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Highlights from the SOE Fan Faire 2009 community address

James Egan

Sony Online Entertainment Fan Faire 2009 is happening in Las Vegas, and of course they've had a number of things to unveil so far. SOE president John Smedley gave his community address last evening, and other speakers made an appearance as well. We've got a few highlights from SOE Fan Faire 2009 for you:

Station Cash

Smedley jumped right in by talking about the state of the SOE game lineup and some of the new directions they've explored with them in this past year. One of those new directions has been the introduction of Station Cash, and he talked about the growing adoption of Station Cash among SOE game subscribers in EverQuest and EverQuest II, as well as how it will soon be tied into new services and customization options. He announced a partnership with Hewlett-Packard which will allow players to purchase matte print images of art from the games using Station Cash. You'll be able to have your own character rendered in a high-quality art print, or even have your entire guild depicted and sent to you as a hardcopy art book.

EverQuest: Underfoot and EverQuest II: Sentinel's Fate

On the topic of EverQuest, remember that mention we had of SOE trademarking new EQ properties? It turns out these are the new expansions: EverQuest: Underfoot and EverQuest II: Sentinel's Fate. Smedley kicked off the EQ announcements by reflecting back on 10 years of EverQuest and looking to where the IP is headed in the future. EverQuest II producer Alan "Brenlo" Crosby discussed the game's sixth expansion, Sentinel's Fate, where players will travel to the land of Odus and see what's happened there since The Shattering.

He dropped a few details about this next expansion, slated for a February 2010 launch, and the updates they plan to release between now and Sentinel's Fate. These updates will include the ability to downtier characters, allowing you to go back and replay older content, plus achievements are coming to EverQuest II. In addition, the EQ II level cap will increase by ten levels.

SOE hasn't forgotten about their long-term fans either, those who have stuck with the original EverQuest through the years. EverQuest producer Thomas Terrazas announced the sixteenth EQ expansion, Underfoot, which will launch in November 2009. Underfoot will feature 12-15 zones at launch, with bonus zones and additional content to release in April of 2010. Underfoot will have twice as many weapons as any of the previous 15 expansions, a new focus targeting window (allowing you to add specific targets to your list, monitor health of friends and foes), and achievement tracking that will help players remain aware of the objectives to be completed in their progression path. "In other words," Terrazas said, "you won't have to go looking online on somebody else's website so see what you need. It'll be in-game."

Fan Faire 2009 attendees will get both expansions for free.

Free Realms: New jobs and desert area

It would be an understatement to simply write that it's been a good year for SOE with Free Realms. They announced their obligatory huge-and-growing number of registered users for the game, but they also revealed some of their plans for the game. Free Realms creative director Laralyn McWilliams was on hand to talk about some of the new content on the way. While some of this was hinted at in E3 2009, now the details are out there. There will be more content for Derby and Kart Racer jobs, like new wearables and customizable cars. In fact, Free Realms racers can have garages where you can customize your car with performance parts. In addition, there will be 40 quests for both the Derby and Kart Racer jobs.

Ken George from Big Bang Entertainment introduced a new Free Realms job they've been working on, Soccer Star, with video footage showing off acrobatic moves and slide tackles on a soccer field. There will be guild tie-ins with soccer as well, so the jerseys players wear will match up with the color schemes used by your guild.

McWilliams also gave Fan Faire attendees a first look at the new Free Realms area on the way which is a desert playground, home to the dwarves. Of course the zone will have new creatures, mini-games, a Druid (combat) job, and greater progression for existing jobs, taking players past level 20.

(Beyond the in-game content announced for Free Realms, that emphasis on customization that Smedley mentioned will also apply to the Free Realms trading card game, where players can have their own avatars printed onto physical cards by Topps. As Smedley put it -- "think business cards for kids.")

Star Wars Galaxies: Player-generated content and horror crossover

Chris Field, producer for Star Wars Galaxies, appeared on stage and announced that it's SWG's sixth anniversary, to the day. Massively spoke with Field this week and he hinted that there would be some announcements about SWG to be made at Fan Faire. There were indeed. Perhaps the biggest announcement was "Star Wars Chronicles", a new system for player-generated content. Field said, "You're going to be able to create quests that involve interactions with some of the iconic Star Wars characters you've all grown up with, like Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett, Han Solo, and even the infamous Darth Vader." Field didn't say much more on this, but we think it's a significant announcement and we'll look for more details about this as time goes on.

He switched gears to mention a new direction they'll be taking Star Wars Galaxies, towards horror. Those images we'd seen floating around online depicting an amalgam of Star Wars characters fending off zombies were apparently legit; Star Wars will get its first horror novel, Death Troopers, in October.

"Star Wars Galaxies will be right there to bring an experience inspired by that novel to our players in game, with the Death Troopers quest line," Field said. We're not sure how well this will be received by Star Wars IP purists but it's an... interesting announcement, to say the least. We'll keep an eye on this as more info becomes available.

These are just a few highlights of what was discussed in the community address. The Agency and DC Universe Online were also presented, but there were no earth-shaking announcements made. In fact, if you've followed our E3 coverage of these games, you're more or less up to speed with what's happening with these titles, although it's possible more info will come out of Fan Faire 2009 in this weekend's panel discussions.

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