SOE subsumes Sigil Games

EverQuest publisher acquires Vanguard: Saga of Heroes developer; SOE president John Smedley talks to GameSpot about the acquisition, layoffs, and future plans inside.

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Publisher Sony Online Entertainment has confirmed that it has acquired Carlsbad, California-based developer Sigil Online and that studio's debut title, the fantasy-themed massively multiplayer online game Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. Though not all of Sigil Online's employees will be rehired at SOE, much of the staff will join the publisher and continue to work out of the Carlsbad office.

SOE will count the operation among its growing number of worldwide studio locations, including its home base of San Diego, and satellite studios in Seattle, Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, and Taiwan. Sigil cofounder and designer Brad McQuaid, who provided much of the creative vision for SOE's original EverQuest, will work as an external creative consultant.

The Vanguard team included other former SOE talent that had contributed to such games as EverQuest. It was originally to be published by Microsoft. However, the game was eventually published by Sony Online Entertainment and released in January in a state that McQuaid himself has publicly admitted was not ideal. For more on how the game turned out, consult GameSpot's review.

Since the game's launch, Sigil and SOE have worked to maintain and update the game, and as SOE president John Smedley explained to GameSpot in this exclusive interview, there are no plans to change that at this time.

GameSpot: The big news is that SOE is acquiring Sigil, and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes along with it. In your own words, why?

John Smedley: We feel like it's an excellent time and place to do this. We like the people over at Sigil, and we respect the creative work they've done on [the game].

GS: Tell us about how the acquisition is going to be handled. Will SOE be bringing most of Sigil's staff in-house?

JS: We're bringing a little more than half of the staff on board. The majority of the Vanguard team itself is coming onboard at Sony Online Entertainment and will remain in Carlsbad. The studio will be run by a gentleman by the name of Dave Gilbertson, who has been running Vanguard for quite some time now. Management of the studio will be run day-to-day, as-is. Also, Brad McQuaid will be kept on in an external position as a creative advisor. In the meantime, we're gonna continue to run the game.

GS: Brad McQuaid has been quoted on public message boards admitting that the game shipped in a nonideal, incomplete state. How will Vanguard's upkeep be handled once the acquisition is complete? Will development on the game continue, or will it be immediately shuffled onto SOE Station as part of a subscription package?

JS: The game is already on Station Access, and since January, many of the bugs and issues in the game have been addressed, and the rest will be as well. Vanguard is an SOE product and we're going to make sure it gets taken care of. As for the state of the release, well, Sigil only had a certain level of funding, and we contributed as well. But the game is in good shape now. We sold 200,000 copies...I'm not sure many people realize that. It's actually a very healthy game.

GS: What are the longer-term plans for the game? Was there other content planned and in development for the game, or expansion packs?

JS: Absolutely. First and foremost, we have a lot of updates in the works to enhance the existing game and put in new content. Very shortly, a new content release schedule will be posted with more details. The idea is to make the game even better and make the customers happy.

GS: What are the longer-term plans for the Carlsbad studio?

JS: For the time being, Carlsbad will stay focused on Vanguard. Over time, it's going to become part of the San Diego studio. We'll also look to do other things, long term. For example, some Sigil Games staffers are moving to San Diego to work on an undisclosed project at SOE.

GS: Some business world cynics point out that McDonalds isn't in the business of fast food, but of real estate with its many locations. What's the thinking behind having so many different locations worldwide?

JS: I don't think there's anything cynical about what we do. We go where the talent is. It's that simple. Many of the people working at Sigil used to work at SOE, and they left to chase the dream of working on a new fantasy MMO of their own creation. We're bringing those people back into the fold and we're excited to do so.

GS: Tell us about how this acquisition fits into SOE's overall strategy, which seems much more geared toward console games these days.

JS: Well, our strategy remains focused on very high-quality online games. We think Vanguard fits nicely into that. It's our most high-end game hardware-wise, and it's also our most "hardcore" game...we're not going to turn it into an easy "Care Bear" game. We'll continue with our commitment to the players to make the game the best it can be.

GS: Is there anything else to add about Vanguard or the Sigil acquisition?

JS: Obviously, I'd like to comment on the fact that some Sigil people lost their jobs. We at SOE did our best to keep as many people employed as physically possible. We went out of our way to hire as many people as possible, in some cases, more than budgetary constraints allowed. I'm hoping people feel like they were treated fairly.

GS: One last question: This isn't the first time SOE has "rescued" an online game in a flagging state. Some time ago, SOE picked up The Matrix Online, which seemed to be in a similar situation. Is this sort of thing also a part of SOE's overall strategy, or are they just chance occurrences?

JS: Here's the thing: In many parts of the industry, you're seeing layoffs. In our company, you see growth. We do what we do because of talent, because of people who are good at what they do. You may see games that aren't as successful as [the developers would] like [them] to be, but to us, what are most valuable are the people and the talent.

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