Of Publishers, Developers, Gods and Heroes

SOE and Perpetual Entertainment announced that SOE was no longer publishing Gods and Heroes. Except, wait, they are, sort of! Are you confused? Do you need a score card? Fear not, I am here to pontificate on things I only dimly understand myself.

First off, for those that are unfamiliar: the developer is the company that actually creates the game itself. For example, World of Warcraft was developed by Blizzard, but published by Vivendi. City of Heroes was developed by Cryptic Studios, but published by NCsoft.

Now, what publishers do is a bit more complex, and changes from publisher to publisher. For example, in World of Warcraft’s case, Vivendi did very little other than press CDs, (presumably) pay for marketing and, well, count money. Blizzard handles their own customer service, live teams, server hosting, and also now sells the game’s expansion themselves online. Blizzard is almost but not quite a self publisher; when you get millions of subscribers you start to get the economy of scale necessary to do everything.

At the other end of the scale is the relationship between Cryptic and NCsoft for City of Heroes. City of Heroes servers are hosted at NCsoft, and NCsoft handles the billing, technical support, and customer service, leaving Cryptic to add new content via game patches. This is handy for small development teams that don’t want to worry about hiring GMs and figuring out credit card chargebacks, but it also usually means they get less of a share in the game’s revenue. And of course, some publishers also have development teams (such as SOE and Everquest, and NCsoft and Tabula Rasa).

So, what appears to have happened is that the agreement between Perpetual and SOE on what SOE would bring to the table for Gods and Heroes changed. Now why that is could be several different reasons, all of which are duly wending their way through the rumorsphere (SOE didn’t want their name on Gods and Heroes! Perpetual didn’t want SOE’s name on Gods and Heroes! The game sucks and SOE wanted out! The game rocks and Perpetual wanted it themselves!) but truthfully, at this point, and from my totally-kibitzing-from-the-sidelines vantage point, like most changes in contracts, it is most likely about money. And the who, why and how on that will most likely never see the light of day, and what’s more, would probably bore the pants off anyone not directly involved.

At any rate, it’s grist for discussion – as more money pours into the MMO space, you’ll see lots more backroom dealings like this. Hopefully with cigar smoke – that makes everything better.