Our candid, sit-down interview with Holly Longdale, the Executive Producer of the EverQuest franchise is here.
The following is a full transcript of the Episode 7.
The EverQuest franchise has had plenty of ups but also plenty of downs. And there are so many questions about the future of the games.
But if there is one person who knows what’s coming for the future of EQ, it’s the executive producer of the franchise, Holly Longdale.
Fading: First of all, thank you.
Holly: Great to see you.
Fading: Obviously, just being in this room, I’m kind of geeking out a little bit. But what is it like to be a steward for a game, that has 20 years of development and it means so much to so many people, and you’re in charge of it. What is that like?
Holly: It’s um. It’s trippy. I try not to think about it too much. You always try to remember, of course there is the pressure of “It’s a business.” Not all game development teams are a bottom-up organization, where the team sort of elevates their concerns or their choices of where they think the best place to go is for the business.
And that comes from my time being a designer. “Just listen to me. Just listen to us. We have great ideas. We know what the players want.” There’s some hubris in that. But quite often they’re right.
Fading: Holly began the same way most of us did, as a player. Fascinated with fantasy and role-playing.
Holly: I loved Drizzt. and when I first played I was a dark elf, and we didn’t talk to other races. And we would say “Vin Dwee” to each other, and all this other crazy RP stuff.
And then I went out into the world and then I found Aviak Village somehow, in North Karana. And then this ranger, this human ranger tried to group with me and I was like “No, I don’t group with humans.” And that’s when I learned this is a big community and you can’t just work within the dark elves, you have to branch out.
Holly was working for Microsoft as a writer at the time, when one of her guildmates, who happened to be an EverQuest developer, convinced her to apply for a dev job on EQ.
She did and began her games developing career working for EverQuest. After departing some years later to work for Disney, she returned later to work on EverQuest II, as the senior producer.
In 2015, with Daybreak at the helm, she became the Executive producer of both games. She credits her past experience as a player and designer for understanding the needs of the game.
Holly : What you learn in coming up that way, especially on such an important franchise is that you trust the team and you trust the players, so we’re constantly evaluating the players thoughts and input.
And we often go into game. Not that forums aren’t a great place for information, but we want to be talking to players who are invested in playing every day. And we want to look at quality of life and where should we take the product for both games. But the devs know what they’re doing. And the majority of them, with the exception of maybe two, were players, starting in 1999 and onward.
Fading: So this group that’s working on the game, they love the game?
Holly: Absolutely. I know you’re going to be talking to some of them, but you’re going to see their passion come through. We’re a really unique group. Very passionate. We love EverQuest and everything we do is about securing it’s future.
And I did have a chance to meet with those developers in panel interviews and one-on-ones. There’s a lot of amazing great information. I couldn’t put it in this episode, so make sure you click subscribe. I’ll put those in future episodes that include these amazing folks.
But of course, I really wanted some direct answers straight from Holly herself.
Fading : How are the games doing?
Holly : Fantastic! So we seem to be breaking all these rules. So normally when you’re in a game that’s they call it aging, or maturing (much like me) there’s this notion that they fade over time and you’re basically in a maintenance mode is the term that’s thrown around a lot.
But when I moved on to EverQuest and we became Daybreak, at that time we were a smaller team, and we thought “What can we do? We love these games so much and we don’t want to see them fade.”
And so I, as the new EP, listened to the teams and they said, “You know, on EverQuest, we really want progression.”
And the current teams that are in place, are getting results.
Holly: So, since 2015 , since I came on board, breaking all the rules both games have grown. So where we had a trend of the audience trickling off, we’ve now grown and we’ve grown revenue at the same time, so we’ve actually hired some people to fill out the teams because again, it’s about delivering to the player.
It is staggering that both these games are still profitable ventures and incredible games. They are worlds with these amazing communities.
And it’s hard to restrain my passion around wanting to always do the right. That is always our motivator : Trying to do the right thing.
