Eric Hayot

Eric Hayot is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of Asian Studies at the Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of Chinese Dreams (Michigan, 2004) and The Hypothetical Mandarin (Oxford, 2009), as well as essays on contemporary poetry, Asian American fiction, and alternative histories in such journals as PMLA, Representations, and Contemporary Literature. His work on virtual worlds, written with Edward Wesp, has appeared in Postmodern Culture and Comparative Literature Studies.

Interview with Chris Lena

by Eric Hayot

Chris Lena worked as a Producer of EverQuest at Sony Online Entertainment where he was involved in the creation of the 6 most recent expansions. He began his work at SOE as an Assistant Producer and Designer on EverQuest Online Adventures, then spent a year coordinating all game localization efforts for the company. He was on the EverQuest team between 2003 and 2006.

Eric Hayot: One of the things the essays in the book do is they try to figure out what EverQuest actually is, whether it’s a world or a game. As someone who’s looking over the totality of the thing, how do you think about it?

Chris Lena: It is a very interesting, fluid question. At launch, it was the most interesting, virtual - world - like game at that time. It was much more of a virtual world then. Over time as other things have come out, maybe a Second Life, things that are more world - like, EverQuest has been viewed more as a game. At the time, for me personally, logging into the world was so shocking, to see all these other people running around, to have this geography and space that really felt like a virtual world. Even people who don’t play the game anymore still remember that feeling of logging in for the first time, so it was really as a world that it made its impact. It is much more of a “game” now.

EH: And do you think that’s changed the way that EQ has developed? Thinking about the progress of the expansions, the first expansions were really about adding on to the world as world, but starting maybe with Planes of Power, you get a sense of geographic space that’s actually very different. Luclin is already a jump, but at least it’s a space, but by the time you get to instanced dungeons, you’re really moving beyond the structures of what we think of as a physical “world” in the usual ways. Does that narrative make sense to you?

CL: Yes - if you look at the history of the expansions, for the first expansions, they were a continent, essentially. And then, at some point, maybe it wasn’t even conscious, there was a sense that the world was big, maybe too big. And that’s where you had instancing and that sort of thing. And now what we’ve come to is deepening the world; we’re in a story - driven mode for EverQuest, where the last expansions are all taking existing parts of the map. And even though we are adding geography to zones, we are not adding to the world; we are making it deeper and filling it out, so it doesn’t get too big. We do that by basing our changes more on story than geography. I think there really is a clear evolution over that time period - had we just kept adding continents, it wouldn’t have mattered how many people were in the world, you’d never see anybody else.

EH: There were always zones that were unused or underpopulated; you could feel pretty lonely in certain parts of the world. In and around the Karanas, for instance. They were big zones anyway, but also, on occasions completely empty.

CL: Travel is an important part of that question. With Planes of Power, you had the Plane of Knowledge, where you could teleport between starting city areas. A lot of people were upset. And I understand that thought - I mean, you’re ruining the world, the travel… they may be right about that, but that doesn’t change the fact that the game needed to evolve or you wouldn’t be able to have…

EH: Why did you think the world needed to evolve?

CL: Because, as the world got bigger and bigger, by necessity, you needed to make it easier for players to find each other. If you don’t, then people will just get more and more spread out, and the game becomes more and more work than fun. I wasn’t there for Planes of Power, but that’s how I view it. And we continue to do that, too, with the new expansions, it’s a lot more about guilds, about giving players ways to find each other, grouping tools, all that stuff is really important for this time of the game.

EH: And as time has progressed, is it your sense that your investment in structures designed to support groups, small or large, has really increased in importance?

CL: Yes, and in a lot of different ways. One is that the game wouldn’t have been around this long if it weren’t for the social connections people made. So just to have the game survive this long depends on social groupings. And also, the more permanent or semi - permanent ways you can get people to connect to each other, you are essentially making communication routes for them. If you think of some player who just logs on and has to randomly look for people to play with, that’s going to be tough, especially in certain areas. So, supporting the guilds, and friends lists, and meeting points like the Plane of Knowledge, and things like that - and even designing the game in such a way that players are always running into each other, is important for longevity.

