Last week, I had the chance to sit in a roundtable discussion with Sony Online Entertainment’s Senior Producer, David Georgeson, and members of other gaming websites. The session, which lasted about an hour long, was not only a ton of fun but gave me a new appreciation for the MMO genre. Georgeson, who boasts an impressive resume, has been working in the industry for over two decades, having worked on some big name titles such as Tribes II, so it was a great opportunity to ask questions and pick his brain.
On the same day as the roundtable discussion, SOE released the latest EverQuest II expansion, Destiny of Velious. Fans of the EverQuest franchise will remember Velious from the original game as it was a favorite among many. When the original Velious expansion came out, EverQuest was still fresh and it was during the peak of the franchise. The love for Velious was one of the driving forces behind the return to Velious, even though 500 years have passed and follows after the events that took place in the Sentinel’s Fate expansion.
I’ve admitted before in various articles that I am not a fan of the MMO genre, or PC gaming for that matter, so I was really curious about the new expansion and what David had to say regarding the new features and changes. In Velious, which is meant for high level veterans of the game, players can ride on flying creatures, swooping around the world. What makes the creatures special is that they are unable for purchasing in the in-game marketplace, making them pretty exclusive. Public quests will still be available, and players will have the chance to work with other players towards a common goal or simply ride on past them. Beloved characters have returned, and players will now get to explore new stories with them. It should be noted that Destiny of Velious is, to date, the most successful expansion in EverQuest II history as it was the most pre-ordered, so clearly they are on the right track and know their fans.
When David was asked how they determine what content they will offer for expansions that are built for the higher level players, he was quick to say that it didn’t limit them. In fact, because they had a target in mind, it allowed them to focus on what they would add and how they would make the experience special for the veterans. Their goal was to make it feel epic, and even though he would love to have an expansion available for all levels, David said that by having such a wide audience to focus on, that would mean a lot of content would have to be created.
When it came my time again to ask him a question, I wanted to focus on Velious itself. Obviously Velious means something to the fans otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through the effort of bringing it back, so I wanted to see if we could expect to see much more of Velious in the future. According to David, they aren’t even close to telling the entire story of Velious and that what was released in the recent expansion is part one of many. They have a lot of story to tell, and will want to tell it in as many episodes as possible since Velious is the climax point for the prophecy. This is the beginning of the end though, so when they are done with the Velious story arc they have intentions of moving on to something else.
Things took a bit of a shift when one roundtable guest asked what motivates people to go back to an MMO, and that was an excellent question. I had no idea that, if a player logs in at least 3 times to whatever game it is they are playing, they are more likely to stick with the game and continue paying for the service. As David pointed out, making friends is another huge factor and most players have shown that they tend to stick around unless something major happens in their life. Other things that can take a player away are other video games, finances, and simply getting tired of the game itself. It’s through expansions where a group of friends, or a guild, will have new things to do together and gives them a chance again to have those moments where you are with your group and make plans to all meet up on a certain day at a certain time to go questing. By doing the same thing over and over again, it gets boring and one loses interest quickly, but when new things are added, like the flying creatures, value is added back into the game. In the coming year, David and the rest of the crew behind EverQuest II plan on bringing players more and more to play in the form of returning to old stomping grounds but with new experiences.
After that David was asked how player feedback plays into what they want and if it affects the outcome of what they’re working on. For them, the biggest challenge is when one designs an MMO. The systems they put into their games have to be long-term, so planning ahead is key. Itemization in the last expansion wasn’t sustainable, so getting it right the first time is crucial. Throughout the entire discussion it was clear that David and his colleagues really listen to what the players are wanting, what they aren’t liking, and what they want to remain in future expansions. It was very refreshing to see that developers really do listen, and that they actually care about their community rather than putting content out for the sake of putting content out.
