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The game features a rich 3D environment set in the fictional world Norrath. Multiple instances of the world exist on various servers, each one having around 1000 to 3000 simultaneous players. After selecting a server, a player can create multiple characters and choose from a variety of classes and races (including humans, gnomes, trolls, halflings, several flavors of elves, etc.). The main aspect of game play involves grouping with fellow players to kill monsters for experience points. Beyond that, a player can explore the large world, socialize, role-play, join player guilds, master trade skills, and duel other players (in restricted situations -- EQ does not allow player-versus-player combat by default).
EverQuest launched with some technical difficulties on March 16, 1999 but quickly became the most successful MMORPG on the market. By the end of the year, it had surpassed the leading competitor, Ultima Online in number of subscriptions. Numbers continued rising at a steady rate until mid-2001 when growth slowed. As of 2002, Sony reports subscription numbers close to 450,000. Sony also advertises the game's addictive nature.
EverQuest has lived through its share of controversy, much of it shared by the entire MMORPG genre. One example involves the sale of in-game objects for real currency (often through eBay). EQ has always forbidden the practice and has recently asked eBay to stop listing such auctions. The game has always had problems with exploiting, cheating, and hacking. Patches have stopped the most serious cheats, but controversy also lies in Verant's policies sometimes seen by players as heavy-handed or subjective. Critics of the gameplay call it "simplistic" and a satirical hoax 'game' called ProgressQuest has appeared on the Internet.
The game is renowned and berated (by some psychologists specializing in computer addiction) for its addictive qualities. Many refer to it half-jokingly as "EverCrack"; EQ is very time-consuming for many people, and there have been several well-publicized suicides of EverQuest users. Relationships broken because of obsessive playing resulted in the creation of an online support group called "EverQuest Widows". The capacity of the game to absorb time and money, and to distract players from a possibly-dull life on the other side of the screen, are appealing features to its users. However, the same could be said for any other addictive and obsessive activity. Sony has tried to combat cash trading and cheating, but continues to advertise the game's addictive nature.
There have been several expansions to the original game since release. Expansions are purchased separately and add significant content to the game (for example, new races, classes, and continents). Additionally, the game is updated regularly through downloadable patches. There are many spin-off products from EverQuest. Several servers have been introduced with alternate rule sets, including ones which allow player killing, another that has stricter role-playing guidelines, and a premium Legends server (for a premium price). EverQuest Online Adventures, released in February 2003, is an MMORPG for the PlayStation 2 console. EverQuest II is also in development for 2003. A pen-and-paper role-playing game, several books, and player gatherings (Fan Faires) have also been spawned from EverQuest.