How Sony Is Getting Gamers To Design The Next Everquest For Them

Inspired by Second Life and Minecraft, Sony is getting gamers to build the world of Everquest Next for them in a virtual sandbox.

When Second Life launched in mid-2003, it was hailed as the fulfillment of the cyberspace siren song tech-futurists like William Gibson and Neil Stephenson had been chanting for decades: a virtual world where you could build anything you could imagine. Yet for all of Second Life's promise as a new frontier of human experience, it never quite caught on. Given the choice, most people flocked to entirely different virtual worlds like Everquest and World of Warcraft: more murderous metaverses called MMOs which sacrificed player-created content for coherent lore and clearly stated player goals.

The reason Second Life never really caught on was because it made a simple mistake: the designers at Linden Lab believed that people wanted a second, entirely digital life even more aimless than their real one. But 10 years after Second Life's launch, the designers behind Sony's next Everquest game (called, appropriately enough, Everquest Next) have channeled some of Second Life's strengths and learned from some of its mistakes. The goal? "Get players to build our game world for us."

In the lead up to Everquest Next, Sony has announced Landmark, a free-to-play, next-gen online sandbox game that essentially acts as a crowdsourced level-maker for its parent MMO. It's a very clever idea. In Landmark, players start out with a copper pick, and are tasked to go out and create objects and structures by harvesting the world for different resources. Players can either build alone, or team into groups to create mega-structures. By chopping wood, harvesting iron, gathering gem stones, smashing apart stone, and so on, players can create houses, highways, castles, structures, and more.

If that sounds a lot like Mojang's breakout hit Minecraft, you're right. Yet what makes Landmark so interesting is that Sony says that the best creations to come out of Landmark will go into Everquest Next. Players who have their Landmark architecture inserted into the MMO proper will be rewarded with in-game loot and experience.

In other words, Landmark is Sony's plan to offload much of the burden of making a living, breathing virtual world onto players. Creating an MMO can take hundreds of designers years to make, yet quickly become stagnant. Sony's plan cuts down on the designers they need on staff to keep Everquest Next looking fresh. And as a bonus, it keeps players invested not just in the characters they've built for themselves, but the world they have helped create.

One of Second Life's big problems was that without concrete goals or directions, player's ids expanded to take over the world's limitless digital vacuum. Consequently, the world of Second Life was filled with skyscraper-sized erections and headless land animals the size of whales made of a million lactating breasts. The infinite possibilities of Second Life inspired some diehard fans, but it was also weird, and that weirdness kept the mainstream audience away.

There will be no such problems with Everquest Next. Inspired by the lessons of Second Life, with Landmark, Sony isn't just leveraging the creativity of the community, it's pointing players' ids in a mainstream-friendly direction. Hiro Protagonist would doubtlessly be horrified, but he shouldn't be: when it comes to the mass popularization of cyberspace, it is yet another step in the right direction.

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  • gisqcmnz

    Way to regurgitate Second Life stereotypes, John.

    The only real mistake Linden Lab made, was expecting the users to do all the work for them. Crowdsourcing innovation sounds like a great idea, until it doesn't actually happen.

  • Mobile M0dule

    Have you been to Second Life?
    Why don't you go there right now?
    You'll find that it's still alive and people are still making money.
    The impression I get from the article is that you seem to state that Second Life failed as a game.
    It's not a game.
    It's a platform you can use for performance arts like music and reading. Simple product placements visualisation tool for education or any subject. And of course to a certain extend: games.

    Now I will be the first to admit that you have to work around the limitations of the platform, but there are games.

    If there is anything EQ can take from Second Life, it's the incredible amount of content that a truly open platform can accumulate if you just let the user.
    What EQnext might need and what SL already has covered is quality control. SL allows the contentcreator to sell his product/designs.
    You produce crap? You sell nothing.
    I have yet to read how EQnext will prevent EQnext to look like your average public (unprotected) minecraftserver.