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.