Aggro Me: Brain Exploding...SOE and Sigil Unite
Brain Exploding...SOE and Sigil Unite
Sigil and SOE sitting in a tree? Vanguard part of Station Access? I'm still dumbfounded. But I've been thinking about the news and I'm going to try to analyze it from different angles. First, I think we need a little reality check:
Brad Levels Up His Post Count on the Vanguard Forums (edited to change link to Silky Venom's Dev Tracker because a direct link wasn't working)
SOE did not buy Sigil. Nothing remotely related to that happened.
My understanding: Sigil purchases its own publishing rights from Microsoft, though they are still a "key Windows Development Partner," whatever that means (not much). Sigil enters into a co-publishing agreement with SOE. SOE provides "distribution, marketing, hosting and back-end support -- including billing and technical support." SOE tentatively agrees to add Vanguard to their Station Access subscription. That's the core of it.
From the Vanguard Fan Perspective
When I heard this news, the first thing I thought of was the absolute armageddon melt-down that must be occurring on the Vanguard forums. The posters there did not disappoint.
I can definitely understand why. Let's be honest - a large part of the Vanguard fandom is built on anti-SOE sentiment. Brad's Vision (TM) was perceived to be the antithesis of all that SOE represented (whether that's true or not). So when they hear that SOE is suddenly involved with their near holy game, it's a reaction akin to Johnny Damon signing with Yankees. And I completely empathize with that emotion. Like I said, I'm still in shock myself.
But you have to look past the emotions and look at the reality. SOE co-publishes other games. I recently mentioned that they were co-publishing Gods and Heroes. And they are a co-publisher on Toontown. That really doesn't affect the actual games, only the way they are delivered.
SOE has no right as co-publisher to dictate gameplay changes in Vanguard. Just as they would have no right to mess with balancing in Gods and Heroes or change the Cog spawn rate in Toontown, they can't mess with Brad's Vision (TM). And I guarantee that Brad made that clear, whether it was necessary or not. SOE development staffers are not going to work on Vanguard, they're going to work on their own games.
People who view SOE as villains who will somehow tamper with the Vanguard gameplay have to realize that the reality of the business world is not as dramatic as all that. This seems like a pretty clean and straightforward deal. If anything, Sigil has more control over their game then they did before. As sole owners of the publishing rights to Vanguard, I have to assume that they can drop SOE as a co-publisher at any time they wish. They could find a new co-publisher or publish the game themselves.
Sigil is the one with the leverage in this deal. SOE and Sigil are not merging anymore than SOE merged with Disney when it co-published Toontown.
As for the anti-SOE rhetoric, as I've stated, players are not going to notice anything SOE does in terms of the game itself. But is SOE evil? No, they make some horrible decisions and some great decisions. As with any large company, different divisions are going to have different personalities and work product. Have they done awful things in the past? Sure. Have they done great things in the past? Sure. Reality is never as black and white as people like to believe. It's much easier to paint someone or something with broad strokes than to try to see that they're probably more complex.
I will say that the some of the fervor on the boards relates to Station Exchange. And I completely agree with and understand that. This is just an example of how that bad decision negatively effected the public's perception of SOE, and justifiably so. For the record, Brad says no Exchange type service for Vanguard ever. But as much as I didn't like SOE's Station Exchange decision, it has no real impact on the current news.
From Sigil's Perspective
This one's not too tricky. Things weren't working out with Microsoft. In the press release, Brad stated, "As the development process is ongoing and constantly shifting, it became clear that MGS and Sigil had varying visions and direction for the title's development." If you translate that from feel-good PR lingo, I would guess it was an absolute blood-bath.
And Sigil preferred to concentrate on the game itself rather than the technical and other subsidiary aspects of publishing it. That's probably a good decision for them.
And once they made that decision, the options were probably more limited than you think. How many companies have the expertise and wherewithal to handle a game like Vanguard? How many wanted to? There are really not a lot of options and I think SOE has the proven track record to handle this sort of thing (regardless of what you think of their game related decisions). And obviously, there were past connections between the companies which facilitated things.
As for the purported personal differences between people at SOE and Sigil, well, business comes first. People who let personal disagreements or feelings outweigh good business decisions are doing a disservice to their company.
