Investment firm buys Sony's online gaming division

An image from "PlanetSide 2."
Source: PlanetSide 2

Columbus Nova is expanding its footprint in the video game business.

The New York-based investment firm has purchased Sony Online Entertainment, which is responsible for massively multiplayer online games like "EverQuest," "PlanetSide" and "DC Universe Online" for an undisclosed amount.

The developer/publisher, which has been rebranded Daybreak, is now free to make titles for any console system now that it is no longer a Sony holding—and Daybreak President John Smedley, via Twitter, quickly made it clear the company plans to do so, saying "Can't wait to make Xbox One games!"

This is Columbus Nova's second significant purchase in the gaming world. In 2010, the firm purchased "Rock Band" creator Harmonix from Viacom.

The acquisition of SOE/Daybreak will encompass all of the developer's existing and upcoming games, including the recently launched zombie survival game "H1Z1" and the still-in-development "EverQuest Next," an ambitious effort that has excited fans of online games.

"We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company's game portfolio through multiplatform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up," said Jason Epstein, senior partner of Columbus Nova, in a statement.

A spokesperson for the firm declined to make any additional statements. In a note to fans on Reddit, however, it assured them that despite the acquisition there would be no major shifts in strategy or direction for current or upcoming titles.

"So what exactly does this mean for you?" it said. "It will be business as usual and all SOE games will continue on their current path of development and operation. In fact, we expect to have even more resources available to us as a result of this acquisition. It also means new exciting developments for our existing IP and games as we can now fully embrace the multiplatform world we are living in."

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As Sony Online Entertainment, the studio was an early leader in the online gaming world. "EverQuest," released in 1999, was the first real breakout massively multiplayer title, and has since spawned 21 expansions. It helped pave the way for future successes in the space, including Activision-Blizzard's "World of Warcraft."

Massively multiplayer online games (commonly called MMOs) are virtual worlds, where thousands of people can play simultaneously. For the most part, these big online games don't dramatically move the earnings needle for game publishers (with the obvious exception of Activision). They're expensive to make, cost money to maintain and have a high casualty rate. But when they're a hit, the rewards can be substantial.

A few years ago, Sony Online Entertainment was one of the first traditional game developer/publishers to embrace the free-to-play trend—a risky move that paid off.

After transitioning from a monthly subscription model to free to play, the company saw a 300 percent increase in new players in "EverQuest 2," a 125 percent increase in item sales for "EverQuest" and a 350 percent bump in overall registrations.

"Everybody is content for everyone else," said Smedley in a 2013 conversation with "That's the core of our strategy moving forward. A simple way to put it is: By allowing players to interact with each other, we're providing tools. We're like building a gladiator arena and throwing in the swords."

For Sony, it was a chance to continue to pare down its operations. While the company has pointed to the PlayStation 4 as one of the pillars of its recovery, Sony Online Entertainment was always more focused on the PC side of the gaming world. Though it did make titles for the PS4, it was always something of an odd fit.

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The Columbus Nova acquisition will give the company freedom to embrace that PC space—and work with systems, like the Xbox, which have much stronger ties to the PC world.