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Interview with Ryan Barker - A Decade in Gaming
Adele Caelia: What do you feel needs to be done to give EverQuest another 10 years of life? What are the parameters for saying, ‘This game is now finished, shut off the servers?’
Ryan Barker: Well I don’t want to give away all our secrets but we’re confident EQ will be around for quite a while longer. The most important factor in EQ’s continuing success is giving the players new experiences while staying true to our roots. It’s a tricky balance to hold. You have to keep adding to the game to keep it interesting and fresh, but you don’t want it to start feeling like a completely different game. The gradual evolving EQ has done over the years is key to its success. It’s really up to the players how long the game will go on for. As long as people keep logging in and enjoying EQ we’ll keep making it for them!
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AC: Looking back, what are your favorite moments, and why?
RB: There have been many, but the best have been at our yearly Fan Faire.It’s really rare that developers get to interact with their player community on such a personal level and in an ongoing way.With other games you’re most likely talking about what you could be doing in the sequel, but with EQ you’re talking about things that can get changed in just a few days.
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Setting the Standard
AC: How has EverQuest impacted the world of gaming? Why do you believe it has had such an effect on other virtual worlds?
RB: A whole lot of it is just being the first game of its kind. If you look back it’s a pretty obvious progression really. It started with MUDs, and then you had Ultima Online and then EverQuest. It provided a framework for people to work their mind around the idea of a persistent world in full 3D with such a massive scope. I don’t think there were very many people that could really understand that concept and how it would play out until they saw EQ and then it all kind of clicked. There have been lots of MMO flavors to come out since then, and I think it’s safe to say most of them used EQ as a guideline for what they were doing, even if it was a situation where they were saying “we DON’T want it to work like EQ”.
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Overcoming the Stigma
AC: What role has the media played in ‘demonizing’ EverQuest? How can video games overcome this stigma, and be seen in a more positive light by the public?
RB: I think we’re largely past that as an industry honestly. I think most of the stigma that was there in the past was largely caused by misinformation. That said, I think there will always be a bit of controversy about a certain selection of titles. Which isn’t any different then music, movies, books, or any other artistic medium.
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AC: What were the expectations for the sequel and how did it fare in relation to those expectations? How do you feel it compares to the legacy laid down by the first game?
RB: EQII is a great game in its own right and I think we’ll be having the 10 year party for them down the road as well. We’ve done our best to appeal to a broader base of gamer demographics with the two games and I think it’s been very successful. We’re proud to share the world of Norrath with EverQuest II.
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AC: Why do you think that so many recent MMOs have done so poorly? What could they have done differently to see the same success that EverQuest has?
RB: I hesitate to even guess at that really. There have been some great MMOs that came out that I really enjoyed but they haven’t done that well. For whatever reason they didn’t pick up broad appeal. One of our greatest strengths is the connection players feel with their characters after playing them for so many years. You have to have a pretty strong game to pull people away from those characters that they feel a very real kinship with.
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Looking to the Future
AC: After a decade in production, EverQuest has done it all from setting the industry standard of online gaming to reaching out into the console, what could possibly be next? Where will the game go from here?
RB: We’ve still got a few tricks up our sleeves that’s for sure. I don’t want to go giving everything away though. I can tell you thought that we’re nowhere near finished with EverQuest.
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AC: What advice do you have for other game developers? What lessons have you learned?
RB: The only thing I could say is that MMO development is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure that you’re ready for the long haul. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten bitten by not planning for the game lasting as long as it has.
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Insights from a Veteran Player of EverQuest
Ryan "Tnexus" Tirrell: I first started playing EverQuest about a week into its launch. One of my friends was all hyped up on its release so I went to his house to see what the fuss was about. Well, needless to say, I ended up staying the entire weekend killing rats and spiders on his characters trying to level him up so we could see Befallen. At that point, I was pretty much sold on the game and bought my own copy a few weeks later.
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AC: What drew you to the game?
RT: EverQuest landed at a perfect time in my life. Back in 1999 I was into two genres of games: RTSs and RPGs. Starcraft was a big time waster me for when I could hook up with friends online, but when I couldn't I'd play a RPG like Final Fantasy VIII. EQ was the best of both worlds because I could play with friends and level up my character at the same time. Additionally, I'm one of those gamers who likes to complete everything and see everything in a game. From the very beginning, EverQuest has always offered a massive amount of content to see and do. From finishing a quest to killing a dragon, what attracted me back then still keeps me playing now.
