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!

  • You can’t separate the company from the games, they’re entwined down to the core. What the company does affects those games, and no amount of social media hawking or ‘new age’ mea cupla posts on reddit will change that.

    When a game is already dying a death from neglect like PS2 is, all the ‘we’re different’ mantra just goes out the window.

  • Even though I am not personally a fan of Planetside 2, I really can’t agree with the idea that it’s being neglected. Smed posts on Reddit almost to a fault, they have a very active dev stream team, and they too tweet and talk about what’s coming up.

    They are doing so much more than any other company is right now to bridge the gap between big studio and the players.

  • SOE isn’t perfect, but I do respect their more recent transparency. If anything, that keeps me more hopeful for their future titles than the actual details of those games. It makes a huge difference to attach a caring, passionate human element to a product rather than have everyone hide behind a sparsely updated corporate entity.

  • When those same devs lack the intellectual capacity of actually making something worth of a sub, being vocal on their community does not change their shortcomings.

  • I’m certain the SOE devs will take your horrendously written criticism under advisement, qyte.

  • SOE have definately customer service right and I agree with you about the EQNL testing experience. However, as a UK player, this just makes me more annoyed that I will be forced to deal the ProSieben if I want to play EQN

  • I couldn’t agree more Keen – well said. Smedley’s ‘transparent’ approach to business is a welcome change of pace from what I’m used to in every other MMORPG. I like to be informed and I like knowing the direction the Developers are going in with games I spend a lot of time playing. It’s a very brave move which I hope makes SOE the leader of the MMORPG genre once more.

  • I’d say Blizzard does just as good a job with communication. Blizzard employees are posting on the forums every day answering questions, and they’re on twitter answering questioning all day too. The kind of thing SOE is doing now is what Ghostcrawler has done for years. Not only that, they remain professional. I don’t follow all of SOE’s employees, but Smedley can get obviously annoyed and become snarky or petty.

    But then again, I am just skeptical of SOE. All of their goodwill currently is tied up in either games that are ancient and irrelevant (EQ1) or games that are still to come (EQN & Landmark). Their recent releases either leave a lot to be desired or are being shuttered, so I have very little faith in the company’s ability to deliver.

  • SOE has only been a source of disappointment for me during the last 10 years. I’ve been wondering for a few months why I haven’t been more of an EverQuest (or a PS) fan while so many people seem to hype them so much nowadays. Honestly, I think that they are horrible at polishing and optimizing their games. I know that, by saying this, I’m gonna anger a lot of people but I just can’t help it, that’s the way I’ve always felt about their games, they are clunky, unoptimized and they feel unfinished. I’m a fan of pen & paper RPGs since I’m 14 (and I’m now 39), so normally I shouldn’t stop at the appearance of a game, I should see the depth,… Well, it’s video games and it has to be fluid and polished.

    When I first read about the “year of EQ”, I couldn’t help but to read “year of hyping EQ”.

    All the events, the tweets (oh, look at my cookies, hey I’m Omeed and I’m funny, sorry guys the second layer crashed again, hey here are 3 new codes,…) are just marketing, Just like their signs “more bang for your bucks” under the prices of the deluxe digital versions of their xpacks. Let’s face it, EQNL without that unicorn-power-level of twitter spam is just an extremely drafty alpha state of a game. It’s not like they have the choice either, as Fidjit says, Blizzard does it as well. It the landscape of nowadays online gaming, if SOE wouldn’t play the card of transparency and over-hyping, they would just lose another battle for subs (EQN) and I’m not sure that they can afford to lose this one.

  • GW2 used to communicate quite a bit before launch. Now very little and its usually PR speak and pretty shallow. For example, Dec patch was supposed to be a big class balance patch. I play guardian and was quire happy to finally see JP in our forum posting. After a couple posts he said he’d be back with some numbers on Mondah. That was a few months ago. He hasn’t been back. I hope SOE can keep this transparency going.

  • More than the Transparency, what has me sold on SOE games is how passionate their dev team is about the game. Sure at first is seemed like they were just putting on an act, but that kind of act is hard to pull off after 6 months, and the true test, releasing the alpha of Landmark on Super Bowl weekend, has only worked to prove that the guys and gals at SOE really do have a drive to make a great game. I think they can pull off what they have envisioned. At the very core, Landmark looks amazing, the world feels great, the character models, while the facial details need to be smoothed out a bit look really nice, and if this is the basic foundation of what EQN is going to be like, it is going to be a game worth playing for quite a long time.

    Plus, grappling hook… sooooo much fun.