When it was my turn again, I just had to ask about the flying creatures. Almost everybody wishes that they could fly, and sadly not a lot of games throw in a flying element, or allow you to ride on something that will transport you in the air, so I had to know. By adding the flying creatures it fit the image of the game. One concern of David’s was that it might make the world feel small, but in fact it made the world of Norrath feel larger. There are dungeons and cities that players will be unable to fly to, but they will have 6 years of content to fly over. They will be pushing more into old world flying access only, and the main motivation was providing high level characters something exclusive.
Another thing I was curious about was if there was any content that wasn’t added to the Destiny of Velious expansion, or if there was any that had to be purposely omitted. Fans will be excited to know that a bunch of dungeons and raids weren’t included with the expansion but there are plans to release them in the coming months. Some features they didn’t do were dynamic dungeons and having a true mentoring system, but most of what the developers wanted was put into Velious. They have a lot of things and ideas already slated for 2012, but so far nothing is concrete as it’s still too early.
One guest asked a hot-button topic when they brought up the size of the EverQuest II community and how it compares to the others out there. The EverQuest II community may not be as large as those for other MMO’s, so could that be a factor to drive the crew to push more? When David gave his answer, I immediately found myself having a lot of respect for the man. Part of it was because he was so honest in his response, and the other part was based on what his response was. In David’s opinion, for a company to say that they want their game to have at least 5-10% of the WoW audience is stupid. He thinks that people should instead focus on creating something new, and that the current lack of options in the industry is almost entirely the publisher’s fault. He went on to say that people shouldn’t try to remake WoW or EverQuest, and that developers are unfortunately rewarded for “safe ideas” which in turn stops the designers from putting forth good stuff because they are ultimately shut down. Sadly David is spot-on because time and time again we see studios develop some really amazing stuff, but because it is, unfortunately, over-shadowed by larger franchises, the game doesn’t sell well and the studios get canned and massive lay-offs follow.
Not that long ago SOE introduced EverQuest II Extended, a free-to-play version of EverQuest II, so I wondered how the popularity of Extended was affecting the subscription version of EQII. As it turns out Extended attracts a different kind of player, and that for those gamers who have played MMO’s or EverQuest in the past they know of the fees involved. EverQuest II is about as large as it will be, but Extended helps breathe new life back into the universe and, so far, is appealing to a demographic that normally wouldn’t want to pay for a game and then add on a monthly subscription. Oddly enough, a majority of the players of Extended stay free, even though I would’ve thought they’d make a switch over, but it is possibly due to the fact that, should they wish to purchase anything, they can do so and have more freedom. Apparently about 50% of former EverQuest players quit due to the fact that they couldn’t keep up with the costs. To help clarify the differences between other free-to-play MMO’s out there and Extended, David gave me this comparison: Lord of the Rings Online sells their expansion areas, but in EverQuest II everything up to the Destiny of Velious expansion is free. There are some character restrictions, but people can simply unlock them by purchasing what they want to unlock.
The final question I got to ask was if David had noticed any decline in the MMO market, whether it’s due to the genre itself slowly dying out or the current state of the U.S economy. I was sure that David would say yes, but it turns out he had something entirely different to say. If there is a decline in the MMO market, David thinks that it’s because there is nothing new. Many MMO’s fail because the developers aren’t pushing hard enough, and, to him, graphics only go so far. To compete with the big names, developers have to offer a complete experience: story, gameplay, depth, etc. David then went on to say that social games are ten times more fun than playing solo, and that, if one was to compare gaming to sports, the ones that are team oriented are more fun as well. To quote him, “some people love tennis, but everybody has played football.” David left us by saying that the MMO genre has nothing but potential, and he obviously knows what he is talking about.
I’m excited to see what David and his colleagues have in story for the EverQuest II community as the year progresses. He is a man who clearly loves his job, loves what he does, and wants to give the best product possible for the gamers out there which is very admirable. If only more people in the industry thought that way!
EverQuest II: Destiny of Velious is available in an all-in-one package for $39.99. That includes 3 Adventure Packs and 7 Expansion Packs. There is a Collector’s Edition for $89.99 which will give players in-game bonuses. For more information on EverQuest II or EverQuest II Extended, check out their official website.