Daily Archives: June 6, 2008

A New World Order at SOE?

I started off on a post about the whole Living Legacy gripe fest that seems to be going on, another round of “it’s not fair” screeds from the MMO player community which is famous for grousing about any imbalance, real or imaginary. (Yes, I know, that is what MMO blogs and official forums are for. But they are also for rebutting those sorts of things, which maintains the balance of nature.)

My general thrust was that offering incentives exclusively to people who are not currently customers is a long and established practice (cell phones, cable TV, banks, and the NRA use it), that we see every day so kwitcherbitchen or at least try for some apt analogies when complaining. I swear, some people were stretching so far I am surprised they did not dislocate something. And even I am getting tired of the phrase “a slap in the face.”

But Kendricke, in his second post on the subject of this latest round of unfairness from SOE, wondered if SOE had learned from its past mistakes or was doomed to repeat them.

While I was trying to puzzle out exactly which past events should have lead SOE to not run the current promotion in the way it has chosen, I began to wonder if the past was really in play here at all.

Could we, in fact, be witnessing the start of the new world order at SOE?

Let me explain, then speculate, and then speculate wildly, because that is also something for which blogs were made.

For most of its existence, Sony Online Entertainment has been part of Sony Pictures. This was no doubt a reflection of the fact that nobody quite knew where such online gaming ventures really fit in. This was the era of the original PlayStation, to put it in perspective, and an online gaming venture was a horse of a different color for Sony. (The PlayStation 2 was nearly a year away when EverQuest launched.)

And, while I have no actual knowledge what has gone on at SOE, I have been in the position of working on projects, or with whole business units, that differ from the main focus of an organization. That scenario often ends up with a situation of benign neglect from the parent organization, which is often a blessing. As long as numbers are met and budgets aren’t blown, the parent group tends to just focus on what it knows and leaves the subsidiary organization alone.

My speculation is that the period of benign neglect is over. It ended on March 13th of this year, when Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) took over from Sony Pictures as the parent organization for SOE.

Suddenly SOE is reporting to people who make games and game systems. People who market the crap out of their products. People who have been #1 in their market a bit more recently than SOE. People who deal in sales figures that dwarf any of the SOE MMO figures.

And, just as suddenly, the leadership at SCE now find themselves competing not only with the XBox 360 and the Wii, but with World of Warcraft, the biggest subscription MMO ever, even if you just count North America and Eurpoe. Another up hill battle!

So now we have the biggest, most aggressive “come home to Norrath” campaign ever, offering up free time and real, tangible benefits for players that return to the fold. Furthermore, it is for both EverQuest and EverQuest II at the same time. Inconceivable!

I do not think it requires a huge leap of faith to guess that the extent of this campaign was enabled by SOE being part of SCE.

But what is behind this big push? It cannot be any misguided desire to “beat WoW.” (Or, at the current rate of things in San Diego, “Stay ahead of EVE Online.”) If nothing else, the current lapsed user base for both games combined couldn’t be mined for those sorts of numbers without handing out $20 bills.

To get that you would need a serious, on the money, new user campaign. And there hasn’t been one of those since SCE stepped in.

Not yet anyway.

A campaign to get new players would probably be wrapped around the launch of an expansion, something coming up soon for both games. We may find that campaign kicking off this summer.

The end of business as usual at SOE may have been signalled by this campaign. We may see a more aggressive approach to marketing going forward, and SOE will need it.

Expected for the fall alongside SOE’s two Norrathian expansions are the one-two punch of Wrath of the Lich King and Warhammer Online. Even if Lich King comes out later and Warhammer is postponed yet again, the hype around them, the rolling thunder marketing campaign that Blizzard uses so well and which EAMythic has been trying to harness, will still affect the market where EQ and EQ2 have to play. Will some help from the PlayStation team move things in the right direction? (Like their own rolling thunder campaign, of which we might just be seeing the beginning?)

Along with a more aggressive stance in the field, will the oversight of SCE mean anything else?

Will, for example, SCE let SOE roll on as some Katamari Damacy-like ball of also-ran MMOs?

(Thank you Jason Scott for that PlayStation related metaphor.)

I doubt they will shut down anything that is making money, but we might, for example, never see an expansion pack for Vanguard, or many more for the lands of Norrath, as resources are directed towards new projects.

Projects that will run on the PlayStation 3, for example.

Might we see SOE behaving more like SCE going forward? What will that mean to SOE games?