EverQuesting: The Domino effect on Daybreak and EverQuest II
Yup, it's true. It was a sad day when Emily Taylor confirmed that she was indeed leaving Daybreak. When John Smedley's tweet popped up outing Taylor's move to Canada, I was in the middle of chatting with friends and fellow EverQuest II players. We were stunned. We know that the industry can be fickle, but Taylor had been a staple on the EQII scene. Known as "Domino," she'd been in integral part of the Norrath crafting scene; she was responsible for penning many of the crafting signature quest lines as well as developing other parts of crafting, events, and housing. She was also well admired and appreciated by the community. Her loss would really be felt.
When we first read that tweet, our thoughts went to, oh no, what happened? followed very quickly by what's going to happen? After the rough time Daybreak has had since the split from Sony (multiple layoffs, game closures galore, and clandestine management changes along with staff resignations), we understandably wondered if we were witnessing a step toward impeding disaster -- a sentiment shared by other fans of the franchise. The uncertainty of the news was laid to rest when Taylor herself announced that yes, she was leaving. She informed players that her move was of a personal nature (she wants to shovel more snow?!) instead of any thing related to the studio. She also assured us that there were plenty of devs at Daybreak still working on the games -- moreso, in fact, than when the name changed.
I'm sure I wasn't alone in feeling some relief hearing that; I'd felt some pangs of worry in my heart for EQII, one of my all-time favorite games. I'll admit that I still have some trepidation, but who wouldn't after the last couple years? Still, hearing that Taylor's departure wasn't due to trouble at Daybreak was a positive, even while hearing about her departure was a negative. As she wandered off into the next phase of her career, I caught Taylor to talk a little bit about her time at Daybreak. Here's what she shared.
Emily Taylor: When SOE hired me I had been working in Sydney, Australia, for the past 7 years. I jumped at the opportunity to relocate and join the team in San Diego to work on EQ2 tradeskills, but it's a very long flight between Sydney and San Diego. So I brought along a little notebook and spent quite a while on the flight writing a loooong list of things that I wanted to fix about the tradeskill system once I got there. Several years later, I came across that notebook again and it was really interesting to read through it. Many of the items I had indeed addressed, and of the items I hadn't, I now had a much better understanding of why the fix I'd wanted wasn't possible or didn't actually make sense. It was very satisfying to see how much I'd cleaned up from that super early list!
What has been your favorite project you worked on at SOE/Daybreak?
Pretty much everything I've done for EverQuest II is my favourite project! It's really hard to pick just one thing. I think one of the high points is probably the "Shipwrecked!" questline featuring Raffik, he's just such a likeable character and I've really enjoyed seeing how players fell in love with him. Implementing Tinkerfest was a big one too though; that's based on a player-run event that started before EQ2 even existed on the original EverQuest roleplay server of Firiona Vie. A group of mad gnome roleplayers calling themselves the "dread gnome pirates" got together and decided to throw an annual festival of all things gnomish, ran contests and player "quests", and generally tried to crash Steamfont Mountains by setting off tinkered fireworks. It was held for several years in a row with raid guilds donating prizes and was a ton of fun, so being able to make it into an "official" part of EQ2's calendar events was super cool also. Some of the quest NPCs and merchants in the EQ2 Tinkerfest event are named after the gnome characters who created the original.What would you call your proudest accomplishment while at SOE/Daybreak?
Again, hard to choose just one thing of all the good memories, but I think I did play a big role in turning the player housing part of the game into the rich and complex system it is now, and I was largely responsible for the idea of prestige housing. I originally proposed "custom homes" (what we now call prestige homes) in 2007, intended to be rewards from the Legends of Norrath game. They were eventually implemented as marketplace items in 2011, the first ones using the original zone ideas that I'd highlighted in 2007, and they are now a huge part of the player housing experience.
Fans are definitely going to miss you -- especially all the crafters in Norrath! Do you know who will be taking over those quest-creation duties for the crafters? Will we continue to see crafting signature quest lines?
I try to avoid questions that require me to predict the future! So I'll just say there are some very talented designers on the EQ2 team, they care very much about our crafting community, and I don't doubt they'll continue to support all of EQ2's players to the best of their ability.
For me as a player, it's always been the player communities that have made these games special, even above the fun content. So it's hard for me to point to one thing in the game and say "do it". Rather, I'd suggest finding a fun guild that matches your preferred playstyle and social experience, and whatever you end up doing with friends will be fun! There is great game content all over, as well as plenty of rich lore and many entertaining little easter eggs to find at every level and in every expansion (the "oil in your eyes" guy in Steamfont always makes me laugh). I can name many zones in both games that I've enjoyed the heck out of and have fond memories of, but when you get right down to it, it's the people who were there with me that meant the most and created the best experiences.
On your Twitter you have shared many strange comments and conversations you have #overheardintheoffice. What is the most surprising thing you have done/learned/seen while working for the studio?
Again, hard to pick just one, but this past Halloween walking into the coffee area and seeing animation artist Tom Tobey drinking his coffee fully dressed as "Trailer Trash" Antonia Bayle was definitely a "speechless" moment. (Wait, is there a picture of this?!)
Those who don't follow you on Twitter may not have realized that your leaving was a personal decision to return to your native country and wasn't indicative of the state of Daybreak. After the change to Daybreak, the layoffs, and game closings, fans have understandably been anxious about the fate of EverQuest and EverQuest II. Some worried that your departure, as one of the more familiar and long-term devs, was a sign of impending disaster. How would you address those concerns?
