EverQuest Celebrates 12 Years! A Q&A with John Smedley, Alan VanCouvering, and Harvey Burgess

is celebrating its twelfth anniversary, and Ten Ton Hammer is dancing
in the streets of Freeport along with the other fans of all things style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest.
Several members of the staff have taken to playing on the progression
locked servers to recapture the magic of entering the world of Norrath
for the first time once again, and they began to wonder about what lies
ahead for the style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
franchise and of the journey taken over the last 12 years. To that end,
our own Benjamin J. de la Durantaye sat down with other interest
players at a roundtable discussion with style="font-style: italic;"> EverQuest’s
John Smedley (President of SOE), Alan VanCouvering (Assistant Lead
Designer), and Harvey Burgess (Associate Producer).

How is the Fippy Darkpaw server going with the recent wave of players
that have joined it?

It has been going really well. Basically, what we wanted to do this
time around was learn from the past server because we have been the
progression server before. Last time, we didn’t enable all
the same attributes that people had before as far as the slower
experience, the corpse runs, etc. which we decided not to do this time.
There’s a poll going on now where the players can actually
see other people voting for or against corpse runs. Right now
it’s losing.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96526"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96527"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

Currently, we’ve been focusing on the forums seeing what
players have liked and what they haven’t liked.
We’ve gone the extra mile this time by incorporating all of
these things this time in this progression server.

We’ve made sure this time that this was much closer to the
original than the first time we did it. There’s a lot of
effort making sure that all the stuff that we put in the old world
zones as expansions were added were removed so that they
don’t show up until that expansion is launched. Things are
going really well.

What’s the hardest thing that gave you issues as you
developed the game over all the years?

From our perspective, the most challenging thing was keeping the
players happy on a consistent basis. The players go through the new
content pretty quickly so we have to constantly keep the game fresh
in-between with live updates. Keeping the players happy and motivated
and feeling that there is always something to do is probably the
biggest challenge.

When we take a look at the current state of MMOGs, we see a lot of
online games coming out. In the original version of style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest,
you spoke a lot about creating an online world versus an online game.
Do you ever see the genre going back to that idea where the goal is to
create a world as opposed to a game?

I would say, without giving away too much, is that style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest Next
is much truer to that vision. We feel really, really strongly about
that and I think players are going to be surprised. They’re
not going to see style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest 2.5
or make a WoW-clone
or something like that. We have an entirely new direction and we
believe the concept of building a world is the way to go.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96531"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96530"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

What are your views on style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
and EverQuest
co-existing currently and
in the past?

The politically correct answer to that is they’re doing
great! The actual answer is that we probably made a mistake calling it style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II.
That was a clear mistake. We didn’t realize the lifespan of
the original. We’re sitting here talking about the twelfth
anniversary of an online game and that’s amazing in and of
itself. Our original plan was that it was going to be like every other
retail game where after every few years, it would go away and the next
one would come out. That hasn’t happened. If we could redo
one thing, it would be to rename style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II.

The games are very different. They’re set in different times
and they appeal to different audiences. It’s been an
interesting ride trying to convince retailers that it’s a
good idea to have both style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
and EverQuest
on the shelves at the same

What feature has resonated most with the players over the 12 year
history of the game?

Everyone is going to have a different opinion, but I think recently it
is the mercenaries. It’s due to the fact that it helps people
play by themselves and give them lots of backup. The game is built for
groups. You can log in with a friend and fill out a group with
mercenaries. For recent memory, that’s what comes to mind.

Throughout the years, we’ve added so many mechanics that
really benefit the player base. When we added the leadership
experience, players were better able to group with others by being able
to select individual targets and seeing targets of targets. We have so
many that it is difficult to narrow it down to just one.

How much content do you have in style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest II
until you feel the need that you have to bring out style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest Next?

I would say that we’re not bringing out style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest Next
until it is done. Both style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
and EverQuest
are going to have lives
independent of style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest Next.
There’s no shortage of fresh ideas or great ideas, so
I’m not worried about our ability to keep players
entertained. That’s what we do for a living. As for style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest Next,
it won’t come out until it’s ready and not before.
I think that it’s going to surprise a lot of people from the
direction that we are choosing. We’re hoping to bring our
past players and a whole bunch of people who have never seen the world
of Norrath into it.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96532"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96533"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

Are you going to continue releasing expansions for style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest I?

Yes. That’s a pretty simple answer.

You don’t see an end game in sight for style="font-style: italic;">EQ?

I honestly say that I don’t have an answer for that. We just
did a three year plan, which we do every year, and we assume that style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
is going to continue on for three more years without any problems. We
also assume that we’re going to be making expansions during
that time.

As long as we have a vibrant player community that wants content,
we’re going to be there to provide it for them.

Speaking of community, over the last 12 years it has changed quite a
bit. How has it changed your approach to the design of the games?

Speaking for style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
specifically, there is a kind of trap that you can fall into when you
listen to too few people, the vocal minority as it were. I think that
as experienced designers, we understand that you have to understand
more than the vocal minority. It’s nice that we have the
polling system to allow us to get the pulse of the majority as opposed
to the minority’s opinion. Other than that, having a
community that has been with us for so long makes it much more
interesting to work on a game like this. There’s a sense of
people enjoying the game which you might not get on a new game. You
know that what you’ve been doing has been enjoyed by these
people for the last twelve years.

