“Our special sauce at this point has been nostalgia...”
June 6, 2019 10:19 AM   Subscribe

EverQuest: A game born in an era of dial-up Internet is still doing well after all this time—how?! [Ars Technica] “Twenty years ago, a company in Southern California launched an online game that would go on to serve as the model for many more titles to come in the massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) space. And unlike many games that sought to replace it over the years, this one is still going today. No, this isn’t about World of Warcraft—that game only turns 15 in 2019. Before there was WoW, there was the MMO pioneer EverQuest. This sword-and-sorcery-based game was developed by a small company, 989 Studios, but it eventually reached its pinnacle under Sony Online Entertainment after SOE acquired that studio roughly a year after the game's launch. Today, EQ marches on with a dedicated player base and another developer, Daybreak Games, at the helm.” [YouTube][20th Anniversary Trailer]

• How is classic MMO EverQuest still alive after two decades? [PC Gamer]
“"When I play something like Destiny, I don't really care about the people I've been thrown into a game with," she says. "If they die or quit, someone else will drop in. There's no connection there. But in EverQuest, if someone dies or bails on your group, you'll probably never forget about that human being for as long as you play the game. When people help you, you bond with them, and out of that communities are born. That is the special sauce of EverQuest." But what about new players? Surely this is something an MMO developer has to be constantly thinking about. Well, when it comes to EverQuest, not really. The game looks and plays pretty similar to how it did back in 1999, and that might not capture the imagination of anyone looking for an exciting, fresh new MMO to play—particularly if they have no nostalgia for the series. "We're reacquisition focused," says Longdale. "I'm not allowed tell you exactly how many people have come through the game over the years, but it's enough to sustain us.”
• The original EverQuest is so unhelpful and severe that it almost feels modern [PC Gamer]
“I'm not sure how the modern EverQuest plays today, but on the progression server there is absolutely no hand-holding. You venture out into the world to grind on endless kobolds, dodging the occasional skeletons that will smite you in one hit. There are so many audacious little wrinkles! Your character's level is kept hidden from you, so instead you size up enemy NPCs by 'inspecting' them, which will give you a color-coded prompt in your text box informing you how much of a chance you have in a solo encounter. The combat itself is also surprisingly demanding. You will absolutely end up in a long, long duel with a snake or a rat that will make you question your stamina. (Which you better win, because your gear is dropped upon death.) Also, as if it wasn't clear from my half-hour lost in the Erudite starting zone, EverQuest gives you no real direction or means of orientation. Quests are remote and out of the way, so you scout out the realm of Norrath by running away from bigger bad guys, slowly constructing a mental map of hazards and refuges. There is a chance that all this is bad game design. It certainly runs counter to the instincts honed from a life spent in Azeroth. However, I can't help be captivated by the sheer recklessness of EverQuest. In a way, it feels modern.”
• The Original EverQuest Has Not Aged Well [Kotaku]
“Ten years ago I wrote a story about EverQuest, the online role-playing game I was so obsessed with it cost me my job and a relationship. Now I’m revisiting the game, playing on the new progression server opened to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and I can safely say I am in no danger of falling under its spell again. Old school EverQuest is rough. Launched last month as part of EverQuest’s anniversary celebration, the Mangler server gives players a chance to re-live the game from the beginning. It’s the 1999 experience with a few modern improvements, developer Daybreak’s version of the much-demanded World of Warcraft Classic. The user interface is updated. There are no experience or death penalties. Expansion packs are added at a rate of one every 12 weeks. Otherwise, it’s a similar experience to the one I played and enjoyed back when the game launched. I was so stupid back then.”
• EverQuest: 20 Years of Retention [Gamasutra]
“If you saw EverQuest’s 15th and 20th Anniversary videos or watched the EverQuest Show on YouTube, you will see my story of emotional connection to not just EverQuest, but its community, isn’t uncommon. EverQuest is a place where people can satisfy the top three needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy: Social Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization[2]. More than that, it’s a comfortable home for thousands of people who don’t NEED to be in combat every moment. They relish the human/avatar connections as they “live” and evolve in the structure of EverQuest’s fantasy world. We played EverQuest because every time we needed to connect with someone or share news or needed to be acknowledged for being good at something, the game and its players satisfied those needs. In EverQuest we found connection and achievement. We found competition and mastery. And those are still the primary player motivators the game is fundamentally designed around today. Over the 20 years that EverQuest has thrived, the team has added countless systems, mechanics, features, and an astounding amount of content.”
• How EverQuest survives in the era of Fortnite and Apex Legends [PCGamesᴺ]
“The players that are with us are with us, warts and all. The game feels 20 years old, it certainly looks it, even though, behind the scenes, we keep up with the latest tech. Our players are very forgiving; they know what they’re getting into so they’re willing to accept a bit of the pain. Whereas with games like Anthem, if I’ve paid my 60 bucks, you better deliver me my 60 bucks. Whereas, for us, there’s some charm to it. And when we look on forums we see the nostalgia. Yeah, and you can totally tell it was made for Windows 95 – the windows are all right click. It’s really weird and a very different framework, but they see the charm in it, albeit painfully. It’s amazing what people get excited about. It’s like going back in time. For instance, if you want to give your character’s bag to an NPC, you actually pick up the item and click on them. Nobody does that anymore. We don’t hand anything to you in EverQuest and never have, which creates the social dependency: they have to talk to each other or they feel lost. They’ll prod us for issues, but it’s really about them against the world.”
posted by Fizz (39 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow I had no idea they were still releasing expansions as recently as last year!
posted by joedan at 10:24 AM on June 6


