Lead designer Ryan Barker on the grandfather of MMO gaming.
VideoGamer.com: EverQuest is in an interesting place because it’s doing well enough to exist. Is the goal to continue to expand so that it becomes more accessible? In my mind it still retains a hardcore flavour.
RB: Yeah we definitely do that all the time. We’ve done some things in the past where we changed the levelling curve so it wasn’t quite as steep at the lower levels. We changed it so AA experience comes in faster when you have fewer of them. So we’re definitely mindful of that. The primary reason for that is every time you add levels or content you’re making it harder for anyone to get to the end of the game. And that’s where 90 per cent of our players sit most of the time. So if you’ve got a new player or maybe a player who quit and decided to come back, it can be really hard to catch up to everybody who’s been playing the whole time. So we’ve definitely tried to do as many things as possible to facilitate that kind of behaviour. At this point in the game’s life cycle it can be very difficult for us to pick up new players. Not to say we’re not trying to get them, but we’re more focused on the players we have and maybe some of the players we lost and can get back. It’s a little bit of a balancing act there too. We think that the most bang for the buck at this point is existing players and players who could potentially come back to the game.
VideoGamer.com: How do you get old players back into the world of EverQuest?
RB: We had a really big promotion last year called Living Legacy that did a great job of that. We basically reactivated everyone who had ever played and cancelled accounts for three months and let them all play. We had a number of special events going at that time. We had a few promo items that you get if you signed up at that time. It worked well. We picked up a bunch of players that had left and decided to come back. That was a big thing we did. Some of the smaller stuff we do, we’re going to open a new server here in the next month or so. That always grabs a few people. It’s hard to say. We try to do as much as possible to keep people interested and sometimes we get old players interested in coming back. Sometimes it’s a good staying tool. We hope for both obviously with everything we do, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.
VideoGamer.com: Looking to the future, what’s next? EverQuest 3?
RB: There are obviously several different teams at the company making games. EQ2 is still doing expansions and they’ve got a strong player base as well. We’re planning on continuing to do new content as well. But there’s clearly other teams at the company that’ll be making different games so it’s a little bit of both in terms of the company level. But for us, on our team, we’re just planning on continuing making EverQuest content and hoping people keep playing.
VideoGamer.com: I know you must get bored of the World of Warcraft thing, but I’m interested in what the team’s reaction was to the game when it first came out and then blew everyone’s expectations of the kind of subscription numbers that MMOs were capable of.
RB: I played it a little bit in the open beta at the end and I thought it was good, I thought it was fun, but I didn’t think it was going to do nearly as well as it did. I don’t think anyone did. I don’t think Blizzard did either. It’s pretty amazing. I think that shows that if you make a good game that can grab a larger spectrum of the demographic, you can really do well. I don’t think we’ve even hit the roof in terms of what an MMO can do. I think there will be another Warcraft-like game that will come out, and I don’t know where it’ll come from or who’s going to do it, that will blow away those numbers as well. I hope we’ll do it, but we’ll see.
VideoGamer.com: You think WoW’s numbers will be dwarfed?
RB: At some point someone will dwarf those numbers with a game. While Warcraft is a great game there are several issues with it that at this point in the cycle. They’re going to see the same thing we do, where new players are a lot harder to pick up, because of market saturation and the whole chasing the high-end stuff that goes on. It’s a lot harder to catch up in Warcraft than it was when it first came out. They’re doing stuff to mitigate that as well, just like we are. At some point it’s just perception. Even if it is easier you think it’s still hard and you won’t do it anyway because you don’t want to spend the time. But I think if we can get past some of the barriers that are keeping people from playing with their friends, just because their friends happened to start the game before they did, and maybe started on a different server or whatever, if we can start to get rid of some of those social blocks, I think it can get even better. For example, Facebook doesn’t care how long you’ve been on Facebook. You’re still going to go on and be just as much of a part of the community right away from day one and day 200. You might have a bit of a learning curve with apps. Things like that show us that there’s a lot of people out there that are interested in being involved in an internet community, especially with all the apps on Facebook, in playing casual games. At some point someone’s going to do an MMO that really caters to that group, and is going to have a billion subscribers or whatever. There’s another ceiling somewhere that we haven’t hit yet.
VideoGamer.com: So it won’t be a fantasy RPG in the traditional sense?
RB: I wouldn’t really hazard to guess. The genre it takes may almost be an afterthought. It’s mostly going to be how the social interactions work. There is still somewhat of a stigma with the fantasy genre. It’s got a lot better over the last few years, with Lord of the Rings being more mainstream. I wouldn’t even guess what the genre’s going to be. It’ll be some weird mix of something we haven’t seen before. A lot of the standard video game genres I don’t think will have the breadth of appeal that would be necessary for something like that. It might not even be a game world per se; it might be something totally different that we haven’t even thought of yet. It’s really hard to say. I wouldn’t want to guess at the genre of the game that might do that.
VideoGamer.com: But you’d love to figure it out!
RB: Oh I’d love to. I’m constantly thinking about it!