  • SoE took over eq1 and ruined it
    SoE made sweeping changes to a unique and popular game (swg) because they wanted to cash in on the popularity of WoW, and ruined it
    SoE Ruined PS1 and made a lot of poor choices with PS2

    Gonna take more than the current bandwaggons of social media to impress me, and if what John above said is true (that they are still treating non americans like second class citizens and pawning us of to a sub-par company) then my inital reaction of ‘Its a $ony’ was accurate.

    we will see, definitely gonna take longer than the standard pre-launch hype train every company dose to make up for history

  • @Gankatron: Yeah, we’ll have to see. The cash shop will be one of the few ways they can screw up Landmark and EQN.

    @Thestarv: Agreed. 🙂 I think you can look at some of the people who aren’t in front of the cameras too. They all appear very proud to work on the game.

    @Jenks: Everyone knows my stance on F2P. I’m always willing to give people a chance. Screw it up, and I’ll be first in line to throw stones.

    @Evalissa: I’m bitter about a lot of game changes too, and unfortunately I can’t empathize with being from Europe, but this is not just pre-launch hype. It’s one thing to say how great you game is and how it’s going to revolutionize the industry. It’s another to completely open up with people and make the development process very public. Like I said, I’m liking the NEW SOE.

  • Seems like the devs at EQNL have done a good job in communication, but let’s see where things stand in a month or two. MMO blogs and commentary are either all about the moment, what’s fresh, shiny and new, or about the distant past. I also find myself falling into this trap. I want to play EQNL badly but after watching the streams and reading all the reviews, internally I know that after a month or two I won’t even play it. Unless of course things were to drastically change, but from my experience nothing moves that fast in the gaming world. A part of me cynically believes SOE moved the EQNL “soft launch”, I mean Alpha, up to capture a dead zone before all the Wildstar, ESO and Warlords hype hits. Let’s see who still plays EQNL after those come out in a few months. Dev communication and promises only keep people happy for so long.

  • its what blizzard has been doing these years. in fact blizzard was the 1st company with this kind of communication with the gamers.
    before them you couldnt contact with a company’s staff through the forums.

    but the forums of Gazillion are even better. contacting with gazillion is like talking with your friend.

  • @JJ Robinson: The Keen and Graev Community was chatting on our ventrilo server last night about how fast this dev team is moving with EQNL. The pace at which they are introducing fixes, new features, improvements to UI, etc., is faster than any of us have seen in a test we’ve participated in.

    I think it’s really not even a game to be ‘played’ right now. It’s an alpha test. I’m personally participating because what’s currently in the game is fun enough to experience while being able to offer up my voice full of ideas for what could be added to the game.

    EQNL is very far from a soft launch.

  • @Piticlin

    I disagree. From my personal experience, Dark Age of Camelot was the first MMO to have a real presence on forums. (Granted they were not their own forums, but they were the unofficially official DAoC VN Boards)

    If I am not mistaken, Sanya was the first ever Community Manager (Director of Community). For any MMO, ever. The person out on the forums with an ear to the devs, a shield in her offhand, and a spear in the other to deal with us, the unruly ravenous gamers.

  • @Keen

    Just to play Devil’s Advocate a bit here…. do you think that speed you are seeing from the Dev team could actually be related to the fact that, for all intents and purposes, they simply took the dev tools from EQN (A Game they have been working on for a while) and threw them at customers? I mean besides them making you gather resources and not be able to fly while constructing… you are basically playing with the world creator for EQN.

    So I’m just wondering if that has more to do with the rate at which you are seeing updates. Aren’t they just putting a customer-y UI on their Dev Tools? I saw a quote from you earlier that mentioned they were working on how to generate underground biomes. Could have swore that was a major part of EQN. Should we be worried that they havent even put that into the worldbuilder yet?

  • @Rawblin: Nah, this really isn’t THAT much of a dev tool. It probably uses bits and pieces of what they used, but it’s striving to be more of a game. The pace at which they are updating and responding to issues that arise is a blitz compared to previous alphas/betas I have been in.

  • Well that is good to hear. Hopefully it all pans out and we have an excellent builder to invest in.

  • I am right there with your assessment of the progress and how open and transparent it feels. I have done so much alpha and beta testing over the years and not since Fallen Earth have I felt compelled to even bother with posting on the official forums about features and possible directions for the game to go.

    When we had a big crash saturday night they kept us fairly up to date about the progress but when it became obvious they had no solid ETA they came out and said it… go do something else… we have no idea when it will be fixed. Then when they did fix it they released a post that was way more complicated then I could ever hope to understand but that is better then ‘we broke it and now it works’.

    One concern I do have that I say raised above is what exactly the cash shop format will be. I am quite happy with the way they run it in DCUO with only a few concerns in regards to that game so I will keep an open mind.