Wow I had no idea they were still releasing expansions as recently as last year!

Everything old becomes new. World of Warcraft "Classic" is going to be releasing later this year and it's going to be interesting to read and see how people experience an old school MMO. I think modern MMO/MMORPGs have added so many quality of life features that going back (while fun and tapping into fond nostalgia for a more simple era of gaming) is going to be a bit of a jolt to the system.

I'm glad that these games still exist though. Not everyone has a current gen GPU that can handle the latest Nvidia Ray Tracing. If you just want to game and hang out in a chill community, you can for the most part run an MMO/MMORPG because they're built for more middling kinds of gaming computers/laptops.
posted by Fizz at 10:25 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


Everquest came out when I was 14/15? And it ATE MY LIFE. To this day if someone even says the word "Everquest" I launch into a 30 minute reverie. It was, by modern standards, a lousy game. But the relentlessly hardcore nature of the design meant that people well and truly had to work together. You needed Spirit Of the Wolf when making the run between Rivervale and Freeport, so there was always a Mage at the gate ready to charge a few coins. Lost your body? Recruit a band of mercenary pals and promise them a cut of whatever's on your corpse- CoD, of course.

I remember seeing a Barbarian in Rivervale for the first time. That journey was so treacherous, so arduous that no one was able to do it for weeks. It truly felt like we'd been visited by an alien. Gosh, we even had an RP town council for a time and and honest to god DEBATE about whether or not to allow in an Elf and whether racism was a tenent of our civ.

I could go on for days. What a magical time.
posted by GilloD at 10:58 AM on June 6 [12 favorites]


Very interesting news, Fizz!

I’m not kidding when I say that WoW hurt me, and made me so leery of ever trusting an MMO that I’ve been reluctant to play one in the past eight years or so. Their sin? They nerfed Druid flight form, sometime back in 2011 or so.

I used to love to soar free through the forest of Terokkar, or relax perched on the towers of Stormwind, or glide high over mountains that cordoned off the zones, and generally just had a blast doing my thing, but unimpeded by all the clinging roots and vines and unwalkable slopes, steering clear of aggroing wandering mobs, and avoiding the punks and munchkins. I was in solo heaven.

