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BEING KELLY FLOCK [Author: Lum the Mad]

First off, obviously someone on the EQ2 team is pissed (and just as obviously a good deal of Smedley and McQuaid’s time is probably taken up with finding out just who the hell is leaking like that). And given that and the alluded-to personnel defections, there seems to be problems with EQ2 (and also Sovereign and the Everquest PS2 port, the other two projects being worked on at Verant/San Diego).

So is Kelly Flock, CEO of Sony Online Entertainment, a happy man? Would you want to be Kelly Flock? Well, I certainly wouldn’t mind. Verant’s long term prospects look very promising indeed – much better than, say, any of their competitors.

First off, Everquest 1 – the company’s cash cow (sorry, Firiona). The reason you haven’t seen the Verant hype machine cranking out Shadowbane-esque Everquest 2 publicity is simply that they don’t need to – Everquest 1 is doing perfectly okely-dokely, thank you. Kunark and Velious both were well recieved commercially and critically, and Luclin looks to make it a three-peat. There is plenty of life left in the Everquest franchise – enough to, well, keep Verant going all by itself. Which, not coincidentally, it is.

Second, Star Wars Galaxies. Verant could package Force Commander, add a multiplayer component, and sell 12 quadzillion copies. As it is, SWG looks to be a truly ground-breaking product, both graphically and in terms of gameplay. Combine that with the Star Wars name on the box, and Everquest 1 can shut down the next week and Verant would still meet the payroll. Anarchy Online will beat it to market by a year, but there is literally no way SWG can fail short of, well, OK, there’s no way it can fail. They could package an empty box and people would buy it. And SWG doesn’t look like it’s going to be an empty box.

Third, Planetside. While not getting a great deal of publicity, Planetside looked very solid at E3 — more solid than Tribes 2. If the performance is up to the promise, Verant has the persistant shooter category nailed. Picture World War 2 Online – only this one actually works.

Fourth, Sovereign. A troubled product, but Verant seems to be sticking with it, and at any rate no other company has announced development on a massively multiplayer RTS. Again, an entire genre locked up.

And finally, Everquest 2. As I said, Verant has furiously denied anything about the game, simply because Everquest is still making money hand over fist. And from what I’ve heard, the hand of Brad McQuaid in its design has not been a terribly benign one – the word that’s been whispered to me is that simply, he has no idea what made Everquest “click” so well, and is terrified that he can’t repeat his earlier success. Frightend managers are not the most effective ones.

Still, all Verant has to do is learn the lessons of the first Everquest and once again, the license to print money is renewed. Yes, that’s a fairly big if, judging from everything we’ve seen in Everquest’s development. Still, the decision makers at Verant have shown the ability to admit when they are wrong on occasion – take just as one example the lifting of experience penalties for hybrids – and the continued success of EQ1 gives Verant the breathing room, as with Sovereign, to take the time to make EQ2 work. Which no doubt makes for screaming during meetings where milestones are missed. But then again, how many milestones did Cornered Rat miss? I’d bet not many. It shows.

So what does Verant need to do with EQ2? Well, hiring designers from the monomaniacal EQ community would help. (Full disclosure: I myself applied for a position on EQ2, and was turned down. Goddam ranters!) There’s a ready-made reservoir of experts in what worked in Everquest, and more importantly what didn’t work. Kendrick, formerly of the Safehouse message board, is an example of such a hire that worked well for EQ1.

Opening up the design process to the community, similar to what Raph Koster is doing with Star Wars Galaxies, would if nothing else help calm frazzled nerves in management, as the strength of support for an Everquest sequel would quickly be made manifest.

But the brutal truth is that… Everquest 2 can fail. Spectacularly. And given everything else in the pipe at Verant, Kelly Flock is still a pretty happy camper.

Or the devil. Something, anyway.