Sony Goes Big For Its Small Online Games

How serious is Sony about online worlds? For the longest time, execs at their Tokyo HQ kept an arms-length distance from the San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment, purveyor of Everquest I/II, the recently released Pirates of the Burning Sea, and other PC-centric MMOs and online games. Over the last decade, anytime I’d write about an SOE property, their press flacks made sure I clearly distinguished the company from the Japanese mother ship.

That’s about to change. Starting April 1st, SOE will be managed directly by Kazuo Hirai, Sony president and group CEO. The move is meant to better integrate their online PC properties with their Playstation 3 console — just as the press release is probably meant to tell the market that Sony is finally waking up to the fact that their console is in desperate need of more online games and functionality. In my opinion, it’s about five years too late, mixing two mediocre vintages past their prime.

Once the dominant console manufacturer, Sony’s PS3 is floundering in third place with just 21 percent of the market, according VGChartz. Once the dominant MMO publisher, SOE’s two Everquest MMOs have less than 500,000 subscribers combined (according to MMOGChart) and far less for its Star Wars Galaxies, which was largely undermined by disastrous policy changes. Still, it’s too early to dismiss this out of hand. SOE’s recently announced, kid-friendly Free Realms shows promise, and Japanese competitor Nintendo said they won’t be making a MMO for the Wii anytime soon. Seen that way, this could be Sony’s best (and only?) chance to recover its past glory.