But then they released an update that turned Flight Form off in many areas, and gave it stats just like another mount. It was like having one’s wings clipped after experiencing all that freedom. It had once more become, as it was before my Druid gained flight and which we always joked, World of Walking.

I’d been playing for four years, with hundreds of hours spent peacefully fishing, gathering herbs, and exploring the out of the way places — with the occasional quest thrown in. I never did PvP. It was the most relaxing thing! But the month they nerfed my flight, I quit.

If that WoW Classic release reverts the Druid’s flight, then I’m so back in.
posted by darkstar at 10:59 AM on June 6 [9 favorites]


I got Meatmender the cleric to level 85 on the Drinal server, if I remember. Started maybe 2006, finished after a few years, but it was a big part of my life while I was playing. I only moved away after our group split up and I moved house to a place that had unplayable lag.

The grind was heavy, the UI unfriendly, and over those two or so years the population of the server seemed to drop like a rock, but I still fondly remember the 54 person raids.
posted by YAMWAK at 11:02 AM on June 6


Even Ultima Online is still up and receiving updates. I assume that whoever at EA has the authority to cancel it has forgotten it exists.
posted by skymt at 11:12 AM on June 6 [6 favorites]


Obviously they should celebrate by acquiring a bunch of venture capital so they can release "Ever Crush" on iOS by Christmas.
posted by rhizome at 11:15 AM on June 6


I had a friend who was so into Everquest. I played it too, but not nearly as much as him. We were both in college at the time, and I visited him at his school when the first expansion, Ruins of Kunark, came out. I was there when it arrived in the mail and he was so, so excited. He immediately went back to his room to install and register it. Only trouble was, we had both forgotten that he had had me log into my Everquest account because he wanted to do something for my character.

He ordered another one, but it took a week to arrive. Meanwhile, I don't think I played once in that entire week.
posted by Automocar at 11:22 AM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The MMO field seems to be on the cusp of something, but I'm not sure what. There's a longing for how things used to be, before lootboxes, before insta-travel, before the rampant "mobile-ization" of games in general. It reminds me of the "Old-School Renaissance" that became popular in the TTRPG space in the mid-aughts. It's part nostalgia, and part exasperation with how MMOs have developed in the past several years. EQ is very canny to try to capitalize on this; Blizzard is (grudgingly) giving in to a mounting demand for Classic. What I hope for – but cynically doubt – is that game developers will do some real analysis, and indeed soul-searching, to uncover why people want these obsolete games while spurning their flashier current equivalents.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 11:26 AM on June 6 [10 favorites]


If that WoW Classic release reverts the Druid’s flight, then I’m so back in.

Classic had no flying at all so you're not going to get it there. If Classic is a success, then they'll probably release Burning Crusade and Lich King servers, because the nostalgia for those two is probably as strong (if not stronger) as for Classic. In that case, you'll get flying in Outland and Northrend, but will still be grounded in the original continents.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 11:29 AM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Well, crap.
posted by darkstar at 11:50 AM on June 6


I lost my best friend and an ex-boyfriend to that goddamned game. The best friend straight up told me that if I didn't play it we couldn't be friends any more.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:10 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


I think modern MMO/MMORPGs have added so many quality of life features that going back (while fun and tapping into fond nostalgia for a more simple era of gaming) is going to be a bit of a jolt to the system.

Blizzard has had a number of "bug" reports in the Classic beta that have been closed with "That's not a bug, that's actually how the game plays."
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:11 PM on June 6 [6 favorites]


"That's not a bug, that's actually how the game plays."

I used to belong to a WoW guild named .
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:30 PM on June 6


I assume that whoever at EA has the authority to cancel it has forgotten it exists.

UO is now run by a separate company with an agreement with EA to keep using their login servers (for a consideration, presumably.) EA could badly inconvenience UO at this point, but they can't shut it down.

