Last week was a big one for Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game was inducted into the Game Developers Choice Online Hall of Fame, becoming just the second game to receive that honor behind Ultima Online.
Following the awards ceremony, SOE president John Smedley sat down with GameSpot to answer a few questions about the future of EverQuest and the rest of the developer's slate of titles, including the upcoming PlanetSide 2 and already-released DC Universe Online. The executive also pledged his support for Sony's upcoming PlayStation Vita portable and addressed the changing online industry landscape, including the future of the subscription-based business model and the advent of freemium options on consoles.
GameSpot: EverQuest just became the second inductee into the GDC Online Awards Hall of Fame. Is that it then? Can we shut down the servers and stick a fork in the game? What's left for it to do?
John Smedley: Absolutely not. EverQuest has been going on for 13 years now, and it's going to go on for a long time. We've got big plans. Getting inducted into the Hall of Fame is pretty amazing, but we see this as a recognition of some major achievements by some great game developers and how great our fans have been with the support they've shown us throughout the years.
GS: When did you realize in EverQuest's development that this could last for 13 years?
JS: Probably around the two year mark or so. We realized what we had then. Early on, we didn't realize it because there had been no precedent. Ultima Online had only been out a little while before us, so we really didn't see the future that well.
GS: So the phase EverQuest is in right now. I don't know if you want to call it "The Golden Years" or what…
JS: I look at EverQuest the way I look at Dungeons & Dragons. We're on version 4 of D&D and people are still playing in droves. Look at Magic: The Gathering...15 years I think of an awesome game. So we are big believers that this franchise is going to be there for a very long time, and we're investing in it a lot.
GS: Ultimately, what do you think EverQuest's legacy will be?
JS: I think it's going to go down as one of the big MMOs, as one of the pillars of online gaming in general. Our task now is to take the game and evolve it and make it into something new for today's fans. And I would liken that to the brilliant job J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek...the reimagining of it. That's what we're doing, and we've got some cool new things in store for players with the next one. We're hard at work on it, and we don't have anything to say about it yet, but I will say we're very stoked about it and putting our best people on it.
GS: Are there any plans with PlanetSide 2 to bring the game to the PlayStation 3 or other Sony console platforms?
JS: Stay tuned.
GS: Earlier today, a Sony rep was selling developers on making games for the Vita, saying it would support all manner of subscription and microtransaction business models, not unlike the ones SOE uses. You've gone on record as having at least expressed interest in the Vita. Any more concrete details on plans to support the hardware? Any plans to tie in functionality to any current SOE titles, for instance?
JS: SOE will be supporting Vita. We are a proud member of the PlayStation family of companies, and you can expect us to support Vita. I can't say which titles yet, but you can expect us to support it in a big way.
GS: Can you give us an update on DC Universe Online? How much more new official DC Comics content is in the works for the game? How will the new DC 52 relaunch be addressed in DC Universe Online?
JS: So we just launched game update 5. We've announced it's going free to play, so a lot of focus is going toward that launch later in October. Things are going smoothly and well. I think we're going to the business model we kind of wish we'd launched with. For so many people, particularly on the PS3, the idea of a subscription makes them nervous because they don't have to do that with other games. What we've invented is free to play your own way. If they want to pay for a subscription, great; we're going to give them a lot of great benefits. If they want to pay for three months or one month, we're going to be allowing that. Not everything is going to be in there at launch, but it will be in there. We're focused on making it great.
GS: What are your thoughts on current and future pricing in the MMO market? Is there still room to continuously launch new games with a retail SKU and a monthly subscription fee? Is free to play (with microtransactions) the future or is free to play itself a model that is perhaps already reaching saturation itself?
JS: Free to play is a big part of the future, but on December 20, we're about to see a huge juggernaut launched at retail [with Star Wars: The Old Republic]. It's going to be a great game and BioWare knows how to make awesome games. And I think the retail model is still there. We're evolving our company into something different. We're in a unique position because we're inside the Sony family and have a lot of good insight into things. We're in a great place for bringing new business models to the console, so we think that's a really strong part of our future. PC is going to be right there neck and neck with it, though.