Category Archives: Sony Online Entertainment

A Vision of Norrath at Daybreak

…because the Everquest franchise is our lifeblood and we treat it with the respect it deserves.

EQN has the largest development team at SOE. It is going to be more than ok.

John Smedley, on Twitter (one and two), post layoff.

The web sites are all still flavored “Sony Online Entertainment,” and I haven’t even seen an official logo yet for Daybreak Games Company, but the wheels of the Columbus Nova Prime acquisition continue to grind forward.

The week before last we had the “straight from the acquisition playbook” layoffs when DGC shed those it saw as redundant, low performers, or possible trouble makers when it came to their plans.  None of those who were let go had anything bad to say about DGC, but a good severance package can have that effect.  I don’t know if Columbus Nova Prime when full EA in the fine print, telling people they would want their money back if they said anything negative about Daybreak, but I wouldn’t count that out.  Not that I expected negativity.  The first day there is generally too much shock and dealing with the business at hand, and later, if you’ve left friends behind, you don’t want to shit all over them.

With that settled for the moment, DGC had to turn around and reassure the customer base, and especially those customers who are invested in the company and who are paying the bills for just about everything, which is the Norrath fan base.  Smed himself seems to spend all his time and energy on everything besides Norrath.  I think he may have said more about EVE Online in the last few years than he has about straight up, old school, made the whole company possible, EverQuest.

H1Z1 isn’t making any money yet, Dragon’s Prophet seems dubious as a cash cow, PlanetSide 2 is finally carrying its own weight, and DC Universe Online appears to be doing well on the PlayStation, but I wonder how much of that money flows back to SOE and how much stays behind to bolster PlayStation Plus revenues.

So, from the outside, it feels like Norrath is still paying the bills.  Michael Zenke came back from talking with Smed some years back with the impression that EverQuest was so cheap to operate on a day-to-day basis that it might literally hold out until the last subscriber walks away.  Throwing away the cash cow, or letting it starve, seems like a bad play.  And when the layoffs seemed to be focused primarily around people working on Norrath related projects, some of the vocal members of the fan base were clearly running scared and talking about swearing off any form of EverQuest before the place ended up a stagnant backwater.  So something had to be done.

That something was live streams.

I will say right now that I hate live streams for developer updates.  They are fine for a special announcement or some such… SOE Live or BlizzCon level events are okay… but as a method for delivering more mundane updates or plans, I really don’t like them.  They involve too much personality and not enough detail and you end up with half-considered statements that people will glom onto, like Tom Chilton saying that he felt Warlords of Draenor was further along back at BlizzCon in 2013 than Mists of Pandaria was when it was announced at BlizzCon.  That practically became “Draenor by February!” in some corners.   Plus, I must admit, I am old and grumpy and actively resent a developer group making me sit and watch something for an half an hour to glean maybe five minutes worth of actual details if I am lucky.

So I skipped what I could on that front and have depended on the MMO focused gaming media to deliver tidbits about what transpired.

Most of the coverage was about EverQuest Next, as that is the future of Norrath on which any number of former, but never again, EverQuest and EverQuest II players have pinned their hopes on.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

Still looking at this picture of EverQuest Next vision…

On the interesting side of things, there is apparently some hedging as to whether or not EverQuest Next will be free to play, or at least free to play in the current SOE model.  I suspect that might be wishful thinking, because unless Daybreak really has something new and different that can command a box price or a mandatory subscription, they might do themselves more harm than good going that route.  And my confidence in Daybreak being able to recognize a good idea from a bad one, given their track record, is pretty low.  But I couldn’t tell you if, in the long term, F2P has been the salvation that has been claimed on the Norrath front.

Then there is EverQuest Next on consoles.  Given what Smed has been preaching since the acquisition has been announced, that feels more likely an outcome than not.  The question then becomes one of balance… as in how many PC players will stop playing the game when they find a clunky UI designed to be used with a gamepad?  There is going to have to be a lot of XBox and PlayStation interest to counteract shitting all over the main fanbase if we end up with a DCUO interface.

