Return to Norrath! An Interview with EverQuest 2’s Dave Georgeson

With the soft launch of EverQuest 2 Extended, many new players began to pour into Norrath to begin their adventures. As that Ten Ton Hammer loves all thin
With the soft launch of EverQuest 2 Extended, many new players began to pour into Norrath to begin their adventures. As that Ten Ton Hammer loves all things EverQuest, our own Benjamin J. de la Durantaye talked to Dave Georgeson, Producer of EverQuest 2, about the state of the game, Freeport sewers, and many other topics.

Ten Ton Hammer: The EverQuest 2 Extended soft launch seems to be going very well. Has the response been in-line with what you expected?

Dave Georgeson: We’re very happy, especially in the fact that we did just the one press release. We’ve had a really good response and the population increase has been great. It’s what we were hoping for. When you do a regular subscription-based service, people go in, play up, and work themselves towards 90, so you tend to end up with a lot of empty newbie zones and stuff. One of the beauties of a free-to-play service is that you always have new people coming in and trying it out. Now, there are always people in those early stages and it’s worked out very well. It’s very easy to get into groups; it’s easy to find like-minded folks that are trying to do the sort of things that you’re trying to do, whether you’re exploring, grinding through stuff, or pressing to 90. It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from it.

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Ten Ton Hammer: We know that you can’t talk numbers, but can you give us an idea of how many new players you’ve seen coming in or coming over from Live?

Dave Georgeson: I can give you a percentage. Out of the people who are playing EQ2X, fully half of them are completely new to the game. They’ve never registered a credit card; they’ve never made a character before; they have never played EQ2 as far as we can find out. So that’s cool. We’re getting some fresh blood into the mix. As far as people who are transferring over from EQ2 Live, the numbers have actually been very low. That was expected because people have so many ties to the existing server, with their friend circles and guilds. The numbers have been pretty low. There has been some transferring over, but not a significant percentage.

Ten Ton Hammer: So that seems to work out for both sides of the population then. The Live side doesn’t seem to be suffering too much from it, and you’re getting a bunch of new people in from one press release.

Dave Georgeson: Yes. We’re very happy with the end results so far. The kid gloves come off in a little bit. Not too long now, we’ll take the beta tag off of it and we’ll start spending some marketing money. We hope to see some good effects on both sides of the fence.

Ten Ton Hammer: Can you give us a hint on what you’re planning with your marketing?

Dave Georgeson: I really don’t know all the details yet. In fact, I have some emails pertaining to that in my inbox right now. (laughs) I do know that we’re pretty serious in getting the word out there. Like I said, we’ve done really well with just the one simple press release, so we have high hopes for what could happen for the franchise if we go ahead and spend some cash to let people know.

Ten Ton Hammer: With the success of the server, every time that I log in to create a new character, I’m seeing big red letters saying that the server is full. Which is good because that means tons of people are playing. What the community wants to know is do you have plans to add another server?

Dave Georgeson: Actually, the red letters are kind of an error. I’m actually going to talk to one of the programmers to see if we adjusted it. We have more robust hardware than in the past and the population limits have not been raised from the old hardware. So, we’re not maxed out on people yet. It’s probably more of a yellow light, and I’m going to get them to change the number and we’ll see. We know what our max population is, and before we see any performance issues, we’ll open a new server. But until we get enough people to warrant spinning a new server, we don’t want to do that because one of the good things about EQ2X is the population density. If we spread people out too thin, we won’t get that effect, and people won’t be having that same fun experience. That’s one of the reasons why we want to do mergers on the Live side. We’re working to get better hardware before we do the mergers, but we want to merge some of that stuff down because when there are more people around, the game is more fun.

Ten Ton Hammer: Absolutely. Even though, as you stated, those red letters are an error, having all those people are good. It doesn’t feel overcrowded, but there are always plenty of people around. It feels alive.

Dave Georgeson: Yeah. The dungeons are actually contested!

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Ten Ton Hammer: Imagine that. It’s great stuff. Now, it’s not over yet. I hear the official launch of EverQuest 2 Extended is coming up. You had the soft launch with just that one press release and no big marketing campaign. What happens when the official launch comes around then?

