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Q&A: SOE's Christensen On Asian Growth, WoW's Dominance

Following Sony Online Entertainment's recent appointment of former IGE exec David Christensen to grow the EverQuest creator's international business, Gamasutra quizzed him ab
Following Sony Online Entertainment's recent appointment of former IGE exec David Christensen as VP of international ops and business development, Gamasutra spoke with the executive about SOE's plans to develop unique regional content and combat the World Of Warcraft juggernaut. Christensen is based in the company's new Los Angeles studio and will report to John Needham, and is responsible for "generating strategic global growth opportunities and securing key business alliances for SOE, with an emphasis on both Europe and Asia." The new executive will also manage the company's international operations group. As well as time at MMO item trading firm IGE, a background which has raised eyebrows for some online commentators, he was previously director of business development for Vivendi Games. SOE's International Push Firstly, Christensen explained of his newly created hybrid role for international growth: “We think it is important to have business development and international ops under the same umbrella so that ultimately, there is a single unit responsible for all of our international projects from conception to execution.” While the initial statement announcing Christensen's appointment specifically called out the European and Asian markets as being his primary focus, the new executive cautioned that his scope is not quite that narrow. “Actually, the focus is on all markets outside of the U.S.,” he commented. “SOE has struggled to get a foothold in Asian territories, so we would obviously like to get some traction there, but we also see some of the emerging markets like India, Brazil and Russia as very attractive.” Creating New Content, Not Localizing Old Interestingly, the SOE exec is mainly looking at making freshly created MMOs or MMO content, rather than exporting existing Sony Online games more aggressively, suggesting: “While I still believe that there are some markets in which some of our existing properties can have success, I’m principally interested in finding strategic partners to assist SOE in developing territory-specific content.” He added: “For SOE to have any success in the crowded markets of China and Korea, I strongly believe that it is essential that we establish relationships with strong local partners and focus on utilizing local talent to create territory-specific content.” Christensen further clarified that simple translating of content is not quite what he sees his focus as: “'Localization' is one of the main tasks that our international operations group performs,” stated Christensen. “[But] going forward, prior to entering into any strategic partnerships with groups outside of North America, our international operations group will be instrumental in evaluating our ability to have success in any given market.” Too Late? Imports? WoW? But is Sony Online arriving at the 'international MMO development' table a little late? It was interesting to get Christensen's take on how SOE plans to invest globally, particularly in developing markets: “While SOE may have not been an early mover in established markets like China and Korea,” he noted, “we’ve already begun making inroads into markets like India, Russia and Brazil. And while we won’t be the first ones to the party, I’m certain that our efforts will ensure that we arrive just as the party starts hopping.” What about importing foreign MMO titles to the U.S.? The exec said it was possible, but referenced the lack of success for this model in the past: “SOE has been and will continue to be very particular with regard to any internationally developed title that we attempt to bring into North America,” mainly due to the fact that “there are only a few [online games developed outside of North America] that have found success in the States.” Finally, it's impossible to talk about the online gaming space without bringing up the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, Blizzard's phenomenally successful World of Warcraft, especially given that many now consider WoW to be the 'gold standard' by which all other online efforts are measured. “Wow (no pun intended) - fortunately, overtaking Blizzard is not my job alone to accomplish,” Christensen grinned. “Clearly, Blizzard has accomplished this level of success by creating extremely compelling content that has broadened the player base of MMOs. Part of the reason that I joined SOE is because I believe that we have titles in development with the potential to again broaden the market for MMOs and attract new MMO gamers.”

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