The Mittani Interviews SOE CEO John Smedley

John Smedley, CEO of Sony Online Entertainment (developers of Everquest, SWG and Planetside, for those of you living under a rock) revealed himself earlier this year as a Fanfest-attending Eve player, in addition to being heavily involved in the design of an upcoming game which just about everyone is frothing about. I ask him a few questions about his Eve experience, PS2, and the shape of the gaming industry itself. 


You’re not just the CEO of SOE, you’re an Eve player currently residing somewhere in the HBC bloc. What can you tell us about your Eve experiences (without giving away so much detail that the upstanding citizens of New Eden hunt you down)? When did you begin playing, what do enjoy most about New Eden, and what do you consider to be the most problematic aspect of Eve gameplay at the moment?

My Eve experiences have been some of the most amazing of my gaming life. I am a true PVP'er at heart and I'm not a big fan of rules. Eve provides the perfect environment for a person like me. I created my character with Piracy in mind and after paying a few ransoms in my newbie life I realized that's harder than it looks. I began playing a few years ago. I tried 6 times to get into Eve and on the 7th it took. And I credit Eve University with that. As soon as I got in there things just clicked. The most problematic aspect of Eve Gameplay at the moment - honestly I'd have a hard time pinning it down. 6 months ago I would have said the newbie experience but they are working hard to improve it.

Obligatory fluff question: What’s your favorite ship to fly in Eve, and why?

My favorite ship - so far it's the Drake. Because I can get into almost any fleet with it and because it's cheap enough that if I lose it I don't care. I will say the Rifter is a close second because it's fun as hell to get into small engagements.

Has your experience as an Eve player impacted your design philosophy as it relates to Planetside 2, and if so, how?

My experiences as an Eve Player have had a huge impact on Planetside 2. The concept of Cert Points and the notion of gaining them offline came straight from there, although our system gives you points that are flexible and we also give you more experience when you're online than off. Also our resource system started out very similar to Starcraft but it's evolved a lot into something more akin to what Eve has. Right now it's not going to get as much use as it will in the future when we allow player owned bases that require rare resources that players fight over. Right now we don't have a market but that will come over time. I like to give credit where credit is due and it's fair to say that Eve greatly influenced my thinking as an online gamer and as someone running an online gaming company.

CCP’s Dust 514 is doing something that’s ‘never been done before’ by linking a MMOFPS to a MMORPG; Trion’s Defiance is doing something that’s ‘never been done before’ by linking a MMOFPS to a TV show. Similar language was used to describe the release of Eve’s Incarna expansion, but CCP CEO Hilmar later referred to Incarna as a ‘Jesus Feature’. What do you think about this trend - is it a consequence of companies trying to distinguish their products in an ever-more-crowded field as the industry matures?

In making games we try new things that we hope will become the next big "it" thing. call it the Jesus feature.. call it whatever.. but I think it's just trying to make something cool. You get an idea in your head and you think everyone around you will love it. I'll admit I bought in and still fully buy in to CCP's vision for the Eve Universe co-existing with Dust. That Vision movie they made is fricking awesome and I hope they keep going there. I realize players were upset with the Incarna expansion because the perception was that it didn't deliver enough red meat. I love CCP and think they listened to their playerbase (hell they made a damn monument in game) and understand that you have to go a little slower.. but I LOVE where they are aimed.

Ever since Dust 514 was announced to be a PS3 exclusive, some in the Eve playerbase have been worried about a Sony takeover of CCP - especially now that CCP is making IPO noises in the run-up to the Dust 514 release. Care to comment on or debunk these rumors?

Folks - there is NO truth whatsoever to the rumor that Sony is buying CCP. I went to Fan[fest] as a player. Ask my corp mates. I did the pub crawl. I hung out. I ate that shitty nasty shark whateverthehell it is thing. It's as simple as that. In the online gaming industry there are really very few companies. I know most of their CEOs and really like most of them a lot and play their games. Hilmar was kind enough to give us an office tour and extend some wonderful Icelandic hospitality. There it is. Nothing more.

You’ve mentioned a desire for more sandbox MMOs in your Reddit AMA, and sandboxes are obviously a major draw for Eve players. Do you have plans for adding sandbox elements to PS2, and if so, would you like to discuss them? If there really is an untapped market for sandbox MMOs, why haven’t we seen more of them, besides Eve and SWG?

Sandbox elements - SOE is redefining itself as a creator of emergent gameplay experiences. That's our future. You can call it sandbox but it's so much more than that. A good example is Player owned bases in Planetside 2. That's coming. We're going to make huge continents that are empty and have vast resources on them and players can fight it out and put down their own bases there and other players can come and obliterate them. Sound familiar Eve Players? Actually we had something like this in Star Wars Galaxies too. THAT is content. At some point as an industry we need to realize that we have already lost the race to outpace players in making content. I personally thought SWTOR was a great game. I loved Diablo III. The problem is you get to the endgame and as game makers it's not just expensive. it's impossible to stay ahead of the curve.
Think about this statement - If WoW had come out yesterday.. at what point would people be "done" with the content. We need to focus on game systems that are perpetual and give players a lot more control over what they can do rather than JUST putting yet another dragon in front of them with scripted content. We need to be doing both in order to be successful. And that's our plan.
Thanks for your time!

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Goonswarm Federation CEO, Space Tyrant. Likes yoga, Alaskan Malamutes, bacon, and delegation.