I was never an EQ person - I skipped from UO to City of Heroes - but I recently went back and picked up Final Fantasy XIV (their second MMO) and man, it's good. They did some really interesting things with the MMO form and made what I think are some very smart decisions. I've been enjoying myself.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:38 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


...broken Z-axis (that’s correct, you can’t go straight up and down in EQ like in WoW)...

What's this supposed to mean? I recall pretty clearly falling straight down over and over again in the Aviak treehouse in South Karana to grind my Monk's Safe Fall skill.
posted by The Tensor at 12:47 PM on June 6


Ugh, Ultimate Online. What a disastrous introduction to MMOs that was. Not that it wasn’t awesome in some ways, but man, when it was bad, it was really, really bad.

Unrestricted PvP outside town limits, so advanced jerkwad players would hide in the trees and kill you when you left town, just for fun. Oh, and your corpse was lootable, so said griefers could steal what little reagents and other whatnot you had accumulated.

Same was true if you died while fighting a monster: you knew that by the time your ghost had run back to town to be rezzed, and you ran back to your corpse, all your goods would be long gone, looted by the vulture players who had sat by and watched you get killed.

The lag on my dialup was ridiculous. I’d freeze in the middle of combat with a monster or griefer, only to come out of lag 30 seconds later with my ghost standing over my now-looted corpse. Or I’d lag just walking through the woods, and come out of lag to find myself dead, the victim of a wandering mob that had attacked while I was lagged, and frantically rushing to town and back, hoping no players had found my corpse yet.

The urban sprawl of unconstrained house construction turned the countryside at the edge of town into a haphazardly jumbled shantytown.

Years of learning to love the previous Ultima games was quenched in three months of trying to play UO.
posted by darkstar at 12:52 PM on June 6


If this makes you want to revisit EQ or do a little exploring, check out the Test server. The population is quite low but it's great for some solo exploration, at the very least. If you have old characters you can log on to EQ Live and /testcopy them over. Permanent exp bonus, /testbuff to level 25 with some basic gear, and all but the most recent expansions are unlocked for free. All accounts are Gold for the purposes of Test server, so none of the limits on free live accounts apply. Just download the regular patcher and switch to Test in the options.
posted by Lorin at 12:54 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


I moved almost directly from Meridian 59 to EQ, with a brief, dissatisfying layover in UO. When I left, M59 was moribund, having gone from peak server populations of 3-400 to maybe like 70 or 80. If the graphics in EQ are dated, the ones in M59 look like someone in the mid 90's let their kid have a go at design. Despite that, tho, I preferred the smaller population on the servers, and the smaller world; it became feasible to coordinate server-wide events that required cooperation, like activating mana nodes or hunting down PKers... it felt more like the stories were about the people playing the game rather than the game itself being a story that the players wandered through. Maybe there was something of that in EQ, but it always felt like a big, anonymous grind where it didn't really matter what you did because it would always be the same.

which didn't stop me from playing hundreds of hours during the year that I worked overnight shifts 3 days a week and had 4 days off to piss away...
posted by logicpunk at 1:25 PM on June 6


To understand how badly the UO devs didn't get it, this video talks about their "virtual ecology" system, and the fact that they never once thought about "what happens when we let a swarm of murderhobos in?"
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:47 PM on June 6 [4 favorites]


Box, I just favorited your comment seven times. Sadly, it only credits you once.
posted by darkstar at 2:00 PM on June 6


Speaking of which, this commenter on that video has it right:
The [UO] ecology system worked- however it was a online Prison Planet ecology, but was player based, not non player based like the developers wanted.

Basically it worked like the following:

There were natural resources, players would gather them (meat, ore, wood, herbs).

