SOE Acquired… huh

I wasn’t expecting this when I started my morning browsing of Twitter and Reddit.

My immediate reaction: Spine-chilling fear for the future of the EverQuest franchise.

My second reaction: WTF?

My next reaction: Wait, is this for real? Why? huh?

Being acquired by “Columbus Nova, an investment management firm” means you are a line item on a balance sheet of a company run by people in suits with big offices who want to see their lines on the balance sheet with big black numbers next to them. The care for good games goes away and the care for becoming cash-grabby takes over.

The more I think about it, this is starting to make some sense. SOE was behaving a little odd lately with the F2P model conversion, and the whole early access hype building… yep. This wasn’t a weekend deal. This was coming for a long time.

SOE made and continues to make some of my favorite games. I do not want to see EverQuest turned into a cash grab. I do not want to see SOE, a company with dozens of talented people I really respect, turn into a gPotato or Zynga style studio. I want SOE to make AAA games like they have in the past.  I don’t see that as an option now unless this random investment firm is owned by gamers who want SOE to make amazing games.

For now, we’ll watch this acquisition as we have watched them all in the past. Everyone builds excitement, talks about the future, etc. Slowly but surely the implications are revealed, and eventually there’s a thread on Reddit where some anonymous senior level employee tells all. Hopefully that’s not SOE’s (I mean Daybreak Games?) future.

For now, I’m just going to sit here scratching my head. That’s all I can do.

Pay 2 Win

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 4 days, you probably saw something about H1Z1’s early-access launch debacle. SOE clearly stated several times that guns, ammo, etc., would not be something players could acquire with real money. They would not be purchasable from the cash shop, yada yada. Turns out that wasn’t entirely true.

In what is now being apologized for as a misspeak by a dev during an interview, SOE is cleverly getting guns into players’ hands via the cash shop … indirectly. Players can buy airdrops with a random chance of dropping these types of items.  The problem with the airdrops was that they were landing too close to where the player ordered them. Supposedly these have been tweaked for balance already.

So yes, players can get guns and ammo from the cash shop. It’s just not a direct option. You can’t go to the cash shop and buy an AR-15 with ammo. You have to order an air drop and hope no one steals it from you. I’ll let you decide for yourself if the semantics matter. Smed and his team are 100% pro-air drop, so unless they change their minds it looks like it’ll stay.

What I love about this entire affair is how hard the community policed the anti-pay-to-win philosophy. Reddit blew up on Smed, players started demanding refunds (to which SOE is currently obliging) and a massive spotlight was shined on some pretty crappy decisions and (maybe) bugs leading to a style of play that isn’t in-line with what players want these days.

If only the community would pick up on the design implications of F2P and police it just as hard. The world would be a better place.

H1Z1 Early Access Commentary

SOE was building up to yesterday’s H1Z1 announcement with a modest level of hype. Lots of “It’s coming!” and “Soon®©™” and “Be sure to tune in for our live stream and reddit stuff!” I’m looking forward to H1Z1 as much as the next person… I thought. Some people are flipping tables and spitting as they scream about the “six week delay” before the early access begins. Once again we are faced with an early access situation that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

From the mouth of Smed:

“Is it going to be a finished game? Absolutely not. If that’s what you’re expecting, DO NOT BUY EARLY ACCESS. The goal here is to let you in early and help us mold it into a game you want to be a part of for quite a long time.” [Source]

Before I jump into a devil’s advocate discussion here, let me preface this by saying I get exactly what they are doing. Deep down you do too. This is marketing. This is business. The sooner everyone realizes this, accepts it, and moves on, the better. Most of us interested in H1Z1 will buy early access or wait until it is free. I certainly will. It sounds like a ton of fun. Okay, now that the grownup version is out there, let’s chat.

I find it fascinating (from the perspective of a player and a human being and not a demon from the business realm) that this idea of selling early access to a game is done with such a hot potato style. This is how I read it all: “Get excited about our unfinished game, but don’t buy it okay? But maybe you should…. but just know it’s not done… but please pay $19.99 now isntead of waiting for it to be free. Oh and if you want more game modes we’ll charge you more. BUT DON’T BUY IT! Seriously, don’t buy it (but please do).”

Here’s another interesting spin from Smed:

“Is H1Z1 going to be better than Day Z day 1? No it won’t. We’ll get asked that question a lot and I wanted to be up front about it. We’re not as feature rich and they have a lot of really cool stuff we just don’t have yet. That being said, we’re also a different game. We’re an MMO and our goals are to create a large scale world that gives you the incredible feeling of being a survivor in a zombie apocalypse.”

Downplay downplay downplay PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP PLAY IT UP! We’re back to the hot potato. “We’re probably not going to be as good so don’t buy us on Steam for $19.99 January 15, 2015 Click here for more info to get you excited!” Huh.

