The Death of EverQuest II

A post over on MMO Voices asks whether EQ2 is dying. Karen at Massively (and also of Shut Up, We’re Talking and Journeys With Jaye,) uses Destiny of Velious as an example of how not to promote an expansion.

Anecdotal evidence from in-game varies wildly. It seems clear, though, that the lone EQ2X server, Freeport, is still hopping – I can vouch for this myself, as I dropped in the other day and there were plenty of folks in Butcherblock. As for the Live servers… well, like I said, reports vary wildly, but the population is clearly very top-heavy. Top-heavy is bad when it comes to getting new players into the game, and all the mentoring in the world won’t help new players find people that match their, and their character’s, experience levels.

SOE pushed EQ2X pretty hard for maybe a month after it launched. But after that, we’ve seen very little word from them. And we also, as both cited articles point out, have seen very little press for Destiny of Velious. Part of this is outside of SOE’s hands, as titles with releases on the horizon, like Rift and SWTOR, tend to hog the spotlight. Internally, DCUO is SOE’s Big New Thing, so their marketing resources are going toward that instead. Smedley himself has been tweeting about it.

I like SOE as a company. I like their games. But there definitely appears to be a disconnect between SOE and the community. A lack of communication even to how well their games are doing. Turbine switches DDO and LotRO to a free-to-play model and a couple of months later we start to see press releases. SOE makes a (roughly) similar move with EQ2, in my opinion the strongest game in their arsenal, and we don’t hear so much as a squeak publicly. Smokejumper says EQ2 is doing really well, but that’s buried in a forum post, and most sensible players follow my practice of avoiding MMO forums. So what’s audible to the public is silence, and folks are naturally apt to take that as a sign the game is doing badly.

It may not be, I hope it isn’t, and anecdotal evidence suggests that it isn’t. But the public perception right now is that EQ2 is a game in its twilight years, slowly declining in population. While there may be some truth to that, the problem is that the notion is self-perpetuating – who the hell wants to get into a game that’ll be empty for the first 79 levels anyway? SOE needs to get out there and challenge that idea, to get folks to take some notice of one of the strongest MMOs on the market, and one that really does have a ton going for it. A big push behind an expansion might do it, but we’re not seeing that, about a month before one launches.

Such a push isn’t necessarily the same thing as making huge, news-making changes or pouring dollars into marketing, by the way. An aggressive lead developer or community manager can do a lot for a game without spending a cent, by giving interviews, talking to people, running promotions with in-game prizes, and so forth.

What would I do? Phase out EQ2X and put free play into the live servers to liven up the sub-cap population and make the game newbie-friendly. Cap F2P characters at level 30 and let people buy cap increases in 10-level increments via the in-game store for $10 a pop. Run sales in that store constantly. Run contests every month that get people involved, with in-game prizes. Set fires under the community managers to get them to actually get out there and engage the community outside of the forums and in-game channels. Monthly developer letters and interviews with major MMO news sites. Give the individual devs blogs, like CCP does, and vet the articles if you have to. Put a team member into every third-rate podcast (like mine!) with even a peripheral interest in EQ2. Involving the community will at least give people the impression that’s you’re listening to them.

Is EQ2 doomed? No. It’s a strong enough game to mount a comeback. It’ll never make a million subs, but there’s no reason it can’t become one of the major players in the MMO market again, and it’s really not all that far away even now. All it’ll take is a little love rubbed on the community and the public by SOE.

7 responses to “The Death of EverQuest II

  1. Part of me wishes that Sony would pull out the crafting and housing systems from EQII and develop a game based on those two things alone. Cuz boy howdy there’s a lot of good ideas in there. I still think fondly about the crafting mini-game while I click the start button in WoW and AFK to make my 900 linen cloths. Crafting in EQII is fun, involved, and useful. For all its countless faults, FFXIV seems to be trying- in its unique, Asian-grindy, totally boring way, to make crafting a valid playstyle. It’s just that the entire game is horrific and unfinished.

