We started out our conversation by taking a step back and examining just why SOE decided to sunset Al'Kabor in the first place. Smedley told me that one of the company's driving characteristics is that it is constantly experimenting in an effort to innovate. Sometimes experiments work out, he said. Sometimes they didn't. EQMac
was of the latter.
represented the company's efforts to dip a toe into the Apple market and see whether there was a sizable population that would flock to EQ
as PC players had. SOE used an outside company (which no longer exists) to do the port and ended up with a lackluster product as a result. To make matters worse, when the product launched in 2003, it was to a timid and tepid crowd at best. There weren't a lot of serious Apple gamers in the early 2000s nor much game development on the platform, and as a result, the market simply wasn't there.
With an underwhelming population, SOE saw no reason to continue work on the version. The codebase stagnated, and EQMac
froze in time, representing the game that was versus the game that it became. Even so, there were those who grew to love and appreciate this old school edition of EverQuest
, and a very tight-knit community developed as a result. The only problem is that they were doing so on a ticking time bomb of irrelevance.
Six months ago, SOE employee Todd Schmidt
took an interest in the code, and Smedley gave him the go-ahead to work on it. But even as Schmidt cleared up bugs and created a smoother experience for Al'Kaborians, EverQuest
as a whole was headed for F2P -- and the decision-makers didn't see a way for this antiquated version to join the new frontier.
Without disclosing exact numbers, Smedley said that the population of Al'Kabor was quite low indeed and wasn't financially viable. The numbers demanded that it be sunsetted, but the community wasn't about to go quietly into that good night. Instead, an intense letter- and forum-writing campaign ensued, all of which personally moved John Smedley into action.
He admitted that the advocates benefited from the fact that he is a "rabid Mac fan," as he put it. In talking with Smedley on the phone, I sometimes felt like he was trying to convert me to the Church of Apple with his passionate praises of the platform. Smedley looked at this stubborn, driven group of Mac MMO gamers, and he said he simply couldn't abandon them.
The declaration was made on Twitter: EQMac
would stay alive. There would be no charges, no Marketplace, no more expansions, and no F2P tiers. The server would be left on (although Smedley said there were no guarantees as to "forever"), and it would be free. New players would be welcome to join in on the fun, and the possibility was left open for new servers to be added if Al'Kabor filled up.
It was something that SOE could say "yes" to a couple of months after it had to say "no" to pleading Star Wars Galaxies
fans. So why did EQMac
get saved while SWG
was not? It came down to licensing, and with LucasArts
calling the shots with SWG
, SOE didn't have the flexibility that it did with EQMac
. SOE's reticent to shut anything down, Smedley said, although sometimes the higher-ups have to make the call to do so.
The decision to save Al'Kabor was attributed 100% to the fan response, especially the pleas from Mac gamers to a Mac-loving president. "We left it running because we cared about the fans," Smedley confessed. "I was so personally moved by 600 emails on the subjects by rabid fans on that server; it was really touching to me."
"We're not cold-hearted," he said. "We treat customers like we treat families." Those who want to make a conspiracy out of the issue or read into it miss the simple truth of the personal angle. SOE, Smedley assured me, is not a faceless bureaucracy but a group of like-minded gamers who care about the same things that its customers do.
Considering that EQMac
wasn't much of a money-maker for SOE in the past and that it now will be a continuing money drain, I asked about the upside of keeping the server going. Smedley told me that he's replied to everyone that's written him about the issue with one plea: If you like the fact we're keeping EQMac
going, then show your support when SOE comes out with Mac versions in the future.
With a Machead at the helm of SOE, it's a sure thing that its MMOs will be making more inroads into Apple territory as time progresses. Smedley wouldn't come right out and make any definite statements as to which games these would be, but he did say that the new Forge Light engine is a "hint" as to what Mac versions are underway.
"Mac ports done right are amazing," Smedley gushed. He said that the company is still mulling over a proper conversion of EverQuest
to the Mac, but the technical difficulties and age make it an iffy proposition.
SOE's president was incredibly optimistic about the studio's future, especially with EverQuest Next
. "I have a good reason to believe that when the next version of EverQuest
is launched, it'll be the game that causes people to abandon their current games just to play it," Smedley said firmly.
I asked whether SOE is considering any other MMO acquisitions. Smedley wouldn't say anything specific but told me that we should "look for some very interesting announcements in the near future." The studio makes decisions based on games the people working there honestly want to play, such as Vanguard
, and are not just there to snap up any old title that comes around.
In the meanwhile, EQMac's
community may rejoice that their time in Norrath is not yet up, and if they're pleased about this stay of execution, a time may yet come when they can show their appreciation the Smedfather.
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.