Some Assembly Required: Player-generated content at SOE Live

Some Assembly Required  SOE Live in a nutshell  PGC lives! and so do I
By now, everyone has made it home from SOE Live... yes, even that one fellow who kept disappearing, seduced by the one-armed bandit. As my first foray into the annual self-described "family reunion," I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd hoped there would be some news to pass along. If nothing else, a tidbit or two about any title -- be it EverQuest II, PlanetSide 2, or DC universe Online -- would justify my trip out there to me. But what I got wasn't just some news; it was great news!

Although the lights of Vegas are fading from memory, the hope for player-generated content burns brighter than before. From keynote addresses to panels to interviews, Sony Online Entertainment's focus on emergent game play and various sandbox features showed a dedication to gaming beyond just the hack-and-slash treadmill grind. Can we hear a hallelujah?

With so much news coming out of the convention, there wasn't time or space to do much more than just report on the facts. Here, I have the opportunity to sum things up and even add my own impressions of the event! I might even toss in an anecdote or two to illustrate what made this such an incredible experience that I am hooked and will return each year.

SOE Live picture
We all know there are plenty of games out there to go kill things in, but how many have things to do besides that? Sure, enterprising players can find ways to create their own content anywhere using nothing but their imaginations, but in-game tools make it that much richer an experience. And richer, more fulfilling experiences will keep folks playing (and paying) for longer than any level grind can.

In the last issue of Some Assembly Required, Jef argued that SOE should lead the charge for sandbox gameplay. After SOE Live, I am convinced the company has already sounded the trumpets. Besides the promise of a emergent game play via EverQuest Next, the convention highlighted a plethora of new features dedicated to life beyond the adventuring grind.

Pouring sand in the box
SOE Live pictureEven if I were a gambler, I wouldn't have had time for gambling with all of the different panels available, a number of which I missed because the devs were willing to sit down and chat with us. But if there was one thing I got out of everything, it's that SOE is primed to refill your sandbox.

The convention highlighted so many new features for all SOE titles. Free Realms recently introduced parachuting, and players responded by building parachute courses on their housing plots. PlanetSide 2 added in-game streaming so players can tell their own stories, with more features for personalizing the game like player-owned bases planned. And let's not forget DCUO's huge housing announcement!

It doesn't stop there. EverQuest and EQII both have huge expansions coming this month. The former is adding collection quests and building a better player economy, while the latter is adding tons of goodies for crafters like tradeskill prestige. And of course, you can't get more player-generated than items created by players and added to the game! EQ, EQII, and Free Realms are currently accepting submissions for Player Studio, with Vanguard and PS2 soon to join in.

SOE Live pictureKeeping the sandbox full
But it's not just the incoming features that have me so excited for the future of the sandbox genre and PGC; it's also the philosophy behind them. Throughout the weekend, I witnessed the excitement the studio displayed for giving players the tools to really personalize their gaming experiences.

Nothing demonstrated this better than my interviews with EverQuest II producer Holly Longdale and EQ franchise director Dave Georgeson. Both emphasized how much the EverQuest games are focusing on the players' personal stories and building more tools to help facilitate them. From expanding SOEmote to adding to the Dungeon Maker to giving crafters a way to ply their trades without any adventuring, SOE is commited to keeping the game filled with plenty of things for players to create and do beyond adventuring. That's not to say that new content with mobs to fight will not also get attention, but it won't be the only focus.

SOE Live picture
Georgeson did mention that he was surprised when veteran gamers appeared resistant to change; devs were honestly taken aback that more did not flock to new features introduced throughout the last year and instead tended to stick with the familiar same old, same old. But even if the old folks are slow to embrace change, growing means pulling in more people and building a more diverse community. And there are plenty of players out there who want to do more than just hack and slash.

Saved by the Smed
I promised you some personal stories from this convention and a look at why it was so memorable, so here you go!

First up: the breakfast tale. After I was introduced to Absoulutely the most unique con swag ever!CEO John Smedley, whose table I joined, conversation turned to my gaming laptop. Smedley remarked that it was huge, and I responded that all of my games were loaded on it. Then I continued, "So if I get bored listening to you, I can log right into EQII and play!" Yes, I really said that, and fortunately, he laughed. At least he knows I am an EQII fan, right?

The second? To make a long story short, the word in the press and PR circle is "Smedley saved my life." Wait, what?! How? Let's just say that a very unexpected allergy-induced asthma attack during the second keynote address led to me procuring the most unique con swag ever! It was Smedley to the rescue.

I also met and got some really cool EQ art from Larry Elmore himself, but you'll have to hear about that another time!

In the end, not the end
The convention once known as Fan Faire bills itself as a reunion of friends and family more than a convention. And I have to say, that description is really pretty spot on. Folks were friendly, and I don't just mean players! Developers were mingling with the crowds, whether chilling while watching the PlanetSide 2's tournament (I'm looking at you, Matt Higby!) or attending the newly offered player panels. And regardless of where you bumped into them, the devs were more than happy to answer questions.

The atmosphere of excitement for the games permeated both groups as well. Karen summed the feeling up well in her Tattered Notebook. She also perfectly captured the moment when all SOE players, regardless of game affiliation, stood and applauded the strength and character of one EverQuest player who overcame astronomical odds to attend. That moment brought tears to many eyes, even the tough FPS crowd. And that moment was one of the most powerful examples of the bonding of our MMO communities that I could hope to witness.

SOE live cosutumes
PGC lives, and so do I! Between the amazing community, the invested developers, and the brighter future for sandbox gaming, I am so looking forward to returning next year. And not just so I can play that hands-on of EQ Next!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!
This article was originally published on Massively.