As someone who played an absurd amount of EverQuest during beta and the first year of its live existence, I found this five-page "relived" interview on Ten Ton Hammer to be an excellent (and nostalgic) read. SOE's John Smedley and various EQ guild members contribute comments to the article:
EverQuest came onto the scene very near the dawning of MMOGs. To say it was a different time would be like saying Sean Connery played the best James Bond--it's both obvious and quite true. Soloing was rarely an option, death penalties were severe and unforgiving, reputations made the player, and raids could last all weekend. The flavor of MMOGs has changed dramatically over the past decade and today the average player simply doesn't have the patience and/or time for the old-school MMOG. So what was the hook? Why did so many people live and breathe EverQuest? I asked that very question of John Smedley, President of Sony Online Entertainment, and the creator of the original EverQuest. I remember spending 8+ hours doing Plane of Fear runs in the early days, with people basically taking "shifts" in order to ensure that the mob-killing remained successful for days at a time. Eventually there would be a full wipe and often times the resulting corpse run would take several more hours. Great memories, nonetheless.
"I think it was partly the time and the place," Smedley told me. "It was most people's first MMO. I would say it had a little bit of an older crowd. There's such a feeling of nostalgia for the first experience. It was the first translation from when you played tabletop D&D to an online game."
The nostalgia Smedley spoke of certainly rings true. In 2006 SOE opened up what they dubbed Progression Servers, which allowed players to start all over again from the beginning. As guilds and alliances defeated specific content the next expansion would be unlocked. The result was a certifiable success. Many players new and old jumped at the opportunity and both progression servers filled to the brim on opening day.
"There hasn't been a game like [EverQuest] in difficulty and content matter," said Xzerion, guild leader of Inglourious Basterds. "You have to be good at playing your class. In World of Warcraft, you were playing with a bunch of nine year old kids and all they had to do was to show up, get some levels, and be somewhat useful on a raid. Here, it is clearly evident if somebody is playing with you and is not good and could deter whatever group or raid you're trying to take part in."
"To be able to progress and meet your full potential as any kind of class, you have to understand the game mechanics," added Otto, former guild leader of Inglourious Basterds. "You need to understand the layout of the zones; you need to understand how your class is beneficial in group situations. Every other MMOG that I've played is just so easy that the journey to the final level in the game can be accomplished within a few days, at most. That's what I liked about EverQuest--it took time and effort... I think that without the difficulty of the game, you miss out on the fulfillment factor."