Warcraft is the new EverQuest

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.


34 thoughts on “Warcraft is the new EverQuest”

  1. And somehow, I suspect that when they get around to the third expansion, even if they make it full of midlevel and casual content, it’ll be too late. =/

  2. I never played EQ, but the comparison is astounding. You made a good point when you said that EQ is still considered successful, and perhaps Blizz looks at it the same way. Why gamble with new game mechanics, classes, ect, when they can keep churning out BC clones, increasing the level cap, ect, until the inevitable mass cancelation period begins, at which point Blizz simply releases a new MMO? /cough EQ2!

  3. Oh, just an aside… Dragons of Norrath was maybe the 7th or 8th expansion, and was released a few months after WoW and EQII launched.

  4. DoN was a great expansion — lots of missions for every skill/equipment level with fantastic XP and loot rewards, raids with no trash to clear — you went in and killed the dragon (or not)… a tiered mission progression that was not required for raiding but would give you excellent rewards if you did them…

    The EQ devs were hoping that would bring new players to the game, and it was really good, but then you have expansions like Prophecy of Ro with its stupid, useless, ugly zones or The Serpent’s Spine with the endless farming for faction to get access to the raid zones… they learned nothing from their mistakes with GoD, where the best xp zone in the entire game, the one with amazing loot, was hidden behind a punishing access quest (four sewer missions and two mountain missions that required a very strong group).

    GoD, coming so soon after the Planes of Power, which hid the best xp/loot zones behind access that required a LOT of raiding, killed the EQ casual player. After that, the raiding guilds had nobody from which to draw more people and, as you point out, caused EQs implosion.

    That said, I logged in my EQ1 cleric last night, hooked up with some friends, and we went and did a Nest mission and just had some fun. The casual grouping for the heck of it, just for fun, is something I’ve never found in games where soloing is easy. Groups in WoW, EQ2 and LotRO are focused, short term things, with precious little done for fun or just to pass the time.

  5. Less and less people in WoW are in the mid level zones which means less new people. Sure Goldshire is packed, but mainly because a server is down.

    This is how you see the gradual decline. In EQ you never see anyone in the lower areas unless its an alt of a PL’er. You dont see many new guilds forming in WoW unless they are split offs of some raiding guild as new fresh players are far and few between. I wonder how barren it will get when the new games come out?

  6. 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.

    Would I be right in saying that some of the hardcore raiders had also quit to move to Blizzard to develop WoW? How mysterious…

  7. “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,”

    Well, you’re going to have to expand on this thought. Another blog post.

    People have all these ideas about making wow “great”. I havn’t seen anything fleshed out or explained in detail.

    In your mind, what would make you “fall in love with WoW” all over again?

  8. I don’t think it’s literally possible to fall in love with wow again. =/ I’ll never have the same feeling I had when I saw Onyxia take off for the first time. Or when I finally got my mount. I’m still pretty happy with the small corner of wow that I prefer to inhabit. Would just like more stuff to do in that little corner (ie midlevels). =/

  9. I thought was pretty obviously the real EQ2 when it launched.

    How are you supporting the phrase “the (failed) model of EverQuest”? Does “failed” in this case mean “most successful Western MMO before World of Warcraft”? If EQ failed, have there been any successful games except WoW and Lineage? That is where the players are.

  10. Excellent comparison. I just have to wonder if this is indeed the path Blizzard will tread, or if they will head toward’s mid-level content eventually? But as you state, by the time they get around to doing something for the lower end of the game, a lot of people may have moved on.

    Of course…with 9 million subscribers, you can afford to lose 1 million or so to a competing MMO and not miss a beat.

  11. An expansion is not an answer to mid-level content being fixed. The expansion is fine. It is Blizzard’s stance of working on just new content and ignoring the old content that is the problem.

    New content is fine, as long as the old content is on par. Just look at something like mining currently. 1-250 is easy. 250-300 is an absolute grind. Then you get into TBC and there is 300 skill ore EVERYWHERE!

    The road from 1-70 is horribly bumpy now and a mass of 60 content is just flat out ignored and worthless. Blizzard needs to get on the damn ball already.

  12. I should clarify: I want to see Blizzard working on expansions, but once the expansion hits they should shift completely into the mode of modifying the old content to meet the new content.

  13. Heartless_ hits the nail on the head again. Mind you, Blizzard said at their convention that they’re going to take a look at 1-58 content & other progression Soon(tm) – the extent of that ‘look’ is what’s worth debating.