    And housing, well, I’ve never played a game with more customization options than in EQII.

    So, yeah, cut out the juvenile number smashing combat of the modern MMO that EQII implemented and give me a crafting and housing MMO! I’ve killed enough foozles for a lifetime.

  2. I think EQ2 is a *very* strong title, but that SOE is going about it all screwy on the marketing and the F2P fronts. F2P should definitely be on the live servers, not segregated, and their cost matrix is wonky — they really need to take a page from Turbine on that. DDO’s is just about perfect.

  3. I think you have the plan backwards.

    Convert Live servers to the EQ2X model, which is working very well. Rotate the “preferred server” on which people start as a default to keep the newcomers refilling the servers evenly. Advertise.

    Of course, SOE always wanted to move all the servers onto the EQ2X model to begin with, but they were decent enough to poll the Live server subscribers for feedback and the howl of anguish they got back scared them into the unsatisfactory split they ended up with. They live in perpetual fear of being accused of another NGE, and in consequence they consistently try to please all the people all the time and inevitably fail to please almost everyone.

  4. I think it is way too late for them to alter their payment plan. I also think that the options available to silvers and bronzes have improved considerably from the launch of EQ 2X. Pretty much everything we were bitching about at launch has changed. I suspect the current EQ2x is a viable alternative to the LoTRO/ DDO/ Wizard 101 model (as opposed to the launch model, where you are forever gimped if you don’t sub). However, until SOE gives us some numbers or at least an optimistic press release, who knows?

  5. @Bhagpuss: That is essentially what I am saying; put the F2P based plan onto Live servers, and push Freeport into the list of conventional servers, phasing out EQ2X as such.

    It’s funny how everyone bitched at putting f2p on Live, and now they’re bitching about having f2p players on separate servers, eh?

    @Yeebo: SOE already has altered the payment plan, with the introduction of EQ2X. So it’s obviously not too late. Also, I don’t know that I agree that the current EQ2X model is all that satisfactory. Viable? Probably. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the store prices, which range from stiff to outright predatory, and there are only occasional sales.

    But the bit about us not hearing anything optimistic from SOE is the point of the article. “Silence” is another word for “doom” in the minds of many. I think EQ2X is doing at least okay, but that’s because I’ve seen Smokejumper’s forum posts saying that. Most people don’t read the EQ2 forums, and I can see why – they’re a cesspit of whining, naysaying and negativity. If that is in fact the case, then it needs to be communicated to the public at large, and vigorously.

  6. To be clear, I agree with your premise. I think the game is in all likelihood doing a lot better than some have inferred. The idea that the game is dying is nearly absurd. The few real indications we have, as you point out, are that it’s doing at least fairly well. It’s just hard to say if it’s having success on par with LoTRO/ DDO/ W 101, which have pricing models closer to what you suggest.

  7. I logged in to Freeport at 10.00am GMT this morning, a weekday. That’s 2.00am on the U.S. West Coast and 5.00 am on the East, I think.

    There were already three instances of Frostfang Sea up and two of Butcherblock. It’s like that every weekday and has been since EQ2X began. If I log in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon there will be anything up to 9 Frostfangs and three or four instances of all the other starter areas. I’m generally asleep during U.S. primetime, but someone on the forums was complaining of 20 instances of Frostfang (I imagine that’s an exageration but it probably does get into double figures).

    My impression is that not only is there a continual influx of new blood, but that populations at all level ranges are solid. A lot of these people trying the game out seem to be sticking with it. And yet Smokejumper still says the population isn’t sufficient to justify bringing a second EQ2X server online. That makes me wonder just how many people can one of these servers hold comfortably?

    I really don’t know why SoE are now SO secretive about their subscriber/player numbers. It might have been a sound strategy once, but unless the numbers really are embarassingly low (in which case why are the games even still running?) surely we have passed the point at which secrecy is doing more harm than good.