EH: One of the things that Edward Wesp and I write about in our essay is how in the original game, a lot of cities were in geographic cul - de - sacs, which is actually very unlike where cities are in the real world. And they became very poor meeting places, which is why many of those cities were so unused, and players created trading zones in places that were reachable from a number of different directions. But the newer cities are much more centrally located.

CL: I’m just guessing - you’d have to ask the original creators - but I think that came about because the original creators were looking at EverQuest more as a virtual world. Whereas if I think about it as a game, then I’d want to put a city in a crossing point, so it would be used. That was probably inadvertent. But what we do now is that we don’t create cities, we create hubs. In Gates of Discord, we have the Abysmal Sea, which is a big ship that has everything players need, and whenever we create new, larger expansions, we make sure there’s a place there which has bankers and traders and so on. It’s an important part of playing the game at this point. Think of the Bazaar…

EH: That’s a classic example - Luclin in general is a good example, with the central hub on the moon.

CL: Yeah, right. What’s interesting about the expansion we just released in September, The Serpent’s Spine, is that it’s our first new starting city in a very long time, and it’s interesting to see how we made that accessible, made it differently than we’d made cities in the past.

EH: Can you say more about that?

CL: You know, ease of use, first of all: it’s a single zone. Older cities you had to zone two or three times to get around it. Also, we made sure we included not only everything you need in that city, but in the traveling zones nearby you can usually find a trader, or something, so that we could support the infrastructure of the zones around the city. And we included an item, if you bought the expansion, that allows you to teleport back to the city at will once an hour. So just giving players tools to be able to use the city properly, instead of it being a chore to run to the city and do your work, and so on. In any case, the current team is very gameplay - minded, so that we’re thinking about how people play the game, and we have seven years of watching people play the game and use the world which allow us to make pretty good guesses about how new zones will be used.

EH: Can we talk more about the place EQ has in the global ecology of online worlds? How does something like Second Life affect your relation to EQ as the design team, but also players’ relations to EQ?

CL: Well, all these games, from the earliest moments of the MMO genre - which is extremely young, extremely young - anyone out there who claims to be an expert is probably fooling themselves more than anything else. But the number one thing that all these games employ is research and development into the genre. So whether it’s Second Life or World of Warcraft or even EverQuest 2, they’re trying out new things and of course we’re paying attention, seeing what we can add back into our game, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and everyone is doing that. And that’s great - it’s great for players, it’s great for us as a business. And also, the MMO player - the core MMO player - is extremely knowledgeable. They spend a lot of time in the game, they spend a lot of time reading about the game, they spend a lot of time researching other games, and they’re extremely educated consumers. An EQ player knows about Second Life, knows what’s possible in other games, and their expectations are higher and their relations to the developer are much more intimate. So we’re required in some ways to pay attention to what’s going on in the MMO world more generally. We’re going to be held accountable for including or not including something - players understand the limits and the lack of limits that we have.

So Second Life, for instance: user - generated content. Players know that’s possible, they know that we can do it. It doesn’t come up a lot in EverQuest, because it’s just not that type of game, but it’s an example of the ways that players can make demands based on what’s available elsewhere in the market.

EH: And when something becomes available in another space you’re going to get players immediately wondering why it’s not available in EQ. Instanced dungeons, for example…

CL: Sure.

EH: And some of the team structures, for instance, in Dark Ages of Camelot, that became EQ server options. So it’s not always a question of changing the whole world, but creating servers which might be tuned to different kinds of desires.

CL: Right - and the team, realm vs. realm stuff in Dark Ages of Camelot you see very clearly in World of Warcraft today. You see how games are building off of each other’s advances.