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Class and Level
AC: Who are you as a gamer? What is your class and level?
RT: I play a level 85 Ranger on Prexus named Tnexus. It's been a handle I've used in games and whatnot for close to 15 years now, so if you see that name elsewhere, it's probably me.
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AC: Where would you like to see the game go in the future?
RT: There's a few storyline I hope they eventually come back to such as the Firiona Vie/Lany's T'Vyl arc, but to be perfectly honest, I'm quite happy where it is now. I think my biggest hope is that SOE will hire on some more full-time staff specifically to create new character models. The content is there already, there just needs to be a draw for new players to come try it out. I think new models would do that.
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The Tie that Binds
AC: Why do you continue to play after all these years?
RT: I don't think there's one single reason why people like me keep playing, but I guess the primary reason is the people. The game population has decreased since it first came out, but those of us still left have developed a close bond with each other. Some of my guild mates I've known for over seven years now. I've watched friendships created, relationships formed, and even children born throughout my EQ career. While the game may be virtual, the people are 100% real. If I stopped playing it'd almost be like me moving away to another state. Now granted, the game itself is still fun. Even after 10 years there's content I haven't seen and quests that I still want to do. So I figure why leave now when I still have things to accomplish.
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AC: What is your most memorable EverQuest moment?
RT: That is a pretty tough question to ask because there's a lot of good memories in the span of 10 years time. Probably the one that stands out the most was leading my guild to beat Overlord Mata`Muram and Vishimtar the Fallen in the same week. Both were extremely tough bosses when they first came out that completely rely on people paying attention, a lot of prep work, and a 110% effort from everyone in the 54 person raid. If one person slacks, it can potentially mean death for the other 53. We had been struggling on both encounters for a while so managing to beat both within a day of each other was a huge accomplishment for us. Being the person to lead us to those victories was just icing on the cake.
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AC: Who are your oldest and closest EverQuest friends? Where did you meet for the first time?
RT: One of my oldest friends in game I also knew in real life whose character's name was Dnalor. Sadly, he retired a little while back, but he introduced me to one of his in-game friends he had met named Thenol. I've known her for probably six years now or so. She's sort of became my personal advice columnist when I needed advice. Some of my other close EQ friends are Boradaf and his wife Taala, a wizard named Fazor, and a crazy cleric named Zeist. Truth be told, I don't really remember where I met any of them. I probably suckered each and every one out on some crazy suicidal mission I'm known to do and the relationship grew from there.
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AC: What meaning does the game hold for you?
RT: EverQuest means a lot to me or else I wouldn't be playing it for as long as I have. It's a place where I can utilize my leadership skills by leading a group or a raid force on an encounter. It's a place where I can go and vent after a long day of work. It's a place where I can go do something stupid and reckless and not have to worry about the consequences the following day. And finally, it's a place where I can go and just have fun with friends. So whatever the mood, EverQuest has a place in my life.
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Changing the World as We Know it
AC: Why do you think that EverQuest has had such a large impact on the world of gaming?
RT: I think while EverQuest may not have been the first online game out there, it was first successful 3D MMORPG available to the mass market. As the Internet was becoming more widely available at connections that could handle online gaming, the desire for a game like EverQuest grew. So when it launched, people flocked to it in droves. But just because it may have been the only one available at the time doesn't mean it also wasn't really good at launch. For its size, it was not only a polished game at release, but it offered content that had never been done before. The feeling of accomplishment of beating an encounter that requires 36, 54, or even 72 people has not been matched in any subsequent game. EverQuest also offered content in which teamwork was a must. While most online games at that time pitted you against one another, EQ gave friends the chance to pool their skills to accomplish a goal. Even to this day, that's not changed a bit.
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AC: When would you ever leave the game? What would have to happen to cause the separation?
RT: One of jokes that you commonly hear when someone announces they're quitting the game is, "See you in a few weeks!" While it's meant in jest, it's often true. I'd say over half return at some point to start playing again. So with that in mind, I probably will never "officially" leave the game until they stop creating content for it. I know if I quit I'd probably be back again.
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A special thanks to both Sr. Game Designer Ryan Barker and Veteran Ryan Tirrell for taking the time to answer my questions. Congratulations on a decade in gaming.
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Watch the 10 Year Anniversary Commemorative Video.