MMOs 'don't give people the tools to build community anymore,' says EverQuest 2 creative director

 EverQuest 2 art featuring two armored characters on an icy landscape. .
Credit: Daybreak Game Company

Kyle Vallee, creative director for EverQuest 2, is a huge fan of MMOs and has played basically all of them—but he thinks the genre has lost its way in one respect. The sense of community early MMOs cultivated is being sidelined, he says.

"They seem to have lost that [community focus] in other MMOs, the community has become not a big part of it," Vallee told me at Fippy Fest, an EverQuest anniversary celebration developer Daybreak Games recently brought me out to San Diego to attend. "It seems like they don't give people the tools to build community anymore. The couple other MMOs that I play I'm almost like a solo player 100%, I don't group with anyone. The tools there for building communities just really seem lacking, even in the newer stuff."

When I first started playing EverQuest, community and cooperation weren't exactly optional. Monsters were deadly, some classes couldn't solo at all, and if you wanted to get anything done you had to reach out to other players and get a group going. The challenge itself was a feature that brought players together organically.

Some MMOs do a better job of this than others. I played FF14 when it first came out, and like a lot of players, completely bounced off it. Years later after the overhaul of A Realm Reborn and a few well-received expansions, I decided to give it another go. I had a blast, and I played all the way through Stormblood before wandering off, but I spent the lion's share of my time alone. Sure, there were occasional Main Scenario dungeons or raids, but for the most part I was off by myself slogging through Main Scenario Quests.

Now, that's not a bad thing necessarily. FF14 is trying to tell a much more structured story than most other MMOs. I enjoyed the storytelling, and the duty finder was always there for a change of pace if my mind started to melt doing another fetch quest for moogles. But I was struck at times, in a world with thousands of players, at just how lonely it felt. Vallee found himself feeling the same with other MMOs.

"Some MMOs have group finders for everything," he said. "You get into a group finder, you go into the zone, you literally do not talk to the other players, you clear the zone as fast as you can, and you leave. There's no discussion. In our games you have to talk to other players if you want to find a group. We had a group finder at one time, but we felt like it was removing the sense of community from the game so we got rid of it."

Now, I get the appeal of quality-of-life features like group finders, I really do. One of my biggest frustrations playing EverQuest back in the day was how hard it was to get a group sometimes. Too many shadowknights in Karnor's Castle when you wanted to play meant a long trek to another zone, a few hours of meager XP soloing, or giving up altogether and playing another character (because I mean let's be real, we weren't going to not play EQ).

The ability to log on to WoW, or FF14, or TESO, grab your dailies, and launch into a dungeon group with the click of a button is inarguably convenient. But as I wrote last year, and as EQ visionary Brad McQuaid famously said, sometimes the magic is in the boring bits. Sometimes you meet a random monk in Highhold Keep who offers to tip your shaman for buffs and he becomes a lifelong friend. Sometimes you're waiting for the puller to finish changing his baby, realize the tank in your group is in the next town over, and decide to meet up for beers. Sometimes you meet the love of your life.

EverQuest 2 isn't much for the boring bits these days, and it seems to me that EQ2 has suffered a bit of the same fate that modern MMOs have. Lots of content focuses on the raid scene, characters are extremely powerful, and everyone does literally trillions of damage. With that said, their newest TLE (time locked expansion) server, Anashti Sul, is going all the way back to the start of the game. It's a true classic server, based on a build from 2006 and the brainchild of years of work in the studio poring through old databases and playtesting the original game.

"When we first launched our first group of TLEs, a lot of players would say, 'This isn't what I wanted, this isn't what I expected, I wanted the original game," Vallee told me. So that's what they're giving them with Anashti Sul: You can't buy or sell Krono, there's almost nothing in the marketplace, and it's on its own design depot—changes to Live will not affect this Origins server, and vice versa. It's tough, exciting, and if the 50 instances of the newbie zone when I logged in were any indication, players are loving it. Everywhere I went people were getting together in global channels to group up and tackle stuff, even as low as level 1.

Seeing players grouping up to attack content, figuring out a plan based on their group composition, and being challenged right out of the gate feels like the very essence of MMO gaming to me. No shade to those who just wanna jam that dungeon finder, but for me the juice is only worth it if you have to give a little squeeze.