Evil has triumphed, Superman and Wonder Woman and the host of DC Comics storylines have been crushed in the online realm.. by Lex Luthor you ask? Nope, by some quite non-speculative fiction people with real world criminal intent. Now, and for about a week or so Sony's Playstation Network has been crippled and in particular it's MMO games have been hardest hit. Is this the end of the (DC) Universe as we know it? Puns aside, it's a huge blow to the design team and programmers of a game which (if internet rumors are to be held to be true) was not blazing with success post initial launch. Already a server consolidation was being proposed, and now the servers have been off for some time. Perhaps even the industry as a whole may be hit.
What does this all mean? Well certainly from my research this would seem to be quite a critical period for Sony. Their subscribers have had the initial buy-in of trying the game and are making that critical decision as to whether the game is worth continuing with. Importantly this also creates a huge decision point for them regarding their value for money evaluation. Many MMORPG's do well in removing decision points (automatic re-subscription being a great tool in this), and for good reason, at every decision point you introduce, you're going to lose a swathe of customers. The game being offline for a long while now is going to make people re-evaluate the buy-in and their subscription (even with the free month Sony is giving away as compensation). Worse still for Sony, particularly the more hardcore gamers out there have probably already moved on to new pastures (Rift) or games they're know well (I'd be fascinated to know this month's re-subscriptions figure for World of Warcraft!).
And this is all ignoring the large elephant in the room of many people's Trust in Sony being rather shattered. Customers will of course react to this in a very individualistic way, but generally you'd expect those with large "sunk capital" in Sony products to be more forgiving than relative newcomers (this being the internet however, I readily expect to see a video of long term customers spitting on their PS3's...). Hardest hit of course will be the newer customers of the new products (DC Universe again) who have little built up trust and capital, and have insufficient ties with SOE to be as forgiving.
Can it get worse? Well yes, it can. Already a number of fan forums and websites are talking about some "Justice Leagues" etc (the DC Online version of Guilds/Super-Groups/Corporations) moving on-mass; in many ways MMORPG's a very much confidence products. If we have the confidence that the game is going well, and I have a lot of people to play with, the game will do well. Without such confidence I'm worrying who I'll game with, and if I'm playing a "dead game" and when the servers are going to die. In other words, the community can actually self-cremate very easily the game they love though sustained negative output. More importantly they can kill the "newbie hose" which most MMORPG's survive on in some way though such bad reviews/news (interesting I’ve found that CCG’s can work in very much the same way!).
My prediction? Either very late this year, or in the 1st quarter of next year we'll see DC Universe Online (which I think is a graphically great game by the way, and I really did enjoy it myself) go F2P (Free to Play). Especially with the competition from forthcoming superhero games like the future Marvel game which is rumoured to be built around the Free-to-Play model (then again with the Marvel MMO so far off, Marvel may just be opportunistically putting some heat on the burner regarding this due to Sony’s issues; Champions Online is a much more solid F2P issue). A free to play model for DC Universe will certainly rebound it's subscriber numbers and with the highly instanced nature of the game would probably work well for content/micro-transactions payments.
And that's just last week's news.... with Square Enix (Final Fantasy)being in the next today for similar attacks on their databases to what's hit Sony, is this going to be a trend? Consider the impact for example if EA Bioware and their Star Wars MMORPG got hit by what's happened to Sony in its second month of launch. How many subscribers would they lose? Could they ever hope to recoup the reputed $300m of the budget?
Huge commercial issues here, and indeed, the possibility of corporate espionage.
What? You think I'm dreaming here? Joking? If you have the knowledge that you can cripple your major competitors huge multi-million dollar project with some minor hacking actions and drive transient customers back to you as a result, it's a tempting possibility. Certainly I've heard of hugely less destructive acts that major corporations have undertaken against competitors over the years, ranging from the minor such as the recent Google and Facebook issues over a PR company and privacy concerns, to outright bribery, bugging and hacking.
Great recent news story on this can be found here on the BBC news site:
And I've dropped some similar stories below as well:
And a great overview of Corporate Espionage here: