SOE hinted a few weeks ago that a major EverQuest II announcement was in store for this year’s E3. It could have been an expansion announcement, although at this point in the game’s history I don’t know that another expansion really constitutes “news” — it’s really expected at this point, and we can even guess when it will be released to within a few months. My personal suspicion was that SOE would announce some kind of change to their f2p model, but that they were overplaying that hand a little bit.
What we actually got was pretty surprising. SOEmote, a feature that will track your facial movements as seen by your webcam, and map them onto the face of your in-game character. Check out the short piece of video footage:
This is not a feature that anybody was asking for. It is not, I’d wager, something that many people had even thought of. And yet it’s groundbreaking, a new tool for immersion that’s light-years ahead of anything anybody else is doing. It’s comparable to the innovation that we saw from Nintendo with the Wii, and while I’m not a big fan of that particular technology, there’s no question that it brought something new to video games.
Along with SOEmote we’re getting voice fonts, which is something SOE had been talking about for a while in conjunction with the game’s built-in voice chat but which never seemed to materialize. The technology is still obviously kind of rough around the edges, but even just from the demo it’s impressive. If SOE can deliver this feature effectively it could be a sea change for EverQuest II, letting the pool of potential players see the game in a new light. I’m also not sure how well it will be received by the existing player base, or how widely it will get used. My guess is that even today most EQ2 players are playing on desktops without built-in webcams.
Which brings up the question of why SOE would develop this innovative new tool for a game as mature and seemingly stable as EverQuest II. I’d suggest that it’s going in to shake out any major problems in time for its inclusion in EverQuest Next. In any event, this year’s E3 has made SOE look pretty good so far, with them pushing their whole suite of games effectively, with the major push behind Planetside 2, and with the addition of two whole new games — FPS Bullet Run and hardcore Asian MMO Wizardry Online — to the SOE stable. It is, honestly, the kind of presence that SOE needed to have after a 2011 riddled with catastrophes. I say good on them.