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EverQuest was almost a Microsoft game

In his search for a publisher after Sony hesitated to support an online-only PC game, EverQuest boss John Smedley reached out to the Windows publisher.

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EverQuest revolutionized the then-nascent MMORPG genre when its servers went live in March 1999, ushering players into a persistent, fully 3D world where they could go anywhere and do anything. Sony published the game, but expressed doubts about its success early on.

In Better Together: Stories of EverQuest, the newest Shacknews Long Read, EQ boss John Smedley admitted that the revolutionary MMO almost went to Microsoft.

Started in 1996, EverQuest’s team consisted of a small cadre of developers employed by 989 Studios, the house dedicated to making sports titles such as NFL GameDay and ESPN Extreme Games for PS1. John Smedley, one of the studio’s two co-managers, was granted permission to create his online fantasy game so long as it didn’t interfere with Sony’s production cycle for sports games.

According to Smedley (known to his developers as Smed), the majority of 989’s developers viewed EQ’s team as the nerdy kids on the playground. “We would do these product reviews, and they were weird,” he remembered. “I'd show what we had, and up came this early version of EverQuest, and there were snickers—literally snickers—across the room.”

Smed’s only champion within Sony brass was Kelly Flock, an executive who saw potential in a massively multiplayer online game. In late 1998, months before EverQuest was due to ship to retailers, Flock broke bad news to Smed: He had a month to find a new publisher for EQ, or Flock would have to fire the team.

Desperate, Smed cast a wide net. “I also talked to Microsoft. EverQuest almost became a Microsoft game. If they had moved a little faster, it would have,” he admitted.

Before Microsoft and Smed could sign a contract, another group within Sony stepped up to publish EverQuest. The team was spun out of 989 Studios and renamed Verant Interactive, known today as Daybreak Game Company. Following its launch on March 16, 1999, EQ did so well that Sony bought exclusive publishing rights.

“I always thought that one of the reasons our team got spun out was because Sony didn't want to PC games,” Smed explained. “This is the first time I've ever talked about this, because this is information I got a few months ago. Apparently, what happened was that Kelly said yes on his own. He had full budgetary controls over what was then 989 Studios. They preferred we focus on PlayStation One stuff. I'd always thought Kelly spun us out because he didn't have full authority with Japan, and they were upset about it. But he said no, he did, and he spun us out because he wasn't sure if EverQuest would be a major success.”

For more information on the early days of EverQuest’s development, including stories of its rocky launch, read Better Together: Stories of EverQuest exclusively on Shacknews.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

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