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Industry Woes Prompted The Agency Cancellation

| 9 Jul 2011 00:31
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Investing more resources into the ambitious new IP of a spy MMOFPS just didn't make financial sense for SOE.

Back in March, SOE closed two of its satellite offices (Denver & Seattle) and reduced much of the staff there in order to streamline production of its MMO properties. One of the casualties in those layoffs was the MMO known as The Agency, a cartoonish FPS set in the near future with a concentration on spy mechanics originally announced in 2007. Josh Hackney was the executive producer of The Agency in Seattle, and he was one of the crew there that was asked to join the Planetside 2 team instead of losing his job. At SOE Fan Faire 2011, I asked Hackney and SOE President John Smedley why The Agency was cut and they both told me that it was a matter of focusing resources.

Hackney was brought on to The Agency team about two years ago and fell in love with the IP that had been developed. "It was an MMOFPS, but it was different, it wasn't on the massive side, we were trying to inject a lot of the spy elements into the game," he said. "What does Bond and Q look like 15 to 20 years in the future?" Hackney and the team had fun researching radical real world technologies in prototype stages right now like audio cloaking or invisibility cloaks and figuring out how to implement them as gadgets or abilities in The Agency.

So why was it axed in favor of Planetside 2?

"I wasn't part of all the discussions because that went all the way up the ladder," Hackney said of the decision to cancel The Agency and focus on Planetside 2. "A lot of [the layoffs] had to do with the state of the industry and the state of where SOE is [positioned]. You get to a certain point where you have to focus down, we do that in games every day. Games don't have every single feature that you could possibly want. Companies don't make every single game that they possibly want. Sometimes you have to make those hard choices.

"It's not that there was a lack of passion, or anything like that," Hackney said.

John Smedley explained why he made the difficult decision to make so many game developers redundant. "It comes down to something simple. We have two big resources: experienced people who make MMOs and money. We were short on both of those in terms of our development funding," he said. "The Agency had taken longer than it should have [to develop] and was making great progress, it looked great, but we realized that it was going to delay again. We had one of those decision points: Are we going to focus more resources on the next EverQuest and Planetside 2 or keeping [funding The Agency] with no positive end in sight. We had no idea when we'd be able to launch it.

"We just had to make the tough call, and it sucked," Smedley said with a frown.

To his credit, Smedley keeps track of all the people that he was forced to lay off and makes sure they are doing ok as far as finding a new job, whether on a different SOE team or somewhere else in the industry. He was happy to report that less than half of the people affected in March were still unemployed.

Here's hoping the rest of the ex-SOE employees find work soon.

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