Landmark is a collaborative effort between SOE’s design team and the game’s creative players. The Player Studio, which we spoke about with David Georgeson at E3, is part of that, but the collaboration runs much deeper than; it runs throughout SOE’s design philosophy for Landmark and, surprisingly, Everquest Next.
SOE’s approach to both Landmark and Everquest Next is a strange one. And it’s partly rooted in the massive difficulties any developer faces when designing an MMO.
“You know how expensive MMOs are to make, like really just stupidly expensive, and horribly, horribly complicated,” Georgeson says. “And most of the time, and in my opinion one of the reasons why a lot of MMOs fail, is because, when you’re doing standard development, you build the whole thing, and then you open up into open beta and try to polish all the warts off of it before you launch it. That model is extremely different to use for something that’s this complex.”
That’s where Landmark comes in. While it’s a game in its own right and a game making tool, it’s inextricably linked to Everquest Next. SOE decided to release modules of what they wanted and were planning for Everquest in Landmark, one at a time, so they could be focused on and polished. And it’s not just the developers doing that. “[N]one of this feels like work when you’re playing – it’s just fun,” Georgeson explains. “And because we’re doing that, the players are in for the ride also, which means instead of having 100 people on the dev team, we’ve got like 10,000, and they’re all helping us build all this crazy stuff.”
There is one team at SOE working on both Everquest and Landmark. The same people, designing both games. By working on Landmark, they are automatically working on Everquest and vice versa. Content’s being thought up for their MMO, and then played with, experimented on and given to players in Landmark. But eventually, SOE’s designers will take their hands off the steering wheel, according to Georgeson.
“There’ll come a point down the line – where essentially Landmark is in open beta, and it has all the systems that we need to build Everquest Next – where we will pull away from Landmark because the players will be going nuts with it and they will have a small support group that will be giving them more material and more refinement on the tools.”
Proof of the collaboration is found in things like the dark elf workshop. The developers have given players access to the style guides and content arcs for Everquest Next’s dark elves, and SOE has tasked them to make awesome things. “So they’re currently building all kinds of crazy stuff in the game,” Georgeson says excitedly. “They’ve taken what we gave them and extrapolating and riffing off of that to make something cooler, and we’re changing our style guide to match this collaborative effort we’re doing with the players.”
It doesn’t end with players influencing design. Actual player creations in Landmark will make it into Everquest Next. Through planned competitions, winning entries will leap across games and into the fantasy MMO.
“The end result will be collaborative effort between us and the players,” Georgeson promises.