Dave Georgeson: Well, not a lot except that we’ll start spending the marketing money. We’ll take the beta tag off so it doesn’t say beta anymore. People can then stop worrying about if we’re going to do a data wipe, which we’re not going to do. As far as the game itself, it has effectively been launched since we put it out with the beta tag on it. It’s just that we were reserving the right to make changes. As that it is an MMOG, we’ll still make changes, but we’re confident enough that the model works and so we’ll take the beta tag off.

Ten Ton Hammer: Since you had the soft launch, how much have you adjusted the game? For instance, I was doing a lot of crafting and there weren’t a lot of resources out there. So I went into town and bought the resources and spent a lot of money. Now, I’ve noticed that the prices have really come down, which is awesome. Is that something you’ve been tweaking in beta? Are there other things you’ve been doing as well?

Dave Georgeson: We’ve been watching the prices really carefully, and I’ve talked to a lot of people in-game about what they did and what they didn’t do. We talked to a bunch of people that were serious crafters, and they said that they would spend money on the marketplace, but it’s costing us x to craft these items and recipes, and that’s too much for them to consider. We went back and looked at the model and that’s why we changed that. We’ve lowered some of the housing set prices. We’ve lowered prices on some of the stuff that people may not care about, such as pets in the house. We’ve changed prices back and forth based on feedback. We may end up occasionally raising a price here or there, but in general, the model we had before, except for things like broker credits, we haven’t changed it a huge amount. We’re very seriously considering selling character slots soon. We’ve also added the ability to buy classes, which were formerly restricted to just gold. We’ve listened to the players a lot. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work in the game. We’re looking at data every single day figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

Ten Ton Hammer: What about bank slots? I think that for bronze members, it’s two slots, and for silver, it’s three slots. Are you thinking of adding additional bank slots for purchase for these subscription levels?

Dave Georgeson: Yeah, we might do that. We restricted a few things intentionally because the original game allowed so much stuff to be stored, that it was creating these huge gluts on the highly populated servers. It was actually slowing down performance for all players because so much stuff had to be sifted through on a regular basis. That’s one of the reasons why we have a charge for a guild charter right now. That’s one of the reasons why we have restrictions on bank slots and a couple of other things. We’re not intending to take that stuff off right now, but it’s something that we’ll consider in the future.

Ten Ton Hammer: Getting back to the official launch, one of the questions on everybody’s mind is EverQuest 2 Players for EverQuest 2 Extended. Are there any plans for that sort of website?

Dave Georgeson: It’s less a matter of having plans and more of a matter of having resources. Our marketing department is not a gigantic department. Because we always have so many games going on and projects going on at SOE, let’s just say that they’re extraordinarily busy folks. So, expanding out the EQ2 players site would require them to invest considerable effort into that and I don’t think it’s in their budget right now.

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Ten Ton Hammer: Just to clarify, we’re talking about the leaderboards and other things on the EQ2 Players site. The free server isn’t represented there.

Dave Georgeson: Right. We just don’t have it yet. If it was up to me, I would build that stuff in-game because it would be easier to access and more people would see. If more people see it, it’s cooler. However, we don’t have that scheduled right now.

Ten Ton Hammer: Another piece of feedback that I’ve been seeing in the community is chat restrictions. We understand why there are chat restrictions there. When you have a free-to-play game where it doesn’t cost a person anything to make accounts, there’s nothing to stop the bots from spamming the heck out of everything. The question is, are you happy with the current system? Are there considerations to make the chat restrictions level based or something different from what is in place now?

Dave Georgeson: There is no intention to change the chat restriction right now. To be honest, a ten dollar purchase to go up to silver membership is a permanent thing, and if chat is worthwhile to you and it makes a big difference in your experience, we would like you to go ahead and make that step. I’m personally very strongly against allowing trolls to come in and spam because it’s free accounts. We can’t ban them fast enough to keep them from doing stuff. I’ve run a free-to-play MMOG before, and I know what can happen. It’s extremely negative if you don’t have restrictions. That’s why we have it in place the way it is right now.

