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Craig McGregor Posted:
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I recently had the honor of being invited to tour the headquarters of Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) in San Diego, CA. Much of what I saw and heard amazed me so I felt compelled to share it with all of my members. The focus of this trip was to snoop in on the development status of "EverQuest II", the sequel to the smash hit MMORPG "EverQuest Live." However, because of the strict secrecy of this project, I did not leave with a lot of information or pictures - but I will do my best to relay the information that I was able to take down.

The Tour

Upon arrival I was floored by the sheer size of this place. Their complex spanned 3 large buildings, each at least 3 stories high. After being scrutinized by security and receiving our badges, we were greeted by Sean Kauppinen, my PR rep for SOE (and one hell of a nice guy!) For those of you who have won SOE prizes here at MMORPG.COM, this is the dude you have to thank for your free swag!

We started our tour in the "game room" - this is every gamer's wildest dream of where game developers get to hang in their "off time." It was a large room with at least 14-18 PC's all loaded with online games. After snapping a few pictures we were pried out of the room and on to the rest of our tour.

Here are a few shots of the "Game Room" - don't these guys have it rough?

Our next stop was the network center. Here we got to look at the many racks of servers that power the numerous worlds that SOE provides for the online gaming community. There were many hundreds of servers in this room, perhaps even over a thousand. They currently have about 62 servers running just for the Everquest Live game alone. Another small group of servers powered EQOA (the PS2 version of EQ) and another large array of machines was for Final Fantasy XI. Some impressive features in the room were a huge backup generator and a giant fire suppression system. Apparently if the fire alarm sounds you have just a handful of seconds to get out of this room before these tanks of nasty chemicals make the run uninhabitable for human life...eek! This area was deemed highly secret, so we were only allowed to shoot a couple pictures through the door window.

These shots through the server room door were all we were allowed to take ;)

Next, we briefly strolled through the many cubicles of 3D modelers, content creators, and programmers that work on EQ Live and EQII every day. It was a very quiet atmosphere, and we did not really stop walking long enough to see in detail what exactly they were up to (I presume this was intentional). We were told that Everquest Live employs about 70 people, while the Everquest II team currently consists of about 80 individuals. We then went through the customer service division as well as the quality assurance and testing area. Now, do these people have the ultimate jobs, or what?

Here you can see some of the customer service team (left) as well as some game testers (right)

At the conclusion of our tour we were brought back to the lovely "game room" where we were invited to join some of the PlanetSide development team for a little gaming action. We sat down with Dave Georgeson, the lead Designer and Victor Wachter, the Community Manager for a hard core PlanetSide gaming request.session. We played for a total of about 2 hours until we were asked to make way for another group. It had been a long time since I last played PlanetSide and I was pleasantly surprised with some of the improvements in the game.

Before feasting our eyes on EverQuest II we sat down with Alan Crosby, the Community Manager for Everquest Live while he took us on a grand tour of the latest expansion in the series, "Gates of Discord." It was an interesting tour and we were allowed to see areas that players had not yet ventured into. The look and feel of the game has come a long ways since EQ debuted 5 years ago - the zones were rich with details and the monster models were very complex and lifelike. On Alan's desk we were shown a priceless item, it was a boxed Korean version of Everquest Live. On the cover of the box was a close-up of Firiona Vie with the quote "I'm sorry I'm not easy." That was the apparent translation for "This game is difficult"...LOL.

Another great international marketing "oops!"

I get asked quite often by the members of our community why MMORPG's require a monthly fee to play and other "online" games do not. After touring this facility and seeing the hundreds of people required to not only create an online world, but to keep one running I can easily see why it is necessary...these talented people don't work for free. Unlike ordinary games, MMO's aren't "finished" once they ship to stores, they are constantly evolving and growing and require a large dedicated team to keep the players entertained and happy.

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Craig McGregor