The Tattered Notebook: Will Age of Discovery be the last EQII expansion?

EQiI Jester
It's amazing how much can change in just over a year. At the end of last summer, we were wrapping up Fan Faire and looking forward to Destiny of Velious, the upcoming expansion and the first of what was supposed to be a two-part expansion. This past weekend, just over a year later, I was headed to #OccupyNorrath to check out the planned protest, part of which was aimed at the cost of the new expansion, Age of Discovery. While the protest was light, to put it mildly, there has been quite a bit of rumbling on the forums about this upcoming expansion and the fact that while it might be heavy on features, it's pretty light on new content.

Now, when I question whether Age of Discovery will be the last EverQuest II expansion, I'm certainly not predicting that all production will cease and desist in the game afterwards. But I think it's worth asking whether we're seeing a shift away from the traditional expansion model. Let's take a look back the past year and a half because I think it offers hints that might help explain the bigger picture for the game.

What's in it for me?

First off, let's look at what's being offered in Age of Discovery. Arguably the most anticipated new feature is the launch of the Beastlord class, something that's been on players' wish lists for a while. Also included is a new Dungeon Maker design tool, which allows players to use dungeon templates and set up spawns, objects, and a variety of effects to challenge other players and hopefully get ranked on the leaderboards. There are mercenaries, which are NPC assistants to help fill group slots or lend a hand on tough solo content. Also included is a new feature called reforging, which lets players adjust stats and even particle effects on items. And for crafters, there are tradeskill apprentices, who will help them research new recipes and obtain new crafting rewards.

Age of Discovery is being billed as "truly an unprecedented expansion in terms of pure features and valuable in-game items." While that's true, the irony of the statement is that it's also unprecedented in terms of a lack of new zones and instances. If you look back at a few of the past expansions, you'll see that Destiny of Velious contained two overland zones, nine group instances, one two-group raid zone, and three four-group raid zones. Sentinel's Fate contained two new overland zones, and 12 dungeons. The Shadow Odyssey contained 20 new zones. And Rise of Kunark launched a new starting area and about a dozen new zones, including overland, persistent, and instanced.

Zoning out

If you look at the past two expansions, there's a clear difference in the number of new zones in each (12 to zero). But there is also a stark difference in the content that followed each expansion. After Destiny of Velious, there were two updates, with the first offering three new group dungeons, three four-group raids, one two-group raid, and one heroic area (crystal caverns) for smaller groups. The second contained one new dungeon, one new raid zone, and two "repurposed" zones that offered new dynamically scaling content from levels 60-90.

In contrast, the two updates that followed Sentinel's Fate collectively contained one new group zone, two four-group raid zones, and one starter zone (New Halas). There's a Catch-22 that emerges when you look at the bigger picture. I remember how frustrating it was for players to have long waits for new content during the time betwen Sentinel's Fate and Destiny of Velious because most of it was locked behind the Velious release date. With Velious, players have had a much better pace of new content, and all of the update zones were free. Would players prefer that most of it had remained linked to the Age of Discovery release date? On the other hand, are we, in a way, paying back-fees for content that's already been launched? And how does the Freeport Revamp factor into the big picture? It's free with the Game Update that marks the launch of Discovery, yet it still took time and resources to produce.

Price points

These types of questions lead to a larger issue, which is that we probably need to rethink price points and the traditional expansion model of releasing large chunks of content and features with long waits in between. Regarding price points, there is so much "for sale" now in EverQuest II that it goes well beyond monthly subscriptions and yearly expansions. As one of my guildmates pointed out, if you were to price the virtual mounts, cloaks, and home that comes with the Collector's Edition, keeping in mind that most of those things are available to all characters on one's account, it would fetch a pretty penny on the Station Cash Marketplace. So while one player might bemoan the lack of zones, another might feel it's a fair price because of the value of the virtual items and features. But this is the inherent problem with expansions: The lump price might not deliver what each player might consider fair market value.

EQII public quest
Executive Producer Dave "SmokeJumper" Georgeson echoed that recently, saying that the "pay to hope" model of expansions is something that the team is moving away from. And you can see that progression clearly by watching how things changed after Velious. During Fan Faire 2010, the plan was to have two Velious expansions. In the SOE webcasts leading up to Destiny of Velious' release, the team was talking about a Velious part one and part two, describing zones like Cobalt Scar and Western Wastes that would come with part two. But by April, things had changed, and Georgeson explained that there would not be a Velious part two and that Velious content (the Ages End Prophecy) would be released over a much longer period, in seven or eight parts.

If we speculate for a moment and assume that EQII is moving away from yearly expansions to smaller, more regular updates, how will that be monetized? Will players continue to get game updates for free, or might we see a return to the old adventure packs of the early years of EQII, when the term "DLC" was still in its infancy?

When discussing the transition to free-to-play across all servers, Georgeson described a more flexible "pay as you go" model. While he didn't say outright that EQII was done with releasing expansions, you can definitely see hints that the team is moving away from it, especially when you look at how the plans have changed over the past year with regard to Velious part two. Ironically, it's a model that another former SOE executive producer seems to be pretty happy with, and perhaps in the long run, it's something that will satisfy EQII fans as well.

From the snow-capped mountains of New Halas to the mysterious waters of the Vasty Deep, Karen Bryan explores the lands of Norrath to share her tales of adventure. Armed with just a scimitar, a quill, and a dented iron stein, she reports on all the latest news from EverQuest II in her weekly column, The Tattered Notebook. You can send feedback or elven spirits to karen@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.