And then there is the question of what EverQuest Next will be now that Daybreak has cut its ties with Storybricks.

I refuse to go full Tobold here and declare that this move means that EverQuest Next is likely to be a boring old WoW clone.  On the break with Storybricks, Senior Producer Terry Michaels said,

We made the decision that it was in the best interest of the game to take that work in-house. They did a lot of work for us and we’ll be utilizing that. It’s not like that work is lost.

So I am not sure you can make the logic-defying leap and declare that EverQuest Next is going to be completely 2007 or whatever in makeup because of this change, at least not without a supporting argument along the lines of “SOE is lying to us again” or some evidence that they are, indeed, trashing all the code related to Storybricks’ involvement.  Of course, bringing all of that work in-house isn’t likely to make EverQuest Next appear in the “near future” as was recently mentioned.

Anyway, that is the meat of what I saw over the weekend, which really wasn’t all that much, as the game is still out in the future.  I am sure I missed some details on the EverQuest Next front, I’m just not sure they matter until the game is an actual thing on Steam access at a minimum.

I had to go to a more a dedicated site, the ever alert EQ2 Wire, to find out what was going on when it came to news from the EverQuest II stream.  That appeared to be much more focused on simply reassuring the fan base that EverQuest II was still a going concern.

This treasure... you cannot have it

Is there still treasure in post-cataclysm Norrath?

The core of that seemed to be that updates and events and what not would continue on as before along with an acknowledgement around some pathological desire in the fan base to have a duck mount.

Then there was the EverQuest stream, which as far as I can tell, no MMO news site even bothered to dig into, so I had to actually go listen to that video once it was up on YouTube. (I put the video in the background because people sitting around talking wasn’t exactly adding to the flow of information.)

There the talk started off with some of the diminished team introducing themselves, and a statement that Holly Longdale was taking over as executive producer, putting her in charge of both EQ and EQII.  There was mention of new updates coming up in the next couple of months, including a new loot system and some vague statements about this year’s expansion, so I suppose that isn’t totally out the window, along with some minor talk about what they want to add to the game going forward, including making the UI better.

The biggest part of that whole stream for me was the mention of continuing to do things that work well with EverQuest, including progression servers.  There wasn’t anything concrete about how they want to do them going forward or what form they would take, but they were definitely on record that they want to do them again, which is great.  I thought we had kissed that idea good-bye forever once free to play hit everywhere.

Timeline stuck in time

So many expansions to unlock

For a game that has such nostalgia value for so many people, the whole progression server idea has always been a winner, delivering a lot of bang for the buck for bother players and the company.  There are a lot of players who will jump on board, even if it is subscription only, to have a “Day one, everybody level 1, lets go camp bandits!” experience.  It would just be nice if Daybreak could actually really run with the idea and promote it and keep people interested.  My past experience has been that progression servers get attention for about five minutes on the front page and then never get mentioned again, while in the forums, the most common company presence is SOE-MOD-04, the harbinger of locked threads.  The Fippy Darkpaw progression server just passed the four year mark last week and I still can only find updates about it when Daybreak screws something up.

Anyway, those are my notes from the weekend on the Norrathian front at Daybreak. (I will also say that the new company name is just the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to post titles.)

A few other blogs are writing a bit about these topics as well, including:

And the beat goes on.

Shot at Daybreak – First Casualties of the Acquisition

Today we learned that Linda “Brasse” Carlson has been let go as head of the community management team for the company formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment.

Brasse with beer and axe

Brasse with beer and axe

According to the post over at EQ2 Wire, she has been part of the community team at SOE for six years at this point, though it hardly seems like that much time could have passed.  It seems like only recently that her map of the Old Forest in Lord of the Rings Online, posted up on her site, was saving my ass from being completely lost.  But that must have been years ago at this point, as the game has had a built in map for that zone for a while now.

Anyway, her maps made their way into a number of official guides for Dark Age of Camelot, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, and of course, EverQuest and EverQuest II, in addition to all those LOTRO maps that have helped me over the years. (I used her hedge maze map last time I was playing in Middle-earth.  Still worth its weight in pixels.)

