It's been mostly quiet over at Daybreak since SOE was sold by its parent company to an investment firm, rebranded, and saw the majority of its most public faces let go in a company-wide restructuring. Fans of the company's games have been anxiously inquiring about the status of the various titles, both current and future - as information has been little more than a drip since the shocking but understandable cutbacks.
The Big Daybreak News Update
Many of these staff reductions have led to some of Daybreak's legacy titles seeing a significant reduction in community support as in-game GM support is getting tightened up as well as complete restructuring and re-alignment of the forums for all games in the EverQuest franchise - including EverQuest Next. While this doesn't necessarily mean that the sky is falling, it has caused fans of the franchise to grow even more anxious about its future. The stock line we're continually being fed is that business will continue as usual, even though that's obviously not possible.
Probably the more alarming aspect of it all is that the employees at Daybreak can't be more transparent even if they want to, as it seems they're still making decisions about where to cut back and what they can proceed forward with. Unless H1Z1 and Landmark really take flight over the next several months, I would expect to see some of Daybreak's older titles receive even more cuts and changes. The reality is that EverQuest and EverQuest II have both long been on a slow decline - and while they do have their passionate player bases, they just don't promise sustainable income for the future longevity and growth of the company - no matter what upgrades might be added.
That means the company needs to look towards the future.
Currently Landmark and H1Z1 provide some initial hope, but EverQuest Next has to be the true focal point if the company's flagship franchise plans to survive and they want to retain their passionate core audience. Hopefully we will see a bit more information come out over the next few months as decisions are made and the company can be more transparent with its intent.
Project Fan Faire 2015 Update
For those who might have been living under a rock for the past couple of months, there will be no SOELive this year (or in the foreseeable future). Although that has disheartened most fans of the company, a portion of them are staying positive and banding together to create a Fan Event of their own. The project has been in the works practically ever since the first news broke of SOELive's discontinuation. It currently has a Kickstarter campaign live and has thus far achieved $6000 of its $35000 fundraising goal.
(Qeynos city entrance built from voxels - by Kuma. Just a tiny sampling of the wealth of the player-created workshop builds.)
Landmark Live has lapsed from its prior weekly regularity into more of a bi-weekly format, though with an additional push back this week we're presently looking at more of a monthly occurrence (unless the sporadic show consistency the past few months has been an anomaly). The latest updates have been relatively minor when compared to previous updates, but that could just be an indication that the team has their heads down as they push towards Open Beta. We do know that a world and character wipe (minus templates) is planned to occur very soon, as they add new island layouts and biomes in one of the imminent build releases. Those were some of the defining lines set by the team early on in Alpha, so I would expect we get some update on that front in the very near future.
An influx of new players could help breathe new life into the game, which has seen quite a bit of stagnation over the past several months after combat and mobs were introduced. The simple fact is that Landmark currently doesn't offer a complete and well-rounded experience right now. Which, surprisingly, is something it's undead little brother H1Z1 seems to have already achieved in its initial Alpha state.
Granted, Landmark is utilizing much more complex technology with a fair amount more R&D involved... but still, until Landmark offers a core experience that ties players together into a massive economy and community - it will probably continue to feel quite and compartmentalized. This isn't to say that they haven't been updating and adding things over the past few weeks.
The significant highlight for this upcoming change is the removal up upkeep costs (which is a dead horse I've been kicking for the better part of a year). This should greatly increase the accessibility for players to invest time in building without constantly feeling as though they're getting uprooted by the terrible upkeep mechanics of old. The new implementation of this system achieves the same goals as the previous system but with 95% of the annoyance removed.
EverQuest Next Update
As for EverQuest Next, we're still largely in the dark as to exactly how its development will unfold. The original process is still clear and as transparent as it can be for the players; but that doesn't mean that the end-goal is necessarily clear. I've got plenty of questions I plan to ask (when I get the opportunity) about the design intent of this game, but I honestly think many are questions that just can't be answered right now.
While we wait on that real information, the current process continues as the Qeynos workshop moves into its final phase. The Qeynos Landmark Museum Competition kicked off yesterday and should feature yet another array of awe-inspiring and breath-taking builds by the talented and passionate group of players that continue to invest their time and energy into the future Norrath. With each workshop I continue to grow more and more impressed by work of these voxel-artists. By far, the Qeynos architecture posed some of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Still, the players answered the bell and once again exceeded expectations.
After seeing what can be accomplished by Landmark's version of the Voxel Farm engine, I believe that the future of EverQuest Next is bright.
Now it's just a matter of getting close enough to see that bright dream get realized and illuminating the present - which may be a year or two still from now. The longer the development cycle gets pushed out, the higher the player's expectations will be - as was the case for the game Duke Nukem Forever. The game itself wasn't terrible; it's only when you consider the decade-plus long development cycle (that experienced a few changing of hands) and millions of invested dollars. The people working on that game had good intent, and they were doing their best to live up to the franchise's glory and deliver something great.
For that amount of time and money, players were expecting a much better product; and I believe that players will have similar expectations for EverQuest Next. That is why I believe it is so paramount for Daybreak to set firm expectations for its fanbase (and for the greater public in general). Letting assumptions from past hype dictate your future audience's experience is extremely dangerous. A lot of hype has been built up around the emergent AI, destructible world, and level-free skill-based combat.
Daybreak Needs To Clarify
They need to get the public back in the loop as quickly as possible, potentially going so far as to say what systems they have and haven't successfully prototyped. After all, there is no sense in continuing to build real hype around features that may never eventually make it into the game (or in letting hype about said features exist, even if the players built it up on their own). That's just a recipe for defeat.
While I do understand that there is a lot of R&D going on, I'd prefer for Daybreak to tell us what they have, rather than what they want to make. If all they actually can talk about is what they're currently showing us in Landmark, than that's fine - just tell us that. At least we'll know not to expect some of the other features that are planned goals (but not current realities) for EverQuest Next. If the company isn't willing to do that, then I would argue that their "open-development" is just as closed as the development of any other major title - they're just "openly testing" it. There is a big difference between open development and open testing.
My hope is that EverQuest Next succeeds in all its ambitions... however, the whole project has gotten so shaky (given all that recently transpired), that fans of the MMORPG genre need a bit more information and clarification than the miniscule thirty-minute Q&A session delivered mostly to a core audience of Landmark Live and Workshop Show viewers and fans. I don't believe most people outside that circle have any idea where Daybreak is going with Landmark and EQNext, as all the major public releases generally cast a negative light on what can still be possible.
If they want players to continue to look forward to the future of Landmark and EverQuest Next, it's time they finally talked about what they know they can do, and clearly separate that from what they want to do. If they won't do that, then they should probably start being a bit more clear about their process that they aren't openly developing, but openly testing - and we'll just have to wait and see.
I'd be much happier with that, and I'm sure there are a lot of people out there that agree with me.
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