As I posted on Twitter yesterday, I have a few words to say about the announcement that Daybreak Games is going to sunset Landmark on February 21st. My first memory of Landmark came whilst watching the livestream of Dave Georgeson’s EverQuest Next announcement from SOE Live 2013, myself and a cabal of skeptics DJing in a Turntable.fm room and cheerfully snarking on the claims of all the wonderful things Dave said they were going to pull off. ‘Emergent AI?’ we scoffed. ‘Letting players pay you to help you build the new Norrath? A revolutionary open development process?’
My most recent memory of Landmark was borrowing Dave’s casino build that he rigged with fireworks and DJing a New Year’s Eve party less than a week ago. A bit of full circle, that. Through that less than four years, I shifted from being a skeptic to a top of the line founder. I went to SOE Live 2014 as press, interviewed former Producer Terry Michaels for this site in 2015, won a building competition in-game, and then watched the game dwindle from its former potential and greatness due to a lack of support from within SOE and then Daybreak.
Landmark always suffered from a twofold identity crisis that ultimately doomed it. Firstly, it was not EverQuest Next, and so many people who bought into the alpha and/or beta wanted it to be. When those folks finally got the message that it wasn’t ever going to be EQN, they left. Secondly, it should never have been created as an offshoot of EverQuest Next. The notion of a building game with these sorts of tools we currently have is pretty awesome and very hard to find in the games industry, but it should have been its own separate game. Landmark kept being mentioned by SOE as a genre-agnostic game, but most of the in-game competitions were focused on the races that would have been in EQN.
When the sub-communities of builders who weren’t in it for EQN protested and requested sci-fi or Western props or outfits, they were at best ignored or at worst told by SOE personnel that the focus of the game and competitions was to be a building testbed for EQN. The problem was compounded by the fact SOE never really had much by way of moderation in their Twitch chat, so it was left to the community members in chat with no mod powers to do the education and de-escalating of random internet trolls and grumpy players who were mad that there was EQN content on the Landmark channel or that they were streaming Landmark competition builds on the EQN channel. With SOE abdicating their role to shape the conversations around the game in their own venues, the players were left to do it themselves, and SOE and then Daybreak were never going to win. The sense of abandonment and neglect from the studio was real.
Many people might say they saw this coming, that the writing was on the wall much like the player-created one above (that players put their names on, as a thank you to the developers who were laid off in 2015.), and that’s a fair statement. The buyout of SOE by Columbus Nova, it’s regeneration into Daybreak Games and the subsequent halving of the company’s staff was news enough that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The two years since the split has seen the spectrum of reactions from both players and non-players, the lovers, the haters, and everything in between.
Me, I was always more of a cheerful but cautious fan once I got past the notion of spending so much money on what is becoming more of an industry standard: paid early access (see also: Crowfall, Star Citizen, etc.). Once I decided to buy in, however, I subscribed to the notion of playing with the toy until I broke it because I wanted to get my money’s worth out of it. I had far more ideas for builds than I had time or skill to complete, such as a supervillain lair once they launched the volcanic biome, a recreation of the Tron Legacy lightflyer from the end of the movie, three kinds of ice and crystal palaces, a bigger and better haunted house and graveyard.
I remember being extremely excited when they announced we’d be able to place certain plants already in-game on our sites because of my overweening fondness for the nightbloom and vilebloom that glowed almost painfully bright during alpha (a feature of those plants that sadly got nerfed sometime in beta).
As time passed, and we got even less communication from Daybreak despite the addition of longed-for features such as story tools, a new community manager who was at best indifferent to the game and at worst actively limiting community interaction by squelching segments of the forums, and more infrequent updates with fewer new things in them, we knew where this was going.
None of us can really claim to be surprised. We could see this from day one when Landmark was never part of the SOE/Daybreak All Access pass and that you had to log in to any of their other games to claim your monthly cash shop currency stipend. For my part, I always knew or suspected where this was going, but I’ll admit it didn’t really sink in hardcore that the game was shutting down this year until this past Halloween season when Daybreak didn’t or couldn’t reactivate the special spooky faces on the sun and moon on the holiday building island that we had in 2015.
When Daybreak laid off the one guy most visibly passionate about the game, Dave Georgeson, and no one at the company stepped up to be the new cheerful face of the game who could sell us on it still being a good and worthy thing to be a part of, well, that was a definite sign of the impending apocalypse. There were some bright points left, though, most notably Emily Taylor, who kept at least a few lines of communication open with the players and also spent personal time working on the game so that some issues could be addressed. If there was a dev MVP award, I’d give it to her.
After the sale and loss of staff, including head writer and loremaster Steve Danuser as well as the announcement that Storybricks and their emergent AI was no longer in the picture, I knew that EQN was going to be canceled because it wouldn’t have any soul if they kept going. In the end it was the player community that created Landmark’s soul and kept the faith, though I certainly mean no disrespect to the devs because they had to answer to a higher authority inside the company.
