so many years of crap.

Woetoo
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Woetoo

Firstly, for people saying EQ:N was a Sandbox. Landmark is a sandbox. EQN
seemed like it could have gone anyway it liked, including theme park. I
was imagining a Warcraft or GuildWars2 style world, except with the
“mobs respawn after 6 minutes @ x,y,z” removed. Something more akin to The Witcher 3, with afew theme park elements directing players from one area to the next.

Do you believe the “not fun” excuse?

Yes.
Based on current Landmark experience, I can say that the graphics engine looks like it needed a LOT more than just optimising and tuning. Buildings at a distance looked like a 4yr old had made them from PlayDoh. Running from area to area was so disk intensive and introduced so much hitching that I think that I don’t think it could have ever delivered have a viable MMO platform. And that’s without 40 to 400 people all on screen at the same time and a whole more MMORPG layers built into the engine.
That said, I’m sure everything could have been fixed eventually, with enough money to back it. Sadly Columbus Nova never struck me as the “long term investment” type of company. Especially after the initial layoffs.
Could Dave Georgeson or John Smedley have prevented this?
No.
I think both guys are uniquely special. Georgeson is exactly the guy I’d have wanted driving the vision of EQ:N. He’s willing to take an idea and run with it. I’m less convinced he can deliver. Maybe he needed to work with/for someone who’s got the soul of an accountant.
How much either of them is to blame, I dunno. They were at the top and things fell apart. But their failings always feel like they aimed too high and under delivered. I’m never going to hate anyone trying to aim too high, especially in the current game climate of game franchises being seemingly run by soulless accountants.
Ultimately Georgeson and Smedley led SOE down a path which resulted in it’s sale to Columbus Nova. They were either the problem or were unable to manage the problem.
Could they have pulled it off with more money/support? We’ll never know. But my feeling is that is yes, they could have. Without them, Daybreak was diminished. But others made the decisions to provide less money and/or less support – since that was out of their hands, they could never have prevented it.
Are EverQuest and EverQuest II “safe”?
Define “Safe?”
Both could run for 10+ years in effective “maintenance mode”.
I’ve never played either, so I’m not in a position to know how much content is regularly added or how much the current player base are supporting the games.
Will Daybreak ever make another MMORPG?
Nope.
Daybreak seem to be following a cost cutting, followed by cost cutting, followed by cost cutting route.
You don’t create something as intensive and specialised as an MMORPG by continually downsizing. At some point someone has to invest in highly experienced, highly motivated, highly imaginative people. So far I’ve not seen any of that, if anything I’ve only seen the opposite.
Except… what else is Daybreak any good at if not MMO structured games? So perhaps I need to amend my answer to: Probably not.
And what’s the future of the EverQuest franchise?
No clue.
Primarily because I’ve no clue what Daybreak in whatever form it takes in the next 2 to 3 years are capable of.
If there are more layoffs – perhaps this is the end.
If not and if some motivated visionaries still exist within the company… I suppose anything is possible.

JesLyck
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JesLyck

ohforfs  That was my assumption from the start, dubious Russian businessman buys something ……………… No, not good

changchuiii
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changchuiii

Does Daybreak even staff programmers anymore. All their games seem to be in maintenance mode. It’s like their milking everything SoE already had without doing anything themselves. Milk it until it dies then sell all assets. Don’t think it’s about making games anymore, just money.

Salt AU
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Salt AU

PhunThymes MJ Guthrie Union Jack Exactly, when I purchased it.  Dave, Smedley and the SOE team were behind it, it looked great, it had some brilliant ideas tying EQ Landmark and EQ Next together.  Fast forward to now and ‘every’ single reason I was sold on the idea is gone completely.  Daybreak can kiss my backside.

Jeeshman
Guest
Jeeshman

Do you believe the “not fun” excuse?
No. Saying it wasn’t fun is Daybreak’s best shot at keeping gamers on board, because nobody wants to play something that isn’t fun.  Gamers wouldn’t respond as well to the truth, which is that the cost of development started to exceed their income projections.  And no company is going to admit “We couldn’t afford it.”
Could Dave or John have prevented this?
No.  Nothing they could’ve done at this point could change the fact that Daybreak couldn’t afford to keep developing the game. 

Will Daybreak ever make another MMORPG?

Probably not.  I doubt any company will try to make what we consider a “AAA” MMORPG.  The people with the money have finally learned that WoW was a fluke, and not a sign that there’s a massive amount of money to be made by developing these types of games.  Sony and Daybreak were the last stalwarts attempting to chase WoW money through MMO development. Another problem with making a new MMORPG right now is how flooded the market is with them.  Daybreak would have to conclude it could make money off a new MMO game that’s very small in scope (and therefore affordable to make).

What’s the future of the EQ franchise?
The two existing games are making money and generate a lot of interest in their current playerbase by somehow miraculously coming out with game updates and expansions with a skeleton crew of devs and programmers.  But without anything to really pull in new players, the number of players will continue to shrink.  Would it be enough to pull in new or returning players if the put a small team on a graphics upgrade?  I don’t know.  The future of the franchise does not look good.

I also doubt that there’s a “white knight” company out there who could swoop in and purchase the EQ properties.  It sounds like the companies who were interested in buying SOE other than Columbus Nova wanted to fire everybody and use their own programmers to turn the games into microtransactional nightmares.  Until a company with the right focus and enough capital sees the possibility to make money off the properties and has a realistic view of how much it could make doing that, the games will remain Daybreak properties.