Long list of SOE hate.

Can someone explain to me why some people think SOE is going to push the MMO genre forward? I keep hearing about how SOE is the company that is going to finally get us out of the WoW-too rut the genre is stuck in, how its upcoming titles are all doing new and great things. First is my take on the history of SOE MMOs, just to establish a base.

EverQuest® – The original game that put SOE on the map, and the overall ‘winner’ of the first gen MMO war. Undeniably a huge hit that expanded the MMO market and set standards going forward.

EverQuest® II – Considering the name and following, overall a huge disappointment at launch. It’s been fixed up over the years and currently enjoys a solid following having defined its core features. If in 2003 someone said EQ2 would be a me-too MMO rather than a major player, people would have laughed. An underperformer who has recovered well thanks to the resources available to SOE.

Pirates of the Burning SeaTM – A unique selling point (great ship to ship combat engine) ruined by a tacked on avatar system. Huge initial interest followed by a sharp decline as players revealed design flaws in its endgame and economy. Even as a niche title, this one has disappointed.

PlanetSide® – A FPS/MMO that never really hit its stride. It’s been a non-factor since release.

Star Wars GalaxiesTM – Considering the combination of MMO and Star Wars, this was basically declared a money tree before release. Some launch troubles, unmeet expectations (thanks in part to WoW), and then the NGE catastrophe seal SWG place in MMO history as a massive waste of potential. Such a giant mishandling of potential would likely have cost many companies their entire business.

The Matrix Online – While this brand has faded since its peak, The Matrix was a huge property back in the day, and considering the movie, it’s a paint-by-numbers MMO setting. The Matrix Online SHOULD have been the defining Sci-Fi MMO, and not the tiny niche game it currently is. While not exactly a SWG-sized waste of potential, it’s hard to argue that The Matrix Online fell short of expectations.

Vanguard Saga of Heroes® - The much-heralded spiritual successor of the original Everquest, Vanguard has a well documented history of failure. Starting with its much-reported beta troubles, to its epic fail of a launch, and the subsequent circus of its developers, Vanguard made history for all the wrong reasons. While currently the game is reportedly in much better shape, it’s niche status has long since been established, and many still credit it with their distaste for trying newly launched MMOs.

One undeniable hit (EQ1), two currently healthy MMOs that underperformed or disappointed (EQ2, SWG), and four titles that would be shut down if taken off the MMO life-support system that is Station Access (PS, Matrix, VG, PotBS). One out of seven MMOs from SOE live up to their potential/expectations. Outside of its first title, what exactly are we looking at as the example of MMO excellence with SOE? Sure they have a lot of history in the genre, but how do we take a history of failure as a positive? When you swing and miss with such IP’s as Star Wars and The Matrix, not to mention release a sequel to the previous king of the genre that scares away all but the most hardcore of fans, normal rational would paint you as a company to avoid going forward. Let’s also consider the upcoming MMO titles set for release.

The AgencyTM – Another attempt at FPS/MMO, only this time with a spy twist. Considering the core FPS crowd, it’s hard to imagine them going for something so FPS-lite. Core MMO fans have generally avoided past FPS-like MMOs, so it’s tough to say who the market is here. The PS3 being the trailing console of this generation can’t help either.

DC UniverseTM Online – Not out yet, but clearly moving away from the traditional MMO setup and going for a more action/beat-em-up setup with some MMO-like features. Also has the Batman/Superman videogame curse to deal with. Overall solid potential for a fun ‘diversion’ MMO, but does it have the hooks to make it the main MMO for most players? Good potential is a hit on the PS3 given the controller setup, but how will it stack up to Champions Online on the PC?

Free RealmsTM – Out soon, kid-aimed browser game going for a WoW-lite approach. It could do well, but not a product aimed at the traditional sub-based MMO crowd. Considering the Wii is the dominate console, especially among a younger demographic, it’s tough to picture FR really selling PS3 units, or the core PS3 crowd jumping all over a kids game. The PC success of kid-friendly F2P MMOs like Wizard 101 shows the market exists, but will FR capture it in a profitable way?

