Sony Online Entertainment chief says online frag game PlanetSide 2 is a smashing success (interview)

GamesBeat: What’s the outlook for online gaming technology? What are you more excited about? I’m still curious about cloud gaming and whether that comes into your picture.

planetside 2 5Smedley: With cloud gaming, we think the future there is very bright. You saw Sony’s purchase of Gaikai. My personal opinion is that some elements of that are a big part of gaming’s future. In our case, a lot of our decision-making and server stuff is in the cloud. We’ve been operating there for a while. Now, the client side is starting to catch up. I think the future is real bright for that.

The biggest future development that we see, in the next two or three years, is the ability for more people to connect in different ways. Social networking and Facebook brought us what they call the social graph. We as gamemakers are trying to use that in more hardcore games — the un-Zyngas, sort of, the polar opposites. We’re making hardcore games but using a lot of the same techniques. That’s a big thing.

GamesBeat: So you’re able to target people and get them together with their friends and make the games more social?

Smedley: Right. A more social experience is super important. A good example of that is what we did with TwitchTV. We believe that being able to share what you’re doing is super important. You can go right now onto and see PlanetSide 2 streams. Or it’s even easier to go to and go to “Media” on the front page. Right under that is “Game Streams.” You can see for yourself. People are able to share their experiences in real time, and that’s so powerful.

I personally watch TwitchTV probably a good 45 minutes to an hour a night now, especially now that all the TV shows are off for December. It’s so much fun to watch people play. I watch games I don’t even play myself because I enjoy watching a skilled player. Or sometimes I even enjoy watching really bad players. It’s just fun. That, to me, is social in a completely different direction. I think TwitchTV is one of the most valuable companies in gaming right now. I love what they’re doing. That’s the kind of direction we want to go.

We’re also enabling our players to participate in it. We have a change to our Terms of Service coming out where we’re going to officially allow our players to monetize PlanetSide 2 videos. If they make a PlanetSide 2 video, they can make money off it on YouTube. We’re going to open PlanetSide 2 up to what we call the SOE Player Studio. They can make items in PlanetSide 2, vehicles and other things, and sell them in our marketplace for a percentage. We believe in empowering players a lot more.

GamesBeat: On the video side of things, is the streaming technology efficient enough that it doesn’t turn out to be a big cost to anybody?

Smedley: That’s done between the client and Twitch. It doesn’t cost us anything. It’s fairly low bandwidth, so it’s not a big deal.

GamesBeat: When you were experimenting with Twitch, I guess you were pretty early as far as integrating it into something.

planetside 2 3Smedley: More than early — we were patient zero. We’re the very first company to integrate their API. They’re fantastic people to work with. We strongly believe in what they’re trying to do. We think that you’re talking about a large, untapped social and viral way of telling people about games. They’re telling each other about it. It doesn’t get better than that, in my opinion.

GamesBeat: Is that one of your most effective marketing channels?

Smedley: Absolutely. It’s what I would call a “real” one. It’s user-to-user. The players are all about it themselves.

GamesBeat: You mentioned cloud client technology. How soon might you be able to play on different kinds of devices?

Smedley: I think you can do that now. I certainly know that Gaikai had that sort of tech going before Sony bought them. As far as where that goes in the future. … To me, this is a very interesting line of development. I think it’s going to open up premium games to a much wider audience.

GamesBeat: How are you dealing with the load of consumers coming in?

Smedley: We’re doing well. It was manageable. We expected it. We had problems in the first half-hour after we turned the lights on — nobody could get in because too many people were trying. We solved that, and in an instant, we had a ton of people in there. We’re feeling good about it.

GamesBeat: Is that where you bring in something from the public cloud, like Amazon or something like that?

planetside 2 2Smedley: No, we do all our own stuff in that area. That’s never been a problem for us. We’ve been dealing with heavy loads for a long, long time.

GamesBeat: How much are you progressing yourself in the game?

Smedley: Quite a bit. I’ve probably spent, since launch, about 45 hours in the game. That’s pretty good considering all the all-day-long conference calls I’ve been on, fixing the game with my guys. I’m proud.

GamesBeat: You’ve probably earned a bit of a break since getting the game out the door.

Smedley: I’d like to think so, but who knows?

GamesBeat: What else is on your agenda these days?

Smedley: I’ve been so focused on getting the game out and making sure that it runs smoothly. Most of my other stuff, the more forward-thinking stuff, EverQuest Next and those sorts of things — it all has to take second place to getting this game done. But that’s going to shift in a few weeks.

GamesBeat: What does this make you think about other kinds of games you’d like to undertake?

Smedley: You know, our plate’s pretty full. We’re taking a more Blizzard-like approach and not doing too many titles. That’s what helped with launching PlanetSide 2. We focused very strongly on getting the one game done right. We focused all the company’s resources on making sure that got done correctly, and I think that helped a great deal.

GamesBeat: So you think the PC is still a very healthy platform. Do you see it racing ahead for a period of time?

Smedley: Interesting question. I think the PC has always been a leader in the way technology works, but the way I’ve always looked at the console market. … I’ve got this in my own house. I have my PlayStation 3 by my couch, and I play all kinds of games on it. I have my PC, and I play all kinds of games on that, too. I’m maybe a 90-10 PC-to-console gamer. I prefer PC games because I don’t have the reflexes I used to when I was young. But I think that separation is the difference for people. Some people prefer to game on their TV. Some people love their PC.

What I think is very interesting is that worldwide, countries like Korea and China are very PC-centric. That’s why you’re seeing online gaming take off there. I think the future is very bright for both. A lot of people are yelling about doom and gloom for consoles, and I think they’re idiots. They should look at the way the free-to-play business model has changed the PC. I think it’s going to do the same thing for consoles.

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