As World of Warcraft's current stranglehold on the MMORPG market has abruptly led to the end of days for EverQuest's online dominance, Sony Online Entertainment appears to be looking for new means of earning its income. According to a report today by the New York Times, part of the company's plan to return to its years of prominence involves the release of new games that appeal to new audiences.
"We want to get our average age lower, probably into the low 20s," said SOE's unit president John Smedley. "I'd really like to see the gender breakdown go to 50-50 or even slightly more women than men, to reflect real life."
SOE's current line up would have to drastically change for that to happen, however. Its flagship title EverQuest remains strong with 250,000 users, but that figure pales in comparison to its greatest competitor, World of Warcraft, which boasts a gamer population of over 8 million. Given that WoW continues to encroach more and more upon EverQuest's territory, Smedley's hope is for his company to gradually wean itself off of subscription-based income.
"In two years, we would like to see no more than 50 percent of our revenue coming from subscriptions," Smedley continued, "and five years from now we think less than 10 percent of our revenue will come from subscription sources."
The centerpiece of Sony's new approach to online gaming can be found in their next major project, Free Realms. As the name indicates, this new online title will be playable free of charge, thereby effectively eliminating the company's reliance on subscription fees, but will make up its losses by incorporating in-game advertising and microtransactions. The company will also implement what Smedley called the "velvet rope" approach, which will allow for access to exclusive high-end content in exchange for a fee.
But most importantly, to cater to their desired demographic of women and younger gamers, the developers had to take a different approach to the game. That different approach specifically led to the hiring of more females on the development staff.
"I just can't explain to a 30-year-old single male why 10-year-old girls like horses," Smedley added. "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.'"
Assuredly, the changing of Sony Online Entertainment's focus does not necessarily mean that the company plans to abandon the hardcore market, but the developers have, on the other hand, expressed an interest in shaking it up a bit. Specifically, their goal involves the abandonment of fantasy motifs, which have been pretty much been done to death in the MMORPG market. One future title in SOE's lineup is called The Agency, which our sister site GamePro originally covered back in early February. This game, which is planned for release in the summer of 2008, would introduce the MMO genre to a brand new and completely unfamiliar setting: the world of super spies.
Sony's last prong in its three-pronged attack on online gaming is its belated venture into the Asian market. Despite the popularity of online PC gaming in Asia, SOE has barely been able to make a dent in important markets like those of South Korea and China, since EverQuest has failed in its attempt to grab their attention away from wildly popular titles like Lineage and Ragnarok Online. Despite these lofty goals, however, the company has not yet announced which of their titles would be specifically targeted towards the Asian gamer, but probably plans to do so at a later date.