So she has had an impact on the community, both before as well as during her tenure.

A community team, by its very nature, can become the public face of a company.  So a departure of a prominent member of the community team can alter the relationship people have with a company.  I remember no small amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth (and a bit of cheering) when Greg Street, Ghostcrawler, announced he was leaving Blizzard.  That changed the community dynamic.  The same could be said for the departure of Rick “Sapience” Heaton from the LOTRO team.  Whether the change was good or bad is subjective, but things changed.

Things were different when Alan “Brenlo” Crosby was running the community team for SOE, things will be different when the next person steps up to run it under the Daybreak banner.  How different and how it will affect people… well, we shall see.

The real surprise here is how soon this move came.  I know there had been some doom and gloom regarding the whole acquisition, from myself included.   Bad news was expected by many.  But Daybreak Gaming Company doesn’t even have a new logo yet (though they were quick to pull down the old one), but already they are letting people go from jobs that I think are unlikely to be considered redundant.  Then again, they don’t need anybody running the SOE Live event this year, since that has been cancelled.  Maybe Smed, who has been out in the front lines engaging with the community… at least on Reddit, the new official SOE community home… will be the sole face of the company for now.  We will see how secure his job is.

Anyway, I hope Brasse will find another job waiting for her.

Somebody out there must need a proper dwarf.

Addendum:  It wasn’t just Brasse.  I wrote a post about her just in time for more bad news to seep out.  Dave Georgeson is out as well and there are reports of more people being given their pink slip today.  Good luck to all those affected.

Follow up: MMORPG.com has a list of those laid off posted.

Quote of the Day – Skepticism Blooms

“Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company’s game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future,”

Jason Epstein, a senior partner at Columbus Nova

EverQuest Next is to be released in the “near future?”

[Emphasis in the quote was mine]

Okay, now I know they are yanking my chain.

Has Jason Epstein already been briefed on the usage of the word “soon” at old SOE?  Is this an attempt to avoid that word and its baggage or the beginning of a new empty phrase for the house that EverQuest built?

"Soon" Defined

“Soon” Defined

I ask because I cannot see EverQuest Next being released during any period of time I would judge to be the “near future,” unless we start measuring against scales of time beyond the span of my life.  The foundation for EverQuest Next is in Landmark, and that has yet to be released or have a release date or even a date when they might be able to announce a release date.  So consider my eyebrow arched significantly at the idea of the “near future” in conjunction with EverQuest Next. (Also, Jason, a new name for that please?)

Of course, Mr. Epstein might not know any better at this point.  There has been a whole acquisition dance going on for a while now.  These things do not happen over night, they are months in the making.  And I am sure a bunch of people at the company formerly known as SOE are realizing that this was why Smed was gone at some point or why a bunch of strangers were camped in one of the conference rooms for a week or why that “interview candidate” who looked like a lawyer was being given a detailed tour of the build system. (That last one actually happened to me at one company.)

And while nobody is suppose to overtly lie about material facts during that dance, like any mating ritual, things do tend to be presented in the optimum setting.  The lights are dimmed, blemishes are glossed over, makeup is applied, guts are sucked in, promises are whispered in a moment of passion, all to make each partner more alluring.

Now though, we are at the morning after.  The harsh light of Daybreak is shining through the window, lipstick is smeared, promises are forgotten, and somebody clearly can only describe their belt buckle from memory once it is wrapped about what could be their waist, but only because that is where their pants end.

All pretense is at an end and all the bullshit is revealed.  It is time to get to work and actually deal with reality.  It might be only at this point that the actual idea of “near future” is being revealed and that all those nifty demos of the game do not make a whole.

Then again, there might be a simple answer to this nested in the very same sentence.  Mr. Epstein refers to H1Z1 as “recently launched.”  Perhaps his view of the world aligns with some of us on the outside of the company, that once you start taking money in exchange for your game it is effectively launched and all of this “early access” and “beta” talk is just posturing bullshit.

Anyway, we shall see just how “near” the “near future” really is and what being released really means to this newly “independent” Daybreak.

Also, can we just go with “DGC” when referring to Daybreak Game Company?  Writing “Daybreak” just feels odd still.

