You know me: I’ve been quite the supporter of EverQuest Next and Landmark for a good long while. Even before writing about EQN these past few years, I was following its development, and I got to be one of the first ever to find out about and actually get my hands on Landmark. I’ve been at the SOE Live reveals, I’ve talked with the devs on numerous occasions, and I’ve seen their great passion and dedication to the games — and I’ve been relaying all that info to you. It’s no secret that I believe in this franchise. So when I say that all these recent developments give me pause, you can understand the gravity of my feelings. I certainly don’t make this statement lightly.
Is EverQuest Next in trouble? I think it is. At the same time, cries of doom and gloom are unwarranted.
I am not heralding doom
Before we get into this discussion, let me make it perfectly clear that being in trouble does not automatically mean that EQN and/or Landmark are doomed. The words simply do not mean the same thing. “Doomed” means that failure and crashing and burning are inevitable. It elicits cries of “abandon ship!” as folks leap away to avoid the burning wreckage. “In trouble,” on the other hand, simply means the risk of doom is more likely than it once was. And I do think the game is in trouble. In my mind the odds of things going horribly wrong have escalated thanks to recent events, making that possibility a little too uncomfortably real to me.
Do I think there is still a possibility of the games turning out wonderfully? Yes. But the chances of that not happening can’t be ignored. My enthusiasm is scaled back just a bit. I am still hopeful (and there is good reason to be so!), but I’m also a bit more wary.
Bad stuff happens in game development. We know that and even expect it. So what makes the last few weeks so confidence-shaking when compared to before? It’s not as if there weren’t issues and setbacks prior to February 2nd’s SOE buyout announcement. It’s the sheer volume and magnitude of events that make me worried; not only are they big blows, but they came so close together. Fans have every reason to be concerned!
First we had the buyout announcement. Of course that is going to put people on edge; we know what buyouts can do. They can cannibalize, parcel out, and just plain destroy the company as we knew it. New bosses are in control with their own vision, one we are not familiar with. It makes perfect sense that the new company does not garner the same amount of trust the old one had because of the new folks running the show. Unfamiliarity breeds trepidation. Only time to build a track record can truly calm those fears, though Daybreak Games did try by assuring us nothing was changing. So those first fears were allayed a bit as we put our trust in the people we knew instead of the big new unknown overlords. And how did that turn out?
Layoffs. Shortly after the surprise punch to the gut that was the end of our loved-and-loved-to-hate company, we lost some of the great folks that have been a part of making the games a reality. No matter how you slice it, this was a huge blow. Right after asking us to trust that everything would work out fine, many of the very folks we trusted to bring EQN and Landmark to us were booted out the door. It was a double hit on the trust meter: Not only was that initial promise broken, but we lost awesome individuals who had earned our trust and support. I am talking the loss of people whose sheer enthusiasm and palpable love for the game carried us along on the hype train. They believed it was worth it, so we did too. I am well aware that many awesome people still remain on the project (that’s where my hope comes in), but the fact remains that subtracting awesome from awesome still leaves us with less awesome.
Can it get worse? Oh yes, it can. The next big kick to consumer confidence was the announcement that Storybricks was no longer partnered on the project. This revolutionary AI was one of — if not the — biggest factor in setting this game up as the next big thing. We’ve been champing at the bit for such a marvelous feature, and it alone had many folks eyeing EQN. Even those who didn’t feel Landmark was for them watched in interest as this ability to script AI might very well bring them into the game to try it out. I know the devs have assured us that all the previous work is still there and will be continued in-house, but that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better; it just looks like SOE cannibalized another group for its own interests and then discarded it, much as we fear we’re going to see with Daybreak’s new masters. That puts a sour taste in my mouth. The group needs more trust right now, not less. And going from collaborative partners to cannibals is definitely leaning toward less.
Here’s the kicker: The latest news is that EverQuest Next may not, in fact, be free-to-play. What’s so bad about that? SOE originally said it would be F2P. No matter how many times folks try to say otherwise, it was announced as a F2P game. I was sitting there right in the front of the audience when it was proclaimed that going forward all things were “Free-to-Play, Your Way.” And that definitely included EQN. I am not even a fan of F2P, so why does this switch bother me? Precisely because it is a switch. After so many other confidence-shaking things in quick succession, this just screams, “I know we told you one thing before, but now you just can’t trust it will be that way (or anything else we said!)” We’re not talking about a small change; we’re talking about the fundamental business model behind the game. Now, even something as benign as a welcome announcement will cast a longer shadow of doubt on the projects.
I can’t blame anyone for being on edge waiting for the next shoe to drop. We’ve had plenty drop already. With so much already happening, you have to wonder, what’s next? What or who is getting the axe, and when all is said and done, what — if anything — will be left of the game we were looking forward to? I commiserate with everyone who is apprehensive about EQN’s chances now.
What Daybreak Games needs to do now (besides make a wonderful game) is restore its fans confidence. There were always those who were sitting on the fence and taking the wait-and-see attitude before; the problem is a large number of fans are in that same position now, too. Daybreak Games needs those fans back on its side. The studio needs folks anticipating EQN with bated breath. It needs the momentum of excited fans. And the only way it is going to get that is if it restores some of the lost confidence. Too many disruptions have eroded our trust, and the team needs to build it back up.
Here’s one way Daybreak could restore some lost confidence right now: release the AI scripting in Landmark. This feature was promised to come just after the first of the year, so it is already quite late. I understand why it is delayed, but the studio needs to give players some concrete assurance that plans are still moving forward. Is the decidedly intelligent artificial intelligence really still a part of the game? Show us! Put your development where your mouth is and give us proof that what you say is true. We want to believe, we really do. But Daybreak, you need to give us some positives to go on.
That first step will start the ball rolling. And it needs to come fast because the longer folks doubt Daybreak’s commitment, the less likely they’ll ever trust the studio again. Their eyes will drift elsewhere, with their wallets right behind. EQN has lost a good share of its momentum and a portion of its appeal. Let’s get it back! I still want to play the game I’ve been hearing and writing about all this time. So show me it isn’t lost. Show me I have reason to hope, to believe. Show me.