Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) is celebrating DC Universe Online’s one-year anniversary today. All current players (with characters created on or before today) will receive a mission allowing them to earn a unique One Year Anniversary Cape.

The massively multiplayer online game (MMO) is notable for a number of reasons, including a dynamic, real-time combat system unlike most other MMOs, which generally feature quasi-turn-based battles (a la World of Warcraft). This gives it more of an “arcade-y” brawler-type feel, perfect for a game based on the DC universe of comic super heroes and villains.

SOE was previously responsible for the EverQuest franchise and troubled Star Wars Galaxies MMO, which was recently shut down permanently to make way for BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic. DC Universe Online is also the first MMO released on the PlayStation 3, where the majority of its users reside (2.3M, compared to 1.8M on PC, according to Sony).

GamesBeat sat down with Executive Producer Lorin Jameson to discuss about where the game has been, where it’s at, and where’s it going. The Old Republic and World of Warcraft make their way into the interview as well, naturally.

GamesBeat: What is your role on DCUO? Can you detail your typical day-to-day duties?

Jameson: I am the Executive Producer. In a typical day I am coordinating with the team on upcoming content, managing the team directors, analyzing data and planning future strategies. It is an interrupt-driven job really where I never know what may happen from one day to the next and what challenges I may face. It is really quite exciting.

GamesBeat: DCUO’s Game Director has undergone a few personnel swaps since launch. Can you talk about who has come and gone, and how that has impacted development?

Jameson: It is pretty common post-launch on a long development cycle like DCUO’s to have people shift around or seek new opportunities. Also, team requirements and needs change when you shift from development to live. I think the current team on DCUO is perfect.

GamesBeat: Has Jim Lee’s role changed much since the launch of the game?

Jameson: Jim is still involved with the product, but since taking over as co-publisher for DC Comics he has a lot on his plate so he is not involved with the team on a day-to-day basis. He is still a player though and provides a lot of feedback.

GamesBeat: For the uninitiated, can you detail the content packs that have been released since launch?

Jameson: Our first DLC was Fight for the Light which introduced light-based powers from the Lantern and Sinestro corps. It has a lot of new missions based around Green Lantern themes and a ton of new gear. Next we released our second DLC, Lightning Strikes. Themed around the Flash and his origins it introduced Electricity Powers and included a very large open play area for high level characters in Central City, Flash’s hometown. We have also released eight free updates as well during the year adding a lot of new content and features into the game.

GamesBeat: What’s next in terms of major additions, features, areas, characters, etc?

Jameson:Most recently, we released the Research and Development system in Game Update 8. This system allows players to gather resources, learn plans, and create powerful modifications for their armor as well as advanced buffs and other consumables. It is a great system that we will be building on down the road and expanding to every aspect of the game. Additionally, we are excited to be celebrating our one-year anniversary. As you guys know, to celebrate this milestone, on January 11th we are giving players a special one-of-kind One-year Anniversary Cape that features the number “1” on the back.

GamesBeat: Did DC’s New 52 impact DCUO at all?

Jameson: DCUO has its own cannon and continuity. We may integrate some aspects of the DC reboot but we will pick and choose what fits.

GamesBeat: The NGE in Star Wars Galaxies was seen as the death of that game, and Blizzard has also redone their talent system twice now, much to the disdain of longtime players. Is the gameplay foundation in DCUO safe from any similar overhauls?

Jameson: Changes in MMO’s are pretty unavoidable. What every online game developer has to ask themselves, and what I ask my team whenever they propose a major change, is: Whose problems are you trying to solve? If the answer is “The Player’s” then I am usually good with it. Where developers run into issues is when the answer is “Mine”. As a company we are dedicated to our players and as long as we see them as our primary concern I think we will be OK.

GamesBeat: What other lessons (positive or negative) have you learned from other MMOs?

Jameson: Every MMO, successful or not, teaches me something about the industry and the art. For myself I see a lot to learn from Eve Online. They have not been without issues, but I always sense they are building from their core. They have managed to grow a game by knowing their own customers. Many games fail because they are still chasing the customers they wanted and not catering enough to the ones they have.

GamesBeat: Looking at other games, like WoW or even iterative bite-sized experiences like Pocket God, the current version is a far cry from the launch version. With that in mind, where would you like to see DCUO in five years? What are some of the big ideas waiting to be implemented, and what’s holding them back?

(interview continues on next page)

GamesBeat: Looking at other games, like WoW or even iterative bite-sized experiences like Pocket God, the current version is a far cry from the launch version. With that in mind, where would you like to see DCUO in five years? What are some of the big ideas waiting to be implemented, and what’s holding them back?

