Six steps SOE needs to take in 2012 to survive

It’s hard to overstate just how brutal 2011’s been to Sony Online Entertainment.  From layoffs to hackings to a one-month shutdown of the game’s services to titles being axed to Star Wars Galaxies’ shutdown to botched F2P launches, it’s just plain sad for all those involved, including fans.  What once was the undisputed king of the MMO mountain is now struggling for relevance and even, dare I say, survival.

Now I don’t think SOE is on the verge of closing up shop or anything, but it certainly reeling from multiple blows and is suffering from poor public perception.  It’s hard to define what SOE is to the MMO community these days.  Is it the rebel upstart?  The aging Galactic Republic?  The ancient master in exile on Degobah?  Seriously, what’s with my Star Wars fixation today…

In my opinion, SOE needs to be bold and make significant progress in 2012 to overcome the nightmare that was 2011.  Here are six ways I think it could happen.

1. Pull out the stops on development of EverQuest Next and related publicity

After axing The Agency and announcing that SWG was going to join The Matrix Online in the MMO graveyard, SOE’s future roster of titles is looking thin and unexciting.  I’m sorry, but I’m starting to think that SOE assumes everyone’s going to go bananas over PlanetSide 2 when we’ve seen virtually nobody clamor for a sequel to one of the company’s lesser populated titles.

No, the focus right now needs to be on EverQuest Next.  Why?  EQ is SOE’s flagship franchise, and people ARE genuinely excited about what a new one could bring.  Yet since the 2010 announcement that it was happening, we’ve heard next-to-nothing about it since.  EQ Next shouldn’t be rushed, but it should be pushed to the front of the queue and the company needs to start releasing information about it to recapture interest.

2. Resurrect The Agency

Speaking of interest, people were pretty dang psyched about The Agency.  A spy-ish MMO hasn’t really been done thus far, and from what I saw, it was looking pretty good.  Forget PlanetSide 2 and pull a Lazarus here — resurrect The Agency not just because it had potential, but to show the world that you’re staging a comeback from 2011’s defeats.

3. For the love of God, stop rushing free-to-play conversions

I know Smedley now has a romantic “thing” for F2P, and that’s all well and good, but dang if pretty much every F2P conversion the company’s done so far has backfired in some way or gotten too muddled.  SOE’s currently trumpeting how many players are trying to cram in DCUO’s doors, but it’s overlooking how bad the company’s coming off by not being prepared for them.  EQ2X was a fine idea, but segregating servers and creating a needlessly complex “matrix” chart for it was not.

I’m not saying don’t DO free-to-play, just do it right.  Rethink the stupid mess of EQ2X and consider integrating free and paying players together.  Make the payment structure a lot more simpler and easier to access.  Don’t make it worse, though.

4. Keep experimenting and having fun with EverQuest

If there was one triumphant story from SOE this year, it’s that EverQuest stayed pretty relevant in the news.  It got into the Hall of Fame at the GDC Online Awards, it’s going to release a new expansion, and its new progression servers were the talk of the town for several weeks.  EverQuest is a perfect place for SOE to experiment with different server types and promotions, as it’s pretty established and can only benefit more from publicity.

5. Acquire a hit franchise

In the past I admired how SOE snagged struggling MMOs into its growing Station library.  Players could enjoy a whole host of titles for a single monthly fee, and SOE enjoyed its status as a genre unto itself.  But with many of its current titles aging, being cancelled or otherwise not being played at all (Vanguard?), it’s time to get some fresh blood in there.

Why not take a cue from GamersFirst and snap up some promising MMOs that have already done most of the development?  Or what about getting a hot MOBA-style game as part of the team?  It’s got to be cheaper than starting from scratch, and if Smedley is serious about F2P, there’s plenty of promising prospects out there.

6. Focus on cornering the kid MMO market

You know what are two of SOE’s biggest successes right now, both financially and reputation-wise?  Free Realms and Star Wars Clone Adventures.  You know what SOE should do more of?  These.

They may not be the type of MMOs (or online experiences) that you and I go for, but they’ve proven to be a huge hit and have tapped into that same exploding kids demographic that Wizard101 enjoys.  So why not specialize in this instead of trying to butt heads against World of Warcraft, RIFT, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic?  Just cut your dead weight and refocus on what’s making your company successful.  Again, I’m saying that “PlanetSide 2” isn’t the answer here.

13 thoughts on “Six steps SOE needs to take in 2012 to survive

  1. bhagpuss November 5, 2011 / 10:33 am

    SoE’s future is probably as a developer/publisher for the PS3 and the upcoming Vita. That’s assuming Sony itself has a future. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15550428

    How many consecutive annual losses can a company make before it ceases to trade? I don’t understand these things. Is a company of Sony’s size able to carry on indefinitely on borrowed money, like nations do (did), even if it never manages to make a profit again?

    And even if Sony struggles on, I don’t see the P.C. platform lasting more than a few more years.