Deliver on expectations. Work within our means, so that we are profitable and we can keep this business going so the gamers still have this game to play.
And Holly credits progression, along with a focus on nostalgic content as the reason for EverQuest’s continued success.
Fading: You talked about growing revenue and the games have grown since 2015, what is it that you attribute the success?
Holly: I think it is, we’re trying to be smart about the content we do do. So obviously nostalgia is really important to our players.
Being able to revisit places we visited 15 years ago. 16, 20 years ago. And doing a different take on it. There’s a familiarity there.
We don’t want to go too far out to, I mean, I know we’ve been to the moon and back but you know, we don’t want to go too much farther and too much crazier than that. So we want to go back to those themes and develop those stories.
And with that formula for success in mind, I asked, what’s coming in the short term. It appears November will be a very big month for EverQuest.
Holly: So we’re going to be launching more servers this year to celebrate the EverQuest II 15th anniversary and EQ is going to support that as well as EQ2 launching a new server as well. And this is more about, OK we did progression, that’s good. That’s a solid audience and it’s its own audience.
What about live? When is the last time we launched a live server in either game? Can’t even remember.
And there’s also some additional announcements about identifying our culture as a studio a little more firmly. And we’ll probably be making a bunch of statements about where I want the studio to go.
And where the team wants the studio to go. That we’re gamers for gamers. Trying to get the message out, being a little bit more transparent and humble about what’s actually going on. And I think for the most part these teams are that.
But we want to get back to being, we all had in the past, personalities, for good or bad. Like Absor, Alan Van Couvering. He’s been known as a crusty old man since he started 20 years ago.
Fading: But it fits him.
Holly: Right. So we want him to…that’s who we are. Even here, there’s some amount of, we’re role players. They expect, I’m always, as you probably noticed, I can ramble.
Fading: Yeah. Not in a bad way but like on the AMA’s, I noticed you want to talk more about things.
Holly: Because I’m so excited by the people we have.
Now the details of exactly what that answer means is something I’m assured will become clear very soon.
But until an announcement is made that’s about all I could get.
Until then, I had plenty of questions about the state of the player base, and the future of the game.
Holly: Ultimately, what makes EQ EQ is the communities themselves. So every time we launch a new server, we’ve created a brand new social ecosystem.
And so we want to keep that alive. And a lot of our players move back and forth because everyone likes the fresh hopeful positive feeling of a new server. And then it settles in and they get to know each other. And those personalities develop.
And we get asked quite often, can you come in and fix this social situation? And EverQuest has always thrived by a hands-off approach, mostly.
Like there was a time when we got involved in trying to help with raid rotation. It was a terrible decision, but that was us, like we cared so much “Ooo, people are unhappy, we should get involved.”
And that was when we weren’t instancing raids. So, there’s some things we learned not to do. And some things that seem to be helpful. Like even when a community gets polarized, that is amongst them.
And just like any social system, and I think that’s what keeps them alive. It keeps people bonded. It keeps them united in a cause and coming to the game and playing.
Obviously new content. We want to keep characters growing in unique ways and we’re going to try to get back on to our pace of every other year there is a level increase.
And really meaning stuff to do for your character and meaningful power increases so you feel like you’re advancing.
But also new servers.
And with the progression servers, it’s been a boon for the game, but occasionally a divide.
Fading: How do you balance the TLP players, with the LIVE players, because they seem to be two vastly different groups playing the same game.
Holly: They are. But they’re also almost equal to each other now, in numbers. So we have to be very mindful of both. But it is…we’re constantly…
There’s the conversation that starts with “What are we going to do next?” And then it’s “How do we address TLP players?” and “How do we address our LIVE players?”
In both games. So even in EQ2, they wanted to try another PVP server. And that was a passion project that the team did mostly on their own time. Because a couple of them really love PVP and they’re like “I can do it in my spare time.” And so we ended up with Nagafen.
But also, with their TLE server, that again is, what we notice, and we even found it ourselves because we play on progression..
Fading: I play on Kaladim.