I’m sorry, but I don’t see MMO baby jesus on that list, do you? We have one potential flop (Agency), one niche title (DCU), and one kids game (FR). Is that really the future of the genre? What in the three above is the next great step in MMO gaming, especially considering the history of the company behind them?

PS: Part of my SOE-hate still stems back to 1999 and luring the carebears away from UO. Yes, I hold a grudge. But fanboy exaggerated hate aside, I still don’t understand the blind love by some for SOE considering their overall history…

Edit: Sorry the original version of this post was a formatted nightmare. That should all be fixed now.

29 Responses to Long list of SOE hate.

  1. Hudson says:

    Oh boy now you’ve done it, expect flames galore.

    HOW DARE YOU INSULT THE MMO MESSIAH!

    By the way I agree.

  2. Tipa says:

    I know YOU know that SOE didn’t develop PotBS, Matrix Online, and Vanguard… so that was kinda unfair. The NGE mess has rumored to have been a collaboration with LucasArts, so that blame should probably be shared.

    Free Realms will be on the PC looooong before the PS3. If it doesn’t perform on the PC, I wonder if it will ever see the PS3? Free Realms will have to be saturation marketed to ever be seen by the target audience. Wizard 101 is everywhere and is powerfully funneled by its web site. SOE is not known for effective marketing.

    The Agency is, I feel, doomed. Tabula Rasa shows what happens to FPS/MMO hybrids. I don’t see a lot of electricity for The Agency.

    DCUO, I dunno. Will have to see the beta. If it’s just Call of Duty: Metropolis where you’re always trying to kill your friends, then I don’t care. I like stories, not random missions and killing.

    There are rumors of another EQ title of some sort, but if true, it’s too far out now to be a player before 2011.

  3. syncaine says:

    Who did Matrix? I know PotBS and VG were outside studios initially, but I thought Matrix was SOE published originally? Plus while not originally developed, they are all under the SOE umbrella now, and VG aside, have they improved drastically with SOE’s help?

    One other thing I totally forgot (and this actually spurred the post originally), SOE’s terrible downloader. One of the posts here with the most comments is the EQ2 trial post, about how it takes so damn long to download the thing. I doubt FR will use the same tech, but if it does…

  4. Van Hemlock says:

    “Can someone explain to me why some people think SOE is going to push the MMO genre forward?”

    Dunno about forward – I just respect that they keep games alive, even non-factors like Planetside; which I’m quite looking forward to another visit in one day soon.

    It’s nice to be able to go *backward* when the mood takes. Not butchering a game the first time it gets a whiff of unpopularity is a good thing in my book. Not sure about Blind Love though.

    More choice for us is always good, even if it is just being lured away from UO.

  5. Tipa says:

    Oh, hai Wikipedia :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Matrix_Online

    PotBS and MxO have changed and improved substantially since release. PotBS just had a new avatar system, MxO is pretty famous for their live events, VG is introducing tons of new content. They aren’t just languishing.

    And btw, SOE doesn’t own PotBS now, they are still Flying Labs, still independent.

    SOE’s thing is that they will continue to develop a game as long as they are making a profit from it and people are playing it, so the takeaway lesson here is, people are playing and paying for these games — or they’d be gone.

    I just don’t get the SOE hate. Is it a crime to not be as successful as Blizzard? If so, that’s a crime every single other MMO developer also commits. Are you saying that SOE’s three new MMOs are too different to be successful and that they should wrap it up and just make an EQ game indistinguishable from WoW? Or what?

    Just not getting what you’re saying here. I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but it really sounds like you’re blaming them for not being as successful as you think they should be, and for trying out new ideas that may also not be successful for them.

