Why SOE has no choice but to do it like EQ, and not do it like EQ
I know that I'm meant to be talking about EverQuest Next and Landmark, and we'll get to them shortly, but there are a couple more stops to go on the H1Z1 train before we get there. After an inaugural livestream plagued by tech issues, but showing potential, SOE President John Smedley headed once again to Reddit to float a new idea.
Many developers seem to enjoy the semi-structured feedback they can get from the Reddit boards, and Mr. Smedley seems to love it. He's a big ideas man, after all, and they don't come much bigger than this.
Since H1Z1 works with an MMO server architecture it will work a little differently to other games in the genre—with a huge persistent world holding thousands of players and no server resets, the game will operate more like an MMO and less like a large shooter map. This could end up being one of the major selling points for the game, but one drawback of the system is the lack of player run servers with their own rules and personalities.
This is where the big idea comes in. Mr. Smedley wants player communities to be able to define the theme and ruleset for their own server. With enough active support from the community we could see those PVE 'carebear' servers that are continually slammed on the DayZ subreddit, or stricter grouping and faction rules designed to let players know who is really friendly.
Now, I understand completely why players want these kinds of rulesets for the Apocalypse Survival genre, but I would bet my last tin of beans they would be a colossal failure.
Players want these kinds of servers because they're sick of KoS, they want to band together with other people to survive the harsh new world and community is what makes persistent online games great. Ultimately though, the fact is it is these hardships and obstacles that make the genre great. If you don't like it, maybe you just don't like the genre. If it wasn't for the intense paranoia and tales of what happens when two people met in the game, DayZ would never have got the recognition it has, and the genre may never have existed at all.
I could be totally wrong of course; as all gaming experiences are subjective I could be in the minority in thinking that DayZ on an empty server feels like eating dry toast when you aren't hungry, or that playing Minecraft on peaceful difficulty feels like spending a sunny afternoon making confetti with a hole punch.
Hilarious as my analogies may be, there are many people who will disagree with me, they will most likely get what they ask for, and (insert deity of choice) help SOE when a change to the game affects the balance of a community server.
If the system is successful, it seems quite likely we'll see it in EQNext and Landmark. The possibility of large communities being able to come together easily in Landmark could be great for the game in the long term, and requests for themed islands are common.
What I'm really interested in is how this could affect EQNext, with a very vocal group asking for servers that mimic the mechanics of EverQuest, could this mean there wish has come true? Almost certainly not, but that won't stop them from trying all the same.
The problem is that when people ask for these 'throwback' or 'hardcore' servers, they invariably ask for features and mechanics that were in EverQuest but not in later MMOs. It usually comes down to wanting limited class based fast travel, a 'harsh' death penalty and no auction house. There is nothing wrong with any of these requests—I have played and enjoyed games with all of these features. Unfortunately, mechanics in games as complex as MMOs do not work in isolation, and dropping ones you like into games you don't won't change much.
Add to this the fact that EQNext is not intended to function in the way that previous MMOs have and you could have some thoroughly disappointed players. The feeling of EverQuest was not created by the specifics of the mechanics, it was created by the sense of wonder, of the exploration and camaraderie between players, from the sense of risk and purpose. If EverQuest Next just reheats the old strategies, how can it hope to recapture the magic?
The way I see it, the only chance a new game has of coming close is to do exactly what EverQuest did; be bold, fresh, ahead of the curve, take some chances, to push what is possible to the limit and keep pushing.
We must remember that the term “MMO” does not mean 'like EverQuest' or 'like World of Warcraft'. The definition is incredibly flexible and as we enter the post WoW-goldrush days I hope we finally see more products with clear goals and some vision.
Every game is different, and no game is for everyone. In my opinion, the worst thing a game can do is try to please everyone, because you can't please all the people all the time.