    In my opinion, what Blizzard really ought to do is the following:
    * Review itemization of every old world quest & instance. No more STR cloth or SPI plate.
    * Add at least one more major quest hub in the relevant areas for each side for levels 30-60 (or add new quests to existing hubs) – preferably in the lesser-used zones.
    * Add the new TBC ‘of the splat’ (mystic/bandit/etc) suffixes to 1-60 old world gear.
    * Increase xp gain from mobs by 10%, and from quests by 25%

    I’d also put something in about increasing rep gain rate with old world factions as well, but that’s going in with the next patch anyway. =D

  14. Well they could try something EQ1 never did in terms of making the old content usable. They could remove the barriers to going there such as keying or faction. If they would then combine that with adjustment of loot tables to make the loot more attractive than questable awards a few levels higher, some of the older content would be used again.

    Just like in EQ1, players seem to rather want to just grind out the levels to get to the current endgame and bypass the older content they would have to spend exorbitant time to get to outdated raid content. I would have liked to have seen the pre expansion raid zones in WoW, but whats the point when you can simply out level the content and go to Kara and do Heroics to get better loot?

    Now if they continue to follow the EQ1 model, some of those zones may get an upgrade. Look at Plane of Hate that was revisited for example. Would a policy of relaxing the access paths for ‘older’ content upon the release of a new expansion be a viable solution along with some tweaking of the loot tables?

    I have seen both sides of the table in terms of harcore and casual having once been a member of Forged Souls on the 7th Hammer from the end of Velious to the first few grueling months of GoD. The ubers will continue to push for new content. Do you really think they will care if the older content was ‘relaxed’ a bit for the non ubers to experience once the new uber content hits?

  15. I’m reminded of “All political careers end in failure”. This discussion is starting to suggest that all MUDs/MMORPGs end in failure. See also Richard Bartle on MUD lifespans.

    Is it really even possible to have a MUD that is fun forever?

  16. I believe it is possible, but not with the current level of technology. You’d need fairly sophisticated AI that could scale up and down, smart and pseudo-creative content generators, etc., all of which is at least 5-10 years off. Even then, I doubt it will be fun forever, as different types of technology become available. It would only be fun as long as current PC/console tech is popular.

  17. @Sarzan — actually, EQ1 DID address this. All keyed/faction-blocked zones can let one unflagged person in for every five flagged people — the “85%” rule. So a nine group raid could let in… nine unflagged people. A lot of the locked zones also drop an item which, when looted by an unflagged person, flags them. So as long as a certain number of people have done the access quests, you can bring in more people who won’t have to ever do them.

    They have also removed access requirements for many previously locked zones, mostly in the Planes of Power.

    EQ1 has also gone back and revamped many old-world zones — the zones of Commonlands, Desert of Ro, Misty Thicket, Nektulos Forest, Freeport, the Plane of Hate and Innothule Swamp have all been completely redone. The header picture on my blog is from the new Misty Thicket. You wouldn’t recognize EQ1 anymore in many places.

    It’s hard to find a modern game that ‘gets’ raiding as much as EQ1. Now, if it hadn’t given over the casual gamer to Blizzard, EQ1 might not be the niche game it is today.

  18. […It’s hard to find a modern game that ‘gets’ raiding as much as EQ1. Now, if it hadn’t given over the casual gamer to Blizzard, EQ1 might not be the niche game it is today….]

    This is almost exactly what I was trying to say in my post…

    Blizzard looks to be choosing the development path that EverQuest chose, that ulitmatly led to them losing the vast majority of their subscribers to WoW in the first place…

    If Blizzard follows the trend, WoW will lose their casual player-base to ‘the next’ MMO that promises a ‘different’ experience for casual gamers.

    @ Zubon: In my first paragraph I stated that Everquest failed and was successful all at once… They have run in the black for 8 long years, and still retain a solid following. However, no one in their right mind would make the case that EverQuest’s development team paid attention to their non-raid oriented players prior to 2005 with DoN, and in that shortcoming, I see their greatest failure. They lost better than half of their subscriptions to Warcraft, because it promised a meaningful experience for solo or group players. You could log in and accomplish something in a short amount of time, and everyone could be successful.

    I make these cases, not out of bitterness but rather just an observation of the trends, because in both games, the design teams were building content for me. I raided for four long years in EverQuest, and I had finsihed SSC and was almost to Mt. Hyjal when I quit WoW.

    Just because a game is doing ok by my standards, does not mean they haven’t failed their player-base, though. Warcraft and EverQuest are progression on the same path, and with the upcoming options for MMO gamers, Warcraft needs to develop for their customers, or lose them and see their game die slowly on the vine as EverQuest has…

  19. Isn’t there supposed to be some revamping of Dustwallow Marsh coming Soon(tm)? I remember reading that at the blue tracker site.

    If that’s the case, depending on what they mean by revamp (will it be more than just a preparation for Northrend, ie: where you go to get to Northrend?), then maybe they are really trying to make the 1-60 process easier and swifter.

