SOE Learns Jiu-Jitsu

When a giant is stomping in the playground, what do you do? Move playgrounds, duh.

The problem is that the company’s first huge hit — EverQuest, released in 1999 — remains its only genuine blockbuster, with around 250,000 users. (The company used to report subscriber figures, but stopped a few years ago.) A competing online game, World of Warcraft, made by Blizzard Entertainment, of Irvine, Calif., has, meanwhile, practically reshaped the game industry by attracting an enormous eight million paying users around the world.

So today, Sony Online intends to unveil its plan to retake leadership in online gaming by unveiling three new games in development. More broadly, the new games represent an attempt to broaden the company in four major ways: diversifying its business model, expanding the demographic profile of its customer base, moving into the console market in addition to making games for PCs and increasing its presence in Asia.

SOE is planning to do this via remembering that humanity actually has two genders.

To reach out to girls, Mr. Smedley realized he had to hire more women. The creative director and art director on the game are now women.

“I just can’t explain to a 30-year-old single male why 10-year-old girls like horses,” he said. “We were trying to figure out what pets to put into Free Realms and before, the lead designer was a guy and he definitely wanted things that could fight. And when we got more women on the team, it was like ‘No, no, no. We need puppies and horses in there.’ ”

Everybody likes puppies.

Reaction in the usual quarters is expected: “Why are you not making WoW again? Make WoW again! We like WoW!” Personally I think it’s a smart move. If you want to diversify the market, you should, you know, make a game that appeals to, you know, a different market. Kinda simple stuff!