EQ1: On the back burner, but that's a very good thing for our customers!

So in this month’s Producer’s Letter, Sony snuck in a little bombshell about their rate of expansions for EQ1. They’ve been on a twice-a-year expansion schedule for a few years now, but their next expansion will be delayed by 2 months, and from now on, they’ll only put out one per year.

In this Producer letter I am proud to announce that we’re changing our tactics so we can accomplish what we have set out to do and do it with the quality we know we can deliver. Our next expansion will be released in November. This will give us more time to polish the game content and features. I am also happy to announce that November will be the month for all future expansion releases as well. We realize that many players want more content but would like to be able to play through the last expansion before feeling like they are falling behind when a new one comes out. Our goal is to focus on the overall quality and let the players have time to enjoy the great work that we put into each release.

That’s the kind of happy talk that you expect in a letter made for public consumption, but it seems to me this can only be happening because of a significant loss of subscriptions. I stopped playing about a year ago, after being an off-and-on player since the game first game out. A few months before I left, they had gone through a big merging of lots of servers because of underpopulation. Is anyone from QT3 still playing EQ1? And if so, are the servers seeming more deserted?

I popped onto EQ briefly last week, and there were about 40 people in PoK, which is definitely lower than when I was still playing. Other zones I wandered into were nearly deserted (only three people in PoTranq, nobody else in PoD), but then again I have no idea where people are hanging out nowadays.

Still, at this point I’m amazed they even still make expansions. One a year doesn’t really sound all that bad.

Uh, if any game doesn’t need expansions cranked out every 6 months it would be EQ1. If anything they need to start repurposing/redoing old zones. They have too much real estate as it is.

Have to agree with Lum on that one.

Yeah, that’s a problem with a lot of older MMOs.

I played EQ for a couple years and I never once thought “man this game really needs another expansion im out of stuff to do”

With the possible exception of Kunark, I think every expansion could have been pushed back a few months. It seemed like they were just catering to the top 1% who was finished or mostly finished with the current content. Well that and the idea that they could get $30 per expansion per account twice a year instead of once a year.

Yeah, when I got my every six-month tour of the latest expansion I always asked them what the hell was up with the new zones, when the old ones are wastelands.

I Liked Kunark and Velious. I think those were some of the finest expansions for any game.

Expansion packs bring old players back into the game, are a new SKU to attract new players, and offer new carrots for the diehards. But the carrots are less important than the other two. If SOE stopped producing expansion packs in favor of repurposing old zones, putting lvl 100 (or whatever they’re up to) mobs in unrest, etc, the game would quickly die.

I like having new places to explore though, not just reskinned/replaced monsters in old, familiar places, so a bit of both is necessary.

I liked pretty much everything up to Planes of Power. Beyond that though, you started needing strong groups or raids and quest walkthroughs and guild backing and so on just to get anywhere interesting, and exploring wasn’t quite as much fun. Especially when the new areas were mostly variations on existing themes and not as varied and interesting as those first few expansions.

(I’m not sure what the last few expansions have been like, though.)

Kunark and Velious were the gold standard of MMORPG expansions. They added so much in terms of content, gameplay and scope that it boggled the mind. A year after the release of Kunark I was still trying to see and do everything there was to see and do.

All the expansions that came afterwards, even Luclin which had it’s good points too, were really just filler. None captured that spark that those original two expansions provided, instead they were just fodder for the masses to move onto and consume like locusts. Eventually that led me to cancel my account, as everyone was so eager to plunder the new content that they never took the time to fully explore and enjoy the old content.

Exactly. I agree with the above posters that there are already more than enough zones in the game, most of them totally unused. But SOE doesn’t make expansions because there’s a correct size for the world; they make them for the reasons stusser brings up. Obviously it takes ages for a once-successful MMO to die (UO is still up and running, after all). But it seems like the drop to one-expansion-per-year is a noteworthy milestone in the gradual fading away of EQ1, just like the server merges were.

I believe the change was actually made to give the team time to focus on more quality content for the expansion, so every expansion would be really meaningful for players. The most recent EQII expansion (Echoes of Faydwer) had a longer development cycle and also got the high review scores (http://www.gamerankings.com/htmlpages2/932824.asp?q=everquest%20ii).

So in this case, the producer’s letter is telling the truth, and a cigar is really just a cigar. :-)

EQ1 and EQ2 are pretty much tied at around 150k subscribers apiece. They’re SOE’s most successful MMOs, with SWG coming in a distant third. I don’t see them cutting EQ loose anytime soon. This probably is a good decision for long term viability.

Sustaining two staggered expansion devteams and maintaining quality has always been an enormous task, one that they could never really handle. SOE can’t just throw money at the problem like Blizzard, not that throwing money at development works anyway. It’s incredibly difficult to hire people that don’t suck.

I am still playing EQ1, though not as much as I used to (which was way too much anyway) and the rate of release has always been a source of aggravation, especially in light of the fact that as numbers of subscribers have dropped it has gotten harder and harder to find groups, or to accomplish much.

Up to Depths of Darkhollow, the expansions in general added something to the game, and provided new things to do for both casuals and hardcores–and, it was a fun expansion in many ways (I exempt Luclin from the above statement, btw–it was an abomination in almost every aspect). But Prophecy of Ro felt like Darkhollow retread, and had very little content worth messing with. After that came TSS–The Serpent’s Spine, which was their grand attempt to reinvigorate the game: a new starting city and areas for leveling and character development from 0-75, a new race, etc. etc. Except that the whole thing feels empty of any real “character”. Its just bland as hell. Then, to make matters worse, the raid zones are massive piles of steaming shit–there is a reason that the zone Ashengate is referred to as “The Guild Killer”.

And now, most recently, we have The Buried Sea, a mishmash of zones with, as nearly as I can tell, no redeeming features whatsoever, and a bald-faced attempt to ride the pirate-craze Johnny Depp thing to a bit of money. And the raid zones are reputed to be ridiculous in difficulty–though I’m sure SOE will nerf them soon enough, to keep the hardcores paying their monthly dues. Sorry, I haven’t bothered to buy the expansion, and I don’t think I’ll be buying the one in November or any thereafter either.

Population has become a really serious issue in EQ. Guilds are poaching players from each other at a rate that is wiping out whole server’s ability to put together an adequate raiding guild. Its cannibalization on a gross scale. Meanwhile, as noted above, the vast majority of zones are ghostlands, visited only for one month per year in most cases, during Fabled days. Finding a group is a wish and a prayer, and the grind just keeps getting harder and harder to stomach.