  • It’s worth putting the Landmark Alpha in context with other SOE Betas. I’ve done a fair few, going back at least as far as EQ2 and as a company they have generally been not too bad at communicating. Landmark, however, is different.

    SOE betas usually involve a good deal of forum posting and replying by devs and a goodly amount of in-game chat by them, too. This alpha is seeing even more of that but I wouldn’t count that, in and of itself, as exceptional. The speed of response to issues arising within the “game” itself is definitely faster than I would norlally expect, but again not exceptionally so.

    No, the sea-change in the Landmark alpha over all other SOE betas I have participated in is the way they are taking the time and trouble to explain why things aren’t working properly and why they are addressing those problems in the way they have chosen. I can’t recall seeing such detailed explanations in any beta from anyone, outlining what went wrong with a given situation, what effects that had on other systems, what fixes were tried, why those fixes weren’t successful and, when the problem is ultimately fixed, how that was made to happen.

    The difference this makes is really striking and, having played SOE MMOs for almost fifteen years, it does feel like a genuine shift in the culture. I can only say that had they adopted this approach from the start, their image as a games company could only have benefited. Much though I appreciate SOE, who have produced or operated almost all my very favorite MMOs and continue to do so, I would have to accept that they have often been their own worst enemies when it comes to relating to their customers and the wider gaming public.

    This is very much a step in the righ direction, a great improvement, and long may it continue.

  • I agree, all this new social media bullshit is really helping to cover up the fact that:

    -they’ve failed to release a successful product from any franchise other than EQ.
    -they farmed out their European players to some shitty other provider; it’s just so much fun being reminded that Americans are worth so much more.
    -they released a massive fps wargame that’s fundamentally broken since there’s no reason to fight and the actual mechanics are better in smaller, more focussed FPSs.
    -they have a track record of closing MMORPGs, I mean for Christ’s sake Mythic (or, rather, Broadsword) are still running UO.
    -as someone pointed out, the whole “talk to CS for a refund!!!” isn’t actually enshrined anywhere in the writing, so lol.
    -all they’re essentially doing is what Ghostcrawler had been doing SINCE WRATH OF THE LICH KING. Being on social media answering the banal questions people pose whilst also doing a bit of PR is hardly some revolutionary new bar.
    -“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.” I’m sure the drones who made Rift, SWTOR etc also didn’t stay late. I can imagine that they just walked out the moment 5pm rolled around, unlike the guys at SOE who so patently and proably love their jobs and games far more than other devs /s
    -they’re selling a crappy alpha for £34. That is the OPPOSITE of what Majong and Notch did with Minecraft did. “Pay for the privilege of playing in a buggy, unfinished sandbox most of which will be radically different come launch, whereupon it’ll all be free!” Wow, what a deal!

    I’m shocked people are actually falling for what quite literally amounts to some social media posts and a softening of tone.

    Excuse me for not loving this super new and exciting SOE.

  • @Dril:

    They basically opened the cash shop prior to alpha by selling $100 and $60 alpha participation packages for a F2P game.

    Hopefully they will honor the unconditional satisfaction guarantee and also give sufficient notice prior to closing the alpha so people who wanted to obtain refunds don’t get unexpectedly caught out by short notice, and have enough time to verify their refund status as I suspect SOE will receive an overwhelming number of such requests in the days immediately preceding the closure announcement, which will need to be processed in a short time period (i.e. no repetitive “All agents are busy now, please try again” notices that extend past the deadline).

    Although I don’t count myself among SOE’s or EQ’s most dedicated fans, I do feel this has been a cash grab at their expense, given that it is a free game, and any sign of shady interference with conducting the refund process will not go unnoticed by the gamer community.

    In other words, if gamers can predict possible worst case scenarios regarding the future refund process, a corporation that manufactures video games will be expected to prepare in advanced for such obvious potentialities, and seemingly heart-felt apologies will not be a substitute for money lost in gamers’ pocket nor repair SOE’s then damaged reputation. 😉

  • …or stated from a perspective everyone familiar with video games likely understands, ask themselves WWEAD, and do the opposite…


    “We didn’t design this as a “pay to play” or “pay to win” game.”

    EA public relations at work, trying to put out fires by dousing them in kerosene.

    It is adding insult to injury by treating a customer as if they were too stupid to see through a bald faced lie addressing why they don’t like their product.

  • I remember 5 years back having dinner with game developers from Flying Lab Studios (Pirates of the Burning Sea devs), while flirting with one of the animators I dumbly blurted out “I WILL NEVER BUY A GAME FROM SOE AGAIN” I soon learned that they were being published and my chances with said girl were dashed. That’s alright, because I still had my conviction.