  6. syncaine says:

    Right I agree that Station Access is a good thing overall for the industry, I think every publisher should do it if possible. Shutting down an MMO is never a good thing for players.

    However, lets not kid ourselves, SOE can support Station Access because they have Sony backing them, allowing them to growth the service DESPITE games like SWG and EQ2 under performing. If SOE was an independent studio (like Turbine) and had they track record they have, would they even still be in business, let alone considered a major force?

  7. syncaine says:

    Tipa, I guess my overall point is if you had given me Star Wars, The Matrix, and the EverQuest brand, enough funding to make/support them, and an already established brand name (thanks to EQ1), the results would be a bit more than what SOE came up with. With that as a base, why the hope/hype for future SOE products?

    If SOE can find a way to undersell a Star Wars MMO right on the peak of the genre exploding (thanks to WoW), why have any faith that they can pull off a FPS/MMO, or a Comic-based MMO? It’s more curiosity than hate I guess, I just don’t see the SOE track record as all that favorable in the industry.

  8. Tipa says:

    I think you are reading blogs by people involved with SOE in some way. Nobody I am aware of, outside of people who play SOE games, has any anticipation for The Agency or Free Realms. Free Realms would have to have the marketing that was given to, say, Toon Town or Neopets or Webkinz or Fusion Fall or any of the other kid MMOs, but it comes out in two months and if I wasn’t aware of it from following SOE, I’d never have heard of it — and I play kid MMOs.

    I was in W101 beta for MONTHS before launch and decided that it was such a great game that I’d push it heavily. I’d like to compare it with Free Realms but it seems clear it will be the SOE strategy of a couple weeks open beta, then release, plus maybe some banner ads.

    SOE has great games. It just hasn’t got any marketing, and when you think “Sony”, you think “quality but pricey Japanese consumer electronics”, and not “FUN!!!”.

    That said, I play EQ and EQ2 and think both are great games. I will certainly try FR and DCUO because I like kid MMOs and City of Heroes. I don’t like super hero movies much and can’t afford comic books but it looks like the game is just scenarios from the vids. I don’t play FPS so have no interest in the Agency. VG doesn’t run well on my machine so there is no joy in it for me. PotBS was fun but the combat was repetitive. MxO didn’t like the demo. SWG ran poorly on my computer and was absolutely the most boring MMO I have ever played — pre-NGE. Planetside, I don’t play FPS.

    So I’m no SOE apologist. And like I said, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you. Just your original post was full of straw man arguments.

  9. Tipa says:

    Actually, re: DCUO, what really gets me about their scenarios is, what do I care if Superman lives or dies? Can we kill off ALL the DC heroes AND villains and just have our OWN stories, please?

    Superman doesn’t need MY help. He’s an omnipotent god. We should be worshiping him, not taking care of villains he’s just too lazy to deal with himself. Same reason LotRO doesn’t really excite me. Why can’t *I* be the hero?

    I’m hoping Champions Online will let ME be the hero. If they push the setting and heroes/villains I care nothing about too heavily, I’ll probably lose interest. In the EQ games, it is always the players who are the true heroes — the shining players who have transcended and have done stuff of stories. People STILL tell their ten year old EQ stories, and lemme tell ya, these stories aren’t about what the NPCs did.

    Except Bloody Kithicor… maybe.

  10. Yeebo says:

    I have to agree with Tipa that SOE isn’t really on the radar of most folks outside of MMO enthusiasts. Among console gamers their most popular products are the Champions of Norrath series for the PS2. And among ardent MMO enthusiasts, I’d say I see a lot more irrational SOE hatred than fanboyism. There are many (many) who still haven’t forgiven SOE for the NGE.

    I also agree with Tipa that it’s pretty unfair to blame SOE for Vanguard, MxO, and Pirates considering that they didn’t develop any of them. It could be argued that all three were utter train wrecks that SOE did it’s best to turn around (without putting more dev resources into them than the long term financial prospects justified).