I think it's normal to worry about a thing you love and be scared by changes, whether that thing is a game, a relationship, or even a government. I've been working with EQ2 for almost 10 years now and for over 9 of those years EVERY time a dev left the team or staffing changed at SOE/Daybreak, there have ALWAYS been people convinced that it signaled impending disaster. It hasn't yet, and it certainly won't with me going. Possibly there will be some slimmer people in the office, as I'll no longer be bringing in baked goods, but that's probably a good thing overall! While I am one of the more visible devs on social media, it doesn't actually mean I do any more work or am any more important than devs who prefer to stay a little more quiet. On the contrary, there are so many very talented and dedicated devs on ALL the game teams who prefer to focus on doing their jobs that I'm not at all worried. (And let's be clear, talking to players and being visible on social media is NOT in a dev's job description, that's what the community team is for; the devs are there to make the game.) So I'm very sad to leave Daybreak and EQ2, but I'm excited to go home to Canada after so long away. I'm looking forward to enjoying Daybreak games as a player once again, and I expect to be able to do that for a good long time still to come!
Related to that, the loss of yet another long-term, familiar face brought up the question, "Who's left?" to some fans. Although newer devs are also great for the games, there is some reassurance of stability that comes with knowing that veterans who are intimately familiar with Norrath and have have been part of a sizeable chunk of the development over the years are still involved. After so many departures in the franchise, and without necessarily naming devs who prefer to work out of the public eye, can you tell us how many devs who've been working on the games for many years are still involved?
It seems like long ago now, but when I was hired in 2007, I *was* one of the "new" devs and far from being one of the original launch team. I didn't contribute content until expansion 4 (the original Kunark) so the fact that I'm considered a "veteran" by some just shows how much perspectives change over time! I still feel like a newbie too a lot of the time, especially when I look at the team I'm leaving behind and realize how many of them were on EQ2 before I joined and are continuing on after I leave. Doing a quick mental tally, I'm pretty sure the team still has more people who were on the team from before I joined than folks who were hired after me.
On a related note, this week I met a new hire on H1Z1 who’d heard I was leaving, and he mentioned how impressed he is that so many people are like me and have been here 5, 10, 15, even more years. He pointed out how uncommon that is in careers these days, and how he’d never seen that before in the other game companies he’s worked for, where average turnover is every 3-4 years. I think Daybreak is very lucky to have so many long-term veterans who are so passionate about the games they work on that they can't imagine wanting to work anywhere else. Those veterans are also great at bringing newer hires quickly up to speed with the lore and learned experiences of those games too, so everyone benefits from their experience.
Can you share a favorite memory about working at SOE/Daybreak?
One day when I looked up a walk-through of one of my quests on a fan site, and saw that someone had commented "slow down and read the dialog, it's worth reading, seriously hilarious." That made me feel as if I'd done a good job writing the quest, and also reassured me it's worthwhile to spend a little time throwing in some jokes and details in the quest dialog. Sure, a lot of people just skip past without paying attention, but for those who do read the details, I like to try and make it worth their while! Every now and then someone links to a list of EQ2 "Easter eggs" and jokes, and I've never seen one that has even a quarter of the little hidden references that I know are in there.
What's the difference in the business culture from the last 2 years of SOE vs. the first couple at Daybreak?
Each game team is fairly self-contained in terms of culture and how they like to structure the work and planning etc., so at my level it hasn't felt as if there's much difference. Holly "Windstalker" has overseen the EverQuest franchise for years and kept it running smoothly and happily, and the game teams have always tried to make EQ and EQ2 the best we can, and that doesn't change.
Hanging out with those same coworkers, many of whom I now consider good friends, and being able to use EQ2 questlines to tell memorable stories or create crazy situations to make people laugh. Like a goblin mishearing an instruction and decorating Kerafyrm's tomb with Frostfell candy canes. Or tricking players into using a recipe book by Bertoxxulous to infect a series of plagues onto a poor NPC. Or sending ridiculously misspelled emails from a ratonga child. Or creating tinkered items that launch flying cephalopods from a cannon. Etc. If I made some people smile, I did good in the world.
If you could have changed one thing at SOE/Daybreak, what would it have been, and why?
I tried to convince Smed of this many times, but alas, I failed ... I would have moved SOE/Daybreak to Canada! And then I wouldn't have to be leaving right now. Something about Californians and snow apparently seemed to be a problem ... I dunno, crazy talk. Come open a Canada office, Daybreak! :)
No, it's too early in the planning cycle for me to be slipping in design content this early. Right now the zone geometry won't even be complete, and the main NPC characters and lore detail planning may still be changing. But everything I've done for the past 9+ years is well documented for the team, and I'm confident that whatever is in the next expansion will be made with love and care. I look forward to playing through it as a player again. It's not as much fun playing through quests you wrote yourself, because you always know what's going to happen!
Can fans expect to see and experience your handiwork again in your new job, or have you moved into a different realm?
I'll be in a production role as of next month so I won't be directly creating content, but I'll wait until I've actually started that job before talking any more about it. I'm sure I have a steep learning curve ahead of me, and I'm looking forward to it!
Thank you so much for your time! We're wishing you well in all your future endeavors, and we hope to see more of you soon.