EH: The relation you describe between the designers and the consumers, which I think is exactly right, can sometimes also be antagonistic. Not willfully so, but often consumers will say things like, how can you do this, you’re ruining the world, and so on. How do you all negotiate the expression of very heartfelt demands in relation to what will or won’t work in the game?

CL: It’s tough, because there are thousands and thousands of people and the same number of opinions, many of them very strongly held. But the general philosophy is, at the end of the day, we have to be stewards of the game. We have a perspective that a lot of players don’t, since we have more of an overall look. We try to make sure that they know we’re listening, but we have to make adjustments that benefit the game overall, which a lot of times is “antagonistic” to certain players’ desires. We try to be honest and to explain our decisions to people. It’s almost like we’re a publicly held company, in some ways. Every player owns “stock” in the game and they essentially have to be listened to. We have to make decisions about what’s best for the business, what’s best for the game, but if you don’t pay attention to the players, you’ll end up alienating your own player base. And retaining customers is the number one thing.

EH: Maybe of course you’d have more customers if you had a lot more pornography in the game! I mean, there are things you can do that might in a very raw sense increase the number of customers… What the game is is independent to some extent from what’s good for the “business,” in some sense. How can you tell when a decision is good for the game? What does a decision like that do?

CL: You always have to think long term. The example you used, and there are a lot of examples like that, is good short - term: here, eat all the candy you want, but you’re going to get sick. A lot of it involves experience as a company and as a team - we’ve seen a lot of cycles of things we’ve done and how they’ve turned out, we’ve watched as our decisions worked or didn’t work to keep the game balanced, and so on. What it comes down to is the long - term health of the game, and how we can keep customers long - term, which is what’s good for the business. Not making all our customers happy today.

We have made plenty of mistakes. And yet we have to be willing to take risks when we change the game.

EH: Can you talk about one or more mistakes that you’ve made, some decision you feel didn’t work out?

CL: There’s the short - term bad decision, and the long - term bad decision, the gameplay bad decision. Me personally, there was a time where we had some items available by accident for free on the server, and they were spreading and ruining the economy. And it was like: it’s happening right now, what are we going to do about it? And we ended up rolling back a lot of players, and that’s a point at which I made an error, choosing between what was probably best for the game versus what was best for the players. It was a pretty draconian solution to the problem that didn’t fully consider what it did to our player base, or how much the problem was really affecting long - term gameplay.

But all that stuff ends up being pretty short - term. What’s a mistake? Let me see… some players might disagree, but when we did Gates of Discord, it was a real departure from traditional high fantasy. In Gates there were people from the Realm of Discord coming into Norrath. It was a lot darker, a lot more “alien,” and even though the gameplay was still EverQuest, the feel was just a departure from high fantasy. And players overall didn’t respond well to that. We still feel that to this day - when we create expansions now, we’re still considering that lesson. And when you look at Gates of Discord, or maybe Omens of War, which was the one right after it, and then you look at the expansions since then, you’ll see centaurs, and giants, and dragons, all the sort of things you really associate with high fantasy. What happened is that we moved too far - way too far - from our core competence, you might say. And I think that was a huge error, a huge error. It was a very critical time for us, an era just prior to the launches of World of Warcraft and EverQuest 2, and I think it really hurt us long - term, and the major thing we did was to move away from high fantasy.

EH: What about short - term or long - term decisions that have been made that you really feel improved the game, things that you’re proud of because they worked out so well?

CL: One decision, or idea, that goes back well before my even being on the team, is the thought of EverQuest as a living game. One of the reasons we’ve had such longevity and such success is that we’re always approaching the game as a living, changing, world. That means that we’re willing to take risks, to change the game in order to keep it fresh and interesting. So the game feels active and alive; it communicates to people that it changes with the times. And that’s one of the big reasons it’s still popular today.