    And you have to give SOE credit where credit is due. While they have not had any monsterous WoW sized hits (has anyone besides Blizzard?), they have had more 200K-400K moderate successes than any other developer focused on sub based MMOs. Most other studios have no more than one under their belt.

  11. Wilhelm2451 says:

    I’m not sure you can have it both ways there Syncaine. To say that SWG should have been lifted by an explosion in the genre caused by WoW seems to grind against things you have said in the past about WoW and people who play it. All those ‘WoW Tourists’ who check out other games then go back to WoW. If we buy that angle, then WoW lifts no other boats.

    That aside, it also argues against the social phenomena around MMOs, which is that people tend to play them and stick with them because they build up a social network. EQ hasn’t kept thriving for 10 years now because it has the best graphics, smoothest interface, or sharpest marketing campaign. It hangs on to people in guild-sized units.

    As for SOE enthusiasm, I’m not sure who you are arguing against here. For every person who cheers SOE there seems to be more than a handful who cannot wait to bring up NGE or how broken the Planes of Power were on day one or how they screwed people who played EQ for the Mac or how they wrecked MxO or dumbed down EQ2 to WoW level or support RMT or any number of other things. SOE hate seems to be the default position.

  12. Eric says:

    As long as someone like Smedley, who lies just about every time he opens his mouth, is leading SOE, I doubt anything good can come out if that company. Even though the Agency might be somewhat interesting, at least to check out.

    But knowing that all your data can be sold / given away as we have read about a little earlier this month, makes me doubt I would ever play another soe game again. (http://tinyurl.com/by6t9k).

  13. Yeebo says:

    See Eric for typical SOE “enthusiasm” from the MMO enthusiast.

    :-P

  14. Werit says:

    The Agency and DC are both games I will be trying out. Then again I don’t have an irrational hate (or love) of SOE.

  15. Alik Steel says:

    You know, I sat here for a long time typing away a long reply. Listing what I could and trying to shout down the nasayers. Then as I was reading and trying to fix my typo’s. I saw what I had done. I was pulled into what you can find on any MMO website. The haters of SOE looking for any reason to try and slap SOE down, and pull as many people into there spider web of hate.

    I’m sorry that you may never find that feeling you had when you found your first MMO. I’m sure some how it was SOE’s fault that you never found it again.

    The one thing that would like every one to think about would be that us, the people that do the blogs and play on forums and site’s like MMORPG[dot]com. We are a very small number of the MMO playing world. I would have to believe that we are under 10% of the MMO player base. Most of them don’t hold onto there hate for any MMO co. and are not fan boy’s like I am. They just play what ever MMO they like at the time.

    So the next time you want to hate on SOE just say something like “REMEMBER NGE” and we will get the point. You don’t even have to say any thing about SOE or SWG. We will know what you are talking about.

    Alik Steel

  16. syncaine says:

    TAGN: What I was trying to get at when I mentioned WoW and SWG is that you can’t use the excuse of the market not being ready to support a million+ sub game in 2003-04. The only excuse SWG has for not being as huge a hit as it should have been is it’s design/launch. It had the brand, the budget, the timing, everything. Perhaps only The Sims Online has a bigger expectations/failure ratio than SWG.

    And I totally understand for each SOE fan, there are 2-3 people who hate the company after being burned. I guess I’m just puzzled how anyone could have faith in a company with such a long track record of under performing and mismanaging top-notch IPs.

  17. Bonedead says:

    I would be holding a grudge with SOE if they didn’t own half of the MMOs worth playing for a month.

  18. Swift Voyager says:

    If you look at the history of Sony in general, you have to respect them for the long history of innovation and risk-taking. Betamax, digital audio tape recorders, the Walkman, Playstation 1, Blueray, flat screen crt technology, the mini-disc, and the list goes on. Some of those were really great products that just didn’t work out for one reason or another, and some of them changed the world forever. If SOE are doing the same thing in the MMO market, then eventually expect something really fantastic to come out of them, but be prepared for lots of crap mixed in there too. The key behind the Sony way of doing things is that you don’t pack up and go home after a failure. In stead, you try again and do something different and/or better the next time around. That’s not a concept that’s very familiar to people from the US/EU business world, where it’s more common to see everyone leave the sinking ship and climb aboard another ship asap.