Another angle begging for commentary here is this idea that you charge more money to let people test more game modes. On one side of the coin it makes sense to charge more for more features. I can sorta accept that. On the other side we have reality where this is an alpha or a beta and people are being given a pay wall to participate in what is being publicized as an opportunity to work alongside the devs. … Incomplete game…. with pay walls… to help test the most incomplete parts of the game where the goal is to let you in to help mold it into a game you want to be apart of for a long time. I’m sure it makes way more sense if you don’t think about it.

H1Z1 … hmm

h1z1-teaser

SOE just officially revealed (sort of) H1Z1, the game John Smedley hinted at 2 months ago when he said:

 “SWG PLAYERS – OUR NEXT GAME (not announced yet) IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it… you can come home now.”

As a former / current SWG super-fan, I think I’m qualified to address how I feel after learning a bit about the game, as well as some of my initial thoughts and ramblings on why SOE is making H1Z1.

H1Z1 & SWG

I don’t get it.  I see DayZ meets Rust in a massively multiplayer persistent world.  Don’t get me wrong… that’s sounds like it can be a fantastic game, but that’s not SWG.  SWG was about building a community and living your life in a galaxy far, far away. H1Z1 is about surviving, hiding in the shadows, and being afraid.  I think, perhaps, the only trait the two will share is a sandbox nature and an involved crafting system.

Why a zombie survival game?

Simple. SOE is targeingt a completely different market.  They were live streaming about Landmark at the exact same time they did this first-look at H1Z1 on someone’s live stream show.  This isn’t for the fans who are hyped up about Landmark, EQ Next, or heck even Planetside.  This isn’t for the people who go to fanfare (SOE Live) or post on message boards.  H1Z1 from the moment they came out of the gate has been aimed directly that that L337 crowd of DayZ gamers – the “bros” of gaming.

I get why they are trying new things.  SOE went for the kiddie market for a while, the F2P Eastern model for a bit, the shooter market, then heavily back to the Fantasy RPG crowd (their roots), and now they want a taste of the growing zombie survival scene.

There’s no accounting for taste

Personally, I’m not a big fan of post-apocalyptic settings.  I’m also not big on zombies.  I prefer elves, magic, swords, etc. I’m not interested in games where the aforementioned ‘bros’ run around circle strafing and looting your backpack.  I’m not a big fan of FFA PvP, so I would probably play on a PvE server or a ruleset where I have to opt-in when I’m ready.  I’m not big of dark and scary, and I really hate how most post-apoc games are all brown and gross terrain.

H1Z1 may not be the game for me, but I am intrigued by the scope of a game where Smedley claims people can build anything, burn anything, and drive or fly vehicles all over the place.  Put that on a console (like they plan) and maybe this will be a great ‘sit back on the couch for a few hours’ kind of game.

I like the New SOE

Sony Online Entertainment deserves enormous praise for what they’ve done recently.  I’m not even talking about any of their games.  Let’s set the games themselves aside completely and just talk about the way in which I feel like they are taking the MMORPG (and gaming) industry to an entirely new level of communication, customer service, marketing, and just… this crazy sense of being real people working on games they love.

Every single day I can go on Twitter and see a dozen or more SOE staff tweeting about everything from what they are working on to being candid about problems they’ve encountered with a patch during downtime.  When you tweet them, chances are they tweet you back.  Even John Smedley, President of SOE, is on there actively engaging with the players, answering questions, and being helpful.  Their forums are full of staff assisting players and communicating the processes they are going through.  Seriously, Dave Georgeson tweeted at 2am that the devs finally left the building.

SOE is being really transparent.  They bring down servers for an update and if something goes wrong they don’t just give the “sorry we’re working on it.” They say, “Turns out we screwed up something in the database that handles X and Y because of Z.”  Heck, they recently decided to make a bold move and state EQN and EQN Landmark will be 64 bit only, and PS2 will be making the transition.  Alpha testing Landmark has been one of the best real game testing experiences I’ve ever had.

They are doing outside of their games, in the real world, what I love doing IN their games: creating a community.  They put on big events like the Year of EverQuest to create a bond between players and these properties.  Yes, that’s marketing, but that’s okay.  That’s the type of marketing I want.  I want a company focused on delighting fans and creating memorable experiences they can share over a company trying to figure out how they can make a game look good in a CGI trailer.

SOE, thank you for reminding why I’ve been a loyal SOE customer since 1997, why I chose to be a founder for Landmark, and why I will be first in line to buy just about any product you announce in the future.  You are setting the bar high, even for yourselves, but that’s what it takes to be great.  I like the new SOE.  Keep it up!