Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is a game development and game publishing division of Sony that is best known for creating massively multiplayer online games, including EverQuest, EverQuest II, PlanetSide, Star Wars Galaxies and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
In 2008 Sony Online Entertainment’s game Everquest was honored (along with Neverwinter Nights and World of Warcraft) at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of MMORPG games.
In April 1998, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) was formed by merging parts of Sony Online Ventures with Sony Pictures Entertainment'. Within a matter of months after this change, Sony Interactive Studios America was renamed 989 Studios.
Towards the end of 1998, 989 Studios shifted its strategy to making PlayStation console games only. The company's computer game/online development branch spun off, initially calling itself RedEye Interactive and then soon after Verant Interactive.
EverQuest launched with modest expectations from Sony on March 16, 1999 under its Verant Interactive brand and quickly became successful. Numbers continued rising at a steady rate until mid-2001 when growth slowed. As of 2004, Sony reported subscription numbers close to 450,000.
In April 2000, Verant hired former Ultima Online developers Raph Koster and Rich Vogel forming its office in Austin, Texas to develop Star Wars Galaxies for LucasArts. SOE acquired Verant in June 2000 and eventually promoted Brad McQuaid to be its Chief Creative Officer. EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark (March 2000) was the first in a long list of expansions for its hit MMORPG. In October 2001, McQuaid resigned and went on to found Sigil Games Online, drawing many of the original developers of EverQuest from SOE to develop their Vanguard: Saga of Heroes MMORPG, released January 2007.
Developed by Sony Online Entertainment, LucasArts released Star Wars Galaxies in 2003, which saw rapid growth as expected. Bruce Woodcock estimates that SWG reached nearly 300,000 subscribers within the year before trailing off. LucasArts has released three expansions for Star Wars Galaxies, Jump to Lightspeed October 2004, Rage of the Wookies May 2005 and Trials Of Obi-Wan November 2005.
In 2003, the company also explored relatively untouched MMO territory with the MMOFPS PlanetSide and the PlayStation 2 MMORPG EverQuest Online Adventures. PlanetSide enjoyed a reasonably successful launch, however the product never attracted wide popularity. SOE has released two expansions for PlanetSide, one a retail product called Core Combat, and a second free expansion titled Aftershock. PlanetSide can be played for free under a "Reserves" program, that limits character advancement, but otherwise grants full access to the game. EverQuest Online Adventures was not as successful but spawned an expansion EverQuest Online Adventures Frontiers, which is still maintained by SOE as of 2007.
In November 2005, SOE suffered a large subscriber loss, after pushing the launch of the New Game Enhancements to Star Wars Galaxies, changing many of the game's core mechanics. This caused an outrage from the players, many demanding their money back for the recent expansion that was released just days before the announcement of the changes. The refund was eventually given.
The company continued the EverQuest universe through a sequel set hundreds of years after the original with the release of EverQuest II on November 9, 2004, which has seen similar success to the original phenomenon. SOE has released several adventure packs and expansion packs for EverQuest II, including The Bloodline Chronicles March 2005, The Splitpaw Saga June 2005, Desert of Flames September 2005, Kingdom of Sky February 2006, The Fallen Dynasty June 2006, Echoes of Faydwer November 2006 and Rise of Kunark November 2007.
Through 2007, the company experienced many technical support issues causing a decrease in the number of players using their services.
Currently, John Smedley is the CEO of Sony Online Entertainment. SOE is headquartered in San Diego, California, with additional game development studios located in Austin, Texas, Denver, Colorado and Seattle, Washington.
In January 2005, Sony Online Entertainment announced the creation of Station Publishing, a new label for distributing titles made by external developers. The first products expected from Station Publishing are Turbine's Asheron's Call: Throne of Destiny and Asheron's Call 2: Legions expansions.
SOE has produced numerous EverQuest expansions and spin-off video games, including Champions of Norrath (for PlayStation 2) and Lords of EverQuest (Windows). They published the sequel to Champions of Norrath, called Champions: Return to Arms, in February 2005.
In May 2006, it was announced that SOE would be co-publisher of Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. However, Sigil retains full development rights, and SOE's role is only that of marketing, distribution, technical support and hosting the game servers. SOE also announced the release of Field Commander, its third game for the PlayStation Portable System.
In August 2006, SOE announced the acquisition of developer Worlds Apart Productions, renaming the studio SOE-Denver. The studio has since released an online version of the Wizkids Pirates Constructible Strategy Game.
In November 2006, SOE released its first PlayStation 3 title, Untold Legends Dark Kingdom, within the launch window of the PlayStation 3 system, which was released in North America on November 17 2006. SOE also released Pirates Online Constructible Strategy Game, which is the online version of the Wizkids Pirates Constructible Strategy Game.
In January 2007, SOE announced that it has licensed rights from Midway Home Entertainment to develop and release six classic Midway games for PlayStation 3 Digital Download, including Mortal Kombat II, Gauntlet II, Joust, Rampage World Tour, Rampart, and Championship Sprint, which will be available from the PlayStation store. The announcement came shortly after SOE released its second PlayStation 3 digital download GripShift.
On May 15, 2007, Sony Online Entertainment announced that they had completed a transaction to purchase key assets from Sigil Games Online, including Vanguard: Saga of Heroes (described as Sigil's "tentpole property").