Sony Online Entertainment Looks Towards the Future

With the launch of EverQuest in 1999, Sony Online Entertainment (back then we were Verant) was on the leading edge of what became a revolution in the video game business... Online Gaming. We certainly didn't invent fact; we stood on the shoulders of some pretty amazing games, including Ultima Online... Meridian 59 and many, many other games including some great text MUDs.

EverQuest had that magic that propelled it to selling over 3 Million units over its six year (well almost) lifespan. We've released 9 expansion packs during that time that have added an absolutely massive amount of content that we're pretty proud of. Certainly some of those expansions were better than others, but I think our goal has always been the same.... to entertain our players.

With the launch of EverQuest II, our goal was to refine EverQuest... to distill the things that made EverQuest great, but also to add its own flavor and gameplay style. I think it's fair to say we also needed to aim for a more casual gamer... and make the game appeal to people that may not have the same amount of time they had when EverQuest first came out. As a company we needed to also appeal to a wider base of people. I think you can see from the universal appeal of the Lord of the Rings books (and oh yeah, the movies too....) fantasy worlds are what we can all call "mass market". I'm really proud of EverQuest II and I honestly believe we delivered on our goals of making an incredibly fun and immersive world that our players want to be a part of and make their own.

Over the years, we've learned a lot. The biggest thing we've learned is that our players care very much about everything we do and the changes we make to their world. I cannot tell you how many thousands of emails I've gotten over the years complaining about class balance, nerfs, and overall changes we've made to the game. While I can absolutely understand and respect where each and every one of the people that took the time to write these passionate emails came from (and I read every single one of them and do my best to respond to them as well), I can also assure you that our game teams really do care about the changes they make. Remember... YOU, our players, write our paychecks.

But it's more than that.

It's also about truly caring about what we do. The vast majority of our development teams come from our player base. That's a fact that I'm incredibly proud of. In fact, it may surprise you to know that EverQuest actually was the catalyst for one of our Executive Team members to meet his wife (he just got married within the last 6 months)... she was in his guild... one thing led to another and... well the rest is as they say history.

We've certainly made our share of mistakes over the years... but overall, we've tried to stay true to our primary goal of entertaining you.

That's our job description.

Now what's been interesting from our perspective is what really serious competition is doing to the online gaming space. World of Warcraft has come on the scene and is doing awesome. Kudos to Blizzard on what I think is a spectacular game. I've played the heck out of it, and I love it (as have many people here at SOE). To a game developer, having another game developer play your game is the ultimate compliment... so to the folks at Blizzard we say "Nicely done".

But don't think for a second that we don't see WoW as both a great game AND Blizzard as serious competition.

Personally... I'm glad they are out there. They keep us honest. They keep us focused and they force us to play with our 'A' game. They've certainly opened some eyes in our company to styles of gameplay that are different than we would have come up with inside SOE. I hope they're also opening up the eyes of other MMO developers that the 'old school'
probably won't cut it any more. I'm glad that we went in the direction we did with EQ II because had we stuck with making an even "harder core"
game, I think bad things would have happened. We need to be about larger scale mass-entertainment... because that's what online gaming is slowly becoming. Our games just need to be fun... and easy to get into.

In the United States there are around 2 Million paying online gamers (this is after WoW btw). That's up from 250,000 back before EverQuest was released... and I'm only counting the MMOs... if you start to add in the Pogo's of the world we're probably talking about 3-4 Million online gamers... and I have no idea what scary numbers some of these online poker places are bringing in.

What this means is that making future online games is a big business that is going to be increasingly competitive. I think that's good for you, and good for us. It's going to ensure great games get made... and I can tell you we're in this for the long haul.

Where are we going? What are we going to be doing to revolutionize this business? Well let me throw out just a few of the things we're thinking about here at SOE.

What if you could have families in MMO's? Virtual Children... What if your characters could have children and pass on the family name.....

What if players could build fantastic dungeons that become part of the worlds we create with tools we give them? How would that work exactly?

Can MMORPGs have skill-based combat?

What if?

I mention these things to be provocative. I want to make sure we're going to take what we do to the next level... and that's going to mean putting some next generation ideas out there and seeing the kinds of things you actually want... but I at least want to start this dialogue and stir the pot a little. We're very interested in your ideas about where things go from here.

John Smedley
President, Sony Online Entertainment