So...want to know why SOE will never be the powerhouse producer of MMORPG's ever again? Simple. They never were to begin with. Back when Verant announced the creation of EverQuest the online gaming community had one game they were infutuated with at the time - and that was Ultima Online. Ultima Online was a 2D top down online virtual world. Verant on the other hand was about to release a 3D over the shoulder virtual world where players could enteract with their virtual environment like never before. Verant needed a publisher...and in steps Sony Online Entertainment. and the game EverQuest was born.
Now when EQ went live it was the only 3D MMORPG on the market. There was no other choice for gamers at the time of EQ's launch. Asheron's Call from Microsoft wouldn't be launched for another 8 months. So SOE quickly gobbled up the online gaming market and EQ was a huge success from the very start. Again this is simply because SOE was first with a 3D virtual world that players could run around in slaying orcs, spiders, and draqgons. Even after Microsoft's Asheron's Call was released and offered another choice, many gamers decided to stick with EQ because they all ready were established in the world of Norrath.
A couple of years pass, EQ grows to about 400k subscribers simply because there is no other MMO on the market like it. Dark Age of Camelot comes along. It is semi-successful and even takes some of EQ's subscribers away. Now we have not 1, not 2, but 3 choices in the 3D MMORPG market. EQ, AC and DAoC. SOE cdoesn't have to comply with the wishes of their player base...what other games is there to play? So SOE thinks hey...its OK to do what we wish...we have no serious competition.
Things are starting to change.
More and more MMO's are launched and each one eats a little more into EQ's hold on the players of MMO's. EverQuest is still huge in the North American market. However in Korea, there is Lineage by NCSoft that claims to have 2 million subscribers. People can't even imagine a game with that many subscribers and debates about the real numbers pop up on various gaming websites all over the internet.
Now during this period from about 2002 to 2005, lots of MMO's get launched and most crash and burn and EQ is still Big King Rat errr...dog on the block of the MMO world in North America...until...
...well two things happened, one in late 2004 and one in late2005 that would forever change how the online gaming community would see SOE for presumably years to come. One...a game company named Blizzard launched what was to be the most successful MMORPG ever created to date. Do I even have to write the name of that game...I suppose I better for people who may have never heard of it before(how I do not know!)...that game was World of Warcraft or simply known as WoW by its fans. WoW not only changed the number of people who played MMORPG's, but it literally changed the very way these games would be made and marketed. The very core of MMO game play was redefined by Blizzards game and it would have a serious impact on almost every game that existed before and those soon to follow.
SOE saw the numbers, other game companies saw the numbers and were astounded by the sheer popularity of the game WoW. Blizzard announced 4 million subsribers were playing WoW. How could this be and how could Blizzard do it? To be honest...Blizzard had a ready made fan following with their Battlenet crazy fans who grew up playing Blizzards computer games like Diablo, Diablo 2, StrarCraft and the World of Warcraft games. Blizzard merely tapped into their own ready made pool of fans. It had really nothing to do with WoW in general. It had everything to do with the fact that Blizzard knew what their fans wanted and expected from them and Blizzard delivered it. Blizzard gave them a vivid. colorful world based on the Warcraft series to play in. They then polished and worked with their fans who beta tested it pretty thoroughly to make sure that the game they released to the general public was actually fun to play and ran as smooth as possible on even the lowliest of computers. Then to top that off Blizzard did something no other game company ahd ever done before or scince - they had no NDA(non-disclosure agreement) and this by itself showed the confidence Blizzard had in their game. Again, Blizzard knew their fans, it listened to their fans and it delivered to their fans the game their fans wished to play. Blizzard did their homework in other words and they actually worked with their fans to help make their game a huge success.
Back to SOE. SOE had launched two other games since EQ, boith which were considered somewhat successful. Star Wars Galaxies which at one time had upwards of 250k subscribers and Planetside which peaked at around 150k. Bother these games came out long before WoW, 2 years in fact before WoW. SOE before WoW was still big dog on the block claiming to have a million players playing their games. Then came WoW.
