Those who’ve been long-time followers of Massively OP’s long-running EverQuesting column might have noticed a distinct lack of new year hopes and predictions articles for the EverQuest franchise along with their end-of year accounting pieces. That’s because there haven’t been any for a couple of years. The last year I did them — 2016 — was the year we lost EverQuest Next and got hit with the announcement for Landmark’s death. Daybreak also failed in communication and community interaction front. The optimism I had when 2016 started was pretty battered by the year’s end, and then 2017 and 2018 just beat the tar out of it. Who really wants to delve into negatives at the start of a year?
But who knows when I will have the chance again. Despite the loyal fanbases of EverQuest and EverQuest II and even the recent offering of lifetime All-Access memberships, I feel no assurance that the studio won’t implode this year. How could I? There have been too many closures, too many questionable moves, and too many layoffs to think otherwise; confidence in even the most hopeful fans has been seriously eroded.
However, I don’t feel that implosion is a sure thing either. It could go either way: No outcome is a forgone conclusion. This is a brand-new year, and no matter matter how Daybreak has messed up in the past, the EQ/EQII ship can be righted because there are still many players who love the games. Now we just need the developer to show it loves the games, too. Here are a few ways that can happen.
Daybreak certainly came by a short-term cash windfall with the lifetime All-Access memberships. Although I was tempted, the possibly abbreviated lifespan of the company didn’t give me enough confidence to spare that kind of money on my budget (and I just may come to really regret not getting it), but many did jump on the offer. At least 4,000 fans did. I don’t know how many of the extra 6,000 offers sold, but just the initial 4K gives the company an instant $1.2 million bucks to work with. So work with it wisely! This needs to not be squandered.
How could Daybreak squander it? The easy answer is to spend it irresponsibly. The big thing the studio really needs to do is not take that little windfall from the pockets of EQ and EQII players (we all know these had to be by far the majority of the purchases — does PlanetSide 2 even have that many players? — though DCUO fans who didn’t already have one might have snapped a number up as well) and funnel it all into only new projects like the PS2 arena. Sure, a new MMORPG in the EverQuest franchise would make many folks happy, but there needs to be immediate results showing in the current games they play. Show some monetary love to EQ and EQII. Squandering the influx by not shoring up your flagship games would be a double-edged sword: On one side is the loss of the money itself, then the other would be the loss of whatever faith and trust customers still have in the company.
And definitely, definitely don’t just line the pockets of suits in your parent company. Oh no no no. Administrators, executives, and corporate heads should not be getting this: Please earmark it for the devs in the trenches working on content. The key is to get content into the games! Content = customers. Customers = more cash.
I’ll admit that I am almost hesitant to call for more communication — when I did that for EQN the communication we got was the cancellation! But silence is most certainly not golden in the realm of MMO development. I get that there will never be a return to the open development we saw with Landmark, and that is probably a good thing because it might have been a little too open. But just a little. Lately it feels like we get next to nothing but cash shop announcements. We do get plenty of those! Producer letters are pretty sparse. We didn’t even get a Frostfell announcement, the biggest holiday of the year, until long after it had started! And even then it seemed like the focus was on the Marketplace, not the festival.
News seriously seemed to be lacking, but was it? Let’s look at the breakdown of announcements on the official site. The archive shows only two entries for January 2018. One was for the progression server, and the other was a producer letter — a letter that was nothing more than a thank-you and a couple of pieces of artwork. Not the greatest of starts, but a start. February was better with five entries, though two were cash shop ads. March was the next producer letter as well as four in-game events. OK, maybe things are looking up. Continuing on, May and July felt meatier with GU106 and GU107 previews, respectively, while April and June were thin. August was full of summer event updates, and expansion tidbits filled out October nicely. But we didn’t see another producer letter until September. And that makes only three for the entire year!
Sure, Marketplace deals are nice. The event content announcements are also good to have, especially when said events have something new. But producer letters are a vital part of the communication line. They show players there is a focus on development, that folks in charge are actively invested in the continuation and building of the game. And not just on game development, but on the community as well. Producer letters feel like a conversation with the community (albeit a bit one-sided), whereas the ads leave you feeling like just a customer. Not having these letters makes it seem as if the game — and by extension, its community — is not a focus or even a care, just an afterthought if that.
When ads significantly outweigh conversation, you can’t help but feel like just a customer. And that’s not healthy for the games in my opinion. Community is what will keep these aging titles afloat and create value for the overall franchise; a valued community is more likely to spend than those who are seen only as wallets, or worse, expendable wallets.
And speaking of customers: Daybreak’s definition of them involves some hefty segregation. There are the worthy customers who get all the special events and deals, and then there are those who don’t. I am not talking consumers of content here, either; I am talking paying customers. The haves are the All-Access members; the have-nots are all the folks who spend on expansions and Marketplace items but don’t subscribe. What really gets me is that there are players who actually spend significantly more than a monthly sub but who still cannot participate in members-only bonus XP and such events and sales. What makes these customers less worthy just because they choose not to pay for membership? Is their money somehow less spendable? I have seen these players get disgusted at their treatment and leave because they feel unvalued. Daybreak can’t afford that.
It also feels terribly deceptive to advertise “such-and-such bonus this week!” to draw people in but then have “All-Access members only” in the fine print. Perhaps don’t even lock these behind any membership at all! Do things like that for everyone. Drawing all players back with a bonus may even result in some purchases or memberships — if you don’t drive them away beforehand.
I’ve asked it before: Why can’t Daybreak put a system in place that accounts for how much an account spends overall to be included in membership deals? Would it cost something to develop? Sure. But hey, there’s this little chunk of change the studio just came into. I’ve paid for an All-Access membership for well over a decade (don’t add that up, the number is staggering), and I certainly wouldn’t feel slighted in the least if someone who chose to spend $100+ dollars at one time got the same perks and benefits as I.
In short, don’t gate all goodies behind monthly membership. Treat all your paying customers the same, as valued folks who are keeping you in business! Valued customers stay customers longer than those who aren’t. That doesn’t mean you should treat them only as customers – make sure you emphasize the community aspect too. And that will lead to a healthier year in 2019.