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Bill Murphy: A Tough Break for SOE

By William Murphy on May 05, 2011 | Columns | Comments

A Tough Break for SOE

Sony just can’t seem to catch a break lately… heck, in the past few years.  Once they were the reigning kings of the console world, the Walkman was the dominate music player, and SOE was the revered name of the company that brought MMORPGs crawling into the PC gaming consciousness.  Now the Xbox rules the core gamer console market, the iPod has dwarfed everything in the portable music player world, and SOE is an acronym that hardcore MMO gamers scoff at and nail with derision regularly due to their treatment of a certain beloved IP.  So it probably will come as no surprise to many that Sony is having a particularly rough time handling the recent hacking of their customer databases.  I mean, it really could have happened to any company, but it happened to Sony and the weirdest part of it all is that people just roll their eyes and say, “It figures.”  It’s a tough break for a company that once was the king of pretty much anything they touched.  But I’m fairly certain the whole situation will barely effect PSN numbers and earnings in the long run.  Console owners, if the failure and retention rates of Xbox 360 owners are to any indication, are decidedly more forgiving than PC gamers.  No, I’m worried that this whole unfortunate series of events will further bring the hammer down on SOE and trouble a once venerated publisher even more than it has been by recent failures and missteps.

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I’m not going to regurgitate the same old “NGE was terribad discussion,” but that decision to retcon an entirely functional and beloved game which from on high is what first made people leery of SOE.  Then there was the (some would say) “failure” of Everquest 2 in the face of Blizzard’s juggernaut.  Mind you I love EQ2 now but it was a very rough start for that game back at launch.  I mean, really… when was the last time the house of Everquest had a bona fide hit on their hands?  But put aside the recent mediocre releases, and even the NGE debacle.  What this hacking issue seems to reiterate to users is that Sony is not a company consumers should trust.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t.  If truth be told, I’m the type to distrust pretty much anyone trying to get my money.  I prefer to make my own decisions about a product rather than listen solely to marketing mandates.  But the hacking of the PSN and the data lost from SOE’s databases make it even harder for me to give up credit card numbers and personal information and subscribe to their services.

But here’s the kicker. If a company as big as Sony can let this happen, couldn’t it happen everywhere?  Couldn’t we just as well be talking about Xbox Live, Blizzard’s Battle.Net, or even your iTunes account?  It hasn’t happened to any of them, but it could.  It may.  It’s easy to knock Sony.  They’re the whipping boy of the MMO world lately it would seem.  They’re like the Rolling Stones though.  If SOE were a rock band, they should be looked at as pioneers in their field who haven’t had a good album in a while.  And while I know there are plenty of people who shuddered during the Stones’ Super Bowl performance a few years back, I still can’t help but get amped up when I hear those guys are doing something.  A part of me knows they’re not en vogue anymore, but I believe they’re still some magic left there.

That’s how I feel about SOE.  DC Universe Online is a great game hampered by a few big issues.  Planetside Next should kick all sorts of FPS-lovin’ butt.  And I firmly believe that SOE should be lauded for keeping Vanguard alive longer than it ever should have been.  That said, in no way am I stating that SOE should be let off the hook for this event.  They need to compensate folks for the severe loss of paid time (and they are to the tune of 30 days free), and they need to make it clear and obvious as to what they’re doing to ensure this never happens again.  I also don’t think it would hurt to offer effected subscribers some free stuff outside of the game-time.  Maybe some swag, or free game copies, PSN points, etc.  This is a big PR calamity, and the best way to get people to put pitchforks away is to admit you did something wrong (even if they didn’t) and offer plenty of swag for amends.  Chances are people will forget about this in a few weeks or months.  But if they want to speed up the process and make sure people don’t hearken back to it every time something bad happens.  I mean, we see how that goes with Star Wars Galaxies every time they release a new game.  I’m sure they don’t want the same thing to happen any time they have network issues. 

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.