Specifically, in the most recent expansion, we changed the amount of time you have to sit to regenerate health and mana. What happened as time went on is that for high - level characters in some situations it could take up to twenty minutes between fights to fully regenerate. And it would have been very easy to say, well, that’s the way EverQuest works, or well, that’s what creates the social bonds, gives you time to chat and so on, just little ways in which you could discount that fact and not want to touch it. But the team said, no, we want the game to be fun. So we completely reworked how you regenerate, and introduced the concept of being in combat or out of combat, and dropped that twenty minutes down to two or three or four minutes. That’s a huge system change, too, involving more than seven years of content, so it was a scary thing. Because who knows what you might break? But the willingness to take that risk, and of the company to allow us to take that kind of risk, to manage the game as we see fit, is extremely important. And that’s a really good decision - still pretty new, but it seems to be working out.

Sense heading is another example, where you’d have to hit your compass a million times in a row to get your compass pointing the right way. And at some point we said, take it out, everyone can have a compass, what’s the big deal. Still, we got some backlash! Another thing: having to look at your spellbook, so you couldn’t see the world while meditating. All these things we got rid of, we got some negative feedback from, but you have to keep the game fun and change with the times, or the game will just die. Same with being able to change the graphics.

EH: One of the things that’s quite different about EQ now is that the early adopters had to work to get information about the world - there were some things you just didn’t know, zones that were unmapped, and so on. Now, someone who starts playing EQ is like someone who buys the guidebook to Paris for their vacation, and it says, go here on Tuesday, go here on Wednesday, and so on. And that changes the experience of the player in a major way, especially for someone who’s interesting in being very efficient. How do you respond to the fact that people coming into MMOs now have much more information at their fingertips, and are much more likely to have played an MMO before, or have a friend or a cousin who plays, and so on?

CL: I always thought that was a little bit of a shame; exploration and learning as you go is a great way to play the game. But you can’t expect people to resist the temptation of looking that stuff up. We do things to change things up, like introducing hot zones with increased experience modifiers with different patches, so that the game isn’t as static, and you don’t get people saying, you should be in Lake of Ill Omen from levels 20 to 25. Maybe that’s true, but maybe we’re going to change it so that’s not the most efficient place. You certainly have to design with that kind of thing in mind.

EH: When Sony came out with the EQ Atlas it seemed like a real shift in the company’s attitude towards the spread of that information…

CL: Right. That was a crucial time, because that was right around the Planes of Power as well. And both those involved a recognition of the reality of what players actually do with and in the game - there was no use fighting it, nothing you could do. Even with the last expansion, the day we lifted the NDA for the beta was the day every zone map was up on the web. And we actually used one of the player’s maps in the game itself.

EH: The playerbase also changes as the game moves on - the average level increases and so on. You all must know what the relative balance of levels in the world is at any given moment, so that on the first day a server opens, everyone is level one, and by the end of the day, some people are level 20 and some are at level two. At this point is the population pretty top - heavy?

CL: Over time your player base becomes in general a higher level. But if you just look at the numbers and just cater to the higher - level player, you hurt your game in the long term. At the end of the day, what keeps your game going is having new players in the game. You have to make that content fresh. Though the natural course of things means that the average level will increase - and if you look at the content we’ve put out the majority of it is for levels 50 and higher - you can’t ignore the new player. So, in the last expansion we started with new content from level one, and added new content for every level of the game. And some players asked, why are you doing that? Because we want the game to continue to survive, and so we need to create modern content for new players, or for people interested in starting over with new characters.

EH: Let’s change gears a bit. One of the things you can see with, say, television, is that we’re now in a post - September 11th world: shows like Battlestar Galactica, or 24, you see the ways in which those shows invert or respond to the world around us. Scholars who work on television will analyze those shows in relation to their historical context, and use the shows to make arguments both about the meaning and value of a particular show (or particular episode) and also arguments about the popular understandings or interpretations of contemporary history. If some game scholar were really ambitious, would it be possible to think about the ways EQ expansions trace a set of cultural shifts - not just in terms of other games, which is largely the way we’ve been discussing things so far, so that Second Life does this, and EQ responds in this way - cultural shifts that respond to, in terms of story or geography or something else, to what we usually call the “real world”?