The End of Sony Online Entertainment, the Coming of Daybreak

When I first saw this news, my reaction was that today is Groundhog Day and not April Fool’s Day.  Even with Smed’s current love affair with Reddit, that seemed like a questionable source.  But there was the announcement over on the official SOE forums as well.

Dear Players, Partners and Friends,

Today, we are pleased to announce that we have been acquired by Columbus Nova, an investment management firm well known for its success with its existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. This means that effective immediately SOE will operate as an independent game development studio where we will continue to focus on creating exceptional online games for players around the world, and now as a multi-platform gaming company. Yes, that means PlayStation and Xbox, mobile and more!

As part of this transition, SOE will now become Daybreak Game Company. This name embodies who we are as an organization, and is a nod to the passion and dedication of our employees and players. It is also representative of our vision to approach each new day as an opportunity to move gaming forward.

So what exactly does this mean for you? It will be business as usual and all SOE games will continue on their current path of development and operation. In fact, we expect to have even more resources available to us as a result of this acquisition. It also means new exciting developments for our existing IP and games as we can now fully embrace the multi-platform world we are living in.

Our games and players are the heart and soul of our organization, and we are committed to maintaining our portfolio of online games and pushing the limits of where we can take online gaming together.

Thank you for your continued support. See you in game!

The Team at Daybreak

So there it is.  Sony has sold off Sony Online Entertainment to Columbus Nova, an investment group with a vague web site (which is being pounded to hell right now) and, as far as I can tell, no history in video games. (The whole thing is tagged as copyright 2006 FFS.)

[Edit: Cyanbane pointed to another Columbus Nova site.]

SOE_LogoNobody can tell you what the future will hold yet.  There is going to be a long period of just untangling SOE, now known as Daybreak, from their former corporate masters at Sony and Sony Computer Entertainment America before we will really be able to tell where things are heading.

Contrary to the happy tone of that announcement… which, honestly, is the tone they HAVE to take… my own experience with Silicon Valley acquisitions puts this in a dim light.  My gut says that if this follows the common acquisition model, it will eventually mean layoffs and trimming back the product line (PlanetSide will be gone first), while other legacy products will be milked for cash (i.e. expansions and updates will trail off) until they are shuttered (EverQuest, EverQuest II). The company will chase some specific version of the “future” (consoles?), leaving the past behind.  Expect Smed to get his golden parachute exit somewhere around the 18 month mark after finishing his transition work.

Okay, that is pretty dark.  But lets just say that such acquisitions trend unhappy in my world.  Investment firms tend to pillage rather than invest, no matter what their prospectus says.  There is that SOE history to contend with as well.  So many things they have done have SEEMED like good ideas at the time.  (ProSiebenSat.1 anyone?)  But SOE probably didn’t have a choice in the matter, so maybe it won’t be SOE being SOE.

Also, what does the name Daybreak signify?  Is this a zombie thing?  All I know is that there used to be a bar called The Daybreak near my old apartment.  That is going to make for an odd mental image.  Also, picture everything that says “Sony” now saying “Daybreak.”

Coming on top of the Massively shut down, it is making for a hell of a week.

What do you think will happen, knowing as little as we do?

I expect a range of opinions on this.  I will link them below as I find them so I can look at them a year from now to see how we scored.

Quote of the Day – I Got Your Massive Universe Right Here!

“This amazing achievement shows not only how truly massive the PlanetSide 2 universe is, but also how inclusive its online community is,” said Annie Nguyen, Video Games Records Manager at Guinness World Records. “This title truly embodies the international, record-breaking spirit of Guinness World Records.”

Statement at Guinness World Records site

PlanetSide2 got an achievement in that they set the world record for most players in a single FPS battle, managing a peak of 1,158 in their “truly massive universe,” allowing them to join other distinguished record holders at the Guinness World Records site.

That is NOT Blawrf McTaggart!

That is NOT Blawrf McTaggart!

Now maybe they can work their way up to 4,070 players, like the battle at 6VDT-H, or even 2,670 players, the peak number participating at one time at B-R5RB, because 1,158 is something like the population of Jita on a Saturday afternoon.

