EverQuest Next Landmark will leave alpha and enter a closed beta on 26 March, SOE told us at GDC this week. Anyone who has purchased one of the founder's packs, now including the $20 Settler option, will be able to play the game as it reaches this stage—SOE promised it would be happening before the end of March, and here that day is.
We had a chance to catch up with SOE's head of franchise development David Georgeson, who discussed how the players' reaction to Landmark has moved forward as the potential of the game's tools is starting to be realised.
“It's working really, really well right now," Georgeson explains. "Alpha's been working fantastic. The whole idea of, we'll be open, you can be part of the dev team, that was courageous, let's put it that way. But it's exactly what we hoped. We tell them everything...they're being extremely helpful, they're trying to make things better and they're literally using our tools in ways we did not know could be done."
The alpha is already in a state where you can see the value and potential of player expression. By letting users in on the process of creating templates for the environment, Georgeson and the team seem to be learning faster and allowing the direction of development to be dictated by the way the rules are being broken. In case you're unfamiliar with Landmark's claims system, these are basically plots of land where players make their mark on the world.
Georgeson explains to us how they invited players to come over and customise his primary claim during an event dubbed a swap meet. The result is impressive and vaguely dream-like, an array of random imagery such as two ducks floating in mid-air, a cut out of the Canadian flag and loads of other stuff contained in one reasonably large space. We're shown how players have learned to create ultra-thin detailed surfaces by smoothing voxels down to a minute size, something discovered by the players.
Even at this stage, Landmark seems to be engaging with its community in the way SOE hoped for, and that's without combat or AI. What might've sounded like overreaching at announcement now seems utterly plausible just through the visual evidence. "They're starting to believe more," Georgeson says when discussing the community's consensus of Landmark. "When we started talking last year at the debut, it sounded like we were smoking crack, right? It didn't sound believable. It didn't sound like we were realistic at all, but we had this plan on how we wanted to roll out and we know the pieces that we're doing, and now players are starting to believe it. They see that we're starting to deliver it, and they're starting to get where we're going. So their imaginations are starting to fire up."
Just over a week ago, the team added shared claims, too, meaning players can now build together and collaborate - one small addition at a time, the remit of Everquest will grow. Georgeson mentions how the Lethality guild combined 21 claims together to build a town, which they were worried might break the game but ultimately yielded positive results of where the future of Landmark could evolve.
"They were kind of worried that what they were doing might break the game. They were abusing a bug, but we allowed it because what they were doing [created] great data for us. They found a way to jam 21 claims together and they're building this massive town, and it has attracted the attention of the community, so all of these really good builders are coming out of the woodwork." Georgeson mentions the gate design they debuted this week with moving gears and chains - while they can't animate it yet, the detail alone has taken SOE aback. "Our artists are going to have to work hard to keep up!"
"We're giving them every single tool we're using to build Next. They can do everything we can do, and their stuff will be out before our stuff. We might be facing competitors from our own games - and that would be really cool." Look out for more coverage on Landmark as the beta begins.