Q&A: EverQuest II producer John Blakely

The game's senior producer gives us the inside scoop on the days leading up to beta.

The curtain on EverQuest II will be lifted just a little higher next month. Sony Online Entertainment said today that beta sign-ups for the sequel to EverQuest will begin one week from today and will segue into the launch of the full beta in June. GameSpot spoke with the game’s senior producer, John Blakely, to get an idea of what it’s like inside the studio behind EQII.

GameSpot: What is the single most important information that the beta provides for the game's developers?

John Blakely: Validation of our assumptions. During development we often project how we feel a particular feature or piece of content will play in context. It really isn't until beta that we can see how all of those systems/pieces of content will work together, in order to get an idea if we are on the right track to achieve our goals or if we need to make some adjustments to get there.

GS: Do you staff up for beta or reduce overall head count? Currently, how many SOE staffers are at work on the title?

JB: Currently we have over 80 people working on the EQII development team. During beta and on to release we effectively increase the number of people supporting the product as we integrate with our distribution platform, billing system, localization, customer service, marketing, PR, and other internal organizations. Working smoothly with each of these organizations is key to a successful launch, and beta gives us a chance to work the bugs out of all of these relationships before ship.

GS: Is there a limit to the number of beta testers allowed on the servers?

JB: Ultimately there will be a limit, but we will be working to determine the specifics of that limit during beta.

GS: There's a lot of buzz surrounding the World of Warcraft beta right now. Both EQII and WOW are launching later this year. How do you think the competitive landscape is shaping up for this next generation of massively multiplayer online games?

JB: We are excited about the growth we expect to see in the MMO market in the coming months with the release of several new and intriguing products. It is a great time to be a gamer.

GS: What's SOE's expectation about growing the overall EQ userbase--since some would assume that many EQ users will move over to EQII and cancel the EQ account, which isn't a net increase in SOE's userbase?

JB: EQII is being designed to complement EQ in terms of the gameplay experience. EQII is a game that will focus most of our content on the individual and smaller groups, while EQ's endgame encourages large raid forces to play the high-level content. Both experiences are very fun, and with EQ, EQII, and an All Access Pass, our players can have access to thousands of hours of rich and fun content and a thriving community of over 450,000 players.

GS: Where does SOE generally expect new EQII users to come from?

JB: We expect EQII users to come from the millions of players that have passed through the EQ franchise and have left for some reason or another. We are working hard to address their issues, make the game more accessible, and reintroduce them to the fun and adventure you would expect from an EverQuest game while retaining the flavor and fun of the original.

GS: What's the level of excitement within the SOE organization on the upcoming title?

JB: Very high. I often overhear SOE employees talking about their adventures in EQII and frequently get cornered about how to finish a quest or how cool their items are. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but it's a good feeling and a testament to the talent of our development team.

GS: What's the earliest you could see the game going live?

JB: It is too early for specifics, but we will ship in 2004.

GS: What aspect of the game is the team most excited about? What new gameplay element do you expect to be met with the most excitement?

JB: I would say the single most exciting feature about EQII is the level of immersion we have been able to achieve. The multiple achievement paths, voice-over, engaging storylines, vast landscapes, and epic adventures all contribute to the sense that world is alive and real. I can't wait to share our experiences in EQII with our players.

GS: What games has the EQII team been playing to let off steam and relax during the development process?

JB: We are currently playing Battlefield Vietnam, UT2004, various MMOs, and, of course, EQII, because if you can't enjoy your own game, then what is the point?

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