Daybreak’s New Dawn – Part 2: Darkpaw Games and The Future Of EverQuest

I’ll admit, my main reason for doing this whole series was to try to find out what’s going on behind the scenes of EverQuest. Under the newly formed Darkpaw Games, EverQuest has the kind of legacy most games can only dream of. Originally released in 1999, EverQuest has been trucking along now for over 20 years. 20 years! That’s insane. Even in our era of yearly releases and strick Season Pass timelines, it’s almost impossible to think of any other game that people would be willing to play for that amount of time. Hell, RuneScape only gets by because it’s free and you can play it at school. Yeah, I’m calling you out, 13-year-olds that play RuneScape. I was you once! I am your dark future! Look at me and WEEEEEEEP!

While there are a few MMOs with this kind of staying power, EverQuest has outlived a number of doomsday scenarios that would have (and did) wiped out a weaker game. There’s, of course, the insatiable maw that is World of Warcraft, breaker of genres and slayer of dreams. Far more impressively, EverQuest even lived through the launch of its own sequel! Which is also still going! EverQuest and EverQuest II have been updated side-by-side for the last 16 years. Most studios would just pack up the first game when they have a sequel to work on. But SOE (then Daybreak (now Darkpaw Games)) just decided to double their workload. Now that’s some dedication.

The point is, EverQuest has lived through way harder times than another studio restructuring. It’ll probably be here long after I’m dead. But what I’m really curious about is what’s next? Getting into EverQuest in 2020 is daunting. Most of the players have been there from the start, or close to it. There’s no way I can ingrain myself into a solid raid guild at this point. So when EverQuest takes its next steps, that’s going to be when most new players can hop on board. So what does the future hold for the landmark franchise? Luckily, head of Darkpaw Games Holly Longdale took some time to answer my questions.

DXP: With all the kids playing their “Fortnites,” how will we cultivate that crucial new generation of MMO players to keep the market alive?

Holly: If I knew the right answer to this, I wouldn’t tell you! That’s one of the joys of game development. You never know what will be your lightning strike – when the game, timing, and audience are all aligned up for a magical moment. It’s nearly impossible to predict success in this industry, especially with the number of competing products. If we could do it, we all would.

For us, we need to lean on our special sauce which is how well we engage players and create an environment that builds community. And, I have to say, that while the future of gaming includes kids, it’s not all about kids. Every age group needs an escape from the everyday, right? EverQuest and EverQuest II have proven that. The demographics of our players run the gamut.

We have players who met in game and started families. Those families now play together.

I’d like to help the industry change with a game and design that will create another supportive social atmosphere. A safe, magical place. It can exist because we see it in many groups and guilds in our games today and for over 20 years.

DXP: What do you feel the next big innovation will be that smashes through and revives the genre?

Holly: Right now, the focus is on quicker, consumable experiences that have moved away from the day-and-night investments requiring you to be at a PC or console for many hours relying on others for large-scale team success, i.e. EverQuest.

There may be an answer that lies somewhere in between with a focus on multiplayer games as an investment and hobby vs. multiplayer games as a bite-sized past-time, if that makes sense.

I hope we find the next big innovation and we’ll darn well try while still being fundamentally “EverQuest.”

DXP: More importantly, what design ethos can your company bring to the table that will make gamers take notice?

Holly: As far as ethos, we aim to remain fundamentally EverQuest. What does that mean? In gaming terms, we support and rely on others for success and fulfillment and find excitement along the way.  

DXP: EverQuest recently launched its 26th expansion. EverQuest 2 is on 15 (not counting adventure packs). I remember playing EQ2 as a ratonga troubadour back in highschool. I was a master of carpentry and made beautiful sconces for my entire guild. Somewhere along the way, they changed the crafting system and I dropped off. The idea of re-entering EverQuest is frankly more intimidating than meeting my girlfriend’s traditional Polish grandparents. Is the team aware that the idea of getting into EverQuest is at this point daunting?

Holly: I’m so glad you enjoyed the game when you played. And yes, some changes we make have unintended consequences. 

Absolutely we are aware it’s daunting to get into EverQuest and EverQuest II. We’ve redesigned the newbie experience several times. Did it make a huge difference? Not really.

The reality is that we are games built on PC UI and UX from the mid-90s for EverQuest and early 2000s for EverQuest II. We are bound by a lot of what we created then and our active, passionate players don’t love it when we change aspects of usability and gameplay that have become muscle memory.

Do we still want to improve the game? Abso-frickin’-lutely, YES. But would we overhaul our current games and alienate our core gamers in the hopes we’d get a windfall of new and returning players? Possible, but dangerous, and not on any roadmap currently.

DXP: How do you intend to alleviate the new player experience?

Holly: We are focused on the best experience for our engaged audience. We may try to soften the entry to the game, but our focus really is on our active players now. A new game, however, would employ all the best whizbang and academic knowledge of accessibility and usability of technology today.

DXP: Also, with the cancellation of EverQuest Next, is there a “Next” for EverQuest?

Holly: Heck, yes! We are always crafting plans for the future and have taken several strides.  We are truly interested in homing in on what we think will be the “next big thing” that keeps audiences inspired by Norrath for even more decades to come.

How many studios can say they’ve had a commitment to a live game for decades…? We can!

So with that, fans can be sure that there is a “next” for EverQuest. While this doesn’t officially confirm a specific project, the horizon is bright. As Jack Emmert said in his portion of this series for Dimensional Ink, the new studio structure means that they are free to pitch new ideas to outside publishers. Does this mean a new EverQuest might be backed by new investors? Only time will tell. Until then, we can all rely on the consistent EverQuest and EverQuest 2 content that fans have come to love year after year.

Check back soon when I talk to Andy Sites from Rogue Planet Games about the future of PlanetSide!

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