Jameson: That is what is so cool about working on an online game. You can grow it in so many directions and add so much to the game after launch. We will definitely be building out from our core audience: action gamers on both the PC and PS3 who love the fast paced-style of our game. There is really no limit to what we can add to the game and we have big plans to bring players the most immersive MMO experience set within the expansive DC Universe. The only thing that holds us back is time. It takes a lot of time to add all the cool new stuff we want to the game!

GamesBeat: DCUO originally launched with the standard pay-to-play subscription model, but then changed that to a freemium model. What was the reasoning behind that?

Jameson: Quite simply the game was resonating with so many new players that we wanted to create new ways for them to play. We listened to our community and they wanted choices on how to play, and pay for the game. We think our current free-to-play model makes the game more accessible to every type of player so they can choose to play the game in a way that suits them best.

GamesBeat: How do you monetize the game under the current model? Which tier has been the most successful?

Jameson: We offer a lot of account upgrades such as additional character and inventory slots in our in-game Marketplace. We also sell a ton of appearance and convenience items. But definitely our most popular items are the mini-expansion DLC’s we offer which add more content and new power sets. These DLC’s are freely accessible by our Legendary members and Premium and Free players can choose to purchase them individually since they are completely optional. I think we have done a great job at retaining value for our members while adding a lot of Premium players who are buying a la carte.

GamesBeat: How have gamers reacted to the premium offerings? In what ways were early adopters who had previously subscribed reimbursed?

Jameson: DCUO still has a large, and growing base of Legendary Access members. For a lot of folks, they want to have unlimited access to everything and that is what the Legendary plan does. It gives you access to all content, unlimited cash, and a ton of other benefits. I think our Legendary players appreciate all the new faces. It gives them plenty of folks to play with and crush.

GamesBeat: At the time, the announcement of going F2P was generally viewed as a defeat for DCUO (since it was indeed an attempt to get player numbers up to an acceptable level). Why not launch as a freemium game to begin with (as Marvel intends to do with Marvel Universe Online)? Especially given how other Western MMOs (LOTRO, D&D, etc.) found a second life by going F2P before the release of DCUO, did you expect that things might be different for your game?

Jameson: We did not have an in-game Marketplace at launch and we had definitely built the game for the subscription model; there were many design decisions that were made based on that business approach. In the final analysis, we launched a great product that grew a strong subscriber base but we really believed we could attract more players and build a stronger community by giving more options. I did not see it as a defeat, but rather as an opportunity. It’s a tough market out there and we are stronger than ever. Hopefully that is how we are measured.

GamesBeat: Who do you see as DC Universe Online’s main competition (specifically), and how do you plan to combat them?

Jameson: People ask this all the time and seem surprised when I cite games like Call of Duty: MW3 and Battlefield titles. We deliver a different kind of Action MMO and we have a different player base than more traditional titles. We still have a lot of the key elements of MMO’s like EverQuest, but we have a style of combat and a moment-to-moment experience that is unique in a massive persistent world. And the best plan of attack in this business is to make a great game and to keep on delivering more of it.

GamesBeat: Now that The Old Republic has launched (and SOE’s Star Wars Galaxies has closed down for good), what do you think of it?

Jameson: TOR is a great game. I produced Star Wars Galaxies for quite a while and have been overseeing the team for a number of years since so I have a great affection for the Star Wars universe. I am truly impressed by the level of detail they have worked into the individual storylines. I guess it is safe to say I am a fan. From a purely business perspective, it is also important to keep the success stories coming for this industry.

GamesBeat: World of Warcraft has started to hemorrhage subscribers quarter after quarter, losing over a million in the past several months alone. They’re still at roughly 10M active subscribers, which is impossibly good, but the numbers do seem to have peeked. Do you think this is the beginning of the end for the game?

Jameson: Anyone predicting the downfall of World of Warcraft does not know Blizzard. I think they are seeing lower numbers but that is to be expected after so many years. I do not see them on a cliff at this point but there are a lot of other players in the industry that are offering very compelling experiences. Competition is a good thing.

GamesBeat: Blizzard seems to be throwing the kitchen sink at the wall to see what sticks with the upcoming Mists of Pandaria expansion (Pokemon, kung fu pandas, etc.). Do you see this as a desperate last gasp to keep WoW relevant? Is there anything in the new expansion that you think might make its way into DCUO?

Jameson: We currently offer a number of skin styles in DC Universe Online. From Tiger to Snake…I can see a certain black and white, caniformic, skin on the horizon. But totally out of respect of course.