We sat down earlier this week with SOE's CEO John Smedley for a talk about the whys and wherefors of the Station Cash service. More than just a novelty incorporated into their flagship games, Station Cash is an important new service vital to the future of Sony Online Entertainment. Whether as backing for their upcoming free-to-play title Free Realms or as a venue for 'extras' in other in-development titles, microtransactions are here to stay in the SOE empire.
Whether you've already read our Station Cash FAQ or not, you're sure to have lots of questions. So join us as we speak to Mr. Smedley about why the rollout was so fast, what they intend to use Station Cash for in the future, some of the services they intend to provide, and a few hints at why you might be ordering a Station Cash product for a friend next Christmas season. Read on.
"We've had no conversations with LucasArts about using Station Cash in Star Wars Galaxies. "
Why was the decision made to add this business model to EQ and EQII now, as opposed to sometime earlier or sometime next year?
John Smedley: We felt like it was the right time. We've been considering this for a while, and as we were building the system for Free Realms we worked on some deals we haven't announced yet. We don't have anything to say about it right now but I've kind of alluded to them on the SOE blog, and we're looking to do all sorts of cool 'real world' purchases as well as other services we can offer in-game.
We need a virtual currency to do that, basically. We also want to work to get Station Cash cards to retail sometime soon, and we wanted a currency out there that we could use in several of our games.
"We're not selling power. There are a lot of respectable viewpoints on this, and a lot of reasonable people can disagree on them. Our view is that nothing here is gamebreaking. "
When you say several ... does that mean we'll see this system in games like Star Wars Galaxies?
John: We've had no conversations with LucasArts about using Station Cash in Star Wars Galaxies.
When you say 'no conversations', does that mean you haven't broached the subject with them or is that something you're planning to talk with them about later?
John: We have had no discussions with them about it. And I don't think we're going to do that. I won't say that 100%, but I honestly doubt it.
What about Vanguard: Saga of Heroes?
John: We have not had any discussions internally about whether we want to do it for Vanguard.
Is there an element of waiting for the community's reaction here?
John: We want to wait and see how this goes. We want to learn from this. I get that early on there is an initial shock, but the simple reality is that the items we put out there are very carefully balanced. They're not big power items. They're fun and they're convenient. That's all they are. We're not selling power. There are a lot of respectable viewpoints on this, and a lot of reasonable people can disagree on them.
Our view is that nothing here is gamebreaking.
In previous discussions we've had, SOE has always seemed very gung-ho about this for in development titles, but there has been a resistance to bringing this to already-live games. What changed that prompted this rollout?
"We want to do stuff that will mix in-game and out-of-game elements, and we want it to be a currency across all of our games that we could get it into. For now that means EQ, EQ2, and Free Realms, and eventually DC Universe Online and The Agency down the line. "
John: There was. What overcame that resistance were the deals we are cutting for Free Realms and the cool out-of-game stuff that we want to be able to offer. Let me give you some examples we're actually thinking about doing. Imagine being able to purchase, with Station Cash, a guild photo that we set up that is physically mailed to everyone in your guild. You buy a guild photo and you click a button, and it gets mailed to you or everyone you choose in your guild (if you're an officer). Or what about a t-shirt with your character on it?
We want to do stuff that will mix in-game and out-of-game elements, and we want it to be a currency across all of our games that we could get it into. For now that means EQ, EQ2, and Free Realms, and eventually DC Universe Online and The Agency down the line.
When you're talking about the guild photo, you're not talking like "you, in the back, a little to the left", right? That's taking the images of the all the avatars from your records and putting them together into a shot?
John: That's correct. We can do posters too, posters of your character. You know those Figureprints for WoW? I have one of those myself, they're really cool. How awesome would it be, though, to click a button and have a high-rez printout of your character mailed to you? I think people will flip out over that kind of stuff.
We wanted a simple system that players could use in-game to do that without any fuss.
Initially all of the content you've rolled out is in-game items, though.
John: I don't want to change the topic away from that, yeah. We launched with all in-game items in EQ and EQII. I think we did it balanced. I think we did it in a way that's pretty low-level and minor, and the elephant in the room is something like "Is this a slippery slope?" Are we going to be selling Fiery Avengers down the line, stuff like that.
The answer is no in EverQuest and EverQuest II. Our intent is purely to give fun and convenience items.
"How awesome would it be, though, to click a button and have a high-rez printout of your character mailed to you? "
Is that something we might see in other titles then, perhaps not having that as a hard and fast rule?
John: It's not going to be a hard and fast rule depending on the title. A good example is - and I want to be explicit, this is just an example – a weapon in The Agency might be a good fit for this. The Agency is all about player skill, and so buying a weapon might not be such a big deal. In other countries there are a lot of games like Counter-Strike with microtransaction models. [ed: We've discussed systems like this when talking about Nexon's Combat Arms.]
I don't want these kinds of things to have an adverse effect on game balance. If we build this into game balance in some games, where this is a part of the game from the get-go, that's a different story. With other games, this just won't be a part of the gameplay. In DC Universe Online, for example, there's no way we'd sell superpowers with Station Cash or something like that. It wouldn't make sense.
We're not going to make EQ, EQII, or any future EverQuest game into a microtransaction-based title. We're just adding in optional microtransactions. That's the way I'd put it.