Daily Archives: May 17, 2007

SOE – Hero, But For How Long?

In the turmoil and uncertainty that surrounds Vanguard now, Sony Online Entertainment certainly stands out as a hero, at least for the moment.  And the trajectory of SOE’s popularity will propelled further upward as more stories like this make it out. (And you know more are coming.)

SOE, in a move not recommended for the feint of heart, not only opened up official forums for Vanguard right away, but opened up the SOE/Sigil Discussion forum, previously the sole domain of Brad McQuaid, to all comers.  The forum rules are posted and being enforced by the now-very-busy community relations team, but you can still feel the heat in those posts.  Not all of them are negative, of course.  There are lots of cheers for SOE stepping up to take over the game.  But there are also enough flames and recriminations to remind you that all is not well with the world of Telon.  But now people at least have an official venue in which to vent.

So SOE is a hero today, but the shine is going to come off of that state of affairs soon enough.  SOE is going to have a rough road with Vanguard for a while simply because they cannot possibly address enough issues quickly enough to keep the Vanguard community happy.  Not that they won’t make things better.  I am sure they will.  But the task is huge, probably bigger than anything else they have faced.  Bugs, a broken player economy, a want of content, low server populations, and community expectations are a tall order to be taken and balanced.

Part of what SOE will have to do is focus their efforts.  One way to do that is to give up the “MMO for everybody” pipe dream for Vanguard and find it a niche where it can excel. I suggested that previously in my post “The Future Paths of Vanguard.”

Now, it might be my optimistic nature, but in this interview with John Smedley on GameSpot, I think I see a sliver of this future focus.

Well, our strategy remains focused on very high-quality online games. We think Vanguard fits nicely into that. It’s our most high-end game hardware-wise, and it’s also our most “hardcore” game…we’re not going to turn it into an easy “Care Bear” game. We’ll continue with our commitment to the players to make the game the best it can be.

Hardcore.  He said it.  The original vision.  The idea that there is a place in the MMO sphere for a game that really challenges the players, that makes them work for their accomplishments.  This is backed up by a summary in an interview on WarCry.

There is no doubt that Vanguard is a hardcore game, for hardcore MMO fans and SOE is very much committed to that vision. They have no plans to dumb it down for a mass audience, a luxury they can afford thanks to their diverse Sony Station Pass that allows players access to a library of MMOs for a single fee.

While, as a carebear, the prospect of “hardcore” is not so appealing to me, I have no doubt that a player base exists for such a game.  There are people out there who would do it just to be able to say passed the ultimate MMO test… and then lord it over every WoW player they run across.

Of course, what does “hardcore” really mean?  It is more than just corpse runs and card games, certainly.  More than just making life difficult for a player.  Frustration isn’t the key dynamic, accomplishment is.  Depth, both in content and achievement are key, as are a balance of risk, real risk, and reward. 

A lot of people have said Vanguard has great potential (it was used to justify some pretty high review ratings) but there is no greater sin than unfulfilled potential.  I hope, in time, that SOE can find the right focus to harness the potential that the game possesses. 

[Addendum: As they say, the plod thickens.]