Holly: So that is, when you get a brand new audience, who is fresh in the game, it creates its own community and its own feeling.
And so, we wanted to make sure we’re addressing that. That is a completely different focus than Live where you’re dealing with existing communities that have their own structures on servers. So we need to make sure we try to service their needs.
Fading: I want to go back to something you said about having people that have so much passion that they say I want to do this in their spare time because this is something that I want. Do you find that that happens a lot?
Holly: Yeah, and it’s troubling. I threaten to fire a lot of them. Stop working. Just go home and take a break. And they don’t. They will do it behind my back.
Fading: So what do you say, and I know there is a lot of vitriol on the forums, but what do you say to the people that say, “You guys are destroying the game?”
How do you counter that, and what do you do, not only for yourself mentally, but also what would you say to them?
Holly: I would say, I wish they could spend a week here, just hanging out with us and just seeing the amount of time and dedication that every one of these people put into both of these games.
Because the reality is a lot more complicated than probably what the customer and the player sees. And for us to get stuff done and make sure everything runs smoothly, even in the background, when we’re talking about we have to make a decision about the game and what we’re going to give to players. Even if it is game play related, what they don’t know is, the cycles per second that we’re consuming with these ginormous character files is something we battle constantly.
So these are all these concerns that we don’t really share, that are technical concerns so they can still enjoy the experience but we can advance game play and do level increases.
Bag storage. I can’t even describe to you how huge the character files are and every time , like Jenn Chan, our technical director and we’re like “Let’s add another bag slot, and she’s like “Nooooo.”
Fading: Is that why my character takes so long to load on Tunare?
Holly: Yeah…it’s outrageous. So we’ve done a lot of work where we’ve converted a lot of stuff to databases. And every time we need to make those changes, we’re putting a coder into a different space to work on stability and the future of the game.
But despite the success of both games, time and human resources are always limited have to be prioritized.
Fading: Is there a kind of NASA quality to it? Better, Faster, Cheaper? Because you really do to?
Holly: Well and part of that is the brilliance of these teams over time is that they’ve learned how to make content quickly and very efficiently. Building tools over 15 to 20 years that’s very critical to your success, so that you can do content, especially like on EverQuest II, because that codebase is a bit more modern and the systems are a bit more modern. They can make content so quickly and they do.
Fading: Is it something where having EverQuest II and having EverQuest one together, it’s more than the sum of its parts? In other words you can create content for both because you have two?
Holly: Yes. Yeah and there’s a couple of people who are shared across both teams, like animators. So we do find efficiencies where we can. And that’s also a credit to the team saying “Let me do it. Let me get in there and do it. I can do both.” That’s the kind of culture we have.
So I wanted to know the process for how those decisions are made.
Fading: So how do you balance the limited number of people that you have with what you want to get done in the game?
Holly : Those are a lot of discussions where those are team discussions. Obviously, I’m the final word and I try to use that sparingly. Usually the team comes to its own decision.
But it is about player quality of life. Longevity of the project. So I’m very lucky. Hugely fortunate. On both teams, that on both teams they’re very savvy business minded people as well. They want to ensure the future of the game so we need to make sure it’s financially viable.
We are free-to-play, so we need to make sure we’re constantly evolving that notion. And what can we do, where hopefully people want to give us their money. We don’t want to feel like players feel like they have to, or that we always have our hand out. That is a delicate dance. And we try to get it right. We don’t always get it right.
But that is the reality of “How do you create entertainment, and make sure it pays for itself and keeps us working?” And we always want to try and expand the team. There’s a bunch of stuff we want to do better and those are always on our mind. So we try and do a blend.
We want to make sure the customers are happy first. Part of that too is that they have a good play experience. That the game works. Doesn’t crash very often.
So, I freely admit in the past year in EQ we’ve had more crashes than in the past. And that’s because one of our tools are broken. So we’ve been trying to play catch up on that. And make sure that that is critical. If you can’t get in and play when you want…
Fading: Does the team take that personally?