As we continue to grow and gain experience, we’ve gone down
different avenues of talking with players. It’s either via
the forums or the community leaders from the players that help us allow
us to ping ideas off of in order to move forward. There’s
just a lot of avenues that we’ve started to explore over the
years to get the best content and best features to the players.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96534"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96535"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

Has the community changed? Is it the same group of players for the last
12 years or are there lots of new players added to the mix?

It’s been a combination of both, but one aspect of a game
that’s been running for 12 years that we didn’t
think about then, but do now, is the life cycle. We have players who
started the game back in their 20s who are now in their 30s and have
introduced their kids to the game. You really start to think that these
people have formed social groups and have become real-life friends with
people they have known for over a decade.

We want to listen to those long-term players primarily, but we do
realize that there are new players that want to play the game. We see
the new players speaking their mind in the forums and in the game, and
it’s refreshing to hear their voices as well.

With all the content and new systems added over 12 years, can a new
player compete with a long-term player? What advice would you give a
new player?

That’s something that we’re definitely looking at.
With 12 years of content, features, and mechanics, it can get a little
overwhelming to a new player. We do have methods in to help those
players along, such as the fellowships. With fellowships, you can group
with more than the typical six people. It helps coordinate getting
people out to you. We also have NPCs in the Plane of Knowledge that
explain a lot of the newer mechanics as well as telling players where
they can get their spells for x, y, and z levels. As we continue on
throughout the game, we don’t want to lose focus that with
new players, we need to have some kind of bridge to help them over what
they might have missed over the 12 years of the game. We focused a lot
of that in the introductory content to the Plane of Knowledge so
there’s a central place for all that information.

The success of style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
set the expectations of what a traditional MMOG would be like for the
next few years. Then, style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft
came out and changed the way things are these days. How does style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
fit into that space now? Are you trying to adapt the game into a post- style="font-style: italic;">WoW
world or is it going to continue going its own way?

I would say that it would be a mistake for us to follow what style="font-style: italic;">WoW
is doing. It’s a great game and we’ve learned some
things from them, but style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
is pretty much its own entity with its own feel and way of playing. To
try and change that to follow a game that came out afterward would be a
mistake. We want to make style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest
even more EverQuest,
if at all possible rather than less. We’re definitely
learning from what other people are doing, but changing the feel of the
game would be a mistake.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96536"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96538"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

What will Everquest
have that nobody else
will have?

That would be telling! (laughs) I would say this; we’re not
trying to recreate the wheel. We’re trying to do something
revolutionary, not evolutionary. That’s a broad statement and
a bold one, but that’s how we approached it from the day we
started development on it. The game looks unbelievable visually; it has
its own style. We’re not trying to be super-realistic with
it. We have our own very unique style going with it that we think
people are going to like. That’s about all I can say.

Are the time-lock progression servers popular enough right now that
you’ll imagine adding more as the game progresses to future

It is definitely an idea that we’ve tossed around. Just
making sure that 1) the players want it and 2) that we have the ability
to support it fully and as functional as the servers we have now.
It’ll be interesting to see how the two servers play out
against each other, since Fippy did get a six hour head start. (laughs)

has a unique graphical style and that you’ve done some minor,
and major, improvements over the years. How concerned are you about
system requirements and keeping them similar to what they are now or
are you planning on doing any more major graphical upgrades?

Every couple of years, we definitely go through and see how the other
games look in comparison to style="font-style: italic;">EQ.
We did this again this year. One thing that we keep in mind is that we
have lots of players that have been with us since the beginning, and we
want to make sure that they don’t have to go out and buy new
systems in order to play the game. Yes, it has been very difficult
trying to keep up, technology wise, but I think that our team has done
a great job of visually keeping style="font-style: italic;">EQ
what it’s supposed to be as well as well as making it good
enough for the masses to still want to play.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96539"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96540"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

Where does EverQuest
go from here? Where do you see it in the next few years?

That’s a tough question. It’s funny that I want to
say, “More of the same.” I would like to say that
we’re going to continue to put out awesome content with
innovative new ideas in them. I don’t see why we
won’t be doing that. That’s where I expect us to be
in ten years: bigger and better.

Just to add, we’re not at a loss of ideas. We constantly
re-evaluate the direction we’re going and what we want to see
in the game for years to come. We’re definitely still going
strong. Until we find something we don’t agree with,
we’ll be providing the content that players seem to love.

What is your profile of the modern day style="font-style: italic;">EverQuest 1
player? Is it the same people buying all the expansions or has the
player base evolved in the last 12 years?

It’s evolved. It’s about 79-80% male with an
average age of 38. It’s somebody who’s
well-educated and a person who spends a lot of time in the game. I
think the current average is still over 20 hours a week. It’s
definitely somebody who’s very committed.

Do you tailor the expansions to please those players?

We’re definitely aware of who’s playing our game
with all our expansions. Tailored? No. But we definitely want to
provide content for as many as our players as we can, including knowing
where the bulk of our players are. So…yes and no.

style="width: 400px; text-align: left; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"
border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="2">

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96542"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/96543"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 300px; height: 225px;"

Going back to the time locked progression servers, as they progress
they get closer to live servers. The question is do you feel that
you’ve tapped into the full potential with it or are you
planning on pushing it harder while the window is still there?

I’m not sure how much harder we can push. From a design
perspective, there are things that we could have caught that we missed.
We’ll catch them next time if there is a next time. Design
wise, with going back to the basics, there is only so far that you can
go. There either is or there isn’t a way back to the way it
used to be.

Our thanks to John Smedley, Alan VanCouvering, and Harvey Burgess for
this discussion.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our EverQuest Game Page.

Last Updated:

About The Author

Around the Web