CL: That’s a really interesting question. I mean, it has to be there, just because the game is made by people, right? It would have to be beyond conscious - being on the team, I don’t see a conscious reaction to world events… probably the same for television too, right? But if you look at the expansions… it’s funny, I actually started at the company on September 10, 2001, which shapes how I think of my history here. If you look at Gates of Discord, which came out in 2002, and generally the whole thought of the story was of an invasion. You’re on Norrath, and strangers are invading, and you had to protect the entire continent. Whereas in the past, you had trolls and ogres versus elves and gnomes, but now it was all Norrathians against the invaders from Discord. And I think you could probably make the argument that, unconsciously, there was a sense of fear, a lack of understanding, that you see history reflected there.

EH: That’s really fascinating, and this is all obviously completely speculative, but if you think of the new race, the Drakkin, right, as a figure now, five years later - well, it seems to me that to make a new race that’s human, but not exactly, is a very different gesture than to make your new race aliens, something automatically scary in some sense. One might think of that as a sign or recognition of the alien that is also inside us.

CL: And if you look at the aesthetic of the Drakkin, it’s designed in a way - it’s funny to look at the game as an outsider, considering this is what I just did - but the aesthetic is sort of comforting, safer than a scarier race or an animal race. And I think in the modern world there’s a cultural sense that we’re different in small ways but it’s ok, and that seems to be reflected in the new race…

EH: At least that seems to be where the country is now, a very different place than we were four or five years ago, when people were much more scared. People seem less scared now in general, and more suspicious of the people who tell us to be scared.

CL: You can even take this to the next level, because we made the new city, Crescent Reach, for the Drakkin, we made it so that all races could start there. We did it from a gameplay standpoint, I guess, where we wanted a new modern starting place where any race could start there to play the modern EverQuest. But you could also read it as, there’s some thought of inclusiveness…

EH: OK, well, a hundred years from now, someone can make a lot out of this, but for now, let me just point out that the city is called Crescent Reach, and the crescent is the traditional symbol of Islam…

CL: Well, we might be going overboard here… (laughter). But it may not be culturally relevant, but symbolically so. We’re seeing the symbols, we’re exposed to different things, and now we’re incorporating them into what we’re doing.

EH: You’ve been using the term “modern” to describe EverQuest. What do you mean by “modern”?

CL: I’ve been using that very purposefully. The original EverQuest, which was absolutely fantastic, had a passive combat system - you could hit the attack button and go make a sandwich. Well, that’s not going to fly today. We had to continually modernize the game, adding more complexity and strategy to combat, more interaction between classes, and we had to more fully integrate the environment with the content. If you look at the past couple of expansions, you can really see what I feel is the modernizing of EverQuest. It probably all started with alternate advancement abilities, which allowed players to customize what their characters could do. But lots of other things, like interactive objects, destructible objects, being able to break down a wall; we added spheres of influence, areas of the game that had an effect on your character or on NPCs, making them stronger or weaker. All these smaller elements - traps as well, which players can set; in a lot of ways the first time that the player didn’t have to just react to the creature…

EH: You could actively engage the environment…

CL: Right, right. And so you add all these little things together - and you can go back farther, to the question of scripting, so you get much more complex behavior from NPCs and adversaries - and so you add these things in, and you have a highly strategic combat situation, with multiple players with multiple skills and abilities. They have to react with and against the environment, the adversary is smart to a certain extent - it all requires a certain level of skill playing your character and understanding the game for you to be successful. That’s the combat aspect of modern EverQuest.

But also, there’s the approach that involves taking out the things that just don’t work correctly. Things like sense heading, meditating in front of the spellbook, and so on. I don’t say this lightly - these things were scary to change, because, what is the secret sauce of EverQuest? It’s pretty clear that part of that secret sauce is the fact that it’s difficult. Players develop a sense of accomplishment and attachment to characters because it’s difficult. So the idea is not to make the game any easier, just less frustrating. That’s a tough line to hew to.