Okay, I know, this isn’t and apples to apples comparison.  Those EVE Online events weren’t hyped up attempts to set a record by getting people on a server.  They were just fights that happened because of player interaction.

Erm… that wasn’t what I meant.

I mean, having 1,158 players spread out over a whole world map is clearly more taxing than having at least double that number on the station grid in 6VDT-H… plus drones… hrmm…

Battles spread out over the map

Battles spread out over the map

Well, it is certainly easier to render spaceships than… wait, what are those?

Drop ships are not spaceships

Drop ships are not spaceships

Well, at least this record makes more sense than that time World of Tanks got awarded the record for the most concurrent players on a server for a game where you play 15 vs. 15 matches.

Anyway, congratulations to the PlanetSide 2 team!  They showed those other FPS games who was the boss.  Now back to MMOs.

Quote of the Day – Hard Earned Station Cash

Lawyers to get $2.75M for SOE/PSN/Qriocity Class Action Suit for 2011 Security Breach — We’ll Get 450SC

Feldon, Headline over at EQ2 Wire

Set the Wayback Machine for May 2011, back when EverQuest still needed its own subscription, I was still active on the Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server, the instance group was flailing about in New Halas, free to play in Norrath was the exclusive domain of something called EverQuest II Extended, triple Station Cash sales were all the rage, and we had just killed Osama Bin Laden while dodging the rapture yet again.

It was also the time of the great Sony hack… erm… the FIRST great Sony hacking when the PlayStation Network and Sony Online Entertainment were brought down.

PSNDownIt was a time of confusion, inconvenience, and unironic usage of the word “soon” by Sony employees.  I had just purchased a PlayStation 3 and I had just invested my game focus in EverQuest and EverQuest II, so it was kind of a disruption to have SOE go down for nearly two weeks… and through two full weekends.

But Sony tried to make it up to us.  On the PlayStation side of things there were free games handed out, while SOE had a whole Make Good Plan that included a 30 day free extension of all subscriptions, that triple Station Cash sale linked above, special goodies and events in individual games, and an extra 500 Station Cash for Station Access subscribers.  And Sony offered everybody a free subscription to a service to protect people from identity theft.

They tried to mollify us, but it was apparently not enough!

Lawyers were called in… by somebody… they seem to file class action lawsuits first, then go looking for a class to represent second… and a suit was filed.

And now, nearly four years later, I might end up with as much as 450 additional Station Cash.  It could be less if too many people sign up for the settlement… and you have to sign up… because there is a cap on Station Cash payments of four million dollars, which works out to 400 million in Station Cash.  So, by my calculation, if more than 888,889 people sign up, I could be out some Station Cash.

I wonder how many people had active SOE accounts back in that time frame in 2011?

You can also file for up to $2,500 in compensation for costs incurred by any identity theft that was a result of the hacking, with a cap of one million dollars on total payouts.

Finally, there is an interesting proviso that allows for a cash out of your Station Cash if, due to the “Intrusions” you did not sign in afterwards and created no additional accounts.

When you submit a claim for this benefit, your existing SOE accounts will be locked so that any wallet balances can be calculated. If your claim is approved, your wallet balance will be extinguished and your existing accounts will be closed.

If you are never coming back, I suppose that is an option.

And the lawyers in all of this are asking for $2.75 million for their trouble.

If you want your 450 Station Cash, you can find the details over at EQ2 Wire or in the email that will eventually find its way to you from Sony.

Note to Bhagpuss: Americans only. No Station Cash for you!  Says so in the official Commonly Asked Questions page for the suit.

Quote of the Day – Is H1Z1 an MMO or Not?

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.

John Smedley, Twitter

So H1Z1 has been a thing… at least an early access thing… for almost a week now and, as I have noted, it has gotten a variety of reactions.  Whether you believe early access is a good thing or not, H1Z1 is out there, the latest MMO from SOE.

The night is dark, I think I'll go to bed

And, of course, will IT survive?

