The Future of ZAM Network

Written by Feldon on . Posted in Commentary

rose_colored_glasses

Defying predictions of an inevitable crunch, Gaming and Technology have continued to grow at an exponential rate over the last two decades. Profits from desktop, console, and mobile gaming have eclipsed Hollywood Film and Television revenue. Long-gestating VR/hologram technology has finally matured to a point where consumer hardware is just around the corner which will bring an entirely new paradigm for gaming in the next 5 to 10 years.

Since Ultima Online and EverQuest stormed onto the scene, subsequent Massively Multiplayer Online RPGs have in many ways evolved and in many others closely echoed the winning formula of big fish World of Warcraft. All have grown their content and systems to a level of complexity that has outstripped the ability of game publishers to maintain their own informational websites — the feature-light official EQ2Players site vs. our own EQ2U being but one example. Whether they like it or not, game publishers are dependent upon the Gaming Press sites, Fan Sites, and increasingly, Database-driven player resource sites to support their customers with news, writeups, guides, and more.

So it is with shock and disbelief that I must report that ZAM Network, LLC, purchased by China-based mobile gaming juggernaut Tencent Holdings in 2012, has chosen to institute substantial layoffs and eliminate the remote positions which have been the lifeblood of the company for over 10 years.

In addition to the layoffs of full- and part-time employees which fell in mid-May, ZAM employees now have until some unknown deadline to relocate to ZAM’s Los Angeles offices or say goodbye to the company. Ralius, ZAM’s last remaining EverQuest editor, was laid off in May. Calthine, a fixture of ZAM since 2007 and attendee of nearly every Fan Faire / SOE Live event held, was laid off in mid-May. Cyliena, ZAM’s current Editor-in-Chief and manager of the EQ2 ZAM website, plans to stay in Michigan.

In short, this puzzling corporate realignment has ensured that its EverQuest and EverQuest II sites will be unstaffed and possibly unsupported. If you were hoping for a public announcement to allay fears and explain the changes, you won’t find any relief in what was released by Tencent through channels as it doesn’t even mention EQ or EQ2, only “top-tiered sites”:

An update on the future of ZAM.

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Hello Wowhead, TF2 Outpost, ZAM.com, DestinyDB and LolKing users! Today, we’d like to make an announcement regarding the future of ZAM Network, as many of you may have noticed some recent changes occurring with our staff.

In the next few months, ZAM is going to be setting up shop in the Los Angeles area to be closer to the companies that we care so passionately about. While not everyone on the ZAM team will be able to move to the new offices, the potential new and expanded focus made moving to a new headquarters a top priority. Being within driving distance from Blizzard, Activision, Riot, and many others will allow us to give you unprecedented new insight into your favorite games so we can continue to increase the quality and depth of our coverage. We also hope to expand our content as well, especially with the incredible access to video, art, and editorial talent within the LA region.

While we’re growing the ZAM team to include these new faces, you shouldn’t be worried about any loss of service with the current sites. Wowhead, LolKing, TF2 Outpost, DestinyDB and our other top-tier sites will continue to operate as normal and will only improve throughout the year.

Over the last 15 years, we’ve devoted all of our energy into making this network the best place to get information for the biggest online games. The next step in ZAM’s growth is coming, and we hope you’re excited.

ZAM’s Checkered Past?

Everyone makes mistakes, but to date, nobody has been able to satisfactorily explain to me the exact correlation between ZAM, formerly Allakhazam, and gold/plat farming sites beyond the fact that, for a period of time, ZAM and IGE/IGXE were co-owned by the same umbrella company. Yet even today, players with long memories still whip out their poison pen to dismiss ZAM in online venues and forums for their past misdeeds. The reasons for such enduring venom elude me, but perhaps some day someone will enlighten me.

The ZAM – SOE Partnership — What could have been!

If I have a criticism of ZAM, it was never about any tenuous connection to gold farming so much as the grandiosity of the partnership announced between ZAM and SOE at Fan Faire 2008, which promised the ability to explore EverQuest II characters, items, guilds, quests, recipes, spells, etc. and then shop for upgrades to those characters. The idea that we’d be able to completely interact with our characters out-of-game was remarkable vs. what was actually delivered. I’ll never know the behind-the-scenes inner workings that went on here, and mistakes and delays could have come from both parties. Personally, I’d hoped that EQ2 ZAM would have the kind of functionality we eventually ended up adding to EQ2U. That expectation may have been impossibly high, and the data provided by the then-EQ2 team may not have supported that functionality, but that’s what was mocked up at Fan Faire and what I was hoping for.

All that said, EQ2 ZAM’s guides to expansions, updates, holidays, and quest writeups have always been exceptional. The staff have largely concentrated around Solo and Event content, while coverage of Heroic and Raid content were sporadic at best. There was certainly a time when EQ2 was much more popular and bringing many eyeballs to ZAM. During that time, it would have been nice to see the site do more to cover the game in a greater depth than they did.

