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.
Andrew 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.
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.
Justin 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.
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.
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.