SOE President on Why the MMO Future is Free, Emergent

By David Radd

Posted December 19, 2012

Since shifting its business over to free-to-play, Sony Online Entertainment has seen stats like DC Universe Online's daily revenue increase by 700 percent, EverQuest 2's registration numbers more than triple and EverQuest seeing registrations increase by 350 percent and daily logins double. It's not surprising that the first SOE free-to-play title made from the ground up, Planetside 2, has seen 1.6 million registrants so far, 250,000 of which log in everyday.

"You have to play a lot of these games to figure that out," Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley said. "Most of us play games non-stop, and most of the games I play now are free-to-play; Dota 2, League of Legends, our stuff. It's sort of a gut feeling. I'd say it's more of an art, not a science. Zynga likes to pretend it's a science, but it's more of an art."

"There's a great quote from The Matrix: 'That's the sound of inevitability.' At some point, when there's a business model that just works, it's hard to fight it. Free-to-play is just too good of an idea," Smedley added. "The idea is just so simple. It democratizes and capitalizes, makes true capitalism out of the MMO gaming space."

Smedley also sees emergent gameplay as becoming fundamental to MMOs. "Our opinion is that today's MMOs, and I'd include ours in that mix, are stagnant and stuck in this model that we frankly helped create with EverQuest, where we put new content in the game, and they go through it at an incredibly fast rate because of sites like Thottbot and that kind of stuff," Smedley said. "We need to change the way we do this. We're building a sandbox and giving players the tools to help shape the world that they're in. That's the direction we're going we're going in with EverQuest Next; trying to make a world that players create while being a living, breathing world around them. It's not just a prop for them to walk around in, which is really what all of today's MMOs are. Their worlds are nothing more than a movie set."

The reinvention of the EverQuest franchise in EverQuest Next will heavily incorporate both emergent gameplay and free-to-play. "What we're doing [with emergent gameplay] is so radically new that we're not really talking about it," Smedley said. "What I will say is that what we're looking at is ways of making players part of the world itself. You'll understand it when you see it. We're almost at the point where we want to show the world."



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