EH: So, where’s the line between frustrating and difficult?

CL: That’s the question we ask ourselves every time we try to modernize the game.

EH: One of the core values of the EverQuest world is, effort equals reward. For me, at least, that’s actually one of the crucial reasons why MMOs in general are so popular. For many people in the world who have jobs they hate or lives they don’t enjoy, effort doesn’t equal reward, it equals continuing misery or humiliation, whether because of things like luck or genetic difference, social class or family background, and so on. There are lots of people who could work twice as hard at their jobs and would never be rewarded for it. But EverQuest has that.

CL: Through time, it has only become more and more clear. Every time we release significant new content or an expansion, the number one issue that comes is always risk versus reward. The reward I got isn’t worth the risk I put in, or, the effort I put in was too easy for the large reward I got. I would say that’s usually the number one issue with every expansion we put out, the most important thing that players respond to…

EH: And at some level the product of a real divide among players, for instance those who had to get from level one to five with some difficulty, compared to those who now do it much more easily. I remember my first terrifying run across the Karanas as a level nine shaman, just quaking in fear the whole time. Fantastic, of course! But now everyone teleports everywhere, whereas I had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to get my levels, and so on.

CL: Well, those days are gone. And I think it’s a strong statement to say so. But the thought of the current team is they had to go. Even though we’ve all had a thrilling experience of running across the Karanas, the modern or current player wouldn’t find that as much fun, I think, and, more importantly, you didn’t enjoy, my guess is, your third or fourth or twentieth run across the Karanas. If you’re like a lot of our players, who’ve been with us for seven years, you don’t want to run across the Karanas anymore either.

EH: You might want to do it as a form of eco - tourism, or a nostalgia trip…

CL: Right. But the way to keep the game fun is not to make everyone go through those same challenges, but to create new ones, and the way we’ve done that is by adding complexity to the game. When you encounter a large creature, especially at higher levels, you don’t necessarily know that it will have X amount of hit points, and I have to hit it X amount of times before it hits me Y amount of times to survive. It’s just not that simple anymore. What’s going to happen in this encounter has hopefully replaced running across a zone in terms of creating challenge and excitement in the game.

EH: Do you have anthropologists or folklorists on staff? I think about George Lucas reading Joseph Campbell before writing Star Wars, that sort of thing. Obviously you all are mining in all kinds of ways various features of human culture - the cities are medieval, the races have cultures that are variants of human cultures. How do you make those decisions? Who do you ask? Do you have people who are tasked with the process of making new cultures in the game?

CL: It’s not that formalized. We continue to react on a personal level to their experiences and interests, to their exposure to various kinds of cultural history. We definitely have people on the team who are more oriented towards game lore. But it’s not terribly formal, which I think works, because we want to continue being creative, which may involve mixing real - world stuff into a pot and coming up with new things. If you’re too heavy you lose a bit of the fantasy element.

For instance: I love World of Warcraft, I think it’s a fantastic game. But some of their racial connections to the real world are too strong; I look at the Tauren and I’m not thinking Tauren I’m thinking Native American. If you let your cultural knowledge infuse what you’re doing without feeling a need to copy it, you get more of an influence instead of a replica of something that’s already out there.

EH: The interesting case here is of course the Erudites. The choice by the original design team to make the smartest race have black skin seems pretty clearly an attempt to contradict or undo the most common negative stereotype about African - Americans in general. Perhaps in that case you get a design team trying not to replicate - but in fact trying so hard not to replicate that they end up making it difficult to not think about the relation between game lore and the real world.

CL: You can see the evolution of that thought process in Vanguard, which also has a darker - skinned race, but which is not as consciously organized against stereotypes. The only thing that I can talk about is that when we created the new Drakkin race, we were very conscious not to fulfill game stereotypes. This may sound a bit cheesy, but, we were very careful not to make the female breast size too big. So there is a thought process there, not always racial, but more generally cultural, in which those things do come into play. And part of it is that you just don’t want to be clichéd.

