For fate strums a mournful tune
For those those campaigns peak too soon
-Stomper (aka Arrowroot of Arrowshirt), Bored of the Rings
Companies get reputations for reasons. They aren’t always for good reasons, and sometimes those reputations are far more about perception than reality, but once you get a reputation, it tends to stick.
And Sony Online Entertainment has a… colorful reputation.
They have lots of fans, certainly. I count myself among them. And for many, the simple fact that they made EverQuest cuts them some slack on things. They also saved and fixed… such that they could… Vanguard, kept EverQuest Mac going for free, and anybody who starts talking about player housing in MMOs and doesn’t bring up SOE should… well… stop. They have also been pretty good about trying new things. Has any other company tried as many subscription options or come up with anything as enticing as SOE All Access (formerly Station Access)? Who has anything like Player Studio? They have done many good things.
But a lot of people only remember the bad.
SOE has done its share of that as well, enough so that it sometimes becomes difficult to expect anything beyond the worst.
And it isn’t just “they screwed up my favorite game,” though that is a big one. SOE owns the industry crown for single change alienation of a gaming population with the NGE in Star Wars Galaxies. That happened nearly eight years ago, but if you put John Smedley in a room with some gamers, somebody will bring up the NGE and still be angry about it. Smed did a Reddit AMA last year to talk about PlanetSide 2. The NGE came up, of course, and that question ended up being the one with the most up votes, because NGE hate is like a living, breathing being at this point. The NGE is a particularly ugly monkey on Smed’s back, to destroy a metaphor. I am pretty sure he could arrange world peace, limitless cheap power, and a decent nickel cigar and somebody would still be asking about the NGE.
SOE also has a reputation for acting first, then realizing the implications only after the story has fled from their grasp, leaving damage control as their only option. There is, as a minor example, the Station Cash for Subscriptions fiasco, that smacks of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is up to. And for letting the narrative escape, few stories can beat the ProSieben.Sat1 debacle, where the whole affair managed to get summed up pretty quickly by a cartoon showing SOE selling an 8 year old to a shady guy with a van. Once a child molester is a key metaphor for your plan, you are in trouble. That took a lot of back peddling and changes to bring the flames down to a merely manageable level. And this remains an extremely sore spot today with SOE’s European “customers,” coming up again immediately after the EverQuest Next keynote presentation, largely through a failure to convince those players that there is any benefit to them at all from the change.
And then, probably far down the list for most, maybe past “recent UI models all seem to be console oriented,” there is SOE’s hot and cold marketing messages. And the poster child for this has to be The Agency. Before it was killed in 2011, The Agency had been the on again, off again darling of SOE. In 2007, in SOE Podcast #19, Brenlo was talking about builds for the game and nearly slipped and said a ship date. At SOE Fan Faire, people who saw the game were excited and the vibe seemed to be that it would ship soon. Then it faded from view and nobody said a thing. And then it popped up again. And then it was gone. And then they made a Facebook game. And then they killed the Facebook game. And the web site got updated. We would hear a bit of news, then nothing. Finally the whole thing was cancelled and that was that.
An extreme example, sure. There were clearly problems with the project. But the external messaging was a mess, and not exactly uncharacteristic. There have been years where it wasn’t clear if EverQuest or EverQuest II we going to get an expansion until very late in the season. They announce new projects, like Station Launcher, then let them die on the vine, falling out of date while still up on the web site. The SOE web sites tend to have out of date items on them on fairly regularly. And SOE’s ad campaigns have had their questionable moments.
Even EverQuest Next has gone through an odd cycle. It was announced, we saw artists sketches, possible parameters were discussed, then we were told to forget all about that. And while that reflected the realities of the project… and was handled in a tolerable manner… there is still that history, that reputation.
So when I see EverQuest Next building up a huge amount of momentum, being talked about all over the place, and generally able to bask in the rapt attention of the MMO gaming community, I can only wonder to what extent they can keep that going.
While there was a lot to digest after SOE Live, everybody who wants to will be able to review all the panel videos, tease out all the facts, hopes, and dreams, read and/or write opinions about what they have seen, and generally come up to speed on what has been released to the public.
And then what?
Well, we have the so-called EverQuest Next Round Table over on the official site. So far that seems to be a series of polls where the answers are pretty much foregone conclusions and links to a special forum where people can argue about their choices. However, the forum dev tracker either isn’t working or the devs are busy elsewhere. So there are nearly 60 pages and more than four thousands forum posts around whether races should have class restrictions, all based on “I want” and assumptions with sand castle strength foundations, and featuring the same small cast of characters battling over the same ground endlessly. I think you have as much chance influencing the game by going to a bar near SOE headquarters after hours and expressing your opinions at anybody who looks like a programmer.
There is the EverQuest Worlds mobile app, which seems to be built around SOE’s slightly-behind-the-curve obsession with Facebook. The reviews are predictable.
And then there is some activity on Twitter. A few key people saying things now and again, while supporting player StoryBricks is out there driving a whole emergent AI discussion that carefully says it is not necessarily EverQuest Next focused, pointing people towards relevant threads on Reddit, and retweeting things on the topic.
But otherwise, things are starting to slow down. The initial buzz of excitement has faded a bit. A whole bunch of stuff is out there and those interested have run through it. Now we’re waiting for SOE to build on that foundation.
Which brings me back up to the title of this, can SOE keep the excitement around EverQuest Next going? What should they be doing?
And what shouldn’t they be doing?
And, finally, should they even worry about it?