    I don’t think the 1-60 game needs NEW content, but like Heartless said, it needs to not be forgotten. Eventually, new players will stop coming, not because the game’s not good, but because they won’t want to slog through 1-80 or 90 or whatever just to play with friends.

    WoW needs a mentoring system and swifter leveling now that the tippy top is getting so high. Otherwise, like this thread states, WoW will become EQ1 all over again.

    This might not be a bad thing though. I know I’m ready to have a new game to obsess about.

  20. Cyndre said “If Blizzard follows the trend, WoW will lose their casual player-base to ‘the next’ MMO that promises a ‘different’ experience for casual gamers”.

    See, the thing is that would require someone to actually make a hypothetical “WoW-done-right” which, to be honest, I don’t see happening any time soon. WAR is shaping up to be DAoC v2. For AoC, see AO. SOE’s next mmogs are “Spy vs Spy Online” and some sort of demented “My Little Pony meets Second Life” thing.

    I mean, really…what else is out there?

  21. […I mean, really…what else is out there?…]

    I think the day of one Behemoth MMO has come and will slowly go… there are 5 or so seemingly quality titles in development that will each attract a small piece of the pie. No doubt, in a years time, five more will be announced (Lum’s sekrit project comes to mind) that will attract a following…

    It doesn’t have to be a “WoW-killer” to slowly kill WoW. The only thing that can kill WoW is its developers, and enough variety in the industry to warrent people shopping around for ‘something better.’ The defintion of better will be different for everyone, and enough variety exists now or will soon, to fill those voids.

  22. >Is it really even possible to have a MUD that is fun forever?

    Heh, that can be a philosophical question. Chess has lasted pretty long, but can’t really say if it’ll be fun forever. Maybe if someday a computer is built that’s fast enough to calculate every possible outcome, it might start being trivialized.

    The element that’s completely renewable in MMOs is the people. Content is consumed, people aren’t. Example: the people who pvp just for the sake of pvping in WoW don’t get tired of it nearly as fast as raiders or people pvping for gear.

  23. All MMO’s follow the same path, it seems, and I don’t see a change in the way they are designed until they see the value of a fundamental shift in *why* they designed them that way, in the first place.

    MMO’s place barriers to impede “progress” to ensure subscriptions. It is the only business model I know that ensuring customers waste time doing things means they are successful. It is also the only business model I know where people dislike the people who create the service they are paying for. (NO one, in their right mind, thinks grinding reputation is a good idea. It makes no sense, except the time sink. Yet we do it, and curse Blizzard along the way.)

    Once MMO’s top putting in these artificial barriers, gamers will stop waiting for the “next best thing” – and all serious MMO players do that. “I’m with WoW until something better comes out. Because I hate BLizzard and what they have done, they destroyed my guild, put in pointless grinds – but, I mean, its still fun so until is released, I’ll stick around.”

    The biggest barrier in MMO’s, and WoW especially, is loot. You need good loot to progress to the next tougher challenge. The best way to remove loot as a “barrier” is to token it. All of it. Yes, thats right, If I kill a boss I get to pick what I want. Either that, or that boss ALWAYS drops X – so I don’t have to wait 5 days for the instance to reset to run it again for the “possibility” of seeing that loot. Make it drop every single time, or give me the option to choose my loot. That way, I don’t feel forced to run content on a percentage chance – I can choose the content I want to run, and when I am done with it, am not “forced” to go back.

    If an MMO company designs a game to truely be fun and inspiring, instead of a 100% timesink, that game would win me as a customer. Someone needs to prove to MMO companies that fun=money, not timesink=money. Unfortunately, we all show them that timesink is more important than fun.

    (This is on a Macro scale, of course, all of these games have elements of fun, but they all also have loads of tedium and timesinks.)

  24. In light of that, timesinks are there to help spread out content. So until someone develops systems to make content design swift enough to “generally” keep pace with the playerbase (unless there were no subscriptions a la GW) then we’ll always see these timesinks.

    But, like you Braack, I’m hopeful.

  25. Also, Lineage 2 has no keying or faction content that I am aware of. Of course that game is a straight grind the whole way anyways so no need for factions.

  26. Sorry for the multiple replies.

    “If an MMO company designs a game to truely be fun and inspiring, instead of a 100% timesink, that game would win me as a customer. Someone needs to prove to MMO companies that fun=money, not timesink=money. Unfortunately, we all show them that timesink is more important than fun.”

    I believe NCsoft has done that with dungeon runners. Problem with dungeon runners having no timesinks or high level content to grind to the game was a bit boring to me after a month of play. Soon they are adding in some fun pointless PvP content and I might start to play that again, but without timesinks the company has to constantly push out new content to keep the game from getting stale.

