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Monday, October 31, 2005

Mystery SOE MMO

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Wow. You think you know SOE and they throw you a curveball.

Am I surprised they have MMO's in development? Of course not, that's what they do. But the fact that they have one due out in the fall of 2006? Yeah, that came as a surprise. So did the fact that it will not only be free but have no subscription charges.

Okay, I don't have much information to go on here. Smed apparently delivered the
opening keynote at the Austin Games Conference. Unfortunately there's no transcript at that link, just a glamour shot and a bio. However, I did run into this post on Joystiq which led me to this little news story.

First, let me address the timing. I think it's refreshing that they are releasing a game so soon without the massive hype that other MMO's seem to have for years before release. It's a nice change of pace and I definitely think that the hype cycle has gone on way too long with certain upcoming games (you know which one I'm talking about).

But how about the fact that it's not subscription based? This is certainly a departure for SOE. What surprises me is that I thought they were really pushing the Station Pass idea (pay more for access to all SOE games). Joystiq seems to think it is "inspired by Sony’s
success with EverQuest’s Station Exchange." Well, first off the servers are Everquest II and, second, I would like to argue the numbers that lead to the "success" claim, but that's a story for another post.

The actual quote from the Next Gen news story is, "get the game for free, pay for only for new content (e.g. expansions, item sales, etc.)." That's a quote of their summary, not Smed's actual words. That encompasses two separate ideas of how to make money without using subscriptions.

One is what I call the
Guild Wars model. Make money by selling the retail copies and also by charging for expansions. We all know that SOE can churn out the expansions and they have proven they can also do mini-expansions or "adventure packs" in EQII. So this may be a viable option for them. In this case, though, it sounds like they won't even be charging for the initial purchase.

The second way is what I would term the
Project Entropia model. Project Entropia is a game where real money can be converted to in-game cash (Project Entropia Dollars or PED) at will. They make their money on item decay and other cash sinks, and, I suppose, people who leave the game and never bother to convert their money back. You can play without transferring any real money, but believe me you have to do so actually enjoy the game at all. The Station Exchange is a little different from this in the fact that it was tacked on as a real money transfer system to an existing non-real money transfer game and makes money on transaction fees. Project Entropia was designed from the ground up as a real money transfer game.

Now, if you've read this site for a while, you know I've ranted hard against Station Exchange. My main problems were SOE's hypocrisy in saying they were against such things in the past as well as what I perceived to be a decision that would weaken the legal standing of other MMO companies attempting to protect their games from secondary market companies. I also felt it was a bad move from a public relations standpoint and a bit of a conflict of interest. But, if a game is marketed from day one as a real money transfer game, well, that's just a business decision that I can't object to on "moral" grounds. So I'm not going to get in an uproar about it. I would still argue that it's a faulty game design concept.

I beta tested Project Entropia, by the way, and I found the gameplay awful. That's not to say SOE can't make a real money transfer game with great gameplay. I will just never be able to enjoy it knowing that people can buy their way into game success. And I think the majority of the market will want to play games where real money transfer is not a part of gameplay and everything possible is done to protect the game from secondary market companies. But I am willing to admit the market is big enough for both styles of games.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. We don't know the details yet and Joystiq guesses that it may have something to do with the Playstation 3's online plan. I can also pretty much guarantee that the game will have in-game advertising similar to Planetside.

I'm also very curious about what the setting and concept for this mysterious MMO is. My first thought was that this was the DC Comics MMO that SOE has in the works. For those of you that don't know, SOE acquired the rights to a DC Comics MMO when they purchased Matrix Online. In fact, most commentators, including myself, believed that getting the DC license was the main reason they did the Matrix deal. But, word on the DC Comics game is that it is scheduled for a
fourth quarter 2007 release. So I don't think that is this game, but who knows? The fact that there will likely be in-game advertising makes me think it will not be the usual swords and sorcery setting.

Anonymous tips are welcomed and encouraged. Also, if anyone has a transcript of the Smed speech, please post a link.

Getting back to the subscription issue for a bit, I personally would like to see game companies go in the opposite direction. I don't think games that rely solely on retail and expansion sales will ever give me the quality and depth I look for in an MMO. Nor, as I stated above, do I really want to play real money transfer games.

I know people complain about the $15 or so a month EQII costs, but the amount of time I play EQII makes it well worth it for me. I have spent far less money on other games and forms of entertainment since I starting playing consistently so it's a net budgetary win for me. I'd pay something like $30 or even $50 a month for a game that had a massive production budget, a huge and skilled staff, tons of content and constant live events. It would be worth it to me.

But right now the market seems to be going in another direction. These things are cyclical though, so you never know. We may see a company in the future try the model I suggest.

Edit: Via Damned Vulpine: Another write-up here and a live-blog of the Smed address here.


Blogger cyan said...

"I'd pay something like $30 or even $50 a month for a game that had a massive production budget, a huge and skilled staff, tons of content and constant live events. It would be worth it to me."

I completly agree with you and would love to see a game like that, unfortunatly though we are a small minority who think that way.

EQ2-Daily Podcast

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cyan, I think that you would be surprised at the amount of people willing to pay a significant amount for a game like that. Remember that even a rather small part of the population adds up to a significant number if you look at it at a worldwide scale.


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It's ok for all of you. You all have money and everything. And i can't pay that fee per month. Or buy a legal SWG game. So now i'm sitting and searching how to download a free swg and where to play it for free for 3 long days... I'm getting tired...

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