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Ten Ton Hammer: One of the bugs that has come up and I think it’s been addressed, but I bring it up because it goes into my next point here. There was a bug if the players had an account on Live and if that account expired, their gold account on Extended got canceled as well and they had to go through customer service to get that fixed. This brings up the point that non-gold members have no way to petition for customer assistance. Do you have any thoughts about getting guides in there, such as the guide programs in EverQuest and EverQuest 2, where you had volunteers to act as a relay to find the real problems?

Dave Georgeson: We’ve been talking about it. It’s not concrete at all. One of the devs, Domino, came into the office the other day, and she pitched it at me, saying we should really do this. The real answer is that we don’t have the plans yet, but we are seriously considering it. Also, technically, it’s silver members and above that have customer service. It’s only bronze that do not.

Ten Ton Hammer: Let’s turn to future content. Are there any plans to update some of the older zones, such as Freeport sewers, where nothing is going on and the population is about zero, to add some spice to them?

Dave Georgeson: Yes, we do. After Velious, we’re hoping to, and I don’t want us to commit to hard here, but let’s just say that we’ve been talking about Freeport and Qeynos a lot. It’s funny that you mention the Freeport sewers because just yesterday, I was talking to one of the designers about the fact that it is such a chore to do the level 20 armor quests because you have to slog all through this gray stuff and navigate through mazes of sewers to get down to the point where you’re actually at the place where you do the quest. We were talking about making the manhole covers access points so you can just leap to different levels. There are a lot of different things that we’re discussing, but Qeynos and Freeport are very big, much loved iconic things in our game. We would like to make them special places to be, and we’re going to be spending serious effort on those.

Ten Ton Hammer: So this is in addition to all of the Velious stuff?

Dave Georgeson: That would be after Velious. Velious has got us more than busy enough right now! We’re putting a lot of effort into it so that even the overlands should be fantastic when we’re done. We’re going to bring back some stuff that was well loved in previous times and make them a lot more adventurous. Interesting places to go with both solo and group content, so it’s not one of those rip-through, grind kind of areas. We’re putting special attention and care into the dungeons to make sure that there’s a review process during the creation of the dungeon and not waiting until the end. The quality level should be really high. We’re very committed to making this expansion phenomenal.

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Ten Ton Hammer: It’s interesting that you bring that up with Velious. With Velious, two things come to mind. I think of huge dragon raids, and I think of Tower of Frozen Shadows. Both of those aspects of Velious I absolutely loved. Speaking specifically of Tower of Frozen Shadows, the zone was unique in that it was progressional. You played on the first level and you got the key to the second level. You played on the second level, fighting different mobs and different monsters, and got the key to the third level. I loved the progression in there. I was having a discussion last night with a guild mate about progression within games, and specifically EQ2. In the early days, everything followed a progression. You had to do an access quest to leave the Thundering Steppes to visit the Enchanted Lands. You had to do an access quest for everything. Over time, all that was removed. As producer, what is your take on progression? Do you envision any of the progression-style stuff coming back in with Velious?

Dave Georgeson: I’m letting the designers make a lot of decisions on the Velious stuff. I personally don’t have any issues with progression locks. I think that they can be extremely useful. I’m not going to say how much or how little they’re used in the current Velious stuff until after we have more time to get feedback and tweak it. Heck, I’m one of those guys who liked corpse runs because it made you really worry about if you were really going to die or not, but the world is a little bit different than it used to be. So we’re re-evaluating all the mechanisms that we use in the game or have used. We’re trying to determine what’s still good and fun to use today, and we’re bringing some of it back.

Ten Ton Hammer: What about the Sleeper?

Dave Georgeson: Not in part one.

Ten Ton Hammer: Oh! So is there going to be a part two to Velious?

Dave Georgeson: What I can tell you is that this is part one.

Ten Ton Hammer: Going back to updating old zones with new content, one of the beloved things and traditions of EverQuest 2 were the newbie islands. Granted, they did get a little bit tiresome because every character you made had to go through them. They’ve been recently removed because you have new, cool newbie experiences all over Norrath now. Do you have any plans on bringing back the newbie isles in any shape or form?