Holly: That’s another thing that’s really hard to express when people aren’t in the building. When things don’t go as planned. Or even when we get something that we thought players might like. Or that we have to do to improve the performance of the game. And they hate it. It’s really sad times around here.
Because this is our love and our passion, and we’re players too. We like to think of ourselves as “Gamers for Gamers.” And balance that with “It is a business.”
These guys occasionally have to have sleep, and lives.
Fading: And doughtnuts. I brought doughnuts.
Holly: Which is fantastic. We do survive on those a lot.
So it is this delicate dance of the personal commitment to the product, and the players and trying to balance that with…
Actually I can’t even say it, it’s not a job. This is absolutely not a job. It’s a passion. It’s a life passion. A lot of us here have been here more than 10 years.
And in the gaming industry as the head of a franchise she’s in a unique position.
Fading: This is an industry that’s male-dominated.
Fading: It is. And you are at the top of this intellectual property. What is that like?
Holly: Um, crazy. I’m incredibly grateful. It’s not lost on me how unique it is to be a woman in my position, but I have to be honest I think I’m really fortunate. I haven’t had …I’ve never felt disrespected because of my gender.
All these people care about is “Do you mostly know what you’re doing?”
These people are infinitely smarter than me. And I think being humble is part of it. I listen. And I respect them all and I love them all. They’re like a little family.
But I don’t know how, I’ve been lucky I guess. I’m surrounded by amazing people and always have been ever since I started. Even the people who hired me and mentored me to become the leader of a business. I’m incredibly lucky and I love them all.
And does that influence the direction of the game at all?
Holly: So this year, in talking to the team, when we’re putting together things like the collector’s edition, what do we think people really want. And I looked at them and I’m like “There’s not a single cute thing on here. Guys, stop doing ugly. Give us something delightful and fantasy and cute.”
Because beauty in fantasy is something where there has to be a balance. It’s a relief from all the creepy stuff you have to kill. What’s the pay off? You have to have the pretty and the relief from it. So you may see a bit of a better balance in the future. And I feel like it might be a bit of my feminine sensitivity that I bring to the team.
I’m a girl nerd. I love fantasy, fun beautiful stuff. Where these guys are like, “Make it gross, with one eye missing and flesh hanging off it. Bleh.”
Fading: So it’s like little brother versus little sister?
Holly: Yeah. Exactly.
As my interview with Holly winds down, there were still two big questions I had yet to ask.
Fading: So I know we have your public relations person over to the side, so I’m going to ask a question, where she may cut this interview short… But a lot of people have asked, what are you guys going to do with the intellectual property.
Holly: Oh yeah.
Fading: So is there another game in development?
Holly: I can’t talk about what’s in development. But I promise you there is a future for EverQuest. I promise you.
There’s a lot of work has gone into evaluating our past. We’re in a really unique position where we have more than 20 years worth of data on players and what they like in MMOs and MMOs we’ve made. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that when we craft something new for EverQuest?
Fading: That was a brilliant answer and I’m jumping out of my seat right now and I’m sure she is too.
Holly: She’s like Shut Up!
Ok, so that’s all I could get about a future game, but what about the current games?
Fading: Final question I’ll ask you. How long is this game going to be around?
Holly: At least another 10 years.
Fading: You think so?
Holly: Absolutely. So, we’re in this era of nostalgia. And people who haven’t played the game for 10, 15 years have come back to try it. So progression is a good answer to that. And we’re going to keep looking for other answers as well.
These teams are great at experimenting. We talk to the community. What do they want? And so we just keep exploring that. And we’ll keep doing that until we can’t any more.
Fading: Well, as a fan, I’m excited and I thank you very much for the opportunity.
Holly: Thank you so much.
Fading: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Holly: So happy to have you here. And thank you for being a fan. We love everyone.
A special thanks to Holly, and the Daybreak and EverQuest teams, especially their PR teams who really accommodated us and wanted to talk about the games.