Only there is that Smed quote from Twitter.  This was in reaction to a story posted over at Massively, More Boredom than Terror, that describes Syp’s venture into H1Z1 on a PvE server.

Putting together the full series of tweets from Smed, they read out:

Watching [Massively’s] story about how H1Z1 is boring and seeing other commentary along the same lines from people playing PVE.  Makes me realize just how stratified the online gaming industry is. Not a bad thing at all. just interesting. Basically the review is from the perspective of an MMO vet coming into it. The comments are identical to stuff we heard from our own company.

My perspective is different – new kinds of experiences with comparisons to current MMO experiences mean people are looking at it through a different lens then we made it. All still valid points of view though and can’t disagree with them.

I look at H1Z1 not as an MMO at all. It’s got nothing whatsoever to do with MMOs. It’s a session based persistent online game.  session based because lots of people play until they die. It’s an easy stopping point.  anyways… just a bit of rambling about it, but I find the experience an MMO vet has coming in to H1Z1 (or Day Z for that matter)

I will say that at least Smed didn’t go for the cheap “It’s a PvP game” shot like so many comments over at Massively did.  SOE provides PvE servers and the team has, in Smed’s words, “…really have gone out of our way to make sure PVE players will be happy” so the idea of “not playing it right” can be discounted.

But how about the idea of not looking at it right?

That does bring us back to the age old question of “what’s an MMO anyway?”  I know what I mean when I use the term… when I write it, it is almost always short hand for persistent world, progression based, multiplayer, online, servers and shards, role playing game.  I also usually mean “fantasy” as well, but there is EVE Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic out there, so maybe I should stop thinking that automatically.

But what I mean when I say it clearly carries little weight, as the term gets used for games like War Thunder and World of Tanks and League of Legends, and probably quite a few more games that would not, in any way, meet my own personal definition.

On the flip side, H1Z1 does seem to press most of my MMO buttons.  You have a character, a persistent world, the whole shards concept with many parallel realms, a form of progression… it is equipment based progression, but that is hardly a new thing… and there is the whole multiplayer aspect.  Common mechanics we find in MMOs, quests and raids and auction houses, are missing, but so what?  Common isn’t the same as required, while the hardcore nature… gotta eat and drink or you’re gonna die… doesn’t disqualify it.

In the “quacks like a duck” view of the world, H1Z1 seems like an MMO to me.  Also, SOE calls it an MMO right there on the SOE main page, thus planting the seed rather firmly.

H1Z1 is a zombie survival MMO set in a post-apocalyptic world where thousands of players must strategically align with friends and against enemies in order to survive the worldwide infection.

And then there is the description on the H1Z1 site itself:

Tell me about H1Z1 please...

Tell me about H1Z1 please…

And “sandbox” is a common subset of MMOs, at least for purposes of argument most days.

Of course, you might say that marketing needed to call it something, and they call everything else at SOE an MMO… except of course, they do not.

They manage to avoid the term, at least on the SOE main page, with Landmark and with H1Z1’s antecedent, PlanetSide 2…. and also with EverQuest and EverQuest II, which are clearly examples of the MMO genre.  Maybe marketing was just lazy.  After all, they also say that EverQuest is the “online game that started it all!”  Though, to be fair, they don’t really define “all.”  However, you get the possible implication swimming in that vagueness, don’t you Ultima Online and Meridian 59 vets?

But I digress.

The usage of the shorthand term MMO could also just be the lens through which we… me, Syp, SOE marketing… are seeing things as well.  The human brain loves to categorize things.  It was a key survival instinct out on the African savannah and remains so in many modern situations, like crossing a busy street in a big city. (Hint: Cabs are predators.)  But it doesn’t always help in situations that are more nuanced… or even when recognizing which situations might be more nuanced.

I know the idea of an MMO is more nuanced than the industry treats it.  A lot of things seem to get that label more because of marketing than any deep thinking on genres and classifications.

But even with that, H1Z1 still feels more like an MMO than any other option.

Is H1Z1 an MMO?  Is it something else?

Are we too fixated on MMOs to be able to tell?  Is Smed to close to be able to see beyond the details?