The Future of Sony Online Entertainment?

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By: Brian Crecente

The next big thing in massively multiplayer online games might very well be the decidedly old school world of card games.

Online trading card games to be specific.

Since its August launch inside Everquest and Everquest II more than 111,000 matches of the Everquest-themed online trading card game Legends of Norrath have been played.

SOE president John Smedley told me in a recent interview that more than 30 percent of the MMOs' players are currently playing the trading card game and that they've sold more than 5,000 virtual boxes of booster packs for about $100 a pop. "There are loot cards in the packs that give them items they can use in Everquest, but we don't think that's why they are buying the boxes," he said. "We believe we are giving people other avenues of gameplay within a game."

The game is so successful that the Everquest teams are now working on creating places within the MMOs that will be used exclusively for playing the game.

"We've always told the story of people going into taverns and playing the games," Smedley said. "People were complaining about not being able to find a quiet place to play the game. We're thinking of creating places, sort of like a library, where people can play without having to worry about people running by and spamming them."

And that new space better come soon, earlier this month Sony Online Entertainment announced that the game would be now available free to anyone, whether they play Everquest or Everquest II. The stand-alone game only requires a free login to Sony's Station.

"I think it's going to take off in a lot of ways," Smedley said. "Standalone games are more conducive to quick games. This game was designed with 15 minute play sessions in mind in the first place."

Now Smedley and his teams are looking at their other massively multiplayer online games to see which ones might work with new trading card games.

"We are actively looking at other games we might want to put this into," he said. "They would be similar styles of games but not identical. It might not be a collectible card game, we might build a major strategy game."

The games might not even use cards. Sony Online Entertainment - Denver, which built the engine that powers the Legends of Norrath, are also responsible for a fairly successful online version of Pirates. In the game players collect and build small, virtual 3D ships and then wage battles.

"It's not just about cards, cards are just one representation," he said. "If you think just about collectible stuff, imagine all of the things we could do."

Smedley also has plenty of plans for Norrath, including regular expansions the first of which will be announced soon.

It's too soon to tell if all of this interest in Norrath is translating to a renewed interest in the massively multiplayer games that it is based on, Smedley said.

"This weekend we saw our concurrent usage go up with both, he said. "It's too soon to tell if subscriptions are going up. To be honest with you it has gone way better than I had even hoped for."


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