Wednesday, 26 January 2011

SOE: Where's the company at now?

These are my thoughts after reading Chris's opinions over at Game by Night on SOE.

EQ2X has been very enjoyable but I agree they have mishandled the "newbie fawcet". Players will leave, if there isn't a seamless way to induct replacements your game will decline. Having said that I'm glad that I have been able to set up EQ2X as a backburner game so if I get tired of other things I can hang out there for free (but I'm very strict with myself, my impulse buyer friend gets absolutely hammered in the wallet when he plays EQ2X). It's an expensive F2P compared to Turbine's and even Allods so that's another trade-off: less players paying more per head.

SW:G I tried going back to in 2009 and it's just broken. A wonderful museum of better gaming times. Although it rarely gets talked about it has decent numbers and a community that is incredibly invested in the game. After all if you're mayor of a virtual city you have quite a stake. I think it may survive SWTOR better than many people expect.

Vanguard, Planetside, etc are on life support. I doubt they make any money but as long as they break even I imagine they'll stay open.

Planetside 2 is coming out at some point, probably this year. I would be astonished if it's not a flop. Taking one of the least successful MMOs ever and offering more of the same? How did they get that one past the execs?

DCUO is attracting guarded approval on the F13 forums for not being a disaster. It promised so much in the way of catastrophe that not being a disaster is a victory. See Unsub's blog Vicarious Existence for more details on the development of this game.

Overall SOE is a schizophrenic mix of some of the best designers in the business with people and departments who take bizarre decisions that don't fit the projects. They really need some joined up management. I doubt they'll get it but there's enough quality there that they will keep pushing out entertaining projects. I suspect though that as we move away from the $15/month for all games industry standard SOE's predilection for above par prices for below par games will see them continue to decline. There's some pretty stiff competion entering the MMO market this year, including Green Monster Games and Bioware.

One of the things I don't think SOE have ever sorted out is their attitude to players. Sony originally made radios and recording equipment. Now in that business if a customer comes and says my radio is faulty you don't argue you just give him a new one, it's cheaper to submit. I believe they have always applied this corporate philosophy to their MMOs.

It doesn't work however when your customers are also your players. Players exaggerate. Players see things only from a narrow perspective. Players game the system - it's almost taboo to admit your class is anything other than horribly broken as players jostle for development largess. And of course if you always give in to players you eventually end up with an unplayable game so the developers game the players. Buff what they've been asking for but blindside them by nerfing something they took for granted. EQ2X (yes, I've given up fighting the Extended starts with an E battle) is a case in point. The free system was horrible, severe restrictions on classes, items and broker, all rolled back as players complained. Like a veteran negotiator starting out by asking a tenth of what he's willing to pay so he'll have some room to make concessions.

It's just not nice playing a game where this behaviour is rife. Where half the posts on the forums are whines or outright lies. Where the devs are trying to screw us in sneaky ways. Where the last resort of the incompetent is exorbitant prices - yes you can have everything you want but by golly you'll pay and pay again.

I honestly doubt whether what's bad about SOE is fixable. Corporate culture that's lasted since 1945 and is appropriate for the rest of Sony but wrong for SoE. How do you get rid of that? Possibly a really dynamic CEO with a really strong support from the board could turn them around.

We'll see. Hopefully the company can salvage itself because they have made some of the best MMOs ever and have a very enlightened attitude to niche games. There's a lot to admire at SOE.


  1. From my short trial in SW:G I share your prediction that it will survive SWTOR. It's just not at all like current games. Player-driven, making our own stories, rather than having fully voice-acted extended dialogue from NPCs to tell us The Story.

  2. For all the talk that it's been WoWified, SWG still actually has an awful lot of sandbox elements. I don't think that SWToR is really going to be in very direct competition with it. They inhabit nearly opposite ends of the MMO spectrum in terms of mechanics.

    EQ2X seems to be doing pretty well. Their item shop is my least favorite among the big three conversions (DDO, EQ II, and LoTRO), but it's actually better than the one that Champions Online went with imo. At least you can buy your way out of most of the major restrictions. And I don't think they get enough credit for Silver being such an amazing deal. If you go silver and never spend again, you've actually gotten an incredible value. All that said, $65 for the vampire race is batshit crazy. They are out of their damn minds on that price point (at least if the post you linked is accurate).

    DCUO it's too soon to say. It's at least gotten a strong start out of the gate (but then so did AoC and WAR). I hope it does well because I want to play more MMOs from my couch. I certainly won't be playing it on the PC.

    Planetside 2 i know next to nothing about. However, I think it will be hard for it to distinguish itself in a market where so many online shooters have incorporated character advancement mechanics and allow you to play for free.

    Vanguard and Planetside both need to go FtP. Free Realms did not really appeal to me, I have yet to try Clone Wars.

    Finally, I have been meaning to try Pirates of the Burning Sea since it went FtP. So far as I know it's really the only EVE style sandbox in the FtP market. I think it has the potential to carve out a nice niche, but I haven't been hearing a lot about it.