New players would gather these, to raise stats, veteran players would be hidden nearby and would rob and or kill you for said resources- in doing so they would be attackable by other players without a karma penalty for a short time. Even more veteran players would be hidden nearby waiting to kill the robbers, because they would incur no morale penalties for doing so, gaining the resources the robbers gained. Then, even more veteran players were often the worst of the lot, as they were not interested in intervening to stop people from killing or robbing you as they do not gain resources that way, but rather had to wait to kill the karma-penaltyless robber/killer characters.

The end result was a new player population performing mostly mundane tasks to level up skills, with a hidden lower population class that would rob and or kill them, and a third even more hidden even more lower population class that would kill the robbers to gain the resources.

Ultima Online was a prison ecology.
posted by darkstar at 2:14 PM on June 6 [5 favorites]


The end result was a new player population performing mostly mundane tasks to level up skills, with a hidden lower population class that would rob and or kill them, and a third even more hidden even more lower population class that would kill the robbers to gain the resources.

Ultima Online was a prison ecology.
Why does this seem familiar? Hmm....

*reads the news about current state of politics/culture in 2019*

Oh, right.
posted by Fizz at 2:28 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


What I hope for – but cynically doubt – is that game developers will do some real analysis, and indeed soul-searching, to uncover why people want these obsolete games while spurning their flashier current equivalents.

It's at least one part nostalgia and one part ambition. It's been long known that people have a powerful pull for their first MMO, to the point of suggesting features to newer MMOs that were responsible for why they left their first MMO in the first place. Newer MMOs have mostly given up on the promise of the genre - go on an adventure with friends and strangers and everybody - when they realised that they can't make it work. The modern-day descendants of MMORPGs are battle royale games like Apex Legends and multiplayer survival games like Rust, where there's no pretense of a social space or a world to explore that the game can't really square with players inside of it.

The probable future of the MMO is making it less MM - a 32 or 64 player persistent world that a small community owns. This is the right kind of scale where you get emergent effects and can let players permanently shape the world, without the virtual certainty of a douchebag ruining everything.
posted by Merus at 5:41 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


I missed out on these MMOs since they were not for linux, but have been thoroughly enjoying project gorgon, a PvE mmo in development without loot boxes or other cash grabs.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 6:03 PM on June 6


To understand how badly the UO devs didn't get it, this video talks about their "virtual ecology" system, and the fact that they never once thought about "what happens when we let a swarm of murderhobos in?"

Just about everybody I've heard reminisce fondly about UO has done so in context of being a murderhobo.

So I mean, I guess they found their audience, but I don't think it was what they expected, either.
posted by atoxyl at 8:00 PM on June 6 [2 favorites]


What's the status of EverQuest II?
posted by Apocryphon at 8:00 PM on June 6


Honestly I only really left WoW due to carpal tunnel. Nothin' I liked better than tree healing a pick up raid. And it was such a nice break from FFXI which was virtually impossible to play (at release-ish) solo. I mean don't get me wrong, there are aspects about that that I liked - the impossible dash across impossible maps to get to Jeuno the first time, stuff like that, sure. But man it was just a slog.

I gather they really nuked the difficulty curve so it's possible to pick up and hit 99 in a short time now.
posted by Kyol at 8:06 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


No more grinding on goretusk outside Goldshire? I swear, I think I murdered a thousand of those things over the 5 years I played, across all the toons I leveled.

I finally decided with my main Druid that I’d pass up any quest that required me to slaughter animals. Another reason that nerfing flight was a pain, because it required you to wade through and fight every wandering mob animal between point A and B, or even when just trying to gather herbs.

Me: “No, mr. bear, I do not want to murder you, I’m just here trying to pick flowers.”

Bear: “RAWR!”

Me: “Dammit, get— get off!” *wrath-wrath-wrath-wrath* “See what you made me do!?”
posted by darkstar at 8:16 PM on June 6 [1 favorite]


The probable future of the MMO is making it less MM - a 32 or 64 player persistent world that a small community owns. This is the right kind of scale where you get emergent effects and can let players permanently shape the world, without the virtual certainty of a douchebag ruining everything.

