Friday, March 11, 2016

Daybreak Cancels Everquest/Next Development

Daybreak, the online game developer that purchased the popular Everquest franchise from Sony Online Entertainment, today announced the cancellation of their much anticipated Everquest/Next MMORPG.  Fans of Everquest, the fantasy online game launched in 1999, were anticipating a return to the world of Norrath after SOE announced the development of what was promised to be a revolutionary change to online gaming with their third title in the series.

Russ Shanks, president of Daybreak, summed up the decision in one sentence.  "Unfortunately, as we put together the pieces, we found that it wasn’t fun."  While that is certainly a good reason to abandon a game, I'm not convinced it was the only reason.

The world of online gaming is highly competitive, and only a fraction of the games that enter development actually survive.  The time and cost involved in creating an MMO is extremely prohibitive, and very few creators are able to withstand the economic pressure.  38 Studios, the bankrupt startup owned by Red Sox star Curt Schilling, is just one highly publicized example of the casualties inflicted by the genre.

For a game to survive, it must truly be a game changer.  Look at the history of the genre for proof.  Ultima Online was the great-granddaddy of the online games, and what UO did was bring graphics and real-time interaction to the world of the MUDs.  Folks that loved the text-based "Multi-User Dungeons" flocked to UO.  The game launched in 1997 and it is still alive and well today. 

Next in line was Everquest, launched March 16, 1999.  EQ brought total immersion and first-person view into the genre.  The guild system was so well developed, many guilds are still together today even though the players have long since moved on.  It's by far the most addictive online game I've ever encountered.  Like UO, Everquest is still alive and well today.

World of Warcraft entered the scene on November 23, 2004.  The overall game play and concept was very similar to Everquest, but in true game-changing fashion, WoW introduced a fully functional quest system that incorporated a storyline that was central to the game itself.  It brought PvP (Player vs Player) into a genre that had become primarily PvE (Player vs Environment), and through much simplified game mechanics and significantly lower time commitments, it brought online gaming into reach for the Tween age-group.  Of all of them, WoW is the strongest of the players today.

Since 2004, however, there has been little to no innovation in the genre.  The game engines are virtually unchanged, the game concepts are similar, and about the only major improvements we've seen are in graphics.  That is where we've sat for the last 12 years, and that is why I believe Everquest/Next was canceled.  The "game changing" features they sought to introduce six years ago when the game was announced are insufficient for the title to survive given today's technological advances.

The next major innovation that will enter the MMORPG world will be Virtual Reality.  That's not speculation, that's fact based on the VR technologies already on the market.  Any soon-to-be released  MMO that does not exploit VR is doomed to failure.  That is why EQ/Next was canceled.  Any soon-to-be released MMO that does not support multiple diverse platforms is similarly doomed to failure, and that, too, is why EQ/Next was canceled.

So what's the recipe for the next successful MMO, the MMO that will be capable of dethroning World of Warcraft?  It will be a game that uses a VR interface but can be launched from a PC, a Mac, a tablet, or a phone.  Let the game servers do the heavy lifting, let the VR interface provide all the interaction, and let the "platform" merely serve as the data conduit between the two.  When you see the game company that offers that type of gaming concept, jump on it.  Anything less, given the technology available today, is doomed to failure.  Remember, if you release a concept today, you're going live in 2022 or 2023.  That's how long it takes to produce a game.  The technology for which you are developing is 6 or 7 years away.  If a gaming company does not have the vision to incorporate that technology in their design, then there is no way for them to survive against the competition that does have that vision.

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