MMORPG sequels: what happens to the elder game?

I recently had the chance to run part of the adventure from the Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition Starter Set. It was well put together and the rules are a mix of familiarity and some new ideas but it’s not different or striking enough for me to want to go out and buy it in a hurry, that’s a long-standing problem for RPG developers, their products do not go obsolete just because they say they are. RPG groups can happily continue to use thirty-five year old 1st Edition AD&D rulebooks if they so desire.

What about editions of MMORPGs or sequels? It’s easier for gaming companies to control the playerbase, the bluntest instrument would be to shut down the old game forcing players to move to the new although risking they’d abandon the franchise entirely. From the MMORPGs I’ve played I can see two very different approaches to this topic.

Everquest
I’ve never played the original Everquest or any other game in the franchise except Everquest 2. Having come to the world of Norrath from EQ2 I’ve not felt tempted to venture into the nostalgia-rich first game since the graphics do look dated and they have that old-school (but suddenly back in vogue) idea of a strictly limited active skillbar. If I want to play a “small set of abilities” game I can just login to Secret World.

From what I’ve read on different blog posts and forums Everquest 1 benefitted most from the need to group and the culture of grouping (monster spawn camping). That’s something that I guess was lost due to EQ2’s incremental support for solo play since the second game these days seems very poor for grouping outside of guilds.

Lonely land

Lonely land

Guild Wars
I have played both of the Guild Wars games, unlike Everquest 1 & 2 however the flexibility of building and playing a character went down from original to sequel and it seems will be simplified even further in a future patch. Guild Wars 1 had the same limited skillbar as the second game albeit one that was more freeform – the only restriction was one equipped elite skill. This allowed for a lot freer build creation and with the option of adding skills from a second class into the mix there was a massive, if somewhat bewildering, array of choices.

Freedom to roam

Freedom to roam

The graphics certainly improved in Guild Wars 2 and of course we gained the ability to jump, never let that be underestimated. The freedom of movement compared to the excessive pathing in the first game was a real boon to the sequel.

Hillsides, the greatest enemy adventurers can face...

Hillsides, the greatest enemy adventurers can face…

Jumping does bring a downside though as the devs at ArenaNet have gotten rather carried away with adding platformer jumping puzzles into the content.

Don't look down (the extended remix)

Don’t look down (the extended remix)

In the case of both pairs of games the gameplay of the first and second game is different enough for fans of one or the other to happily stay in their preferred version. But the developer may not want to commit the effort and resources to keeping both games updated and supplying new content. Here we see a big difference in approach.

In the case of the Everquests, Daybreak have recently announced no more expansions for both games in favour of downloadable content (DLC) patches. That’s a balanced approach to how the two games are treated compared to ArenaNet decision to sunset (i.e. stopping new content production) Guild Wars 1 shortly after the sequel’s launch.

Although I have no direct experience of another multi-MMORPG franchise, Lineage, I’ve read that the first game enjoys much greater popularity than the sequel (see the second chart in this post about NCSoft Earnings Call). We never see official figures from Daybreak (or SoE as was) but I would suspect that the same is true for Everquest over its sequel.

With Guild Wars 2 the current game has enjoyed a good measure of success so far (with an expansion coming to boost profits back up) whereas the first game is now mostly deserted, a playable trip down memory lane. I’ve logged in on my characters to collect their birthday presents and it’s currently the anniversary festival but I didn’t see more than a couple of player characters in any of the main zones.

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3 Responses to MMORPG sequels: what happens to the elder game?

  1. bhagpuss says:

    Feldon from EQ2Wire often refers to EQ2 as the game that bankrolls all Daybreak’s other MMOs. He has a lot of contacts and inside information and is presumably as likely to know the truth of things as anyone but even so I have always found that difficult to believe. Anecdotally, as someone who still plays both EQ games fairly often, it’s always my impression that EQ is much busier. I have characters on several servers and on each of them there are never fewer than 250 traders in the Bazaar (often a lot more), usually between 60-100 players in Plane of Knowledge and as many again in the Guild Lobby.

    Every one of those players is an active account and the Bazaar traders, at least, are all subscribers – can’t trade with a free account. That’s somewhere close to 500 players just in three of the main non-combat zones, so that’s not even beginning to count the players actively playing the main game.

    By contrast the players I see in EQ2 can generally be counted on both hands. When there’s a big event going on I might see a few dozen. That’s on Freeport, which is supposed to be one of the better-populated servers. Of course I don’t play on Ant Bayle, EQ2’s most popular server, which is now supposedly so overpopulated Daybreak is asking players if they’d take a free transfer to go to another server.

  2. EQ & EQ2 are pretty much a storybook tale of why sequels are a dodgy idea. SOE clearly expected people to migrate to the new game and early EQ2 was very much focused on grouping, though it did allow for some solo play up to about level 20. EQ2 was going to “fix” all the problems SOE saw in EQ which, unfortunately, were not always problems in the minds of most players, and in a couple months a lot of players moved back to EQ or on to WoW. EQ2 at it peak was nowhere close to EQ at its peak and for years it was clear that EQ was still the dominant partner. SOE has spent a lot of time migrating features from EQ2 back into EQ because they need to keep both games active.

    These days it is hard to tell which pulls in more money. They have both declined quite a bit. My gut is that EQ2 probably does better at Station Cash things, as it feels better adapted to the free to play model. But when EQ rolls out its nostalgia focused progression servers, which will require a subscription, I expect that will cause a spike in subscriptions.

    Lessons learned by SOE? Well, now they are working on EverQuest Next, so I hope they can differentiate it sufficiently.

    For me GW & GW2 were worlds apart as games, but then neither really clicked for me, so I am probably not the best judge.

  3. melbrankin says:

    Everquest1 seems to be fairly active as others have said – Everquest2 on release was full and all my friends were playing and loving it. They actually started to kill my guild with several issues – the first being nightly 9pm reboots which destroyed a very active AU/NZ player bases fun.

    when world of warcraft launched and the numbers started to climb SoE panicked about what were successful player number – I think they got to about 900k or something by the time WoW launched. So instead of attempting to drive their game in their direction they began changing things to try and appeal to wow players, more casual players and everyone who wasn’t currently playing their game.

    On release EQ2 had many reasons to group – the outdoor zones contained camps of elite mobs that were great xp but required a group – the channels were full of people creating them. The dungeons were tough and rewarding with set boss camps being prized by groups. At 20 you had an armour quest that gave awesome gear and a lot of prestige to complete and that required groups at many points.

    My guild lasted 4 years on EQ2 as a slow decline until there were a few of us left who in the end went off to WoW.

    so its not really a sequel imho that drives success or failure but having a creative vision and the drive to keep to it rather than chance success doing something you never started out to do.

    As for D&D they had this amazingly bold leap into a very different game but based around the same kind of ideas and that was 4th ed. Unfortunately a large section of their player base did not want change and pathfinder was borne and became more successful than 4th ed ever was. So 5th ed is the companies attempt to woo back 3.5 and pathfinder players into the D&D fold and it sounds like its working. For me I actually really liked a lot in 4th ed and am currently playing 13th Age which from the makers of 4th ed, with a heap of the mechanics fixed.

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