The Game Archaeologist: Seven ways EverQuest reshaped MMO history


To many veteran MMO players, the opening horns of EverQuest’s score are enough to trigger vivid memories, violent hallucinations, and an unstoppable desire to leap through the computer screen to return to Norrath. It all depends, of course, on which MMO you first cut your teeth, and while many gamers would claim titles like World of Warcraft as their first, there is a sizable contingent who will confess that EQ was their first MMO lover.

In fact, before WoW came on the scene in 2004, EverQuest was the gold standard of MMOs for a half-decade — it was insanely popular, perfectly addictive, and seemingly revolutionary. It was a giant that roamed the virtual lands of those days, a giant that continues to forge new grounds well over a decade from its inception. Today, we’re going to look at seven ways that EverQuest reshaped MMO history.

Still struggling.

EverQuest proved that MMOs could go beyond niche

The birth of graphical MMOs was a messy and unknown time, with various dev teams in the ’90s forging games out of their own visions and blind faith that it would somehow work out. It came as a boon to all of these other projects when Ultima Online released in 1997 to high acclaim, giving other teams an established point of reference to justify their projects — including EverQuest.

At best, Verant hoped that EverQuest would pull in 70,000 players when it launched. The team was stunned, then, to see the subscription numbers shoot well into the six digits by the third month and climbing to 450,000 subs by 2004. Although EverQuest took a hit with World of Warcraft and is certainly dwindling in population over time, the fact that it’s still running (charting 82,000 monthly users in 2020), still expanding, and still preferred over EverQuest II is a testament to the titan status it once held. I know that many recent MMO releases wish they could crack those numbers and yet fall far short of what EverQuest did a decade and a half ago.

EverQuest became the first true 3-D MMO

OK, I’m not here to step on Meridian 59’s toes, but the truth is that EverQuest’s claim of being the first true 3-D MMO is backed up by its full 3-D models and landscapes, whereas Meridian 59’s landscape is a 2.5-D world filled with sprites. What’s more important than who was first at what is that EverQuest (and Asheron’s Call) showed the world just how immersive and glorious 3-D MMOs could be. It was one thing to look down on the world from an isometric perspective (Ultima Online, Lineage) and quite another thing entirely to be at eye-level with the NPCs and monsters you encountered.

Verant’s commitment to a huge array of 3-D graphics and effects meant that players would be required to purchase graphics cards for their systems (if they hadn’t already), something that wasn’t as commonplace in 1999 as it is today. Even though the developers risked alienating some players because of this, they felt the trade-off was worth it — and they were right.

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EverQuest solidified the MMO format we (mostly) enjoy today

Depending on your level of RPG knowledge, you may or may not be aware of the term “DikuMUD,” a type of multi-user dungeon that featured a class-based hack-and-slash MMO that became more popular and widespread than other MUDs. EverQuest and most subsequent MMOs were founded on a DikuMUD-type platform (although Verant swore that it did not use Diku code), taking advantage of that format’s popularity.

It’s vital to realize how much EverQuest owes to this format, how far the DikuMUD influence extended into MMOs because of EverQuest, and why some older players use “DikuMUD” as a swear word as they cry out for originality in the genre.

EverQuest heavily influenced the industry

Here’s a bizarre thought: Without EverQuest, World of Warcraft — at least as we know it — would not have happened.

It’s hard to overstate just how profound of an impact that EverQuest had on the burgeoning MMO industry, but its level-based PvE gameplay caught on like wildfire, particularly with up-and-coming devs working on their own titles. In fact, several World of Warcraft devs cut their teeth working on EverQuest, including Jeff Kaplan, Alex Afrasiabi, and Rob Pardo.

While everything gets labeled a “WoW clone” today, back in 2004 a few folks were calling World of Warcraft an “EQ clone” (or close enough) — something Blizzard doesn’t outright deny. Current Blizzard President J. Allen Brack admitted as much when he said, “Certainly, I think WoW took a lot of great ideas from EverQuest. EverQuest is the big foundation for WoW.”

EverQuest propelled Sony Online Entertainment to empire status

What began as an internal side project for Sony eventually became the cornerstone of an empire. Due to EverQuest’s success, Verant Interactive — which was folded into Sony Online Entertainment — showed its parent company that there was gold in them thar virtual hill, and Sony started to dig.

One MMO became two, and two became several. Before long, SOE encompassed a host of MMOs, including EverQuest, EverQuest II, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Planetside, Free Realms, Clone Wars Adventures, The Matrix Online, DC Universe Online, and more.

While SOE certainly dwindled in its library and clout as it transitioned into the Daybreak years, EverQuest continues to lend the studio clout and finances. After all, an EverQuest sequel is still one of the most-requested products, a signal of the importance of this franchise.

EverQuest is the most-expanded MMO in history

Twenty-seven expansions.

Wrap your head around that, particularly if your MMO experience is outside of SOE’s sphere of influence. We think that games with three or four expansions under their belts are seasoned and huge, but EverQuest’s been expanding once or twice a year like clockwork ever since 2000’s Ruins of Kunark.

Each expansion added to the game in one or more of the following ways: additional zones (over 375 so far), new features (like Shadows of Luclin’s Alternative Advancement or Underfoot’s Achievement System), a higher level cap, and new classes. As far as I know, EverQuest still reigns as the undisputed king of MMO expansions.

EverQuest defined many genre terms

Have you ever heard “Ding!” from a guildmate? Does your raid use “DKP,” or “dragon kill points,” for loot distribution? What about the words “rez,” “mezz,” or “nerf?” Are you hoping your weapon will “proc” while you’re “farming” mobs hoping for a sweet drop? If so, then you probably have EverQuest to thank for it.

While all MMOs have their own jargon and abbreviations, EQ’s popularity meant that the unique vocabulary players used in the game was then passed on to future titles as those gamers migrated.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.
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