    SoE is by far my favorite MMO house. No-one else even comes close. It has always been chaotic and incoherent, which contributes a great deal to my affection for it. I expect almost everything they try to be mishandled and botched and I am rarely disappointed, but the things that they try are just so much more to my taste than what almost any other developer tries that I really don’t care how much better they could have been because for me they are always good enough.

    I don’t think that SoE would go bust on its own because I see many, many players in-game who know that there’s just nowhere else offering the experience they want. It’s a smaller audience than it could be if SoE had better marketing and better QA, but I believe it’s a viable audience to keep the games afloat.

    That won’t save SoE if Sony itself runs into the buffers. I’m just hoping that if it does happen, at least the Everquest franchise will get sold on. I was planning on playing EQ in some form for the rest of my life.

  2. Scott M. November 5, 2011 / 11:57 am

    A bunch of us CoWs are pretty excited for PlanetSide 2. Just sayin’.

  3. Comstrike November 6, 2011 / 12:11 am

    Fire that idiot Smedly, the most reviled human in the MMO industry. His very existence is an affront to many, and his involvement in any project means “do not buy” to others.

    SOE has ruined its reputation. It is seen as a bottom feeding hell for well intentioned games and suffering innocent players.

    If there were justice, it would be shut-down and the games found some nice private equity holding company to fund and run them.

  4. Jaggins November 6, 2011 / 2:12 am

    I am extremely excited about Planetside 2. My all-time best multiplayer moments were in the golden age of Planetside. Planetside caught a NGE level series of expansions that messed up the magic, but the concept was brilliant and extremely ahead of its time.

  5. Gina November 6, 2011 / 7:44 pm

    I really think they need to push PlanetSide 2. They have such a niche market with that thing, might as well go whole hog.

  6. Karen Cairns November 7, 2011 / 3:32 am

    I wish Sony would do some international marketing. We barely hear or see anything of them in the UK, wheras you still can’t move for Blizz products on the shelves. I don’t remember the last time I saw a Sony box for a PC MMO in my local games shop.

  7. Remi November 7, 2011 / 5:18 am

    Also looking forward to planetside 2…

    Its niche but should make a reasonable return.

    However I also agree somewhat with other comments here. Smedley ruined his reputation with the NGE. That is probably no small part of SOE’s MMO woes right there. He is still the lead.

  8. Cindy November 7, 2011 / 12:15 pm

    I know SOE always gets blamed for the NGE, and I am sure some of that blame is deserved. But let’s be real here – the majority of blame for that debacle rests squarely on the shoulders of LucasArts, who never got over SWG failing to achieve WoW numbers. LA’s cavalier attitude to SWG has been made plain with its refusal to extend the license to SWG, apparently fearing one or two players might not play TOR if SWG were still around. SOE has said it will focus on its own IP from now on, and I do not blame them. Let EA tussle with LA and God help them if they do not deliver WoW numbers.

    As for SOE, I agree that EQ2Extended was a poorly thought out mess, but EQ2 was and is a great game. Why SOE has done so little to promote it continues to mystify me.

  9. saucelah November 8, 2011 / 1:18 am

    I’m really looking forward to Planetside 2. Lately I’ve been running Global Agenda, and I don’t have the world’s best twitch skills but am good enough to hold my own. I’m sure Planetside 2 will replace it for me, even if I have to pay a subscription.

    I think it’s just not the game for you the way SW:TOR is not the game for me.

  10. Syp November 8, 2011 / 10:34 am

    Let me clarify on PS2 here. I’m not bagging on the game itself — it looks to be a fine MMOFPS in the making — but stating that out of all of SOE’s IPs, it is one of the least-played and lowest-profiled. That’s as objective as I can be. No doubt that there are some excited for it, as with any new MMO, but it really feels like a misallocation of resources to pump it into a sequel of a very small population MMO than to either focus on larger/more successful MMO IPs or completely new ones.

    In other words, while PlanetSide fans might have been begging for a sequel, I’ve seen nothing from the larger MMO community — the community that SOE wants to tap to grow its playerbase — to suggest that this was in demand.

  11. ArcherAvatar November 9, 2011 / 10:42 am

    Nothing… there is absolutely nothing SOE can do moving forward that could ever tempt me to interact in any meaningful way with that company or it’s products again.

    I played EQ for 5 years, and watched them slowly but surely ruin so many elements of the fundamental gameplay that I eventually had to give up and cancel my subscription.

    I played SWG and watched them *cough* “implement” NGE with the grace and fluidity of a turtle in wet cement.

    EQ2 was basically unplayable when it was released, and had to undergo major changes just to keep it from going under completely. Things had gotten better in general with that title… until they “implemented” the f2p conversion.

    Follow all that up with the abomination that was their mishandling of their customer’s security and that hole has been capped with titanium, welded shut, buried under a thousand feet of earth, and the surrounding 50 mile radius irradiated to the point where nothing will grow there for the next 20 million years.

    I will never buy any product associated with SOE ever again.

    (This was very diplomatically edited… you DO NOT want to know how I really feel about this subject…)

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