An Interview With SOE's Laura Naviaux

We hopped on the phone to talk with Laura Naviaux, Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing at Sony Online Entertainment, about SOE's big ambitions in the free-to-play world.

Change has been rumbling through the online gaming industry for some time now, and no company better represents this shift than Sony Online Entertainment. In the past year alone, two flagship SOE titles have made the transition from the traditional subscription-based revenue model to the more flexible microtransaction-based free-to-play model: DC Universe Online and EverQuest II. Of course, these two weren't the first to make the big shift for SOE, as their popular children's MMORPG, Free Realms, has already been pushing its popular microtransaction goodies for close to three years now.

Regardless, it seems like change is here to stay, and with SOE experiencing some phenomenal success with their free-to-play transitions, I decided to sit down with SOE's Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing, Laura Naviaux, to talk about the future of online gaming microtransaction models, SOE's vision for 2012, and much more. If you're at all interested in what's going on with the online gaming industry and the revenue models that govern it, take a read!


ZAM: I'm here with Laura Naviaux, Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing at Sony Online Entertainment, and we're talking about SOE's big move toward their "Free-to-Play. Your way." model. 

Laura Naviaux: Hello! Nice to meet you!

ZAM: Well, let's get this interview started! When it comes to subscription-based revenue models versus free-to-play microtransaction models, SOE seems to be pursuing more of the latter than the former. Do you have any stance on how you see these models and how they relate to online gaming; maybe a comment on what spurred SOE's decision to pursue the F2P microtransaction model more?

Laura: I think saying we're pursuing the microtransaction model more is necessarily the case. I think what we're really trying to do is not make it so black and white; we're trying to not treat all of our players the same way. What's been limiting about the subscription model in the past is that it says, "You're going to pay us a monthly subscription or you're not," and there are no other options. I think what we've recognized in our path toward free-to-play - starting two and a half years ago with Free Realms - is that players want options, and there are a lot of different types of players. So I don't necessarily think it's one or the other; I think that they can coexist. I think it's more about finding a happy medium that suits everybody.

ZAM: Do you think we'll be evolving from here as you explore more ways to offer choice to players?

Laura: Absolutely! And one way we've done that is by broadening the amount of things you can buy with our virtual currency. We've introduce non-recurring passes into EverQuest II, which have been really popular for some of the newer players that aren't quite as committed yet. It's a great on-boarding tool so that people can feel like they can buy a one-time pass using virtual currency, see if they like it, and then see if they can move on to a recurring fee, which is more like the traditional MMO subscription. We're also selling expansion packs with our virtual currency now. So I think that the virtual currency has become that common denominator that people are very comfortable with. They can understand their wallet balance and can spend at their discretion. 

ZAM: This falls more into speculation, but with real-money trading rising in online gaming, particularly with Diablo III's real-money auction house and your previous efforts with EverQuest II's Station Exchange servers, do you ever see something like this working its way into mainstream microtransaction models? You mentioned digital currency and how comfortable players are with converting to that digital currency to make their microtransactions; do you see this evolving to real-money player markets?

Laura: I think it remains to be seen. We were one of the first people to offer that service with the Station Exchange, so it's something we certainly have a good pulse on. At the moment, it's not something we have current plans for, but I think everybody gets excited about potentially being able to create user-generated content to sell it to their peers, etc. There are a lot of different ways to slice and dice that, and it's something that we're watching.

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