The Future

In the best-case scenario we would see Tencent hiring or reallocating staff to maintain and continue the EverQuest and EverQuest II sites. This seems unlikely and would genuinely surprise me. Far more probable is that EQ2 ZAM will become an archive later this year and be shut down altogether while EQ2 is still running.

Regardless of any controversies, the loss of a useful gaming resource such as ZAM in a time when the number of EQ2 fan sites can be counted on one hand is a devastating loss. While we were relieved to see Massively resurrected as MassivelyOP, 2015 doesn’t seem to be turning out to be a good year for the gaming press.

EQ2 ZAM is what it is because of two women — Calthine and Cyliena. It has been interesting and educational to work alongside them in covering Fan Faire (SOE Live) for so many years, as well as the friendships built online and hanging out in Vegas. At one time, I felt very competitive about being “first”, but over time, it became reassuring knowing that if I missed an EQ2 news item, they’d catch it. They know the craziness of covering conventions, handling breaking news at all hours, and beta-testing EQ2 expansions all while writing quest and zone guides (something EQ2 Wikia will now have to do).

As a footnote, ZAM tendered an offer to buy EQ2U and its underlying technology a few years back, which would give license to EQNU or any future site built on the same tech.  This was right around the time when we didn’t know anything about EQNext (or that there’d be a separate Landmark game) so I was mentally geared up to start building a site that could conceivably be wildly popular. I hope that EQ2Interface and EQ2MAP will be around for a long time, but let’s not forget, they’re also hosted by ZAM Network.

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Comments (21)

  • Kitalya

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    When I started playing, I discovered EQ2 Wikia first, and having used similar Wiki software at work, felt very comfortable using it. That said, it never had all the answers I needed, and eventually discovered EQ2 ZAM, and relied on it for all the missing pieces and parts.

    To this day, I still rely on ZAM for some information that I can’t always find on EQ2 Wikia. And there’s information on ZAM that EQ2 Wikia doesn’t have at all, like quest dialogue.

    I didn’t realize the EQ2Interface/EQ2MAP stuff was hosted by ZAM; that’s truly distressing. My hope is that the project continues to survive as-is, but I can’t help but wonder what the future will hold if the rest of the EQ2 staff is going/gone. I wonder if the entire EQ2MAP project can (legally) be mirrored/hosted elsewhere.

    I know that the “ZAM girls” have put a lot of time and effort into the site over the years, and it shows. I hope that all of the ZAM folks are able to transition seamlessly into new opportunities, and wish them the best of luck. Hopefully we’ll all see each other again, if there’s a “Daybreak Live” one day. =)

    Reply

  • xalmat

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    I will miss Zam. Their commitment and knowledge base for the original Everquest helped me fall in love with the game. In my opinion there will never be another fan site that will match it.

    Reply

  • Ogren

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    It’s sad to see this happen. Allakhazam was one of the first Everquest sites i ever used back when I played in beta and during the next few years, In EQ I was called Madwand on Tarew Marr and I also ran my own guild and website called Seekers of Lore and Zam was the first site to post one of my maps. They don’t have those old things anymore but you can see them at http://www.steveprutz.com/eq/qcat.htm. I did the first public map of the Qeynos Catacombs and I was so proud when it was displayed on Zam’s website. I also met some of the people there during the E3 expos of 2000-2003. I even recall lots of emails with Calthine back when I was a submitter. So sad that they let her go :( Multinational corporates are ruining this industry, IMO.

    Reply

  • Avithax

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    While I have not used ZAM in years I do thank the staff involved for their dedication to EQ2. It’s sad when you think of people losing their jobs and especially when it’s so close to home in our EQ2 family.

    “Long-gestating VR/hologram technology has finally matured to a point where consumer hardware is just around the corner which will bring an entirely new paradigm for gaming in the next 5 to 10 years.”

    This quote echoes profoundly as to the future of gaming and the sites that support it. MMO’s will soon be interactive VR/AR games and the industry will adjust to it. Unfortunately the time of monitors and desks will soon be over and an era will end.

    This doesn’t mean the end of gaming or even then end of MMO’s because it’s basic human nature to want to socialize and any platform that allows it to remain on an anonymous/fantasy level will be embraced by those with an open mind.

    Reply

  • Cyliena

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    Thank you, Feldon. <3

    Even though I still have my job for short time, it's heart-breaking every day to know that I will have to step away when my time runs out. It's been an absolute privilege to work with so many awesome people, and to be able to also coordinate with sites such as EQ2 Wire when it came to event coverage.

