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?

18 thoughts on “A New World Order at SOE?

  1. Matthew Pass

    Been reading your blog for a while now, and it’s intelligent posts like this that make me happy when my RSS reader says there’s a new article up. :-)

    Just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for being the sole person I’ve read who actually said ‘do you know what? Promos to get old customers back while the current customers get nothing are as common as muck. Deal with it.’

    I’m an EQ II player (have been since launch, although very casual), and as far as I’m concerned anything to get more players in the game – old, new, or existing – has got to be a good thing.

    Keep up the good work, and happy gaming!


  2. Justin

    Awesome post John!

    Its nice to know I’m not the only person that isn’t complaining about the new Living Legacy stuff.

    I like your points on the speculation of a new world order, and I think your on to something. SCE may very well be behind this.


  3. Khan

    Interesting post. I admit, I was rather surprised about the EQ2 invites back. I got to thinking about it more though:

    Seems to me that Everquest 2 actually has a lot going for it if it plays its cards right. People are getting tired of WoW. Some people don’t care for LotRO or aren’t willing to spend the money to upgrade their computer to get it or AoC to run. There’s a big segment of the gaming market (fantasy MMO players) that aren’t really happy with the current “cutting edge” games and may not have even looked back at some of the older games.

    Maybe they’re figuring on 1) bringing back players that left and then 2) using the numbers boost to try to lure in new players. I found EQ2 an interesting game in it’s own right (combat, housing, etc) and while I don’t think it will be as gangbusters as WoW, it could easily see a significant bump in market share.

    I’ll probably fire up my return-to-Norrath stuff this weekend and poke around a bit at any rate.

    Happy gaming!


  4. Beau Turkey

    Hmm..I don’t know. I think their business model allows for keeping all their games going, even being developed. They seem flexible enough to allow for growth and loss.
    Vanguard, for example, is seeing more development and more people coming in. I interviewed the lead developer and he seemed to think this time next might have an expansion coming out, and in between lots of updates!
    (Of course, don’t quote him on that.)
    EQ2 and EQ are both solid games…I think we got many years left in both, if not just new games opening with the newer graphics and gameplay as further chapters of the older games.

    But who knows. Great blog!



  5. sente

    I think you are quite right in that this just one piece in some changes to business that has started with SCE being in control.

    If nothing else I think the campaign is one step to make sure people talk about and remember the SOE brand name, at least until some new game releases are coming.

    I’m not going to reactivate though – I have difficulty to muster some interest for any fantasy MMORPG now (although I am trying with AoC).


  6. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Beau: Expansions… my worry is that SCE is all about moving boxes and the edict might come down to stop working on “free” stuff and work on getting two expansion a year out for all of these games.

    I wouldn’t consider it likely, but we are talking about SOE being run by people who make games to play on your TV. Heh!


  7. sid67

    […]That’s entirely possible and a damn good theory. For the sake of SOE, I hope that’s true. I don’t play any SOE games and the three that I have tried, I never really liked for more than maybe a 100 hours at the most. Still – I think competition is a good thing for innovation and I know lots of people HAVE enjoyed those games. So I wish SOE all the luck in fixing the ship and sincerely hope that TAGN is right.

    In my experience within Corporate America, I can’t say that this type of realignment always works out that way. […]


  8. fawkes

    My wife has been playing ‘Pirates of the Burning Seas’ a SOE game. No complaints so far. I might make it a project soon to see how it runs in WINE. ;) If not I guess a VM will have to do.

    p.s. you are likely to be eaten by a grue


  9. DeltaTango

    This habit of coutshipping former or prospective customers while completely neglecting existing customers is unfortunately the standard throughout almost all companys. Do I receive a 5€ voucher from Amazon when I buy books and CDs on a regular basis? No. I receive a voucher when I don’t buy anything for a while.

    Same with every subscription-based services like mobile phone contracts, DSL internet connections — you name it. If you’re a new customer to them, they throw hardware after you almost for free (only seemingly of course), offer free months and similar bonuses.

    And from a somewhat cynical business view it all makes perfect sense: why give some something to someone who’s paying anyway?

    On the other hand: if SOE wanted to be fair and offer two free months also to customers with an active subscription, they would have NO income for two months.

    These facts might be sad for all loyal customers, but that’s the way it is played today.


  10. yunk

    Just like Comcast, if you’re getting new service, they have openings the next day, or at night, or anytime that’s convenient. If you are having trouble and need service, someone might be by in a month. Of course Comcast is the evil empire so..


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  12. Halflingzor bardin

    woot thanks for the /World_of_Warcraft:_Wrath_of_the_Lich_King link im looking forward to try it out didnt know about world of warcraft only eq
    gonna be good to change to new game with tropical exotic island


  13. Funcom comes from behind...

    Its obvious that the free game time was given now because of the launch of Age of conan. It has had one of the best launches in mmo history (most mmo`s launch incredibly badly), and is a blast to play.
    Me and my wife were playing our newly re-opened accounts on EQ2 for free thanks to SOE`s move, but I got a copy of conan and then so did the wife after seeing it live. Now we are having a lot of fun in this new “mature” kind of mmo.
    So thanks for the free game time sony – you have a great game in EQ2, but AoC is where we are right now :)


  14. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    “Its obvious that the free game time was given now because of the launch of Age of conan.”

    The Living Legacy program, given all the collateral and planning that has gone into it, was in progress before AoC launched, so I do not think that the AoC launch itself was the sole reason behind it.


  15. Mr. Gamer

    You know, it would be really nice if the game actually WORKED before they decided to invite a bunch of people to try it again.

    I had an old trial account, so I logged itno it and tried playing. The game crashes. I can’t leave any starting areas without being thrown out to desktop with an error. The performance is awful, and there’s a memory leak that makes the game completely bog down after a while. After severeal years after launch, the whole experience feels remarkably like an eary beta!

    At the moment SOE is only succeeding in showing me why EQ failed in the first place.


  16. Aaron

    Excellent article, John.

    If I had to guess what else the SCE-SOE relationship might lead to, I’d say one thing is that SCE is probably wondering what it is about MMOs that attracts such a diverse audience, and if that knowledge can be applied to the PS3. The Agency will be a great experiment, despite all the things it doesn’t share with past and current MMOs.


  17. Josh

    I would tend to agree with Mr. Gamer. I recently (before this “campaign”) went back to try EQ again. I had no crashes or problems; in fact, it worked more smoothly than I ever remember for EQ. The problem was, when I got back into the game, it was the same. The same dated graphics, same dated combat, same crappy UI (updated, but actually worse)…I trained some specs to the docs for old times sake and logged off.

    At least for EQ, it needs to change to bring people back. It needs to get updated–both graphics and gameplay wise. It needs to grow as it gets older. No MMO seems to have figured this out. If you want it to last a decade or more, you need to evolve.

    Unless that happens, who controls SOE is irrelevant. I would be less surprised if SCE shut down EQ as being EoL, like a “set in stone” console, and moved the resources onto other projects. On the other hand, the PS3 is more flexible and can be updated, so maybe they will embrace evolution and grow EQ. ;)


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