The former head of SOE and Daybreak. Affectionately known to gamers as “Smed.”
Back in February, we learned the fate of MMORPG industry veteran John Smedley: He’s heading up a new game for Amazon Game Studios.
Smed is well known for his 20-year reign at SOE and then Daybreak, which he departed in 2015, and most recently for Hero’s Song studio Pixelmage Games, which closed down last year ostensibly for financial reasons.
While Smed wouldn’t speak about the game on the record back then, Amazon did cite his MMO experience when telling gamers that his game is “an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.” We might have a clue today as he’s tweeted about PC shooters, soliciting opinions on gunplay.
Here’s the million-dollar question of the day: What is John Smedley making for Amazon Game Studio’s San Diego branch? Ever since being handed the reins of a new sub-studio back in February with a bulk of his Pixelmage team, we’ve been intensely curious about whether Smedley is staying close to his MMO roots in his new project.
Perhaps we might glean a few details from the job listings on Amazon’s site. The studio is looking for several positions for art, combat systems, and engineering, and there are a few bullet points in the job descriptions that hint at the project in question.
One of the job descriptions has the best hint yet, with the position being tasked to “architect and develop the real time combat system for a cutting edge action multiplayer game.” Another intriguing entry mentions a “real time terrain deformation system based on physics simulation.”
The graveyard of Sony Online Entertainment and Daybreak Game Company is certainly full enough to be considered a threat if there was ever a zombie uprising among MMORPGs. From PlanetSide to Free Realms, there are plenty of live games that were disposed of in this grim fictional burial ground. But there are also those stillborn titles that never had the change to make or break in a live environment. EverQuest Next might be the most fresh in our minds, but go back a handful of years and you might have seen players lamenting the loss of a different promising SOE game: The Agency.
The Agency seems like a natural fit for the studio’s focus on first-person shooters and a willingness to branch out from strictly fantasy territory. Instead of dragons or stormtroopers, players in this game were to face off against terrorist organizations and dastardly spy agencies, all in the pursuit of living out the ultimate James Bond fantasy.
But instead of sitting on our desktop, The Agency exists only in a forgotten corner of this imaginary cemetery. Today, let us tenderly brush off its worn tombstone and remember what we can about this canceled spy shooter.
Yup, it’s true. It was a sad day when Emily Taylor confirmed that she was indeed leaving Daybreak. When John Smedley’s tweet popped up outing Taylor’s move to Canada, I was in the middle of chatting with friends and fellow EverQuest II players. We were stunned. We know that the industry can be fickle, but Taylor had been a staple on the EQII scene. Known as “Domino,” she’d been in integral part of the Norrath crafting scene; she was responsible for penning many of the crafting signature quest lines as well as developing other parts of crafting, events, and housing. She was also well admired and appreciated by the community. Her loss would really be felt.
When we first read that tweet, our thoughts went to, oh no, what happened? followed very quickly by what’s going to happen? After the rough time Daybreak has had since the split from Sony (multiple layoffs, game closures galore, and clandestine management changes along with staff resignations), we understandably wondered if we were witnessing a step toward impeding disaster — a sentiment shared by other fans of the franchise. The uncertainty of the news was laid to rest when Taylor herself announced that yes, she was leaving. She informed players that her move was of a personal nature (she wants to shovel more snow?!) instead of any thing related to the studio. She also assured us that there were plenty of devs at Daybreak still working on the games — moreso, in fact, than when the name changed.
Hands up: Any Massively OP readers play the crap out of Command & Conquer back in the day? In the ’90s, Westwood Studios was a legend for that series (and how awesome was Red Alert? Here’s the Hell March theme for your Thursday listening pleasure) before the studio was purchased by EA and shuttered.
Well, one of the co-founders of Westwood, Louis Castle, is being given another chance at widespread glory. Castle was recently hired by Amazon Game Studios Seattle to head up the company’s sci-fi multiplayer title Crucible.
Castle told Games Industry that he’s thrilled to get to work on a brand-new IP: “I don’t know too many game developers who would prefer to pursue licensed IP over the chance to create something. The new IP problem space is wide open and the possibilities are endless. I’ve personally had about equal amounts of success in both adapting and building IP.”
Ever since last September’s surprise announcement that Amazon Game Studios was actually building a sandbox MMORPG called New World, we have been dying to know more about it. As the relative lack of coverage on this site might suggest, the studio hasn’t really been promoting it past that initial press release.
However, a sharp-eyed fan noticed that the company did put two new screenshots for the game some time recently on the Amazon Lumberyard page. The first picture shows a lush forest setting while the second gives an idea of what a settlement might look like in those early colonial days.
Recently, Amazon put ex-Daybreak CEO John Smedley in charge of a new studio and different mystery project in San Diego. Check out the screenshots after the jump and let us know what you think in the comments!
Landmark’s servers blinked off for the very last time last night, with our own EverQuest franchise columnist MJ Guthrie there to stream the end. The sandbox hadn’t even reached its first birthday after its long-awaited but still hasty launch last year.
