I headed over to Bellevue today to visit with Sony Online Entertainment, which opened up a studio there in fall 2004. Back then, the studio's only employees were its four founders, all of whom had worked at Microsoft. (See here for the story I wrote on the studio in 2005).
Now, SOE-Seattle, as it is called, is up to 42 employees and it's hiring 20 more. Why the big hiring push? They're about to move from pre-production to the production phase of the still top-secret game they're working on. Co-founder and studio head Matt Wilson wouldn't say much about the game, and he wouldn't comment on a poster on the wall of the lobby touting a new game which combines action, adventure and intruigue in a massively multiplayer environment. (See here for a story I wrote last month on these popular MMO games).
Wilson ended up giving me a preview of the game on a not-for-publication basis, and so I can't yet write about it. The studio is confident that the game will be a complete departure from other MMO games, which tend to delve into the fantasy and science-fiction realms. In fact, they're not even going to be calling it an MMO (which stands for "massively multiplayer online"). These games are extraordinarily complex and can take years to develop, and to move away from the tried-and-true formula is a big-money risk on Sony's part. It will be very interesting to see how SOE-Seattle's product fares in the market.
Ed Fries, the former head of Microsoft Game Studios, is still an adviser to SOE-Seattle and pops in every couple of weeks to see the latest phase of the game. The folks at SOE-Seattle still have his Segway scooter to ride through the office, which takes up an entire floor of a building in one of Bellevue's many nondescript office parks.