    While I don’t expect any of the coming SOE titles to be special, I think it’s worth noting that SOE will probably out-last most other publishing/developement companies in the market today. MMO’s are about developement and growth over time, not release-day. In fact, I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Pirates of the Burning Sea eventually develope into a respectable MMO. The station pass does something really unique for an MMO as it allows the ROI to be spread out over a longer and more sustainable time frame. That in itself should create some really interresting business opportunities for SOE MMO’s.

  19. Seritaph says:

    I’ve never really liked how SOE handled their games. They do wacky stuff, like introduce a “new game experience” out of the blue. Not saying I wish any ill on them. I hope all their new stuff is successful. I keep trying it, but usually leave unimpressed for the most part. I’ve pretty much given up on them personally.

  20. Wilhelm2451 says:

    @syncaine: The problem with your argument is that saying the US/EU market can support multi-million subscription based MMOs (just to get a definition of terms in there) doesn’t just damn SWG, it damns just about any other MMO you care to mention, including your own list of favorites. Again, the whole both ways thing, if you set WoW as the benchmark to beat on SOE, then everybody else is a failure too. If you say 300K is a success, SOE has more successes than any other company.

    But if you had just said, “Dude, it is Star Wars, it should have been huge!” I would have been right behind you. It should have been. I mean… it is freakin’ Star Wars! Heck, even Smed is on record saying as much.

    As for your puzzlement… and I am tempted to go Godwin here… you can find fans for anything. How else can you explain the Chicago Cubs? *ducks*

  21. Tobold says:

    You’re basically condemning SOE for their policy of buying up failed MMOs, keeping them alive, and trying to turn them around. Which I think is unfair, because trying to make the best out of a failed game somebody else designed is often better than just letting the game sink and disappear. I hear good things about Vanguard now, even if it is obviously too late to get a huge player base for it now. It would have been sad to see Pirates of the Burning Sea disappear.

    While you are right that Free Realms targets an ultra-casual market, that market is much larger than just “kids”. I think that Free Realms will be *very* successful. That it probably isn’t a game for you is not an objective criterion for judging a game.

  22. syncaine says:

    Wilhelm: I agree, it does damn all of them to an extent. However, remember I consider WoW a ‘perfect storm’ scenario, which factors into it’s success. Games like SWG and EQ2 failing at launch contribute to that success. We judged WAR not on WoW 1.0, but on 2009 WoW, right? SWG/EQ2 were also judged by WoW 1.0 standards, and even back then both were extremely lacking. And I thought I did say “dude it’s star wars!”, just like I thought I said “Dude, it’s Everquest!”.

    Tobold: SWG, EQ2, Planetside they did not buy. They bought Matrix a few months after release and have been ‘working’ on it since then. Did they make the best game out of the Matrix in all that time? Planetside? And regardless of who made them (only diehards like us actually know/care), all of the games listed now reflect the SOE brand, the list was pulled off their station page. Both from a diehard and a casual view, the success/failure ratio for SOE is rather skewed, is it not?

    If a company can screw up the leading franchise in the MMO space (EQ), and one of the biggest IPs in the world (Star Wars), both during the same period another company clearly demonstrated was a near-perfect time to launch a major MMO, what does that say about them going forward?

  23. Swift Voyager says:

    “what does that say about them going forward?”

