Now when I say steampunk, I don't mean the typical retro-futuristic style of steampunk -- although I certainly wouldn't stop SOE from trying to take the series there. What I'm actually suggesting is a more fantasy-heavy steampunk. A Norrath set 1,500 or 2,000 years after the events of EverQuest II -- where an industrial revolution has just recently begun no more than ten or fifteen years ago. It would easily be one of the most compelling massively games coming out in the next few years, so long as the art side of the game did their job properly.
This needs to happen if Sony Online Entertainment wants to keep the EverQuest brand among the creme of the crop in massively gaming. Pure fantasy has been done to death at this point and a large shift from the genre seems to be happening already. Games like Tabula Rasa, The Agency, APB, Champions Online, Earthrise, Jumpgate Evolution and the recently announced Tom Clancy MMO -- they're all pointing to a future where the fantasy genre no longer dominates.
Getting back to EverQuest III, it would be a good idea for SOE to do whatever they can to attract new customers while retaining as many of the old as they can. Although since the original EverQuest is still getting expansions I don't see why the fans should be too upset, since they already have two games set in a full-fantasy world.
This move would be to garner new fans, people like me who are just really tired of the same old fantasy settings and would kill for something fresh and fun. It doesn't have to be a major departure from what we love in massively games, although I'm always up for new ways to play as well. Mostly what I'm demanding here is a fresh coat of paint -- a new type of virtual world to explore and level up in.
A world full of giant steam-powered, magically infused robots -- something near and dear to my heart. A setting where players could roll a flintlock wielding gun mage character who shoots magical ammo that act much like spells -- or maybe an elite warrior with a robotic clockwork arm made out of magical copper. The requisite airships would have to make some sort of appearance and maybe even a giant flying fortress or two.
A setting like that would easily give players -- both new and old -- a reason to pay very close attention to EverQuest III, should it ever get made in the first place. If all we have to look forward to is another fantasy setting with better graphics, I'm afraid it's only going to appeal to the same people already playing the first two games -- people who've dedicated a lot of time to essentially the same game.