As I stated, SOE saw the numbers, took a step back and thought..."How can this be?" "Is WoW really that fun to play? What did Blizzard do different then we have done in the past and why didn't we ever see those numbers for our games like EQ and what the hell happened to Star Wars Galaxies?! It should have brought in 10 times that amount! Star Wars is one of the most popular and well known IP ever created! Why didn't it work?"
As stated...Blizzard knew their market, they knew their fans and they delivered what their fans wanted. SOE didn't get it then and they don't get it now. It isn't the fact that WoW is a better game...it is that Blizzard had way more fans then SOE ever did! It really is just that. Blizzard tapped into their own fan base! They didn't need to steal EQ's players, or Dark Age of Camelots Players or Asheron's Call players or anyone else's player base for that matter. All those 4 million subscribers that Blizzard claims to have playing WoW...most are totally new to MMORPG's because EQ still has decent subsriber numbers, EQ 2 has decent subscriber numbres, so does DAoC and many other online games like Guild Wars and such. So WoW didn't draw from existing players, WoW pretty much brought 4 million new players into the MMORPG market. SOE doesn't get it.
Because SOE fails to get it and thinks WoW must be the answer. What did SOE's higher ups decide to do? They decided to shake up their own games and the rewrites started. Remember I said two things occured in late2004 and then late 2005 that would forever change how gamers saw SOE. One the game WoW and two what SOE did to the game SWG and it's loyal player base. First SOE decided that WoW's formula for success must have been the basic core of the game itself. WoW isn't exactly all that complicated to play and SOE decided that their games were to complicated and well that must be why their games were failing to draw in the numbers. So SOE starts copying the basic WoW design. First game title to be hit with massive rewrites and redesigns is Star Wars Galaxies. Without telling their fans of their intention SOE and Lucas Arts decide that SWG needs to be more like WoW. The secretly start rewriting what is to be called the New Game Experience. All the while they are telling their fans they are working on making the existing game better and they even release a new expansion called the Trials of Obi Wan. This seemed like SOE was still working on the game the fans of SWG grew to love. It was a huge sandbox style game that was unlike any otehr game out there.
SWG had player ran cities, an extensive crafting system far beyond what was offered in other games, mounts(creatures as well as speeders), FPS(first person shooter twitch) space craft combat(a first for any MMORPG), great character customization, skilled based character development, player ran economy, it was Star Wars to a point...maybe not just like Star Wars the movies...but it enabled its players to feel as though they were apart of the Star Wars Universe and those players were addicted to it. Why did the game fail to garner larger numbers? SOE refused to listen to their players for the most part. Unlike Blizzard that knew their player base and knew what their players wanted because they listened to them and took their suggestions and opinions to heart...SOE does not. SOE to this day still refuses to listen to their players especially when their players passionately beg them not to do something to the game that will change the very core of how it is palyed and that is exactly what SOE did in late 2005.
The unleashed what become known to the gaming community at large as the biggest gaming blunder and debacle that had ever been seen. The unleashed the redesign of the game Star Wars Galaxies and it was called the New Game Experience - NGE for short.
Players of SWG learned this was going to be unleased just two weeks, two weeks, before it was to go live. That also meant that the exapansion(Trials of Obi Wan) people had pre-ordered was basically incompatable with the new version of Star Wars. Remember players thought all was well with the game of SWG s it was and that it was cool. The NGE had not yet been announced - yet. The people running SOE basically thumbed their noses at their loyal player base of SWG and said you can either like it or leave it, we know better then you and this will get more people to play our game. SOE had decided to WoW'ify their game. Totally rewriting the core of the game from the ground up, destroying the very sandbox that made SWG such a great game. Instead of listening to their players who were loyal to them and their game SOE refused to listen and the mess that was the NGE was released, with a now non-working expansion made for SWG before the NGE - bugs and all.
