The Tattered Notebook: It's OK if EverQuest Next is a niche game

The Tattered Notebook - It's OK if EverQuest Next is a niche game

I'd like to open today's column with my favorite quote from SOE's EverQuest Next reveal:

"Enough is enough. Enough of the same game already. It's time to get some new ideas into the genre."

Now, you would think that this sort of unambiguous mission statement would be picked up on and understood by everyone who has even a passing interest in EverQuest Next. After all, the quote rolled off franchise director Dave Georgeson's tongue during the first two minutes of the EQN reveal speech. And if it wasn't clear from that opening monologue that EQN isn't going to be your daddy's combat lobby, the rest of the reveals that focused largely on the game world, the building tools, and a wee bit of the ol' ultraviolence should have been the second clue.

EverQuest Next cavern concept

See, first impressions are everything, and SOE chose as its EQN first impression a presentation that was heavy on non-combat gameplay, building, exploration, and atmosphere. Was it all hype? Who can say at this point. Conspicuously absent, though, was any mention of raiding, PvP, and really, progression.

Now, that's not to say that EQN won't have those facets in some form or fashion. Surely it will. And maybe SOE just isn't far enough along those particular development timelines to feel comfortable sharing specifics. Or maybe those three things simply aren't the focus of EverQuest Next.

Enough is enough. Enough of the same game already. It's time to get some new ideas into the genre.

If so, this is a huge gamble for SOE because its bread-and-butter EverQuest fanbase lives for raiding and grinding. Not so much PvP, but given John Smedley's involvement with the EVE Online community, I wouldn't have been surprised to see an EverQuest sandbox pay lip service to player-killing. It seems telling, though, that raiding, PvP, and progression weren't really talked about when EQN was announced to the world.

EverQuest Next - Teir'dal concept

And look, I understand the apprehension in some quarters. Progression, trinity combat, and gear treadmills are all many players know when it comes to MMOs. If I had cut my MMO teeth on the original EverQuest or its sequel World of Warcraft, I might be rolling my eyes at EQN and rage-quitting the bandwagon too.

Or maybe I would realize that I can still get my particular gameplay fix in any one of a hundred EverQuest derivatives cluttering the current MMO landscape. Maybe I would continue playing my themepark of choice but keep an interested eye on EQN and give it a fair shot when it ultimately releases. And hell, maybe I would even end up being surprised at how much deeper MMOs can go if players let them.

Enough is enough. Enough of the same game already. It's time to get some new ideas into the genre.

All that said, I do have some initial concerns about EQN. For one thing, consider Landmark. Yes, it's awesome and at this point it's the feature that interests me the most about the whole shebang. But I also find it odd and a bit off-putting that it's not part of the main game, at least for now.

I'm going to take SOE at its word that it's going to implement player housing and allow people to port their Landmark creations into EQN when the latter finally releases, but I'm also going to ask why, if housing and building are in fact important features, have they been shunted away from the main game and given their own world/servers/whatever.

EverQuest Next - Dwarf concept

Maybe SOE is taking a page out of Star Citizen's release-live-game-features-as-they're-ready playbook. And maybe as the development moves forward, SOE will be able to capture some of the same long-suffering sandbox gamer zeitgeist that has put Cloud Imperium on a pedestal and earned it a ton of community goodwill along with the largest crowdfunding windfall in history.

That's my hope, at any rate, and we'll certainly find out over these next few months.

Enough is enough. Enough of the same game already. It's time to get some new ideas into the genre.

My other EQN concerns, at this point, basically boil down to the players. More specifically, they boil down to SOE's ability to stick to its sandbox guns and not cave in to those who are going to cry about trinity this, more defined roles that, and basically crap up every discussion with combat-centric complaining instead of realizing that good MMOs place just as much -- if not more -- emphasis on world-building, socialization, and the economy as they do on combat.

This angst is already quite apparent in the comment section of just about every EQN-related post on Massively, to say nothing of those few posts that are actually about combat. Some players are rushing to judgment and labeling EQN as Guild Wars 2.5. None of these people has played a lick of EQN's combat, of course, but due to SOE's stated aim of removing the holy trinity and doing something different, EQN has prematurely been saddled with the GW2 clone label.

The problem with that is two-fold. One, SOE hasn't elaborated at all on how its combat system will actually function, and two, even if GW2's combat is indeed a big fail pile (which is of course totally subjective), that doesn't mean that EQN will follow suit.

EverQuest Next - Cave duo concept

So, really, stop with the Guild Wars 2 comparisons. It's OK if that's the only non-trinity game you're familiar with (Ultima Online and SOE's own Star Wars Galaxies say hello), but the chances of it being similar to EQN in anything other than its fantasy trappings are slim.

As ever, the primary problem with MMOs in general and EQN in particular is people, especially those people who refuse to step outside of their comfort zone or, worse, who attempt to force EQN into the well-worn genre box that already limits EverQuest, WoW, and their thousands of offspring.

And I know, I know, we must be inclusive. Every new game must appeal to everyone and blah blah blah. Except no. Every new game does not need to appeal to everyone.

In fact, if the MMORPG genre is going to survive instead of collapsing under the weight of an expanding and unsustainable free-to-play bubble, specialization and niche offerings will be the key to that survival. And while SOE may at first seem an unlikely candidate to make a niche but high-quality sandbox MMO, it is in fact the best candidate, as I've explained at length before.

In any case, right now the only thing I can say to the principals responsible for EQN is attaboy and attagirl. I still can't quite believe that SOE has the intestinal fortitude to make its latest franchise flagship into a AAA sandbox game, but I have the utmost respect for the effort even if it doesn't work out.

Enough is enough. Enough of the same game already. It's time to get some new ideas into the genre.

Which brings us back around to Dave Georgeson's monologue, wherein, right after he said that it's time for some new ideas, he also concluded that, "If somebody is going to do it, it should be EverQuest."

And he's right. It should be EverQuest. But not because EverQuest has any sort of claim on the MMO throne. No, it should be EverQuest because EverQuest is the game that began the MMO genre's unfortunate detour to the mainstream middle, so it's only fitting for it to be the franchise that puts it back on track.

EverQuest II is so big that it takes two authors to make sense of it all! Join Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie as they explore Norrathian nooks and crannies from the Overrealm to Timorous Deep. Running every Saturday, The Tattered Notebook is your resource for all things EQII and EQNext -- and catch MJ every 'EverQuest Two-sday' on Massively TV!