Beyond the Game - SOE's Sandbox Gamble

Beyond the Game - SOE's Sandbox Gamble

SOE is betting a lot on Landmark and EverQuest Next. They’ve invested tons of cash into concurrently developing two AAA massively multiplayer games, and they’ve sunk more into iterating on Next - a game that has undergone some major back-to-the-drawing-board revisions. If they don’t do well, the company could be in serious danger. And more worryingly for some, perhaps, they’re investing in a kind of MMO that not only hasn’t been mainstream since the late ‘90s, but that flies in the face of everything EverQuest is known for as a franchise.

So SOE is betting big on sandbox games. Why?

There is a distinct sense among gamers that the MMO industry is stagnant. For nearly a decade now, the go-to model has been to attempt to make a copy of World of Warcraft. 2009’s Star Wars: The Old Republic appeared to be a point of climax in the genre, as publisher EA sunk a world-record budget of $100 million into a themepark MMO with a much-loved IP, made by a celebrated, award-winning studio. It was supposed to be the perfect formula. SWTOR was...merely okay. Its endgame certainly couldn’t hold a candle to WoW. After that, there was an expectation among many observers that the industry would start to move away from attempting to out-WoW WoW, and try to innovate for the first time since the early 2000s.

That didn’t happen.

Guild Wars 2, despite a marketing campaign laser-focused on how innovative the game was, disappointed many gamers by being, yes, just another themepark. In a curious twist, the Elder Scrolls Online attempted to out-SWTOR SWTOR with a mammoth budget of hundreds of millions of dollars, fully voice-acted dialogue, and, yes, the transformation of a franchise famous for its open-world sandbox into an on-rails themepark MMO.

It is customary in the world of business not to take huge risks. When hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds or thousands of jobs are on the line, the tendency is to bet conservatively.

It is customary in the world of business not to take huge risks. When hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds or thousands of jobs are on the line, the tendency is to bet conservatively. It seemed as though a genuinely radical AAA MMO was off the table.

And then SOE announced EverQuest Next and Landmark, and shattered that expectation. Both games are huge risks - Landmark is basically an attempt to turn Minecraft into a massively multiplayer online game. Nothing like that has been done before. And Next is going to take procedural content and players as content to a whole new level.

Both games are going to succeed - I firmly believe that. I think EQN, in particular, has the potential to be a top-2 MMORPG for years after its release. SOE clearly believes that too.

But it costs me nothing to say so. I’m uninvested. SOE have sunken everything into this belief - if EverQuest Next and Landmark fail, the company will be licking its wounds for a long time to come. If both games fail catastrophically, it may mean no new MMOs will come out of SOE for years.

But they will succeed. Being free to play from the onset means that one of the traditional death knells of an MMO - the conversion from subscription to F2P - will never happen, thus never shaking consumer confidence in the product. The fact that both games are different from what precedes them means that they will appeal to unique, under-served fanbases who have few games to play in the present moment. And the fact that the games are AAA with the backing of a big publisher, means that they’ll outcompete smaller, independent projects along similar lines.

And then SOE announced EverQuest Next and Landmark, and shattered that expectation.

I’m personally excited to subsidize this gamble - in the end, it is consumers who validate a product (or don’t). We vote with our dollars. I look forward to sending a strong message to the online gaming industry that there is room for innovation. And I applaud SOE for having the foresight to see that this is a risk they need to take in this present moment, and one that will pay off tremendously for them in the future.

 

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About the Author

Filip “I Don't Need No Alias” Nonkovic has been gaming since an early age. Coming into this land of colorful lights and sounds from the wrong side of the iron curtain, his parents got him an NES for his birthday. He makes his living as a writer. When he isn't writing plays and poems by the light of one fitful candle late at night, he's gaming. Filip favors hybrid, one-man-army classes in online games, which he has been playing since the late-90s. He is a staff writer for EQHammer, with a particular fondness for anything to do with voxels, and an interest in analyzing the ever-changing relationship between developer and gamer.