“Such a waste,” former SOE and Daybreak CEO John Smedley remarked on Twitter. “It’s tragic to see this game turned off. EQ Next would have been brilliant based on it. We could have done it.”
We’ve rounded up some memories from the current and former Daybreak and SOE reps, plus we’ve included MJ’s stream and some of our favorite Landmark content in the last couple of years.
Amazon Game Studios announced yesterday that it had picked up MMORPG genre veteran John Smedley to helm one of its up-and-coming online game studios. Today, it published a blog post with a photograph of the team, which appears to show that Smed brought along with him several familiar faces from Pixelmage Games. Well, more than several — it looks like the bulk of the team, minus some of the artists and AI expert Dave Mark.
Shown in the photograph is Smed (hiding in the back!), along with Scott Maxwell, Steve Freitas, Andy Skirvin minus a beard (nice try, Skirvin, but we’re canny), Michael Hunley, Jay Beard, Bill Trost, Toby Brousil (pretty sure), Matt McDonald, Jim Buck, Steve George, Paul Carrico, and Michelle Butler. Which is almost all of ’em. No need to worry about whether those guys landed on their feet after their studio folded seven weeks ago– Smed’s new Amazon studio is basically Pixelmage Games, though to be fair, we don’t know what its name is or the particulars of the game it’s working on.
If you wondered what John Smedley was up to following the death of Pixelmage Games and Hero’s Song in December, now you have an answer: Amazon Game Studios picked him up to run a sub-studio in San Diego.
“We’re excited to announce an all-new Amazon Games Studio based in San Diego and led by industry veteran John Smedley,” says a PR blast from AGS today. “John’s pioneering work helped define the modern MMO, and his influence can be felt in thousands of games that followed. He helped create the blueprint for fusing massive game worlds with vibrant player communities, a vision that we share at Amazon Game Studios. That’s why we’re excited to announce that John has joined Amazon Games Studios to lead an all-new team in San Diego.”
Apparently, Smed and his team are “already hard at work on an ambitious new project that taps into the power of the AWS Cloud and Twitch to connect players around the globe in a thrilling new game world.”
In July of 2015, MMORPG fans were stunned to hear that John Smedley was stepping down from his post as president of Daybreak. After all, he had been in the captain’s chair at Verant, SOE, and now Daybreak for nearly two decades, helming the company as it handled some of the most influential MMOs of the early generation, including EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies. Fans were curious to know both what happened and what Smedley was planning to do next.
They didn’t have to wait long for the latter. A month later, Smedley announced that he was starting up his own studio to work on a new game. Using his industry contacts and years of experience in game development, Smedley pulled together a solid team to craft Hero’s Song, an online fantasy survival game that would provide huge, customizable worlds. The team went into a flurry of activity, putting out dev blogs, holding fundraisers, and pushing early access out the door.
Yet by the end of 2016, the project was dead, refunds were being distributed to backers, and Smedley’s studio was dissolved. So what happened? Why did Hero’s Song fail when it had so much going for it? Now that a couple of months have passed, it might be time to step back and perform a post-mortem on this fascinating and doomed game. I posit that there are five key reasons why we’re not right now playing Hero’s Song and anticipating its official launch by the end of the year. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, so what could Smedley have done different?
Chargebacks were a big deal in 2016: Black Desert, ArcheAge, and No Man Sky were all embroiled in community drama thanks to perceived chargeback abuse. PayPal even ended its chargeback protection for crowdfunding donations, making it harder for gamers who hand over cash to abuse the credit card system to get that money back.
But some games are offering you your money back and you’re still not taking it.
Hero’s Song, for example, recently went under, but John Smedley pledged to refund any Steam and Indiegogo purchasers who asked for their money returned. Yet there are folks in our comments who said they wouldn’t take him up on that — they feel they got their money’s worth or don’t feel it’s right to take back what was intended as a gift, risks fully understood. That reminded me of when Glitch sunsetted after a couple years in operation and Stewart Butterfield offered everyone all of their money back from years of play and a lot of players said no way.
How about you? Do you claim refunds on games when available? How often do you do it?
This week in MMO crowdfunding news, refunds continue for Hero’s Song, which was canceled the day after Christmas with the promise to reimburse all those who backed the game through Indiegogo or on Steam early access. A new Indiegogo announcement from John Smedley yesterday says that Pixelmage has finished processing all pending requests — manually — and will soon begin mailing checks. “On the PayPal front we’re awaiting having our PayPal account authorized to do this,” he writes, suggesting that will be resolved early next week.
Meanwhile, take note, future MMO devs: If our readers are any indication, Kickstarter is probably not going to be your ticket to cash in 2017.
Read on for more on what’s up with MMO crowdfunding over the last few weeks and the regular roundup of all the crowdfunded MMOs we’ve got our eye on!
The number of games our wee little Stream Team covers in the span of a year is staggering. If you ever wanted to know what an MMORPG looks like and how it plays before you shell out money or download a mega-client, the Stream Team is your best bet.
We’ve put together some of our favorite streams from the year, from launches to first-looks and beta deep-dives and even a series of SMITE charity streams we did with the help of our viewers. Enjoy!