Throughout my social media once the news went up, I saw hundreds of tweets from players, both the few faithful active folks and the folks who threw their hands up months and even years ago. They ranged the gamut of ‘I wasted my money’ to screenshots of builds they’d made to ‘I made so many friends because of this game’, and that’s understandable. When arguments of having wasted money crop up however, I have to think about it this way. Firstly, no one forced anyone to buy the game. Secondly, no one forced anyone to actually play the game once they bought it. Thus, if someone didn’t like the state of the game when they made the purchase and chose not to play it in hopes of it getting better later, it’s not really SOE or Daybreak’s fault.
Paid early access, like pledging to a Kickstarter, has very few guarantees. Caveat emptor, as the Romans used to say, let the buyer beware. This also applies to the folks who are still salty they bought a Landmark founder’s pack because what they really wanted was EverQuest Next despite all of the times it was made clear that buying Landmark gave no leg up on EQN access, and also all the people who chose to torpedo Landmark‘s Steam rankings out of spite when it finally launched because it wasn’t EQN.
However, what I’d like to talk about here next is less about the failure of the early access concept or Daybreak’s business tactics and more about what made Landmark special, why I kept playing it even if I couldn’t build like most of the good players, why I made a nerdy kilt with the Landmark logo that pays homage to the Trailblazer flag available in-game, and why I never jumped on the negative hype train that some people have been on where Daybreak can’t do anything right in their eyes.
I can certainly acknowledge the snarky tweets, the inevitable yet tiresome ‘I told you so!’ responses from players who left awhile ago when the game no longer made them happy, but I’d rather acknowledge the good. While the positive hype was still ongoing before the sale of SOE, Landmark players built a community of their own based on a ‘help thy neighbor’ concept. Players such as the legendary Lady Kathleen would create huge numbers of swaps for others to come and get copies of stuff she had made or other people had donated so they could improve their own builds. Plenty of players got active on Twitch and YouTube streaming the game and by recording tutorials to teach others various voxel-mangling techniques to improve builds.
I myself used Verlin’s tutorials to help me build my competition-winning elven observatory. Geo, aka Landmark Explorer, probably kept the faith the longest out of any of us, hosting The Morning Brew for years and trying his best to be a positive voice within the community and promoting the hell out of other players’ excellent builds. Go check out his #LX hashtag on Twitter to see some of the screenshots he’s posted over the years. Others are posting things to the #LandmarkMemories hashtag if you want to see more of other players’ builds.
We certainly had a lot of good times over the years in Landmark, and honestly, the best part of Landmark was always the people. I got to meet Geo and well-known community player Pantera at PAX South last year, ironically finding out that Pantera and I work for the same company in our day jobs. When the Landmark team still streamed on a regular basis, I remember the times we trolled Daybreak dev Josh Augustine by inviting him to builds that featured spiders (he’s not fond of them). I remember the day the SOE devs rescued a kitten eventually named Lady Voxel from the engine compartment of Jeff Butler’s car in the studio’s parking lot and how we players got to help name her.
I remember the mighty EU community turning up in force for the livestreams and how beautiful big group builds could be. Valontinian gave lectures on real-world architecture and how it applied to Landmark on Geo’s stream on multiple occasions. Devilin spearheaded a modern architecture building style in-game. The Blockheads guild created a phenomenal Back to the Future themed build with past and future versions of Hill Valley for Back to the Future Day in October 2015.
Of course, the last time Daybreak was in the news was as the new publisher of Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online for Standing Stone Games, so the specter of how they marketed Landmark is rearing its ghostly but ugly head. Naturally, people will connect the dots to speculate whether the Landmark shut down had anything to do with the deal with SSG and what it portends for the future of the venerable MMOs, but I’m not convinced there’s a causal link between the two.
For one thing, those two games have been around as launched titles for roughly a decade, so they have already proven themselves and LotRO at least has a shiny Mordor full-on expansion coming out later this year. With Standing Stone Games retaining both LotRO and DDO‘s development teams, I’m not really worried about them. However, an argument could be made for the notion of cutting costs to keep budgets in check and to have more disposable funds for a new publication. So, ultimately, I don’t believe that the contractual terms of the Daybreak/SSG deal required the sunset of Landmark, but having whatever money Daybreak poured into Landmark available for other purposes would be rather handy.
Landmark will certainly go down in gaming history in the ‘mistakes were made’ category, but I’d personally rather remember the magnificent creativity its players showed in so many builds, in artwork, in working to discover new ways of manipulating voxels that even the devs didn’t realize were possible, in all the times a player streamed for charity while playing Landmark. I choose to remember the gorgeous sunsets that used to be available in-game, the zen I found just running around the landscape mining everywhere, the friends I will keep long after the game is merely a folder of screenshots in my archives. I will even remember those damned exploding fungi that knocked my character around more times than I care to count.
The game industry is a harsh mistress at the best of times, and even good companies can try and fail to make a project work. Landmark was one of those that suffered from how it was created. In other circumstances and possibly under different leadership, it could have very well been the next Minecraft. One of my remaining concerns is that Landmark‘s life and passing might deter future studios from trying to pull off a game like this, but perhaps they’ll see the potential that we all saw in it and choose to try again.
We shall see.
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