In my last post I tentatively compared Blizzard’s announcement of The Wrath of the Lich King, their second expansion, to the post-Velious decline of EverQuest. Some may smirk and point out that Verant and SOE would have killed for the success of the WoW machine, or that EverQuest running in its eighth year, is hardly dead and far from a failed development model, and those people would be correct and wrong in the same breath…
For the uninitiated or the forgetful, the history of Norrath and the EverQuest development path, is a tremendous insight into the direction of Azeroth and Blizzard’s team. EverQuest launched in March of 1999, amidst a great deal of fan-faire and press, or so it seemed at the time. In hindsight, the announcement and launch was a blip on the mini-map of today’s press hyped events, but for many of us gamers, it felt like a revolution; a turning point in interactive media…
One year later, Ruins of Kunark launched, raising the level cap by 10 levels, adding the Iksar race to the game, and introducing two extraordinary zones, touted as the most epic content in the EverQuest world. By the time the first uber-guilds were starting to farm Veeshan and Sebilis, the content was trivialized by their second expansion, The Scars of Velious, and the once mighty encounters lay barren and abandoned.
The only difference in the development paths of Warcraft and EverQuest, to this point in my sordid tale, is that Blizzard waited two years for their first expansion vs. the one in EverQuest, and tBC introduced two new races vs. one.
Velious introduced the rep grind to MMOs. The conflict between the Coldain, Claws and Frost Giants was at the same time, revolutionary and excruciatingly painful, as intrepid adventurers were forced to grind faction with one group, by growing hated with another, and then turn around and grind back to favor for the next tier of quests and loot. Also, this expansion marked the beginning of complex keying and raid preparations.
I would also point out, that Velious, the second expansion took place in a frozen tundra, and Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard’s second expansion also takes place in a frozen Tundra….
Then we have Luclin… Post-Velious, the world changed dramatically, as Nexus and the Bazaar made the massive world of Norrath, instantly accessible, much as Shattrath did to the world of Azeroth. Reports from the demo suggest that this trend will be further impacted by the addition of Dalaran as a player-hub, with teleports to nearly every location in the world.
Luclin was rushed, and poorly designed. It introduced senseless time-sinks, convoluted keying processes, and extraordinarily long raid zones… new players found the steep climb to the level cap unappealing, and for the brave few who persevered, found the climb to the end-game in its current state almost impossible… Guilds simply could not afford the time to back-flag new players, and gear them to the level required to get started, so the divide between the raiders and the player-base continued to grow. This trend never reversed, and each successive expansion saw the powerful guilds grow more elite, more distant, and the paying players continued to drift away, with no new blood to replace them.
By the time Dragons of Norrath arrived to provide some reprieve to the non-raiders of Norrath, most had moved on to World of Warcraft or Everquest II.
This expansionary model is starting to emerge with World of Warcraft. It appears that Blizzard has decided to emulate the (failed) model of EverQuest, and instead of focusing on the content that made the game a smash success, and revolutionized the industry with unparalled access and lore and questing, they have instead decided to go the way of mudflation, excessively complex keying, and endless high-level tread-milling. No doubt, World of Warcraft will continue to thrive financially, but it will not be the same world that we fell in love with three years ago.