Why We Still Play Everquest
Mike talks to the communities of games the mainstream has long forgotten and asks, "why do you still play?"
This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.
The classics are still fun. We may sometimes forget that as we move on from generation-to-generation, with graphics technology and developer expertise improving each year, but there are players who never left the building. Players from whom newer and more graphically-intensive titles fall short of the heights of yesteryear. Games released 10 or 20 years ago still support fervent, passionate fanbases who play even today.
If you're not a part of those communities, you may not realize they even exist anymore. They're the ones who keep playing after the new hotness is gone and the zeitgeist has passed by. I wanted to know why these people kept playing; what was the core of these games that kept them coming back? So I went into these communities and asked players why they remained committed to the cause.
"I think WoW took a lot of great ideas from Everquest. Everquest is the big foundation for WoW."Blizzard executive producer J. Allen Brack
Launched way back in 1999, Sony Online Entertainment's Everquest improved upon the massively-multiplayer online genre established by Meridian 59 and Ultima Online. Sony Interactive Studios America executive John Smedley - who remains with Sony Online Entertainment today - enlisted Brad McQuaid, Steve Clover, Bill Trost, Geoffrey Zatkin, and Mile D. Cooper in an effort to design a game that would bring text multi-user dungeons (MUDs) into an animated 3D world. Blizzard's World of Warcraft popularized the genre when it launched five years later, but Blizzard's work was cribbed from ideas found in Everquest.
" Certainly, I think WoW took a lot of great ideas from Everquest. Everquest is the big foundation for WoW," admitted Blizzard executive producer J. Allen Brack in a 2008 interview with PC Gamer.
The first Everquest introduced players to the fully-3D world of Norrath, tasking them with exploring the realm, conquering epic creatures, and finding the best loot. Players could choose between any one of 12 playable races, including Humans, Dark Elves, Dwarves, and Trolls. Your race determined which of the 14 classes you could pick, including Paladin, Shaman, Necromancer, and Monk. Everquest offered a wide-variety of choices, a huge world to explore, and at the time it was one of the most graphically-intensive MMOs on the market. It was an instant success.
Since then, SOE has released 21 expansions for the game, with the latest one, The Darkened Sea, launching just last month. While Everquest did originally enjoy the $15 monthly subscription fee that became an industry standard, the publisher eventually made the game free-to-play. Players can still subscribe to enjoy additional benefits like more character slots or full guild functionality, but that subscription is part of SOE's AllAccess plan, which covers a variety of titles.
Despite graphical improvements and other additions, Everquest still looks like the older brother to games like World of Warcraft, Wildstar, and Guild Wars 2. So why have players not moved onto Everquest II, WoW, or any of the other available competitors?
"I got into it simply to understand my parents better. Then I got hooked on it."Redditor Draddy
For some, Everquest was how they made strong connections with friends and family, connections that hold strong even today. Logging onto EQ provides a space to converse with those people who are important in your life. Everquest can stick with you even after those people move on to other pastimes.
"I got into it simply to understand my parents better. Then I got hooked on it," Redditor Draddy told me. Another Redditor called Firefox011 said he met his best friend in the game, a friend who later moved to Singapore. They still play the game together.
For others, Everquest is simply a reliable friend you can return to year-after-year. As someone who retains a World of Warcraft subscription because I like to pop back into the game from time-to-time, I can empathize with that sentiment.
"I play for nostalgia, entertainment value, and the chance that we'll see a new progression server," explained Everquest forum member Mardy. "I share my fun with my girlfriend; the same girlfriend I met in [Everquest] quite a while back. MMOs don't really keep our interest for long. So whenever we're in-between games or waiting for another new release or a new expansion, we tend to come back to EQ for awhile."
"We represent a big chunk of the 'core' playerbase: we aren't hardcore, we aren't casual, but we do play a lot and consume whatever content we're able to do."Everquest forum member Mardy
"We catch up to the latest levels, consume some of the content, and when we hit a wall, we move on again," they continued. "The days of us playing for friends/guilds are over; we hung that hat up six years ago when we stopped running raids. So when we play EQ, or any MMO, we consume whatever content is out there for a small group of three or four. I'd like to think we represent a big chunk of the 'core' playerbase: we aren't hardcore, we aren't casual, but we do play a lot and consume whatever content we're able to do."
Mardy agrees that nostalgia can play a big part in keeping players faithful to Everquest.
"EQ to us is just reliable, it's a game that while old and outdated, can still provide entertainment value," said Mardy. "A good chunk of that has to do with nostalgia, and it starts as soon as we get to the character screen. Once that EQ theme song is played, it's over, we get goosebumps, and find ourselves in love with the game again. Nostalgia is something I've always said is SOE's biggest weapon against other MMO's out there. That Everquest nostalgia is something unmatched, not every game out there can say they've been out for 15 years (and more importantly, been expanded upon for 15 years)."
Friends and family can move on, but the challenge is still a strong part of why Everquest continues to draw in players. New raids, new dungeons, new challenges to overcome. Everquest forum member Derd is still tackling content from Evequest's 19th and 20th expansions, Rain of Fear and Call of the Forsaken.
"If I only played it for other people, I'd have stopped long ago," Derd explained. "To think something that took this much of my free time was something I didn't enjoy just boggles my mind. I play because I still love the challenges when doing new stuff, I still enjoy leveling and [Alternate Advancement]. That's why I really am glad they keep on putting out new content and expanding the Level and AA caps. I would raid old content if that was all we had the people for, but thankfully we've been able to keep our slow progression."
"I still find Enchanter to be a challenging class to play in many situations," added another EQ forum member called Silv. "It's fun to push it to the limit and see what you can do. Likewise, raiding still provides some entertainment. I still find a lot of things to do in the game even from old content."
One Of a Kind
Finally, for some players there's just nothing else like Everquest out there. World of Warcraft may have been influenced by Everquest, but it doesn't have the same fingerprint. Everquest is unique in how it presents its world and the current Everquest team has 15 years of lore to draw on.
"I no longer have the reflexes of a teenager on Ritalin. EQ's pace, while sometimes quite challenging, is manageable."Everquest forum member Richard 'Battleaxe' Lay.
"Many alternatives to EQ have characteristics that I find objectionable," Richard 'Battleaxe' Lay told me. "Despite EQ showing its age, it's the only game on the market that has many of the features I want in a game without dozens of things which would have me toss one. I tell you true - I'd hate to chuck it, but should it wander too far from its original concept, class descriptions, or become too difficult, it could chuck me. Not many games have held my attention and entertained me for 15 years."
Lay also explained that Everquest's challenge is just at the right level for older players.
"I'm older," he explained. "I no longer have the reflexes of a teenager on Ritalin. As much as I might like manage each blow in a boxing game it's not going to happen for me. EQ's pace, while sometimes quite challenging, is manageable."
Even as Sony Online Entertainment works on Everquest Next, the original Everquest still has committed development team and fanbase. The game might be long-in-the-tooth, but it's still a unique MMORPG experience. If you want to join EQ's fervent fans, you can pick up the game for free on its official website.