I recently met with Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley, who told me that the company is thinking about making MMOs for the PSP.
Appearing at the New York Games conference last week, he also talked about the future of MMOs in his keynote speech.
Afterwards, we spoke about his take on console MMOs, the “Halo” MMO, and what other kinds of things we can expect from SOE moving forward (“EverQuest” anyone?).
MTV Multiplayer: What is success now, in the age of “World of Warcraft” with its 11 million subscribers?
Min Kim talked about the 20-million-user game. I think that’s very possible
John Smedley, SOE president: For us, success is about making games that people want to play. If you’re defining it by a metric, I think we’re about to find out [by] going into the free-to-play model [with “Free Realms“]. That is going to change that and blow up that dynamic in a way that is going to be radically different. An example of that is — [Nexon America’s director of game operations] Min Kim talked about the 20-million-user game [during the game conference]. I think that’s very possible in this space, simply because the barrier to entry is removed. And then how much will those people pay, and what will the revenue translate into? Well, our early studies are showing that it’s a very profitable model as well, so we think we can get both a new audience and monetize the game in a way that is really meaningful.
MTV Multiplayer: How are your console MMOs coming along?
Smedley: Great. It’s been a new experience for us because — well, we’ve done one console MMO. We’re actually one of two companies in the world that’s ever done a console MMO. We had “EverQuest Online Adventures” for the PS2 — still operating. It and “Final Fantasy XI” are the only actual MMOs. There’s other games like “Phantasy Star Online” that aren’t true MMOs — they’re more smaller games where you have hosting and get into dungeons with people — but not quite the same as an MMO. So they’re coming along well. We’ve invested heavily on the tech side. Now that we’re part of Sony Computer Entertainment, it’s a lot nicer. Because we have access to a lot more resources technically. So they’re coming along well and they’re going to launch alongside the other versions of our games. Well, depending on the games. [The console version of] “Free Realms” will come out about six months later. “The Agency” and “DC Universe Online” are coming out day and date with our PC version.
MTV Multiplayer: What about the business model? Will console players like subscriptions? Or will PC players get used to microtransactions?
Smedley: That’s the interesting thing. We’re starting to actually do [microtransactions]. We introduced a trading card game to our “EverQuest” and “EQ2″ players and they got the idea of microtransactions very quickly. We put it in there in a way that wasn’t harmful to gameplay and it actually gave them a benefit, so that’s how we’re going to convert existing players. Getting a console player to pay for a subscription, I think that’s an interesting question. I think it’s about making a great game, but we also believe that there’s a chance, maybe [the games] won’t be subscription-based. Maybe the free-to-play model is the right one to use there, too. We don’t know yet. We’re going to find out with “Free Realms,” and adapt as we see things go.
MTV Multiplayer: What role do you think console MMOs will play in the field?
You’re going to see a whole new generation of players that have been playing ’Resistance’ now start getting introduced to MMOs.
Smedley: I think they’re going to introduce a lot of new people [to MMOs]. Studies show that a lot of people who have consoles also have PCs. However, they also show that most of the people that have a console play their console as their primary gaming device. Though I think what’s going to happen is you’re going to see a whole new generation of players that have been playing “Resistance” now start getting introduced to MMOs. I think it’s going to be a cool way for them to experience games that have been on the PC for a while, but have a totally different kind of gameplay on the console.
MTV Multiplayer: In your keynote, you had mentioned, by having MMOs on consoles, there will be additional returns. But has there been a significant cost?
Smedley: No, not really. Because we developed our codebase such that the engine will run on across both [platforms]. So there was some up front investment, certainly, but we’ve invested in making sure that the technology runs on both. We’re adapting controls and some of the communication features but we’re trying to keep the same primary game.
MTV Multiplayer: So you would say all of SOE’s MMOs will appear on consoles from now on?
MTV Multiplayer: Is Blizzard crazy for not doing console MMOs?