EH: One of the big issues with MMOs, and this is why the Time magazine articles come out, or you get stories on suicide, has to do with the question of “addiction.” How do you feel about the ways that that’s become the one thing that people know about MMOs in general?

CL: Well, it’s a shame but it’s not surprising. Anything that’s seen as culturally fringe - which games still are, and MMOs are even more, but you see the same thing with the history of music or any other entertainment medium - you just have to accept that that sort of story is going to happen. You have to believe that that majority of people are reasonable, and understand that it’s just a game, so I don’t worry about it too much. Especially these days - Grand Theft Auto is going to take all the press. Compared to games like that, we look pretty tame these days.

EH: What explains the intensity of the investment in EverQuest that so many players have?

CL: The number one thing has to be that you build a social network. I think that’s even beyond the effort it takes to build up your character. You make real friends, real life friends, and you spend a lot of time with them. That’s emotional attachment, there are feelings and shared experience, exposure of self that creates really strong bonds. And on top of that you have the time investment you put into the character itself. Lots of people out there, even people I know, have stopped playing EverQuest, but couldn’t cancel their account, because they thought they would lose their character. Even if they thought they would probably never play again, they still didn’t want their character to disappear. That’s a testament to the attachment people feel.

EH: An attachment that for a lot of people is in fact more intense than their attachments to the people in their actual neighborhood, which is why EverQuest is threatening to a lot of people.

CL: It decentralizes social networking. And part of that is because you already have a shared interest. Talk about “you spend your whole life in there,” and all that, is a paper tiger. People may spend a lot of time in an MMO, but they’re not watching twenty hours of television a week, and so on - all the other forms of entertainment which people don’t think of as “damaging.”

EH: Last question: ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, where are these worlds going to be? At the end of Synthetic Worlds Ted Castronova imagines a world in which we all interact largely in virtual form. And of course that’s already true for some people… So there are two sides to this question: where is the game in fifteen years, given all the computing power you’ll have? And where are MMOs in general in the broader cultural space of the developed world?

CL: For EverQuest specifically, which is I suppose a simpler answer, as computing power increases, you’re going to see further customization. A more complex world with more unique experiences, drilling down to character an attachment. You’ll continue to see that.

I’m glad the question hasn’t come up, because it’s always a silly one, of when EverQuest is going to end. It’s called EverQuest, right? But I always say to people, the question is not when it’s going to end, but which one of your children will have my job then? There’s no reason why it can’t last forever. It’s not going to evolve into a different form - it’ll always be entertainment, and will have its core values. But you’ll see more complexity and depth.

Overall, the MMO is still in its infancy. We’ll probably see a wider acceptance over time. And we may be on the precipice of that thanks in part to the success of World of Warcraft. That will allow us to create more tailored worlds and games. Right now, if you want to be successful, you have to reach a mass audience, which is mostly a fantasy audience. But as the audience gets wider, it will be possible to great MMO games more tailored to individual game play styles. We’ll see much more of that as time goes on.

I hope that we’ll see - to be completely speculative - that we’ll see avatars as separate entities from individual games. I’ve heard lots of talk about creating a hub - space for a number of different online games. Let’s take Sony Online Entertainment for example. Perhaps your station name, Chris, is a 3D avatar. And whether I’m playing Star Wars Galaxies, or EverQuest, or EverQuest 2, there’s still a connection to that named 3D avatar. And that avatar could go shopping, too, or visit a 3D mall. As we move further into a traditional notion of cyberspace, it’s easier to see that coming.

And you’ll continue to see a wider spread between game and virtual world. Right now the line between the two is blurry. But down the road the difference between Second Life and World of Warcraft will be so great that you won’t even be asking virtual world versus game questions, that they’ll have become two completely separate things.

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