    I don’t think you can make a prediction like that. You’re overgeneralizing. And the “Dude, it’s Star Wars” arguement doesn’t really hold water either, since there’s quite a lot of people who say that Lucas is impossibly hard to work with when making a video game. Imagine the headeach of designing a normal MMO, then add the bonus of having to get all your stuff approved by the IP holder before you can implement any changes. Then imagine the IP holder telling you that you are going to need to change or scrap your last 2 months of work because it doesn’t fit cannon. :(

    There’s been plenty of companies who made a few bad games before releasing their big hit. What you’re saying is like saying that a sports team who hasn’t won a championship in 10 years is doomed to fail every season, forever. Who was in the Superbowl this year?

  24. Jason says:

    “If you look at the history of Sony in general, you have to respect them for the long history of innovation and risk-taking. Betamax, digital audio tape recorders, the Walkman, Playstation 1, Blueray, flat screen crt technology, the mini-disc, and the list goes on. Some of those were really great products that just didn’t work out for one reason or another, and some of them changed the world forever.”

    First off, you forgot to add Michael Jackson to that list.

    So what you’re really saying here is this:

    If SOE throws enough shit at a wall, something is bound to stick.

    Owww! Heehee! *insert MJ’s crotch grab here*

    Jason (resident drunken idiot of Channel Massive)

  25. Wilhelm2451 says:

    @Syncaine – Sorry, but I can’t agree with the statement about EQ2 and SWG “failing at launch.” Moderate success is more accurate. Successes the like of which would have kept some other games live that have since been shut down.

    SWG’s failure was pulling the rug out from under their subscribers via the NGE quite some time after launch.

    And you seem to redefining failure as you go along. First it is subscriber numbers and now it is quality on day one?

    Still, shifting targets doesn’t do much for some of your past arguments. I played EQ2 on day one and I played WAR on day one. For actual product stability, day one EQ2 won, no contest. So WAR would appear to fail against whichever WoW date you care to pick, since you say that day one WoW > day one EQ2. Glad we have that settled.

  26. Moorgard says:

    “SOE can support Station Access because they have Sony backing them, allowing them to growth the service DESPITE games like SWG and EQ2 under performing.”

    Your statement is simply factually inaccurate. SOE (which for much of its history was a division of Sony Pictures) has long been profitable, even as various other divisions of the Sony umbrella were not.

    In other words, yes, if they were independent they would still be in business, because they’re a money maker (this was at least true a couple years ago, and I suspect it still to be so).

  27. syncaine says:

    SOE is profitable because of the huge success of EQ1. Considering the budget and length of service, EQ1 is a gold mine. Overall success does not mitigate the failures of EQ2 and SWG to live up to their potential, nor does it change the fact that without Station Access, half the games listed above would have had the plug pulled on them. If we are giving credit for keeping them running, why are we ignoring the fact that SOE has failed to improve them enough to garner a larger audience?

    And Wilhlem, I’m sorry, but EQ2 was a straight disaster at launch, even SOE would admit to that. You had the wrong impression of what WAR was/is, but lets not confuse that with launching a product the vast majority of your player base can’t run, let alone ignoring the countless broken or incomplete systems. If EQ2 was in such great shape on day one, why is it so drastically different now?

  28. luciusETRUR says:

    I do not understand how EQ2 is a failure? Sure launch was bad, but the game is pretty populated, and in my opinion, the most fun MMO I have played today, and the best looking world outside of Vanguard.

    I believe EQ2 has somewhere around 200k subscribers, and sure EQ1 had around 550k and maybe EQ2 should have just ended EQ1. That wasn’t going to happen, regardless of the launch, they split their playerbase into two games, lost the war with WoW.. and who cares? Why does it matter if WoW has the most?

    I don’t care, I just play what I like and am glad that there is plenty of people to group with on it. :)

  29. habib says:

    As long as someone like Smedley, who lies just about every time he opens his mouth, is leading SOE, I doubt anything good can come out if that company. Even though the Agency might be somewhat interesting, at least to check out.

    But knowing that all your data can be sold / given away as we have read about a little earlier this month, makes me doubt I would ever play another soe game again. thanks.

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