The goals are the same, but now we'll have something to blame if we don't like it.
For a while there I was thinking I wouldn’t have much to talk about; be careful what you wish for, I guess.
When news started to come out about the layoffs at Daybreak Game Company, players were understandably skeptical about the prospects of EverQuest Next and Landmark. With high profile names being let go, it’s easy to feel like the foundation is falling away.
It’s been wonderful to see the support from the community for the people who were let go, the tribute card in Landmark is a sight to behold, and a fitting tribute to the legacy of those people that made it possible.
It’s also a tribute to the players who made it possible and the strength of the Landmark community, which seems to have redoubled its efforts to be the most welcoming and supportive in gaming.
The message from Daybreak over the last week has been that the games remain a team effort, and while adjustments have to be made and priorities shifted, the guiding principles and foundational principles remain the same. Which is exactly what you’d expect to hear.
In times gone by, that would have been the end of it. We would have had a press release, some clarifications on an official forum, an approved interview or two, and that would be that. It’s happened many times before and shows no signs of slowing down. However, in this brave new world of open development and increased transparency, we were treated to a Q&A session with senior members of the team, using questions submitted by players.
While the majority of the questions and answers were fairly predictable (there’s a lot they still can’t answer for various reasons), there were a few notable exceptions.
(As an aside, it’s times like this I appreciate the presence of people like Lead Game Designer Darrin McPherson and Technical Director Steve Klug, people who are less concerned with selling a product than they are communicating their process. While they may be a nightmare for the PR team, as a player it’s refreshing to get some perspective with less of a filter attached.)
The issue that seems to be the biggest takeaway for players is that Storybricks is no longer working with Daybreak on EQN and Landmark. In the short time since the Q&A I’ve received messages about this via almost every medium available on the internet. I’m expecting the letters to arrive with the post on Monday, and carrier pigeons within the hour.
Anyone that’s been following me for a while knows that I’m a big fan of Storybricks, I believe the goals of the system go a long way towards allowing the MMO medium to fulfill its potential, and the loss of the team behind it will be a blow to Landmark and EverQuest Next. An emergent, utility based AI system is still the goal; none of the work has been lost and it’s in the hands of the same people who have been working on it all along. So we’ll just have to trust that the in-house development team can deliver, like how we trust they can deliver on almost everything else.
A big highlight for me, and something of a weight off my mind, was the confirmation that dynamic water was still a development priority. The fact that projects like this are still firmly on the table shows that there is still serious clout behind these games, and the team are still dreaming big.
For the inevitable naysayers who swarm from game to game like locusts, this difficult time will provide almost unlimited ammunition. Anything that falls short or doesn’t work the way it was intended will be immediately pinned to it, and the really irritating thing is they will probably have a point.
Seriously disrupted development cycles aren’t good for any project, and now the team is working with more limited resources the scope will have to narrow.
Ultimately, as players we’re in exactly the same position we were before, we are interested in and excited by the ideas presented. We’re in a uniquely privileged position of being able to contribute directly, and at some point we’ll judge the product on merit.
I often joke that the most popular MMO behind World of Warcraft is ‘Waiting for the Next MMO’, and while I am the first to admit I suffer from relentless optimism and a psychotic need to talk about them incessantly, I like to think that playing them is where the real fun begins.
So, would EQN have turned out to be the fabled ‘WoW-Killer’? (No, it wouldn’t.) I guess we’ll never know (I know, it definitely wouldn’t); what we can know for sure is that there are some really interesting and original ideas going into these games, and that hasn’t changed.