If SOE had listened to their player base from the get go instead of trying to turn SWG into some psuedo version of WoW - SWG would still have a decent size player base upwards of 300k or more players. As it stands now it has less then 50K according to people in the know.
This was the turning point for SOE and their games in my opinion. This one little act by SOE and Lucas Arts hurt SOE's chances to be the online game company it should be. SOE's reputation for thumbing their noses at their player base was all ready in the toilet with some of the things that took place with EQ, EQ2 and Planetside - but the release of the NGE upon the SWG players put them over the top of being listed as one of the worse online game companies next to Turbine and Artifact Entertainment. After the NGE there was a huge migration from SOE's SWG and other games - like EQ2.
People could no longer trust SOE. SOE showed little or no respect for their player base, unlike Blizzard, and this has forver since been their bane. Will SOE ever gain back the confidence and trust of online gamers in general?
Because once again SOE's true colors are showing with their latest producers letter on their recently acquired title Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. When SOE acquired the game from Sigil, rumors spread like wild fire that SOE was going to pull another NGE on the game because Vanguard didn't pull in the numbers SOE was hoping for. Those rumors were quickly squashed by the head of SOE John Smedley who told gamers that Vanguard would not undergo any real changes and that they would stick to the initial vision that was Vanguard and that they ahd learned their lesson from what had occured with SWG and the NGE and they'd never do that again...until...well until again must be after Vanguard because it seems that they are still up to their same old tricks - again.
See buried between the lines of the recent prodcures letter is tall tell signs of SOE's true intent for the game Vanguard and with SOE's recent acknowledgement that they did secretly make changes to one of Vanguards most popular classes - the ranger(which brings back memories of the class rewrites of the SWG/NGE) - and the other little things being said by the current producer and developers and the fact that they have basically mocked their fans in a recent podcast and are not really listening to their fans despite them saying they are(but they are going to change the game anyways) smells of an NGE is indeed in the works for Vanguard. Only SOE is trying to do it a little bit at a time. That way they think they can minimize the damage of unleashing it all at once as they did for SWG. Phew...now was that a run on sentence or what? :)
What am I trying to say with all this? Simple...SOE might have been the big dog on the block in 1999, but it is 2007 and their days of being the leader in the MMO market have come and gone. SOE will never be the game company Blizzard is until it realizes one thing - its your fans stupid! They play your games! Know your fans. SOE thinks they know their fans but they don't and they refuse to get to know them and try to become more trustworthy of them, they, SOE, plays some kind of twisted game of "we really know what is best for the game and well our players...our players have lost touch with what an MMORPG is so we'll humor our player base, tell them we're listening all the while we'll do exsactly the oppisite and our players can either like it or leave".
....and this is why SOE will continue to slide down hill into the abyss of mediocrity and bad MMO's for ever more. Am I saying SOE should be totally doing everthing their fans ask of them? No...but when your fans threaten to leave a game in mass numbers or cause a huge ruckus on your own official game related boards or game fans websites errupt with bad reviews or commentaries regarding SOE's total disregard for their fans and their games(I mean come on there is a thread dedicated to players that hate SOE on this very website), that means one thing...SOE refuses to learn form its mistakes and its the same old same old for them and this means they'll continue to drie players away instead of drawing them in and keeping them. SOE reputation is about as low as a game companies rep can get and it doesn't look like it will get any better with their current plans totally disregard the wishes of the fans of the game Vangaurd.
What needs to happen if SOE is ever to regain their reputation and start drawing people to play their games and trusting them again. SOE needs a change at the top, the bottom and the middle. They need a new mission goal and new management to go along with it - plan and simple. The current people in charge of SOE are the reason why the company is in the mess it is in with its players and until new poeple are put in place that understand its all about the players(your customers!) who play your games SOE will never be top dog again.