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So, Sony announced a lot of details about Everquest Next a while back. And I was intending to do a post about it while it was all topical, but then I got kind of busy with work, and then I decided I needed to post this as a preamble to the discussion, and then I went on holiday with my good lady and the Tremaynelettes, which resulted in a very nice and relaxing week in which the closest I got to gaming was watching as Tremaynelette Prima swiped my iPad to play Plants vs Zombies 2 and Hay Day while Tremaynelette Secunda grabbed the iPhone for the Peppa Pig app on it.

Anyway… Everquest Next. I’m sure you’ve read all about it by now. Storybricks AI for the NPCs and monsters, resulting in (hopefully) a truly dynamic world. Destructable environments. A flattish power curve, where new characters can usefully adventure alongside veterans. Multiclassing. And Rallying Calls, which look like big chunks of long-duration, massively multiplayer content with multiple possible outcomes depending on what and how quickly the players do (think vanilla WoW’s opening of Ahn Qiraj, only with a lot more variety in how it turns out than just “how long we take until we collect all this stuff or Blizzard take pity on our server and open the gates anyway”). What interests me is what sort of players this will appeal to – because presumably, those are the sorts of players SOE are trying to attract to their game, and will determine what sort of community we will find ourselves playing in. Let’s take a look then at the different MMO gamer tribes I described recently, and think how each of them are going to react to EQNext.

Fierce Competitors (FC)
There’s definitely stuff here for the Fierce Competitors. Multiclassing gives them great opportunities to experiment and find effective combos – this will make them happy unless SOE get Ghostcrawler disease and are anal about nerfing any combinations that deviate from a narrowly-defined range of ‘expected’ performance. If they do that, these guys will get frustrated instead. Rallying Calls and ‘smart’ NPCs that remember everything you’ve done for them may give FCs something to excel at and be recognised for. To be honest, this tribe are relatively easy to please, because their aim is to excel at whatever game they play. As long as the game doesn’t stamp too hard on players exceling beyond the norm, they’ll be happy.

Role Players (RP)
We’ve yet to see how many tools EQNext will give RPers, but these are the group who probably care least about the actual game in any online game. As long as RPers have a chat interface, their fellows and their own imaginations, they can roleplay. Except… if the Storybricks AI works out as well as is hoped, you may no longer need other roleplayers to roleplay. There’s a chance here to have a freeform and interesting interaction with NPCs. Some RPers are going to throw their hands up in horror at such a travesty, but others are going to be intrigued. If it works out, of course.

Wanna Wins (WW)
I’m afraid EQNext may be designed specifically to upset these poor babies. That dynamic world is going to be very different t from having a clearly set out golden path of fixed quests, and with different Rallying Call outcomes and NPC interactions on each server, you can’t rely on having the answer to everything in one guide. EQNext may well be a game designed to make players think and find things out for themselves, and there are a lot of players out there who will hate that.

Sadistic Jerks (SJ)
To some extent, these guys have already been disappointed – it’s already been made clear that ‘sandbox’ does not mean ‘anything goes PvP murder simulator’ in this case, and that SOE will put limits in place where needed to constrain griefing (so, for example, not everything will be destructible) However, one of the immutable laws of the universe is that Assholes Will Find A Way To Be Assholes. Dynamic NPC behaviour and destructible terrain are bound to give these guys opportunities if they’re creative enough, and I think the history of MMOs shows that griefers can be very creative. So while the SJs aren’t exactly being encouraged into EQNext, I think they’ll find a home there. Unfortunately.

Forward To The Past! (FTTP)
Did you hear the howls of anguish? EQNext is not what the FTTPs wanted. Instead of being a movement back towards original EQ, it’s taking strides even further away from that template. I’m sorry guys, but if you want a remake of an old school MMO with old school mechanics, this is not the MMO you’re looking for. Move along.

Truly Madly Deeply Casual (TMDC)
TMDCs should be quite pleased with EQNext – although in all fairness, they’re the easiest group of players to please. Nothing we’ve seen to date suggests a “hardcore or GTFO” game here, and the flattened power curve means the TMDCs have more of the world to pay in without being gated by a need to level up.

Mellow Old Farts (MOF)
This group should also be pretty happy with what we’ve seen of EQNext. Like the TMDCs, they will enjoy the accessibility (by which I mean, being able to play the game and also have a life). Like the FCs, they will appreciate the build variety that mixing and matching skills from forty-odd classes promises (even if they don’t push it to the extremes the FCs will). MOFs tend to appreciate having a world to visit and the dynamic nature if EQNext’s Norrath promises to make this one of the more “world-like” MMOs we’ve seen recently.

So what does this all mean? Well, it looks like EQNext is likely to appeal to some gamers… But not to the old school EQ nostalgia crowd, or to the core WoW demographic that most other games have been chasing for the last decade. If anything, it’s aiming at the same people who are currently enjoying Guild Wars 2, and will come out when that game is past its second birthday and players will be more than ready to look for something new. In short I don’t think Blizzard have to worry too much about what SOE are up to, but just maybe ArenaNet does.

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