It's apparently MMO news week. Not only is there a wealth of new Final Fantasy XIV information coming a little later today, but Sony Online Entertainment has plenty to talk about, too.
First up, the bad news: SOE is shutting down four of its games, including Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Wizardry Online, Free Realms and Clone Wars Adventures.
Vanguard, will come to a halt on July 31 of this year after being in service since 2007. For the most part, it was a fairly straightforward high fantasy MMORPG, but it was particularly notable for its "Diplomacy" mechanic, which operated independently from its adventuring and crafting components. In a Diplomacy parley, players would square off against an opponent in what essentially amounts of a collectable card game representing a discussion -- an idea that turned out to be better in principle than in practice. Unfortunately, the player numbers just aren't there to keep Vanguard viable for Sony, and with technical issues starting to rear their heads, the team has decided to shutter the game and focus on new projects.
Wizardry Online, meanwhile, is a Japanese-developed MMO adaptation of the long-running Wizardry franchise that was particularly noteworthy for its inclusion of a permadeath mechanic -- one of the few MMOs out there to offer a severe penalty for death rather than a minor inconvenience. Wizardry Online, too, will be closing its virtual doors on July 31 of this year.
Alongside the more hardcore-oriented experiences of Vanguard and Wizardry Online was Free Realms, one of the first free-to-play MMOs specifically designed for children to play -- and one of the first games to feature cross-platform play between PlayStation 3 and home computer platforms. It featured a wide variety of activities to engage with, ranging from exploration and adventure quests to various minigames that could be played solo or against other players. Free Realms is being shut down on March 31 of this year, at least partly because, according to SOE president John Smedley, "kids do mean stuff to each other a lot" -- and also they don't spend well.
Finally, Clone Wars Adventures was, as its name suggests, an adaptation of the Star Wars Clone Wars TV series into a massively multiplayer environment. Like Free Realms, it was a largely kid-centric game, and once again it is closing down on March 31 of this year due to it becoming impractical to run.
In most cases, members with a subscription to these games will receive an automatic upgrade to the All Access membership Sony announced a while back. In this way, SOE is hoping that the existing player bases will find a new game to engage with rather than simply feeling like they have been cast adrift -- though after calling these game worlds homes for several years in many cases, some players are seemingly finding the idea of being uprooted a little distressing if the official forums are anything to go by.
It's not all doom and gloom out of SOE, however: the first piece of good news is that EverQuest Next has been officially confirmed for PlayStation 4. Smedley specifically noted that those who enjoyed the ambitious but flawed Ultima Online would get a kick out of EverQuest Next. Sounds good, but there's still an awful lot we don't know about the new game -- most of the news trickling out of SOE so far has been about the Minecraft-esque spinoff title EverQuest Next Landmark.
Alongside the EverQuest Next news, Smedley said that Planetside 2 was still coming for PS4, but the "first half of this year" was as specific as he could get. "It's taking time to do this right, but coming along great," he said on Reddit, where he often engages with the SOE community as a whole.
With one eye on the success of Hearthstone, SOE is also considering a revamp of its Legends of Norrath EverQuest card game. "After seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it's given us some other ideas," said Smedley. "[Legends of Norrath] is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level." Legends of Norrath is noteworthy for featuring connectivity with both EverQuest and EverQuest II, both of which are still up and running even as the third installment in the series is looming. In fact, both are getting new expansions soon.
Finally, Smedley teased than an unannounced MMO project the team was working on would be of particular interest to former Star Wars Galaxies players. "SWG PLAYERS," he typed to the Reddit community in all caps, "OUR NEXT GAME IS DEDICATED TO YOU. Once we launch it... you can come home now."
Whether this will be enough to bring back the Star Wars Galaxies players who felt burned numerous times by SOE -- firstly when the game got a total and initially rather unwelcome revamp in 2005, and then again when it was shuttered completely in December of 2011 -- remains to be seen, but Smedley seems positive about the as-yet unannounced project, which is also based on "completely new IP," apparently. If you're a former SWG player, you may just want to keep an eye on what SOE is up to in the near future.