(extremely Harrison Ford in Blade Runner voice)

Minecraft. You're talking about Minecraft!
posted by neckro23 at 10:22 PM on June 6 [3 favorites]


Just about everybody I've heard reminisce fondly about UO has done so in context of being a murderhobo.

Well, the people who aren't still playing, anyway. The third-expansion rule changes basically made murderhobo no longer a viable job, and now it's a lot of RP, cooperative hunting, and a really, really in-depth housing system where you can do anything from being a professional gardener to running a high-end cappuccino bar. It's still a terrible fucking newbie experience, but it's not that kind of terrible fucking newbie experience.

It's at least one part nostalgia and one part ambition. It's been long known that people have a powerful pull for their first MMO, to the point of suggesting features to newer MMOs that were responsible for why they left their first MMO in the first place.

This is absolutely 100% true, in my experience. Even the people who ranted in UO (circa '08) about the loss of the Murderhobo Experience didn't actually play on the specialty-rules server that still allowed it. And I've personally circled back to almost every single game I've played and it is a super-awesome burst of nostalgia - for 45 minutes max. Then everything that drove me out of the game in the first place starts to annoy me again.

(That said, UO is finally low-pop enough that I got the Trinsic Moongate property that I've wanted since I was seventeen and I guess I'm paying that sub fee forever now.)
posted by restless_nomad at 6:30 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


r_n, based on your comment, I just read up on the advances in UO since its abominable first iteration. It sounds like they addressed (eventually) the predatory “Prison Planet ecology” problem.

I was especially gratified to read that the original server — the one where non consensual PvP was retained, was literally redecorated into a barren, grave-festooned hellscape, accurately reflecting the fundamental new player experience.

I had thought about re-upping in one of the protected servers, just to see what it’s like, but then recalled that it’s still in 2D isometric projection, which isn’t my preference for an MMO, nowadays.
posted by darkstar at 10:56 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it still very much is what it is. There's a newer client that has an actual UI, which is good, but it's still... UO. (Honestly the biggest problem I have with it is that the combat is impenetrable - you can't tell how strong something is until it's eaten you, and there are only areas of greater and lesser danger in the broadest possible sense. See something new? It's probably going to eat you. As a dedicated solo player, I find this annoying enough that I only go back to do crafting-type stuff.)
posted by restless_nomad at 12:23 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Soloing, FTW!

Though I do like the occasional pick-up group quest, I’ve generally preferred to take MMOs at my own pace, enjoying exploring and crafting on my own.

I know the whole point of an MMO is that there are other people there, and I do enjoy the interactions, but I find other people best mainly in small doses.

Kinda like IRL! :)
posted by darkstar at 1:23 PM on June 7


I always thought it was endearing that a fantasy setting had a character class simply called "Magician".
posted by Apocryphon at 5:29 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Minecraft. You're talking about Minecraft!

I'm also thinking about DayZ, admittedly, but yeah. The Minecraft multiplayer model was very very interesting.
posted by Merus at 10:57 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


A real magician class would be quite interesting. By that, I mean "magicians" like magicians in our world. In a world with wizards and battle mages, magicians wouldn't have a drop of real magic at all. Instead, they'd be full of tricks illusions. Charismatic grifters who could fool almost anyone with their "magic". Atheists in a universe where gods are real. Always wears white tie, tux, and tails. Even in the dungeons. Loaded down with decks of cards, trained pigeons, and smoke bombs.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 5:10 AM on June 8


The Minecraft multiplayer model was very very interesting.

What was always kinda funny to me was how so many companies, back then, were looking desperately for the WoW-killer. Spent millions of dollars and uncountable man hours building clones. But Notch, as a solitary developer, just stumbled across it without intending to kill anything.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 5:16 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]


And then he jumped in head first into the alt-right.

Notch today serves primarily as a warning tale.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:40 AM on June 8


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