    That all changed with Planetside 2. Smed’s openness about the development and the team’s commitment to using feedback brought me back into the fold. On top of loving the heck out of the game. I still play it and it’s got a great vibrant community. It’s been years since the devastation of SWG, people change. So do companies. Being bitter about the past isn’t going to get you anywhere. These guys are doing great things and a lot of you guys sitting here upset are missing out!

  • PotBS… another game I loved that had massive potential but ended up running aground.. Thanks Sanar for adding to my misery :p

    although.. thanks Gank for reminding me there is a company out-there worse than sony.

  • PotBS had issues waaaaaaaay before SOE. Like years.

    Sanar said how I feel. People change. Companies change. Actions speak louder than words, and I’m talking about actions here. They’ve been doing this for a few months now and the reason I waited this long was because I wanted to see if they were planning on keeping it up. Seems so.

  • SOE is currently doing what any company does before a release; putting on a smile and being super nice to everyone to sell a product. Fast patching, lots of communication, being ‘open to ideas’; all this happens with every MMO pre-release. Only thing missing here is a video of Smed in white shades talking about bears. Come on Keen, you should know better by now.

    What’s sad here is this is SOE, the company with a long track record of being… SOE.

  • What is really sad is that the more time I spend online reading blogs and forum posts the more I realize that there are more haters then fan boys in our shared interest. For everyone 1 person I see that is labeled a fan boy because they perhaps naively think Company X/Game X can do no wrong there are at least 5 people that think Company X/Game X can never do anything right.

    I do not know which I would be more sad to be … naive or jaded.

    Screw it… I am having fun and last time I checked that was why I played games.

  • @Syncaine the whole point of the post was pointing out that they are doing it differently. This is not the same old run around we usually get

    Let me tell you a story from last night….

    Servers go down around 9:00pm est, there are about 5 of us sitting in vent just talking/doing whatever. Keen and I (who share the same feelings on the SOE communication matter) are reading Dave Georgesons twitter. All of a sudden I read his latest tweet saying he has made a new claim and it is on Liberation (1 in 3 chance) Bluff island (1 in 117 chance) and just happens to be to the west side of the map. Now after laughing out of just overall shock at the coincidence I tell everyone in vent that Dave Georgeson the Director of Development for the EQ franchise has his claim a mere 30s run from ALL of our claims.

    So of course when servers come back up we set out to find him. We find his claim and his character. And he begins to talk to us, however chat is not working and we can not talk back. Keen then sends him a tweet saying that we could not talk to him in game to which he replies.
    @KeenandGraev checking on chat now! (Or rather, terry is!)

    and follows it up with

    @KeenandGraev awesome. And thanks for the heads up. I wondered why you weren’t chatty. 🙂

    maybe 2 minutes later the chat was fixed. Chat was not working for a total of maybe 5 min. But it was quickly resolved thanks to a dev playing his own game and ACTIVELY communicating through non game means with the community.

    This is not how it was done in the past by ANYONE, and people just refuse to see it as a step forward but instead as “putting on a face” and trying to trick the community.

    Sometimes when someone tries to change themselves they are actually sincere, and its a lot better as a human being to give them the benefit of the doubt and praise them instead of being cynical and trying to keep them down.

  • @Keen: “Actions speak louder than words, and I’m talking about actions here.”

    No, you really aren’t. Their most recent actions are:
    -making a voxel-based game that is, from what I can see, essentially Wurm meets Minecraft with many unimplemented yet promised(!) features that may or may not be interesting with absolutely no indication of how many of these features are going to function. The facts in front of you are that it is a game about digging rocks, crafting pickaxes and building something. Stop looking at Landmark and seeing some amazing fantasy sandbox that lets you live out your medieval dream, since it is absolutely not doing that and is very gamified at this point. And making you pay through the nose for the privilege of testing it.
    -closing four MMOs.
    -farming out non-NA customers to a shitty other provider.
    -making expansions for their other games like they’ve been doing for the last ~5 years.
    -going on Twitter and making vacuous promises that have yet to materialise and posting PR bollocks.
    -patching PS2, a game they’ve invested loads in. “Oh they’re really listening to the community on this one”. Great, fantastic, because they desperately need to turn a profit to justify the game’s existence and at the moment there’s really no reason to try and over-monetise the game since the remaining players would just leave.

  • Without explaining what strawman you think I’ve erected, I can’t say that I see one. You’re gushing about marketing hyperbole whilst claiming otherwise and gushing about SOE setting a new standard when in fact the only remarkable thing is that SOE have managed to soft launch an alpha without completely cocking it up.