Dave Georgeson: I know that we have a storyline that we want to pursue with the far seas trader stuff. Those islands were closed for a reason, and that reason we haven’t revealed. When we get to the point where we’re mucking around with the Ocean of Tears and some of that stuff will get explained. I think what a lot of people are missing from the newbie isles experience is leaving them to go to Freeport or Qeynos, which are really cool zones. The cities were there and they were very nostalgic, but they were honestly difficult to navigate. They were kind of all over the place as far as content went, and a lot of newbies got confused and they ended up quitting because it was so hard to navigate and you couldn’t remember which one of the 7 or 8 different zones of Qeynos your quest giver was. That obviously needs to be restructured. We’re restructuring them and making them cool, iconic, and story hubs again, all the things that players miss from the newbie isles. Right now, I’m talking six months to a year, but if we get to do what we want to do in the future, and there isn’t bigger and brighter ideas, then the newbie isles stuff will fully get explained also.

Ten Ton Hammer: So there is a purpose to it all then?

Dave Georgeson: There is.

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Ten Ton Hammer: Going into the developing aspect of things, you have two different projects going. You have EverQuest 2 Live and you have EverQuest 2 Extended. I know that they’re the same game, but you’re looking at different target audiences. When you’re designing new content and new expansions, how do you envision it? Do you focus mainly on that doing this will make it good for Extended, or do you focus on making the Live gamers happy? How do you find a middle road to suit both audiences?

Dave Georgeson: How do I answer this without making flamewars? (laughs) The business model we had before EQ2X, we were forced to continue the expansion pack model, which is, in general, making end-game content and kind of ignoring the things that we know are wrong with the game. We’re always racing to make the next expansion pack; we’re always racing to make the next expansion pack. It was the only way we could make money. It was the only thing bringing in cash. By bringing in EQ2X and allowing the microtransaction stuff to make money for us over time, what it’s doing is effectively freeing up design concepts. Now we can concentrate on Freeport and Qeynos. We can do things like take care of the zones that we know are really bad and need to be revamped and updated. I won’t name any names…Thundering Steppes… (laughs).

There are a lot of things that need to be fixed in the game. There’re a lot of mechanics that have gotten creaky or worse, in my opinion, and are impossible for new players to understand. There is a lot of functionality in the game that most players don’t use because they don’t know that it exists, and that is almost criminal. By taking off some of the burden of the expansion pack model, we can address some of these other issues and make the game better for just not one set of players, but for everybody. The more fun the game is, well, the more fun the game is! If we can go in and create new ways for people to play and be able to revisit content and have fun with it, not just grind through it, if we can add more dynamic capabilities to the game so that things aren’t exactly the same every time you go through them, the game will be better for everybody.

I think that we’ll be addressing content that just isn’t end-game, even though we’ll continue to push that boundary, but we’ll be able to do it in a lot of other ways. We’ll be able to do that more effectively because the burden won’t be so heavy on the expansion pack model.

Ten Ton Hammer: That makes sense, especially with EverQuest 2 Extended. No longer is the game top heavy. My hats off to you.

Dave Georgeson: It’s already a good game. We can make it a great game. We just need to have the time and resources to do it, and by increasing the success of the game financially, we get that. We can go back and create the entertainment that we want to create.

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Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you wish to share about EverQuest 2 Extended or Velious?

Dave Georgeson: We’re concentrating on quality for Velious, not necessarily quantity, even though there’s a lot of stuff we’re doing. We’ve made a commitment not to cram in thousands of quests just so we can say that there are thousands of quests. We’re going through everything and trying to make it feel heroic, that there are lots of gee-whiz moments, that there are lots of things to look forward to, and that there’s pacing through the area. That way, you’re not just doing one thing the whole time. I think that we’re going to be successful on that frontier.

I can’t wait until we rip off the beta tag and get to spend some of that marketing money. I’m looking forward to seeing how that will impact the population on both sides. We’re still experimental here, and I can’t wait until I get real facts so that we can tweak it more to make it work.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where do you see EQ2X in today’s massive free-to-play marketplace?

Dave Georgeson: This is going to sound like pure ego (laughs), but honestly, at the top of the heap. There isn’t anything better than EQ2 as a free-to-play model. There just isn’t. I’m really looking forward to people finding out about it and checking it out. If you want to include another competitor that comes close in quality is LotR, but I think that we’re better than them. I think as far as other free-to-play games, their play isn’t as deep, their graphics aren’t as cool, and they don’t have nearly the depth of features. We’re at the top of the heap.

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