    I have no idea what will be in my future (and also cannot speculate on ZAM’s future–that’s out of my hands now), but hopefully I can remain in the industry somehow. I have every intention to continue attending Fan Faire/SOE Live/whatever Smed calls it next, as well as hopping onto Beta to help test as I can, and continue EQ2ing in my spare time (which I’ll strangely have a lot of later this year).

    I really wish I could say more, those pesky pieces of paper….

    Reply

  • Katz

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    Sadly, it seems to happen to every business. They are originally built by people who have love and passion for their product. The business thrives and grows due to that love and passion. Then the ones who only care to make money come along and focus on profit and really don’t have any love for or understanding of the product. This causes the consumers (fans) of the product to become jaded and lose trust and eventually interest in the product. It’s happened with radio, education systems, game companies, and pretty much any industry.

    Reply

  • Eschia

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    I definitely agree with both Kitalya and Kat above my post. I also used Zam as sort of a backup site to eq2wiki. And greed kills everything. I understand that a business needs to make money, but if things were fine before I see no reason for them to start butchering themselves. I felt the same way with SOE being forced to become Daybreak, and I still hope they can survive.

    Reply

  • Mentin

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    It is pretty obvious EQ1 and EQ2 are entering the beginning of their last years. Player numbers are ever falling, which makes the games themselves and all the services around them ever less profitable.

    For the Heinlein fans out there: tanstaafl – There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

    In a way it is a self-accelerating process.. the less income the games generate, the less upgrades and services they get, making them less attractive to play etc.

    Reply

  • Calthine

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    Thank you Feldon, and everyone, for your kind words. The support I’ve received from our community has been uplifting. Change sucks: it breaks my heart to see the Allakhazam/ZAM site staff laid off and the sites lie fallow.

    ZAM was a phenomenal gig for me, one that spanned over 8 years and nearly 20% of my life. It shaped my life in ways I could never imagine and I’ve met the most amazing people in the world because of ZAM.

    I’ve picked up some contract work so I can keep working remotely. I plan to be at the next Fan Faire (Britslebane willing!) because I want to see everyone.

    Meanwhile: Enthusiastic Community Team Member LFW!

    Reply

    • Zamfan

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      I feel like crying. I always loved your and Cyliena”s write-ups for EQ2. Zam won’t be the same without you. I fear that soon EQ2 won’t be around either. boohoohoo

      Reply

  • Calthine

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    PS: Nice picture. Remember my old rose-colored glasses avatar?

    Reply

    • Feldon

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      After eight years, they finally broke. :(

      Reply

      • Filly67

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        Eight years is a long time to hang in there Feldon. I was only able to keep mine on for about 3-4 years.

        Reply

        • Feldon

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          I definitely have to step away at times. The longest was Sentinel’s Fate. I took like 6 months off with people stepping in to post the bare-bones updates. Without that break, I’d have quit by now.

          Reply

          • Calthine

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            Part of the struggle is when the game starts being work and stops being fun. It’s hard to keep your passion when that happens. And even with all the roller-coaster rides that EQ2 development and monetization took us on, it was the last couple years that were hardest.

            Reply

    • Nolus

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      They look like the glasses of lost hope with your rose tint. Sad to hear about zam. And the staff losses. :(

      Reply

  • Striinger

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    ZAM has been my go-to site for quest info for recent times. With EQ2 stopping the blue dot quest helper type stuff, I can see the sites like ZAM being more important than ever.

    Tencent is a big company, but still seems a dodgy Chinese operation…so maybe ZAM (and its great people) will move on to something better. (I”m not listing a bunch of references, use Google or Wikipedia…not hard to find dirt on Tencent).

    My best wishes go out for the folks who will be/are job hunting because of the decision. Good luck folks. You’re talented, driven people, so you’ll land on your feet. :)

    Reply

    • Cyliena

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      With EQ2 stopping the blue dot quest helper type stuff, I can see the sites like ZAM being more important than ever.

      The irony of this was not lost on me. :shock:

      Reply

  • Killed Nagafen

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    I had a close friend that worked for an IGE owned plat farming operation for a short time.

    They opened a video game retail store online and used it as a front to mask their real purpose, which was to provide massive quantities of EverQuest and WoW CD keys to Asia.

    On a weekly basis he would bring over thousands of eq2 install CDs which we would them smash in various ways for fun. The business would just buy them by the case load and then open each box and harvest the CD keys out of them. This cut costs drastically by not having to ship the physical boxes across the world. At one point I had about 100 of those little cloth bags that were included in the original eq2 boxes.

    Long story short, IGE was directly involved in the currency farming market for multiple games.

    Reply

  • Geroblue

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    Sigh. ZAM was a great resource. I’ve used it off and on since 2004. Moving makes no sense. The Internet doesn’t require an office to move as many things now can be done remotely.

    Good Luck to the ZAM employees and to EQ/EQII !

    Reply

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