The news hit like a train today. SOE bought Vanguard and Sigil. The move meant that just under half of Sigil Online Games employees are without work, the other half have been offered jobs by SOE. Those that stay will continue development of Vanguard in what is now SOE's Carlsbad office. We spoke to Courtney Simmons, SOE's Director of Corporate Communications and PR, about the deal and found out what happens to Jeff Butler, a new MMO prototype he's working on and where SOE sees Vanguard in their portfolio.
Based on interview with Courtney Simmons (SOE Dir. Corp. Communications/PR)
Article by Dana Massey
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is now wholly owned and operated by Sony Online Entertainment. Reports surfaced yesterday that most of Sigil's staff had been let go and today, SOE confirmed that SOE CEO John Smedley had traveled down to Carlsbad to offer over half of the original team jobs at what has become SOE's new Carlsbad office.
"He absolutely is going to continue the Vanguard vision," SOE Director of Corporate Communications and PR Courtney Simmons told WarCry in a telephone interview just after the announcement hit the wires.
This new Carlsbad office is led by Director of Development Dave Gilbertson, formerly a Sigil VP and Producer of Vanguard. Former head Brad McQuaid was retained in an undefined advisory role, while Jeff Butler - the other titan of the Sigil team - is moving to SOE's San Diego office to prototype a potential new MMO project.
Butler will lead a team of five developers on this unidentified MMO prototype. However, Simmons was careful to point out that this project is by no means in full scale production. It is anyone's guess what it is or whether it ever sees the light of day. At best, it is years away from public eyes.
Today's developments mark the second time that SOE has come in when Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was in trouble. On May 5th of last year, SOE picked up the publishing tab after Sigil and former publisher Microsoft split. This relationship ultimately brought the game to market in January. Despite the reviews, SOE claims to be quite happy with the game and their latest investment into it.
"SOE believes in Vanguard," explained Simmons. She told us how it is a beautiful world and its performance to date is better than many give it credit for.
She re-iterated that the game has sold nearly 200,000 units worldwide and without going into specifics, characterized the company as pleased with the conversion rates, which is the percentage of players who continue to subscribe after the initial thirty free days that come with a box purchase.
"People who purchased Vanguard knew what they were purchasing," she told us. There is no doubt that Vanguard is a hardcore game, for hardcore MMO fans and SOE is very much committed to that vision. They have no plans to dumb it down for a mass audience, a luxury they can afford thanks to their diverse Sony Station Pass that allows players access to a library of MMOs for a single fee.
Their press release takes great care to emphasize that SOE has retained the former Sigil office in Carlsbad, but during his interview with GameSpot, CEO John Smedley indicated that they might eventually be fully absorbed into the San Diego office 40 miles down the road. Simmons confirmed that for this time, they've decided to maintain the status quo and underlined simple logistical reasons, such as their lease and a lack of space in San Diego. The decision also provides Vanguard with a measure of stability in a rough period.
"They're going to stay there and do their thing," she stated.
Throughout the interview, Simmons referenced John Smedley, the sometimes controversial CEO of SOE, and his vision for the product. While Gilbertson leads the studio and reports up the food chain through San Diego studio head Nick Beliaeff, it was clear that Smedley will continue to be very involved.
The uncertainty around the future direction and health of Vanguard, for good or ill, is now gone. Its future is assured as part of the SOE library, and as they take control of the product, SOE is publicly committed to the vision that got the game to market.
Let us know your thoughts on the deal in the comment thread!