Sony Online Entertainment remembers the days when Everquest was the face of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game industry. Every now and again SOE looks at the framed picture of Everquest on its cluttered desk and gently caresses it, recalling fond memories of regular monthly fees, a world without World of Warcraft, and a time when Star Wars Galaxies was nothing but a sparkling idea. As the MMO business has taken shape over the past decade, SOE has failed more often than it’s succeeded. Just look at long lost project The Agency or the miserable bomb that was Everquest II. SOE is carving out one niche for itself though: It is finding success on consoles. DC Universe Online, after its prolonged development and shaky road to free-to-play, is still plugging away on PlayStation 3. In fact 70 percent of DCUO players play on PlayStation 3.
In an interview with GamesIndustry International published Wednesday, SOE head John Smedley said that DCUO has proven that free-to-play MMOs can find an audience on living room-based game consoles, not just PCs.
“It’s 70 percent of the audience,” said Smedley, “Free-to-play on PlayStation 3 is huge. In fact, right now, it’s us with DCUO and Free Realms and our friends at CCP with Dust 514 that are going to prove that this market really works.”
As with all free-to-play games, microtransactions are the golden eggs laid by the video game geese. “A lot of people have already stored their credit card information so it’s very frictionless if they do want to buy something. We can put out thousands of items and it feels very frictionless,” Smedley said, extolling the virtues of the console MMOs, “It’s a business model of the future.”
The executive isn’t saying anything new of course. Everyone in the digital distribution and MMO industries has discovered in recent years that small seamless transactions made in games for virtual goods providing instant gratification are the only way to make oodles of money in the post-WoW world.
Success on consoles isn’t enough to sustain a game like DCUO going forward though. It will be cross-platform play—a game and account played across mobile devices, PC, console and anything else the game can run on—that makes online free-to-play games sustainable fiscally (and then, hopefully, creatively). DCUO has a strong player base on PS3, but its struggle to find and maintain an audience on PC takes away its essential business power for SOE.
Also notable: Smedley did not tout how many active players DCUO has, on PS3 or PC. The shift to free-to-play brought 120,000 new players to DCUO in November, but its likely that the majority of those new players drifted away.