Far be it for me to say ever that Blizzard is crazy…
Smedley: Far be it for me to say ever that Blizzard is crazy, because they are the leaders in this space, and I have a lot of respect for them. Everybody makes different choices. We have advantages that others simply don’t being in the Sony family. For us, the opportunity that we see on the PS3, and potentially the PSP, is something that we can’t pass up on. … I would say that we would be one of the early adopters on [bringing MMOs to consoles], and we plan on becoming one of the dominant players in the MMO space on consoles. We see that marketing coming; we think it’s there now, so we want to get a good market share there.
MTV Multiplayer: Did you hear about the news that Microsoft had been working on a “Halo” MMO? What do you think of that?
Smedley: It’s interesting but until I see it, I can’t really comment on it. I think Sony’s got more invested in the MMO space as a whole; it just doesn’t seem to be a space that Microsoft’s aiming at. As a game player, [the closing of Ensemble Studios] was a tragedy; I was a huge “Age of Empires” fan. They say it’s going to continue, but it’s just weird without Ensemble.
MTV Multiplayer: Can you see Sony doing an MMO with one of its premiere franchises?
“[’Massive Action Game’] had games … with hundreds of players in a fire fight, it’s unbelievable.”
Smedley: They’ve actually already announced “Massive Action Game“… It’s an amazing game. I mean, they’ve had games there with hundreds of players in a fire fight, it’s unbelievable. I feel like I’m pushing it a lot, but you have to see it. I’m a huge FPS fan so this is right up my alley.
MTV Multiplayer: But has there been discussion about making an MMO from an existing franchise? Something like a “God of War” MMO?
Smedley: The freedom is there to do different licenses. We haven’t talked about any of that specifically but the idea of doing something in one of the other licenses has come up. It’s just right now we’ve got our plate pretty full and Worldwide Studios has their plate full and with Home coming out — there’s just a lot on the plate right now. So the new stuff is going to take a little bit to get into development.
MTV Multiplayer: Speaking of “Massive Action Game,” has SOE been consulted by the folks working on it?
Smedley: We came into the fold after it was already pretty far into development. We’ve seen it. Other than to say we’re seriously impressed as fans, but beyond that there’s — no, that team knows what they’re doing. No need for it.
MTV Multiplayer: Do you think that creating MMOs that aren’t fantasy-based — like the “The Agency” and “DC Universe” — will help MMOs appeal to a broader audience?
Smedley: To us, we want to make different games that appeal to different kind of gamers… With “Free Realms,” it’s more for a younger audience, and for women. You know they’ve sold 2.6 million copies of “Cooking Mama” on the DS? I mean, it just blows my mind that there’s such an audience size-wise that people just haven’t hit. We’re trying to put a lot of different bets on the table — but with the idea in mind that we’ll always have our core [audience] and that we’re going to expand out from there and reach different genres of gamers.
MTV Multiplayer: Have you done anything with “The Agency” and “DC Universe Online” to try to bring more women into those games as well?
“We are going out of our way in “DC” [to attract female players].”
Smedley: Yes, I think with “DC” it’s fair to say that. But with “The Agency,” I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought that was going to appeal to a lot of women. The shooter genre traditionally has not, so I wouldn’t say were going out of our way on that front. But we are going out of our way in “DC” because we saw that women were really the largest part of the audience for “The Dark Knight” [movie]. In fact, I heard a stat that said it might’ve been more women than men — but I can’t back that up, it was just something I randomly heard… But we want to make games that appeal to all kinds of gamers.
MTV Multiplayer: With the success of “WoW” and now “Warhammer Online,” it seems that fantasy MMOs are still doing well. Do you feel that straying off with “The Agency” and “DCUO” has a high risk factor?
Smedley: That’s not all we have in development. It’s pretty safe to say that “EverQuest” has not seen its last game. So we’ve got our own cards to play there, and I think we will play them at the right time. But the quality level will be something that people will be very happy with.
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