JAN. 27, 2014 • Four prominent MMOs are being shut down by Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). The publisher announced that Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms will be closed on March 31, with Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and Wizardry Online going away on July 31. As recently as two years ago Clone Wars Adventures had reached 10 million registered users. Free Realms had also proved popular early in its 2009 PC release, gaining two million registered users in one month of operation. Both titles were high profile free-to-play titles, with Free Realms especially important as an early F2P title on the PlayStation 3 in 2011. Vanguard was released on the PC back in 2007, and was taken free-to-play in 2012. Wizardry Online is a Japanese MMO for Windows systems from Gamepot that has been available there since fall 2011. SOE brought the MMO to the U.S. and Europe in January of 2013. For Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms SOE said younger players were moving onto other titles as they grew older and were not being replaced by new users. In the case of Vanguard, despite being one of the longest running MMOs run by SOE, the user base had dropped low enough that it was no longer financially wise to invest in upgrading and maintaining the game. No reason was given for the closure of Wizardry Online.
In related news, SOE will be rolling out a new All Access membership program on April 2. Current individual game memberships will be upgraded and now will cover all SOE titles including DC Universe Online PC, EverQuest, EverQuest II, PlanetSide 2 PC, plus the upcoming EverQuest Next and EQN Landmark. Users with a paid subscription for the departing Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, for example, will now have preferred access to remaining SOE titles. All Access members also receive 500 Station Cash each month, a 10% discount on all marketplace purchases, plus access to exclusive promotions.
Impact: Youth-themed online content has its risks. Kids grow up, their tastes change, and their younger siblings often want to embrace different games they can call their own. That dictum somewhat explains the demise of Free Realms, although Clone Wars Adventures has different issues. The latter is directly tied to the popular Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated television series. That association should have been able to bring in new users to SOE’s browser MMO, but a year ago Lucasfilm announced that the series was being wound down. Since both products are closely tied, it comes as no surprise that SOE has seen an adverse effect on its game. While Vanguard has maintained a loyal following, all indications are that the number of active players is very small. As for Wizardry Online, we suspect that the title may have proved too hardcore for many Western MMO players. Open world PvP combat is unavoidable, and players risk permanent death leading to the loss of their characters at the hands of other players or game NPCs. For whatever reason, the reality of online games on any platform is that they can easily disappear at any time. This will come as no surprise for Disney and Electronic Arts watchers, but end game players often react negatively after investing time into their online avatars. That’s an important aspect behind why SOE’s new All Access membership is a strong play. For those consumers who have invested in a subscription, they retain some value in other publisher content and are not left completely abandoned. Maybe they join another title, or not, yet the opportunity is there to keep a customer. The subscription model has been under siege since the arrival of freemium games. It is simply difficult to warrant payments to play specific games when so many good F2P titles are available to try. But for a quality publisher such as SOE, this All Access plan makes a lot of sense. There is much more perceived value in the subscription that will appeal to core players. We don’t see any resurgence in subscriptions from such plans, but the change could go a long way in extending the life of the subscription model.