The Sony Online Entertainment belt-tightening continues, with the announced shuttering of the following games:
- FreeRealms – March 31, 2014
- Clone Wars Adventures – March 31, 2014
- Wizardry Online – July 31, 2014
- Vanguard – July 31, 2014
As Clone Wars and Wizardry Online were the intellectual property of other companies, LucasArts (since purchased by Disney) and Gamepot respectively, so there may have been some contractual reason for these games to end. Also, the Clone Wars show went off the air this year.
Vanguard has a long troubled history that included substance abuse, parking lot firings, and copious drama which can be uncovered in the scantest of Google searches. But as a game, it had brilliant ideas, yet never had the chance to spread its wings as a reincarnation of EQ’s fabled difficulty with EQ2 graphics. Vanguard players must surely be feeling whiplash as the game had been left abandoned, then seemingly out of the blue had seen active development over the last couple of years, with a shelved pre-launch raid zone finally being opened just last week. Read Vanguard’s Sunset announcement.
NOTE: It is our understanding that there are NO layoffs in response to this announcement, and that the few folks who worked on these games within SOE are being reassigned to other projects.
After the jump, some thoughts on FreeRealms…
The most surprising name on the list for me is FreeRealms. According to sources close to SOE at the time, FreeRealms cost in the neighborhood of $30 million to produce, with a further $10 million in television commercials and assorted other marketing. Although millions showed interest in Free Realms by registering accounts, especially among the nascent non-gamer market according to the same source, over 90% of those who registered never actually logged into the game. SOE contracted an outside marketing company to handle referral links, yet after promising a flood of traffic, this company ended up being completely overloaded and fully 90% of potential players were unable to get past the registration screen.
The final push to get Free Realms released wasn’t kind to other departments within SOE, as ambitious plans by the EQ2 team to develop and release fan-favorite Destiny of Velious crumbled in favor of the much lighter Sentinel’s Fate which could be delivered while so many of the EQ2 team were pitching in to get Free Realms out the door.
FreeRealms was supposed to capture the Tween market (ages 11-12), yet SOE missed key warnings from internal testing and player feedback that the game was too uneven in targeting its audience. Some aspects of the game bore the hallmarks of tried-and-true MMOs, while others were skin-deep. FreeRealms did get a redesign months later, with enemy targeting and combat made completely automatic, and glowing breadcrumb trails between quest updates opening the game to players as young as age 5.
But despite all this history, FreeRealms had a huge chance to grab a large audience, especially non-gamers, as well as be “the game parents would let their kids play”. The game caught the public’s attention for a time, and drew in a passionate, loyal playerbase, it seems unrecoverable damage had been done in the early days. This was also SOE’s first real taste of Free-to-Play gaming, and undoubtedly they learned a lot of hard lessons in the process.
PoxNora Spun Off
We didn’t mention this at the time, as EQ2Wire generally sticks with EQ2-only news, however in light of today’s announcements it’s worth noting that late last November, it was announced that PoxNora was being spun out, two years after having been purchased by SOE with this announcement:
We’re happy to announce that we have found a new home for Pox Nora with Desert Owl Games, an indie studio founded by two of the three original creators of the game. Beginning today, Desert Owl Games will take over the development of Pox Nora.
With Pirates of the Burning Sea being bought back by its original developers in late 2012, it seems that there is a ceiling on how many properties SOE can confidently juggle.
Trackback from your site.