  27. “Someone needs to prove to MMO companies that fun=money, not timesink=money. Unfortunately, we all show them that timesink is more important than fun.”


    Fun features don’t extract nearly as much subscription money as addictive features. And the only reason why people put up with the timesinks is that they provide the right sort of carrot to drive the compulsive timesinking.

    Also, most of the timesinks were fun to you once.

  28. […Also, most of the timesinks were fun to you once….]

    This is true, but is ‘more of the same’ what the industry is all about, and what we, as the consumers are willing to live with?

    What is stopping a company from making new ‘timesinks’ all the time, so that they maintain their addictive treadmilling, but we the consumers, are getting a new experience all the time?

    I am sure the obsticles to that could be time, money, innovation, technology… but perhaphs its just the mentality that we buy it ‘as is’ so why bother putting in the effort or taking the risk of designing better?

  29. As much as I’d like to believe that the consumer would rebel and demand innovation, I’d say look at the American sitcom: Yes, it’s edgier and more hip in certain ways, but Everybody Loves Raymond is essentially the Honeymooners with a few new features. Yes, people wll keep watching/doing the same thing over and over again as long as you tweak it just slightly with each iteration.

  30. Well I know where Lich King has left me: shrugging and saying, good thing Pirates of the Burning Sea looks new, interesting, and different. The only way I’ll end up buying Lich King is if all the friends I game with do so, and then only so I can keep playing with them. However, I have a feeling most of them won’t buy it either at this point.

  31. What if for TBC, Blizzard had only added lvl 70, Jewelcrafting, new items, new zones, and Illidan? Would that have kept you playing? Because that’s pretty much what TBC would’ve been if they had put flying mounts and arena in the original game. I get the feeling people are underwhelmed mostly because it’s neigh impossible for Blizzard to top TBC and Outland in our minds.

    Obviously, leveling 70-80 is going to be at least as fun and smooth as it was for 60-70. Obviously, dungeons are going to be fun again (at least until you have to grind heroics), and raids will be new and challenging. It will be fun to explore the new zones in Northrend, and they’re bound to have plenty of variety, and maybe the new pvp zone will turn out to work the way Halaa was meant to. Either way, world pvp in pvp servers will happen again, thanks to the removal of flying mounts for the early levels.

    Inscription will probably give at least the same level of character customization that Jewelcrafting did. The new battleground will be insanely popular and tons of fun for a while, but naturally, everyone will play it too much, and get burned out and hate it for a month before playing it as much as the other BGs. Some people will level to 80 inside a month, then do the Deathknight quest, and start lvling a Deathknight around the time some casuals will be hitting 71, not to mention around when some other hardcore levelers get to 80 and decide to level another 70 instead of a deathknight, since it’s likely some people won’t enjoy playing one as much as an alt.

    A bunch of people will probably go to WAR, and WoW’s population might actually go down a bit, freaking out Blizzard, and getting them on the ball a bit more with pvp (because pve-ers aren’t going to WAR), unless the new zone and BG turn out well, which could happen.

    All in all, I’d say it’s more of the same, with improvements, ie a good thing. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t burn myself out grinding instances over and over, or raiding endgame again. It is quite possible to decide that you get the most fun in WoW from something entirely different from instances, rep, or raiding.

  32. “What is stopping a company from making new ‘timesinks’ all the time, so that they maintain their addictive treadmilling, but we the consumers, are getting a new experience all the time?”

    Isn’t that what each expansion will be?

    As far as the time sinks, I think there were many mistakes in level 60 end game content that they have fixed with TBC. I started grinding AD rep at level 50 and leveled several times without hitting exalted. I still am 6k rep away from exalted AD, but I am exalted with several factions in outland all with substantially less time committment.

    The big issue I see is people getting friends into the game fresh since I either have to create an alt and level with my friend or let them trudge their way up to 70 and maybe 80 if they don’t hit 70 before the expansion comes. What will it be like in 2 years when they move the cap to 100? Will we see leveling guides promoting 1-100 in 20 days played? Make it in 18 days if you are an expert player running an easy to level class like a hunter/mage/warlock? How could I tell a friend that it would take them 480 hours of serious playing to be able to go on a raid with me?

    This increasing time to actually play through all the existing content will be their greatest long term challenge. Speeding up the leveling process just devalues the content already made and nothing can really save the level 60 end-game content since running through it would certainly level you to 65 before you even step foot in outland even if they cut it down from the 40-man requirements. There is too much content at level 60. We will see the same excess content at level 70 when they add the next expansion and so on. You cannot make content both for a group that experiences it after the level cap and also for those who level through it since the design requirements are not the same. In short, if you don’t do Black Temple this time around, you will see it after you run the level 60 Naxxramus and Blackwing Lair. Any of you late comers do that yet? Me either.

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