  • Not going to argue with you Dril.

    This has been about their communication and transparency, not about their games. You’ve stated your position. Dial it down or move along. Thanks!

  • Charging 90 bucks to let people play an alpha version of a “game” that was initially designed just to help shape the real game is pretty disgusting in my opinion.

  • Disneyland charges $129 to enter the park. If I don’t pay the price of admission, I can’t enter.

    Landmark is a game. Someone felt the tools being used by the artists to shape the world could be fun if turned into a game. SOE, a business, decided to make money with it.

    I fail to see the problem. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it.

  • @Table:

    In a sense you will have the choice again, prior to wipes at alpha closure you can decide to say “Please SOE corporation may I have my money back kind sir”, followed by “See you in the beta!”

    Now that would actually be F2P.

  • Disney land wont let you in for free if you wait a day, whilst they add new rides and fix the broken ones
    your comparison is a little.. stretched :p

  • @Table: In 1996 Lord British was in-game during the UO beta interacting with players. Sorry, a dev, even the big dev (and lets be honest, Garrott at the time was a god compared to Dave today), being in his game during beta and interacting with players is nothing new or special. The only somewhat new bit is the now-dying twitter aspect. High-five! Glad you guys helped them turn chat back on though, clearly Dave is real familiar with his game that he didn’t notice it wasn’t working. Pretty minor feature, chat.

    Let’s revisit this thread 6 months post EQNL release. My guess is it will be WAR-reflections 2.0, only worse because its SOE and not some random devs.

  • Disneyland also doesn’t charge people to test their new rides and products that have just begun being build/created. Disneyland charges people that much for a completed theme park, and by completed I don’t just mean the concession stands are open and the rides are functioning. They charge for the entire experience and everything that goes into operating the park.

    SOE is charging people $30 more than what the typical “finished” game costs, and their “park” is full of construction workers, functions that don’t work/are broken/aren’t even implemented yet.

    If Disney started construction on a new theme park today and said “Hey general public, we would like to charge you $200 to come in and test some of these rides/attractions we are in the process of building in our new park, some of them aren’t full functional, and they may have bugs such as brakes not working, parts of the ride not fully stable or completed, but we’ll let you pay us to try them out anyways!”; would people actually think Disney was being an awesome company by charging for that, or even allowing it?

  • People really need to stop jumping on SOE for charging to get into the alpha. If you want to be mad at someone be mad at the people who are paying it. If no one paid for it then SOE wouldn’t be able to do it. They are not “taking advantage of people” or anything of the sort because people are CHOOSING to buy it.

    Honestly the people yelling that SOE are bad for it are worse than SOE for charging it. If you don’t want to pay it that’s your choice, but there is no reason to villify a company because they are following simple supply and demand. People WANT to play early access for EQNL, hence SOE charges for that privilege of paying it early.

    If you think this is bad you should be mad at all the people paying for it because they are the ones that are allowing the company to actually do it.

  • Drathmar brings up a very valid point.

    The current trend of when money exchanges hands to when product is delivered has been in a downward spiral for a long time. But it is the consumers fault.

    We have gone from paying for finished games, to paying for finished games early, to paying for betas, to paying for alphas……. and wait for it…. to paying for the IDEA of a game (Kickstarters).

    What in the hell is wrong with us?

  • I gave them money, they gave me access to their alpha and beta tests with additional in-game items.

    I gave them something, they gave me something. I feel what they gave me was a fair trade for what I gave them.

    Whether or not the game is complete is irrelevant. I didn’t pay for an incomplete game. I paid for access to their alpha and beta tests. I paid for convenience of getting items earlier. I never once paid for an incomplete game nor was my purchase advertised as such.

    I paid for the backstage pass to the concert. I paid for the seats behind home plate. I paid a premium and in my eyes received a premium.

    And yet we still remain completely off-topic. The new SOE, the one communicating better and being more transparent than they ever have, is one I enjoy and hope to see stay this way.

  • Well said Dril. This is why I don’t know what’s going on, is the SoE Koolaid container making the rounds around here lately? 10 years of terrible customer history out the window because a $100 faux EQ themed minecraft clone client was released? I was in EQ since beta 3, before most people even knew it existed. All those memories and good-will were created by Verant, not SoE or Smed, and they’re long since forgotten.

    Smed the gamer and Smed the SoE president are two polar opposite people. One speaks like he understands the major problems in the industry, the other is at the helm of a company on the forefront of perpetuating those problems to every single title they offer. Never would I have thought that this community would be bending over backwards to give Smed a free ride, I guess F2P cash-shop ideals are now in vogue.