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Developer Appreciation: Verant Interactive/Sony Online Entertainment

August 18, 2019

Today is the first time I’ve actually adhered to the Blaugust schedule, but I was at a loss for a post and this inspired me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t post about my appreciation for Verant Interactive, the developer of EverQuest. This was a team, led by John Semdley, Brad McQuaid and Steve Clover, that was inexperienced and mostly lacked contacts in the industry. Through hard work and a lot of luck the team managed to change the face of the MMORPG industry.

The impact of EverQuest is hard to deny. Verant took a niche genre populated by a few games with relatively small followings, and went large. EverQuest was a hit and sent other developers and producers into a flurry of development. It would inspire the developers of World of Warcraft, many of whom played EverQuest in the top tier raid guilds and were ‘big names’ in the EverQuest community – names like Jeff Kaplan (Tigole) and Alex Afrasiabi (Furor). Given what WoW went on to do to the industry, this is no small thing.

Further reading

The work of the Verant team, and later Sony Online Entertainment as it came to be known, has been chronicled numerous times. A recent PCGamer article entitled ‘Breaking the internet: The story of EverQuest, the MMO that changed everything’ was released for EverQuest’s 20th anniversay and is worth a read.

If you’re more of a visual person, a 48-minute documentary called ‘EverCracked! The Phenomenon of EverQuest’ was produced in 2009 for the game’s 10th anniversary. It’s available on YouTube and is an interesting watch.

Lightning striking twice

The company name Verant Interactive soon gave way to a broader banner ‘Sony Online Entertainment’ or SOE. SOE would do what few studios can do – and have lightning strike twice. In 2003, SOE released Star Wars Galaxies, commonly thought to be the best example of a sandbox MMORPG ever made. Arguably no other game since has come close to the open, skills-based game that involved a lot of player interaction, player cities, and much more, all in a galaxy far far away. Unfortunately SOE tarnished its legacy by ‘WoWifying’ the game with classes and other poor decisions, and the game eventually shut down in 2011. A PCGamer article called ‘Star Wars Galaxies was an MMO that almost changed the world’ is a good read.

Apart from EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies, the studio had few other hits. Planetside was successful at first but remained a niche game. EverQuest 2 was, as discussed previously, a mostly dismal affair overshadowed by the release of WoW. Many other titles cannot be attributed to SOE as a developer, but more as a publisher, so I’ll not discuss them here.

The legacy of Verant/SOE

In 2015, Sony spun off SOE and sold it to a company called Columbus Nova. The studio was renamed Daybreak Game Company, and since then it has been almost solely concerned with maintaining its stable of old titles. This maintenance mode mostly includes developing expansions for live versions of EverQuest and EverQuest 2, both of which have been almost entirely transformed to be more like World of Warcraft than the original EverQuest.

There is little left at Daybreak reminiscent of the heady days of 1998 and the early 2000s, when the studio was innovating and changing the MMORPG genre. Some recent activity from the company that points to a renaming has been convered on The Ancient Gaming Noob and elsewhere. I cannot say I am optimistic as to what this will mean for the EverQuest franchise.

Verant/SOE was a flawed but brilliant studio. Their big successful games – EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies – were far from perfect games. But at the advent of the MMORPG genre the studio was innovating in what must have seemed a brave new world. They had no idea it would only be a few years away that WoW would come along, big money would followed, and creativity would be chased from the genre.

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