All that said, Sigil had to have been (or should have been) aware of the public backlash this decision would had amongst the Vanguard faithful. They made the decision that the benefits of this arrangement outweighed that backlash. The fact that they went ahead with it anyway actually makes me think that they care enough about the game to do something difficult. How will this decision work out for them? Will they lose many potential subscribers? Will the break from Microsoft allow them to make a better game? Will SOE's services bring in more subscribers then they would have had? It's too tough to call.
From SOE's Perspective
This one is a bit trickier. I've been looking forward to Vanguard and hoping it will be an incredible game. But I had my doubts about some aspects of it. I won't get into specifics here but you can figure some of those doubts out from this Friday Humor post, which is pretty funny. If I do say so myself.
And let me clearly say that I have never played the Vanguard Beta. But the things I have heard from people I trust make me think that those doubts were fairly accurate. Now you can say that there are always bad rumors and so on when a game is in Beta (and it is in Beta after all). But just going on my instinct and the content of those "rumors" I've tended to give them credence. And the issues with Microsoft (regardless of statements to the contrary) do not exactly reassure me.
If I had to wager now (based again on my admittedly quite limited knowledge) I would bet on the fact that Vanguard would have been unsuccessful or at least rather limited in its success.
So as the CEO of SOE I would be tempted to say, "Haha, good luck with that. Go find another publisher and we'll sit hear and eat some popcorn as your game completely implodes."
But now I'm the one letting my emotions cloud good business sense. Without knowing the details of the agreement, it seems like a relatively low risk proposition. If Vanguard is a success, SOE profits. Contrast this to the possibility that Vanguard was a success on its own, siphoned players from SOE games and not only made SOE zero money but cost them money. And what if it's a failure? Big deal. They're only co-publishing the game, not financing it. This might constitute an investment, sure, but it's a moderate one in the scheme of things.
SOE has cut their risks while gaining the possibility of reward. And that seems to make sense. Though I still might have passed, that's only my competitive nature talking.
From EQII's Perspective
This one's even trickier. Vanguard is a direct competitor. And from my personal experience, I hear more people in-game talking about leaving EQII to play Vanguard than I hear people saying they're leaving EQII to go play WoW.
So why would you want to help a competitor? Well, remember that people would have left to go play Vanguard whether or not SOE co-published it. The difference is that now they're still making money, but that's back to SOE's perspective.
The only possible difference in terms of EQII is that more people who are EQII subscribers might try it due to the Station Access subscription. And that might have a negative effect on populations which could have a negative effect on the game itself. But remember also that those people are still, in essence, EQII subscribers and are more likely to return to EQII to check out new content or expansions. Contrast this with the alternative - people canceling their EQII subscriptions and subscribing to Vanguard. So it may actually work out to their benefit. And then, of course, you may just have some Vanguard subscribers who go Station Access and try out EQII and love it. I don't see this as a huge number (due to anti-SOE sentiment amongst the Vanguard faithful), but, hey, you never know. You might also get people who weren't going to subscribe to either game to subscribe to Station Access for the possibility of playing both for one price. In the end, I see it as a net population benefit.
The important thing is that the EQII staff remains completely the same and will continue doing what they are doing. I have a feeling that the new Expansion and Adventure Pack will be excellent based more on the time and experience the designers have had with the game than anything specific in the press releases. Whether that translates into more players or retaining current players is tricky. But I don't think the player base will be affected negatively by this arrangement.
From Station Access Perspective
It's amazing the difference a few days makes.
Station Access has just gone from a much criticized price raise to possibly one of the greatest deals in gaming. The flexibility to play Vanguard and EQII for one monthly fee, even if you don't play the other SOE games, is probably well worth the price. Here's to hoping they don't raise the price further when Vanguard is added to the lineup.
And, hey, now that I know they can add games they are co-publishing to the Station Access lineup, I'm going to be even more on their case about adding Gods and Heroes.
From My Personal Perspective
First off, it's definitely surprising but also hilarious. Brad, Smed, SOE, Sigil. It's just too funny. SOE never ceases to entertain. Is SOE going to co-publish the Sigil Marvel Comics MMO and have a DC and Marvel MMO going simultaneously?
For all my doubts, I was going to buy Vanguard and I was hoping it would be a great game. And I still am. If I get to play it for no additional subscription fee, that makes me happy. I think it's a good business decision for SOE and I don't see it hurting EQII at all. And I honestly don't believe this will have any effect on Vanguard gameplay.
It's a new, wacky MMO world out there and I'm just along for the ride.