Straight from their “we’re closing the doors email” that went out a few hours ago:
There is one more story to tell before we part ways.
We fell in love with the EverQuest franchise and we wanted the best possible future for it. We knew Sony Online (300+ employees IIRC) was for sale so Storybricks (barely 10 people) tried to actually buy out the whole division.
We retained an investment banking firm as a proxy and they went directly to Sony Corporate bypassing the local executives. We would have been able to raise the necessary capital, and had interviewed new and existing management ready for a turnover.
Alas, it was not meant to be as the terms offered by Sony Japan were unacceptable to us and to our investors. It is my understanding that other buyers had the same reaction and, in the end, Columbus Nova got a completely different deal that the one we were offered, but by then our investor group had moved on.
Make no mistake the company needed cuts badly, and we would have cut and cut deeply. Possibly as deep as Columbus Nova did but maybe we would have cut more senior management and less game developers instead. It was our intention to try to acquire the 38 Studios assets and made them available to players in EQN. Moreover we would have probably changed the server infrastructure allowing people to run their own servers. It would not have been a very canonical EverQuest but we would have done the best to service our customers with the limited budget of an independent studio who wanted to punch above its weight.
We really did try our best. And our best was not enough.
I’m still gathering my thoughts, but in general I just have a lot of questions. Basically, if I’m reading this right, Sony Japan sold SOE for less than they could have gotten, to a company that didn’t know anything about games. Only way that makes sense is if there is some sort of pre-existing relationship between the people doing the deal at Sony and those at Columbus Nova. Like the Sony Exec’s godson/favorite nepher/golfing buddy is the big cheese/VP/owner of Columbus Nova. Either that or part of the deal was not made public or was done under the table. Either is a likely possibility.
I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering in high school. I still remember my first time watching a game, on a cheese wagon as the band went to its first away game my freshman year. I was hooked. And it all revolved around a lore set that drove the game mechanics: you were a planeswalker, an archmage traveling among dimensions, with eldritch ties to those various lands you had visited that powered your magic and allowed you to summon their inhabitants to your aid. Each new set unveiled new lands, new peoples, new spells for the planeswalker (the player) to collect. It was great!
Throughout college, my interest waned…and then died. You see, with every pack I opened in college, I started noticing a trend. The cards were no longer spells, they were actions of a predetermined set of characters, as Wizards of the Coast turned each set into a story. Before a card that let you draw cards might be named after a famous planeswalker (not unlike Mordenkainen’s line of spells in DnD), now it might be named “Wisdom of Gerrard” after one of the characters in the drama, and the flavor text relating to the story of the Weatherlight airship and its current adventure. Then we got cards that were simply not spells at all – Hand to Hand comes to mind. Eventually we got sets specifically designed to trash rules that had been developed by the lore of the game – big powerful flying *water* creatures. Regenerating trolls…that were part of the nature magic category instead of chaos and destruction.
For me, at that point, specifically when I unwrapped a pack and found a card whose name I don’t remember but that depicted the Weatherlight taking “evasive maneuvers” – I realized I wasn’t playing Magic: The Gathering anymore. I was still playing a similar game mechanically, but so much had changed that was a hallmark of the game and its lore that I just wasn’t interested anymore.
And that is pretty much what I feel when I look at all the information about EQN. I ask the question – how is this Everquest? I mean, its fine for Trion to say “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” – but how would you feel if Blizzard said it? This is Norrath – but not Norrath and nothing will be the same except for names.
And we can already see the edges of that. Where are the Erudin? The Trolls? The Kerran are a staple now? Why not call them Vah Shir again? Which leads into questions about the art style. We’ve decided to go down the road of giant shoulderpads and overly decorated shields. That works for a lot of MMO’s, but that has never been a part of what Everquest is (Where are the incredibly done cloaks, robes and hoods?) We really aren’t in Norrath anymore are we?
And that brings up classes. Classes with unique abilities and a system of checks and balances – another well established feature of the game. Sure rogues are pure DPS – unless you want to trade some of that DPS for some useful group buffs (bard). Do you want a mage with some CC, or one that trades its CC for some extra heals? Deep in a dungeon you probably want a purist tank class – but the casual grouper could use some of the self healing that shadowknight or paladin brings. Everquest 2 went one step further and gave us classes that had trademark abilities revolving around throwing knives and calling a band of thugs, temporary pets from the abyss and a wide variety of healing from warding to reactive healing to HoT’s. Some classes have pets but others can take direct control over them, fulfilling roles the group may not have.
All that is gone. Instead we have gone the route of GW2, but apparently without even the most basic class anchors that they put in place. Now we are playing Pokemon with classes (gotta catch them all!). And if you don’t think that this isn’t a set up to sell you rare and unique classes in a F2P game, your head is either buried too far in the sand or too star struck to catch wind of the obvious incoming danger-close round.
Not to mention the music. Oh god, the music. Everquest’s main theme is epic beyond reason. When you hear it, the reaction it draws is comparable to hearing the theme to Star Wars or Jaws. It rips emotions out of you and throws them on the table for you to look back, and gives you flashbacks the likes of which LSD could never hope to match. And instead of that, we get a new theme that has not even the barest of nods to the original. Instead of calling us to adventure and awesome, it calls us into self-reflective naval gazing.
Add into that some further unknowns. Over at the EQN website, they are asking about ninjas and shotguns. Are we really still that deep in the conceptual stage? Does that mean the game is still 3, 4, 5 or more years off? What is Landmark really? How much of it will take place in the real game and how much will be its own entity? Are we really serious about letting players blow up the landscape? If so…cool I guess, so long as you check & balance it, but again – how is that Everquest?
Will EQN be a great game? Who knows. Will it fulfill all our hopes and dreams? Probably not, because we tend to have lofty expectations. Will we enjoy it and get all hyped and excited? Most likely. But none of that really interests me. Its the same drama that gets played out with every new MMO release. The real question I have right now is – will this really be Everquest? I’ve played all three Everquest MMO’s, both the console based single player RPG’s, and even the PnP RPG. Right now, it doesn’t look or feel like it. None of the things that make Everquest what it is are present in the game. To me, it just looks like another new MMO.
And for the IP that all but gave birth to this genre, that’s about the most damning thing I could say.