Sony Online has moved beyond its Everquest MMORPG status in the last few years, releasing PS2 and PSP action-RPGs, but its still in the massively multiplayer genre where the company is best known. With a number of upcoming projects in the works, including a PS3 launch title and helping to create the PS3 online network, FiringSquad got a chance to ask some questions to Sony Online's president John Smedley for an overall look at the company's present and future.
Editor's note: This interview was conducted before the announced departure of Sony Online's Creative Director Raph Koster
FiringSquad: Sony Online runs more massively multiplayer games than any US publisher by far. As Sony Online's head how difficult is it to keep up with all of the games under your view?
EverQuest just recently celebrated it’s seventh anniversary, which comes just a few months after we released the 11th expansion for the game. EverQuest II is a little over a year old, and has two full-blown expansions and two adventure packs. Star Wars Galaxies encompasses land and space combat and exploration across a half-dozen worlds. The Matrix Online is a full living, breathing city. PlanetSide is filled with thousands of players fighting over dozens of bases, towers and control points. It’s hard to know everything about every single one of our MMOs (not to mention our console titles), but I try to keep up.
FiringSquad: Everquest launched with only Origin's Ultima Online as its only serious competitor and now there are tons of MMORPGs out there. Is there always a fear that this genre is going to become saturated?
Saturation probably isn’t the best term. The MMO genre has come a long way since 1999, in terms of game design, quality and availability. Each new MMO game that comes out hopefully grows our audience and brings in new people to a genre that Sony Online Entertainment is clearly vested in. We’re not just dabbling in the MMO space, we’re running a half-dozen live online games with plans for more. New faces coming into our worlds are always welcome.
FiringSquad: There was some thought that Everquest might get hit with player subscription losses as players move to Everquest II. Can you give us any indication if that has turned out to be true and how long does Sony Online expect to continue to support Everquest?
Surprisingly, EQII didn’t put too big a bite into our EQ sub base. Part of the reason is because we began offering the Station Access subscription to our players, which allows them access to all of our games – including EQ, EQII, Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online, PlanetSide and EverQuest Online Adventure for the PlayStation 2 – for $24.99. Most EQ players have months (or years, in many cases) invested into the game, building up their characters and guilds, forming relationships within the game and spending a great deal of time and energy completing some of the vast amounts of content available in the game. They did not simply want to “switch,” and lose all of those connections. We still have hundreds of thousands of people playing EQ and we plan on supporting the game as long as they keep playing. We’re already planning for our next expansion for the game.
FiringSquad: Everquest has moved into action-RPGs and RTS genres. Have there been any thoughts about developing other games in the Everquest universe, perhaps a pure action game or a single player only RPG?
There has been talk over the years of producing a Squaresoft- or Bioware-style RPG based on the EQ franchise, but we’ve never progressed much beyond talking about. It’s not something that we’d ever rule out. Personally, I’d love to play an RPG based on the huge amount of lore that we’ve built up over the years.