Mercurial Thoughts: A New Direction?
By now everyone in the gaming world has heard that Sigil Games Online has entered a tentative agreement with Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) to co-publish Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. To this end, Sigil is buying the publishing rights back from Microsoft. The reason for all of this is simply that Sigil’s ideas about the direction for the game are apparently at odds with those of Microsoft. And while much has been written on this decision in the past week (in fact, I worry that many might well be sick of it), I decided that the time was right to add my thoughts on the whole matter.
It does seem to me that reaction to this announcement has been decidedly mixed. The majority of people I know have a “wait and see” attitude. They have no strong feeling either way and are willing to give SOE a chance. Yet others absolutely hate the idea, and there are a few who have actually decided not to play Vanguard. Quite simply, they do not like SOE whatsoever and do not wish to play any game published by them. While there are those who dislike the idea, there are yet others who actually like the concept. They see advantages in the choice of SOE over Microsoft, and find the idea of the game being co-published by SOE pleasing. Regardless, I think it is safe to say that everyone was a bit surprised by the shift in publishing partners.
I think surprise is a natural reaction to Sigil and SOE co-publishing Vanguard: Saga of Heroes given the history of Everquest, Vanguard creator Brad McQuaid, and SOE. Indeed, McQuaid left SOE over disagreements about EverQuest, and it seems to me that SOE is not exactly popular with many gamers. I know people who have complaints about SOE’s billing, over the direction they have taken EverQuest, and even the quality of many of their games (Star Wars Galaxies, The Matrix Online, etc.). I think all of us in the gaming community are aware that there are certain quarters in which Sony Online Entertainment is held in fairly low regard. I don’t have any real experience with SOE myself, so I haven’t formulated an opinion about them, one way or the other.
Of course, while there are those who dislike SOE (and in some instances I think that may be putting it lightly), I have to wonder if Microsoft was a good choice for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes to begin with. Let’s face it, Microsoft’s history with MMORPGs has been spotty at best. Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings lasted only a brief time. Their game Mythica died on the vine, never to be published after two years of development. And furthermore, there are those who have even less love for Microsoft than they do for SOE. I have to wonder if Microsoft could have turned Vanguard: Saga of Heroes into a successful game.
Indeed, I can see where SOE might well have certain advantages over Microsoft. Love them or hate them, I don’t think anyone can deny that SOE is a well established force in the MMORPG field. What’s more, Vanguard will be added to SOE’s Station Access. For those few who do not know what Station Access is, it is a subscription plan that gives the subscriber access to several games for one price. This means that people will be able to play EQ, EQ2, and Vanguard without having to subscribe to each one individually. This could encourage people to try out Vanguard who might not do so if it was published by someone else.
Of course, I suppose Microsoft has its own advantages, too. Although they have not had the best of luck when it has come to MMORPGs, no one can deny that they are a well-established company. Indeed, I think calling Microsoft “an industry giant” could be an understatement. The company would have the wherewithal to give Vanguard the kind of promotion it deserves.
All of this having been said, I think the basic fact which resulted in the change is that Sigil and Microsoft differed on the direction of the game. I think this may be the point that those who absolutely despise SOE, and dislike the idea of Vanguard being co-published by SOE, may be missing. It seems to me that in co-publishing the game with SOE, Sigil may be able to maintain their vision of Vanguard without compromising it. From everything I have read, SOE will only handle the distribution of the game, marketing, billing, and technical support. Sigil will still handle the development of the game, public relations, customer support, and quality assurance. SOE, then, will not have a say in the direction that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes takes. It seems very likely to me that had Sigil remained partners with Microsoft, the game could well have departed from the plans that Sigil had to develop a unique gaming experience.
As I said earlier, I have no real experience with SOE. I have heard complaints about SOE over the years, and I am aware of their history with Brad McQuaid. Given my lack of experience with SOE, I more or less have a “wait and see” attitude with regards to co-publishing Vanguard. I can see where SOE would have advantages over Microsoft when it comes to co-publishing the game. And I must admit that I trust Sigil when it comes to the decision they made. Right now I think the best course to take may well be to give SOE a chance, and just see what direction things take from here.
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