SOE Sunsetting Vanguard, FreeRealms, Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online

Written by Feldon on . Posted in Commentary

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…

FreeRealms Postmortem

moneybag-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.

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Comments (12)

  • badcat

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    I fell bad for the vanguard gys as they been talking all this how soe saved their game. Actually I feel bad for all those folks that enjoy those titles.

    Reply

  • gwen

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    i always thought free realms was doing ok?

    Reply

  • FireSmed2014

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    This is all good news that many of us knew would happen. One step closer to getting Smed fired. He’s just not capable of running a company like this. These games are communities of friends and this is sad news in that regard.

    Reply

    • Hoot

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      While I agree Smedley and the higher ups at SoE are incredibly incompetent and don’t know how to properly manage a company, this is actually an improvement. They’re starting to realize that having dozens of various MMO products is a bad idea and just stretches resources too far and thin.

      That said, I can’t believe it’s been seven years when Vanguard was launched. It’s a shame what happened to the game’s development. Had some amazing ideas and concepts that sadly fell flat ingame.

      And the Vanguard community should feel thankful that SoE has kept it up for so long. Remember, had it not been for SoE, this game wouldn’t have made it out of the doors in the first place. Ultimately the blame can be pointed at the head owners of Sigil, most notably Brad Mcquaid.

      Reply

  • talonsenchanter

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    Damn, with the new subscription model I was going to start playing vanguard again. So much for that.

    Reply

  • Swagged out

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    please dont quit freerealms! i love it so much and i spent alot of money on it for rides pets clothes and membership!

    Reply

  • Narsikus

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    When free realms launched I was so excited cause it seemed like an EQ-like MMO that I could play with my pre-teen kids. I created them accounts and we all logged in together. I knew this was the frontier of the next cool thing and we’d be playing together for years!!!

    Fast forward 3/4 hours later. We logged out and haven’t played since. The game was completely boring. It was just literally no fun at all to play. I was incredibly disappointed since I had such high hopes.

    We did find that “next frontier” a year later and have been happily playing (and having FUN in) minecraft together off and on ever since. Needless to say, I’m starting to get cautiously optimistic that EQL/N will be our next destination!

    Off topic – I remember the Sep 2006 cover of PC Gamer mag: “Vanguard: The first true WoW Killer?”
    ROFLMAO

    http://www.gfkmri.com/research/Cover%20coding/PC%20Gamer/159_200609.jpg

    Reply

  • Eschia

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    I had a feeling sometime within a few years after they shutdown SWG, Vanguard would be next. Which is why I haven’t played it in several years. Except once I logged in to take advantage of a deal to get a cheap gallion and i sailed all overt he place and got bored because there was nowhere to go.

    Reply

  • Tygarys

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    90% of potential players were unable to get past the registration screen.

    Let me guess, did they use the same company to run their registration as the US gov did for obamacare? :mrgreen:

    Reply

    • Narsikus

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      If 90% of players were unable to register, then 10% were able to. 10% is way more than were able to register for 0-care and I think the gov would’ve been tickled with those numbers.

      So to answer your question, No, they didn’t use the same company. They used a much better one.

      Reply

      • Feldon

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        Now we just need someone to mention Hitler and we’ll hit the trifecta on comments.

        Reply

        • Fairwethyr

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          You just did.. well done sir!

          Reply

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