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MMO Update: PlanetSide 2’s North American, European Server Dilemma

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Last week SOE revealed one of their biggest decisions regarding PlanetSide 2. In response to concerns from the community, they announced that both North America and European players would be able to play on the same servers.

While such a decision might seem minor to some, it was by far the most telling move out of SOE since the development of PlanetSide 2 began.

In order to understand why, however, we have to jump back to two weeks ago, when SOE first announced their partnership with ProSiebenSat.1.

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On February 21, SOE announced that they had partnered with the European media conglomerate ProSiebenSat.1 to publish and support PlanetSide 2 in Europe. ProSieben would be responsible for not just PlanetSide 2, but all of SOE’s properties in Europe. While this move worried players due to ProSieben’s lack of experience in the gaming industry, there was another part of the announcement that took the brunt of the attention:

As part of the deal, European and North American accounts would only be able to access their respective region’s servers.

Not only that, but you would only be able to make an account in your current region. This meant that there was simply no way a North American player could ever join in with their European friends. Essentially, SOE had region-locked their game, splitting the already small and somewhat fragile PlanetSide 2 community in half.

The immediate response was almost universal outrage. Reddit user Shniper summed up the community’s general thoughts with a post on the PlanetSide 2 subreddit: “This is a horrendous idea.“

The response was hardly limited to one tiny sub-community, however. Threads immediately popped up on RockPaperShotgun and Planetside-Universe decrying the move, referring to it as SOE’s first big mistake with the development of PlanetSide 2.

While it might’ve seemed like a small issue from the outside, the original PlanetSide had a relatively small community that was tightly knit around “global” outfits. There were no real barriers between the European and North American worlds, and because of this it was possible for players to interact with one another regardless of their real-world boundaries. The move also upset many who had already started to plan out their future outfits. Many communities who had planned on moving into PlanetSide 2 suddenly realized they’d just been split in half.

The grief immediately poured forth.

You could feel the mood shift across all of the community – this was it. This was the mistake everyone was afraid of. Immediately, excitement over the upcoming beta turned into disgust and tales of prior SOE screw-ups. My prior fears had seemingly come true.

But then something else happened: John Smedley, President of SOE, Tweeted that the outrage was not falling on deaf ears:

Still, the community remained pessimistic – and understandably so. SOE has hardly been known to foster a solid relationship with its player base. For a company that has served in the MMO business for such a long time, they don’t exactly have a lot of positive press behind their name. Don’t believe me? If you’re feeling brave, mention SOE around anyone that has ever played Star Wars Galaxies and see how they respond – just don’t mention the words “vocal minority” unless you have a death wish. Trust me on that one.

Fortunately, however, this time it seemed like the pessimism was unnecessary:

Smedley’s response immediately changed the community’s mood. SOE wasn’t simply humoring them, they were actively listening and, to a lesser extent, fighting for their players’ best interest. As many pointed our prior to Smedley’s tweet, it was likely that the European/North American split was not due to SOE’s desire to ruin their community, but rather due to a requirement in the partnership so that ProSieben would not bleed potential customers to the North American market, especially if the game proved to be more successful in America than Europe.

But still, would American and European players really be able to game together – and what about other potential markets? Questioned still remained – and fortunately for the PlanetSide 2 community, they were answered three days later with another Tweet:

Immediately after, the original FAQ that had been posted on SOE’s official forums was removed and replaced with a message:

As we are working on significant technical changes to the ProSieben-SOE partnership, we are pulling the FAQ offline for a complete overhaul!

While no explicit details were posted, the important part had already been clarified by Smedley: there would be no boundaries between players.

While the decision was certainly huge for many in the community, the real significance of the decision is what it symbolizes for both PlanetSide 2 and SOE. As previously stated, SOE has not exactly been known as a company that listens to its players. They’re seen as stubborn, as unreasonable – a company that has, in the past, seemingly sabotaged their own games despite a crowd constantly screaming at them.

Yet now it seems that things have changed. While in the past such an issue might’ve been thrown to the side and seen as unimportant, it was tackled – not just by one or two PR guys, but by the very President of the company.

As someone who has watched SOE make quite a few blunders in the past, this move gives me hope for PlanetSide 2. For once, it seems that SOE isn’t just interested in pushing a game to market regardless of how the community feels about it – they’re carefully monitoring what’s going on, eager to make a game that isn’t just compatible with their vision, but the community’s as well.

Chris Hornyak is an editor at Piki Geek. When he isn’t spouting off his crappy MMO ideas, he can be found on Twitter @nutinmuch, or slamming his face into whatever game happens to be on the menu.

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