The list of projects and applications that SOE began and then forgot about could fill if not a book then a good-sized leaflet. Remember the web application that let you talk in guild chat without being logged in? I used that a lot until it didn’t work any more. Remember voice-activated commands in Everquest? What about cross-game chat? That works, then it doesn’t, then it does kind of…
The really annoying part is nearly all of them are very good ideas that often precede similar things later perfected by other MMOs who garner all the credit while the SOE version from several years ago lies forgotten and broken, whichever dev who created and maintained it in his own time having moved on, leaving no-one else caring or understanding how it works.
In the end, though, SOE quite simply make all the MMOs I like best. My three favorite MMOs are EQ, EQ2 and Vanguard, which, since Vanguard is effectively EQ2.5, means I’m an EQ fan more than an MMO fan, I guess. It’s almost certain that when EQNext appears my top four MMOs of all time will be all EQ and I suppose if Landmark really is an MMO (something of which I remain to be convinced from everything we’ve heard so far) then SOE could have the whole top 5.
All of which means they don’t need to do anything to keep my attention. I’m pre-sold. I would bet a lot of people are. As for the potentially vast audience that is on the fence or doesn’t even know there’s a fence to be on, I guess it won’t really matter hat they think until we get into beta and the NDA begins to leak. That’s when real damage could be done, or a real hype-train could get rolling.
Except that there’s the wildcard of Landmark this time round, of course. We’ll actually get to play that long before EQNext and probably before EQNExt even hits beta. The reception Landmark receives could be crucial. If its a hit, interest in Next will run out of control; if it flops damage limitation is going to be very challenging.
It’s going to be an interesting MMO winter.
Starting to slow down? It feels more like we are back in the ‘Black Box’, and what was that all about?
It would kind of made sense if the big reveal at SOE Live, had been, well, a big reveal.
What we got was hints, a tech demo of ‘destructability’ using early combat and the announcement of a different game “Landmark” to be released at the end of the year.
Everquest NEXT (or Everquest NOT!as I am beginning to think of it) seems to be nine months away at least.
@Bhagpuss – Indeed, I too am pre-sold at this point. But they still have to keep the message alive. It should be an interesting winter if they get things right… or horribly wrong.
@miliebii – I would be surprised if it was as close as nine months away, unless SOE’s Facebook fascination now includes shipping products that are barely beta in quality. I did not bring up The Agency by accident. People saw the demos for that and were convinced it was less than a year away back in 2008.
Yep, definitely at least 9 months before we know when the release date might be, that is going to be a lot of ‘minecraft’ play in Landmark. Should be some interesting ‘assets’ developed.
We can just hope that SOE learnt with its mistakes. I think they know very well that NDE destroyed SWG, so they will not repeat that mistake again.
Anyway, they are being bold getin two small companies for create the game engines: storybricks and woxel farm. They want innovate and they are looking for people that can innovate (small companies normally innovate, big ones not).
I too see they going for a cartoonish graphics can be an example of not repeat ancient mistakes. You remember that Vanguard had a problem with graphics? Basically, the toons had too many “bones”. SOE fixed it after some time, but a cartoonish graphic can contourn that problem completelly and help to add effect to SOEmoticons.
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Ahh, the Agency, I would of been all over that game like white on rice. I was so bummed to hear about the cancellation when the news broke. Can’t believe that was 2 years ago already.
As far as the EQN hype train goes, I feel they can keep it going if they really want to. Warhammer Online and Swtor both being examples of how you can hype for years with a slow trickle of info releases. I don’t mind a long hype cycle like that as long as its not costing a fortune. I feel like some AAA studios throw way too much dough at marketing. I say keep it simple, small little podcast or blog style updates, kinda like some of these kickstarter campaigns are doing.
Do they have to do it? That’s a great question. I feel if the game is gonna be tailored for veteran mmo players then not much crazy marketing hype would be needed but if its going the easy/accessible route then a larger marketing campaign would be needed to pull in the casuals.
Very well said! I had forgot about many of SOE’s mishaps and misadventures in the past. Your article was a well-written reminder and a reason well should all be cautious about anything SOE promises to do.
They’ve made a lot of big promises and claims that have yet to be fully fleshed out and actually tested to see if players will actually enjoy their MMORPG.
I generally think the level of information we get from gaming companies and the level of interaction between the creators and consumers is off-the-wall nuts.
I’m imagining demanding a teaser chapter from George RR Martin, and I’m not imagining that would go well. Even writers who do interact more frequently with their fans online, such as Neil Gaiman perhaps, do not seem to respond to vitriolic criticisms in any way, they seem to ignore them, and gaming companies seem compelled, in this new era of hype, to respond to every batshit complaint and whinge that comes up.
Certainly if Gaiman or Martin or even Stephanie freaking Meyer released a teaser chapter (teasers do happen in the book world, though usually just before release, no more than a month or two), they are not going to make any changes or give in to any criticisms even if the book were not already completed and being printed. And they will not for similar reasons to why game design teams should not: fans with a small sample to look at are the proverbial blind people trying to describe an elephant. A teaser chapter from a book, a promotional clip from a movie, gameplay footage, and vague descriptions of planned mechanics are individually trunks, legs, and tails — even if ever piece is described and explained, without knowing exactly how they fit together, there’s no way to describe the elephant.
So no, I don’t think they should try. And I wish other game companies would stop. All this hype and feedback and information revealing seems to have done is focus more attention on negative reactions than on positive and seems to lead people to believe that whomever is loudest is the majority. I hate that.