Only the Strong Survive

Sovereign and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory get the axe

Cindy Yans

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This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150

Even late in the month of February, Sony’s website proclaimed that Sovereign, its “groundbreaking” massively multiplayer real-time strategy game, was “entering the market with a new take on the RTS genre, offering a persistent game play experience and a vast galaxy of planets to explore, Sovereign allows players to team up to fight off alien threats or go head to head in a contest of tactical skill.” As it turns out, the reality is rather different. On February 12th of this year, buried in an article on CNN Money’s website touting the PlayStation version of EverQuest, Sony revealed the end of the game’s four and a half year odyssey. According to that story, Scott McDaniel, Sony Online Entertainment’s VP for Marketing and Public Relations said that the game “never really had the magic.” That “magic” presumably was the ability to mesh some 500 simultaneous players in an online persistent world, pay to play real-time strategy game—a challenge in the best of circumstances—and one that Sony was never able to meet. Trade show demonstrations throughout the game’s long development period left the public feeling less than confident in Sovereign’s viability, and eventually Sony simply seemed to sweep the title under the carpet.
Interestingly, the game’s roots stretch back to the early days of EverQuest, when then Verant executive John Smedley used to wax eloquent about a game idea he had that eventually morphed into Sovereign, a game where diplomacy, combat, and geographic conquest unfolded in a persistent multiplayer setting. It wasn’t quite feasible, though, in 1997; and apparently seven years did not increase its feasibility.
Sony was not the only company faced with the need to pull the plug on a high-profile title this winter, however. One day prior to the CNN Money story, Activision sent out a press release detailing the demise of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory as a retail product. In a joint decision by Activision and id Software, the companies decided to cancel the boxed version of the stand-alone expansion for the popular first-person shooter and release the multiplayer portion as a free download. “Despite a strong effort from talented developers,” the release noted, “the single player portion of the game did not progress as anticipated.” The expansion was something of a Frankenstein project, with no less than four companies working on it at any given time. In addition to Activision and id Software, Splash Damage was doing the multiplayer and Mad Doc Software was responsible for the single player component. It was this last piece, apparently, that never got up to speed. Activision refused to comment on the cancellation beyond the press release, but the decision to continue work on the multiplayer part of the game as a free download for some future time strongly implies where the problems lay. What’s left is a free team and class-based multiplayer mod that has a lot of interesting potential, certainly, but which is going to leave fans of Wolfenstein’s solo play out in the cold.
It’s pretty certain that both Sony and Activision would have persevered had either company had the slightest hope for a successful product launch. Smart companies know that it’s better to shoot the wounded in the back before they get shot in the foot.

This article originally appeared in Computer Games Magazine #150