SOE's history reaches as far back as 1995, though the brand of "Sony Online Entertainment" was born in mid 2000. In the mid 90's, when Sony stormed the gaming world with the original PlayStation, they formed a studio in San Diego called Sony Interactive Studios America. This studio was tasked with developing a PC role-playing game helmed by John Smedley. Development on this new project began in March 1996 with Brad McQuaid as lead programmer and designer.
In November 1997, the studio released their first title, Tanarus, an online tank battle game from a first-person perspective. Development on their ambitious online RPG continued concurrently. In April 1998, Sony merged several studios (SISA, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Sony Online Ventures) and renamed the group 989 Studios. But by the end of the year, 989 Studios focus was more on creating games for the booming PlayStation console, not PC games that had been SISA's primary forte. So, the part of the studio that continued work on their massively multiplayer online role-playing game renamed themselves Verant Interactive.
On March 16, 1999, EverQuest launched and carried both the Verant Interactive and 989 Studios logos on the box. The game quickly exceeded Sony's expectations and became one of the most popular games of all time. Later the same year, the studio released its third game, Infantry, a top-down online combat game, but EverQuest's success was obviously the studio's main focus. Thirteen months after EQ's launch, Verant released the first expansion, The Ruins of Kunark, which added an entire continent, new playable race, and many other new features.
Shortly after the release of Kunark, Sony created the brand of Sony Online Entertainment and officially absorbed Verant Interactive under this new banner. Based on EverQuest's success, Sony planned to form a stable of MMO games and needed a brand to house them under. Although, the second expansion, The Scars of Velious, released in December that year, still carried the Verant Interactive logo on the box. In April 2000, Sony created a branch of SOE in Austin, Texas and announced a deal with LucasArts to create a Star Wars MMORPG.
Shortly before the release of EQ's third expansion, The Shadows of Luclin, Brad McQuaid, the most prominent face of the game's design team, decided to leave the company along with many others to form Sigil Games. This left much of the expansion's content unfinished when it was released in December 2001. Many players would point to McQuaid's departure as the end of the games best content.
Released at the end of 2002, the fourth expansion, The Planes of Power, while still a success in sales, is often considered the point where many of the game's long-time players began leaving the world of Norrath. Not to be forgotten, SOE released another smaller title called Cosmic Rift in the Spring of 2002.
The year of 2003 was a massive year for SOE. February saw the fifth EverQuest expansion, The Legacy of Ykesha, which was a smaller amount of content, but added many player requested features such as increased bank size and armor dye. February also saw the first spin-off of the franchise with EverQuest Online Adventures for the PlayStation 2, which allowed console owners to experience the world of Norrath 500 years earlier in its history than PC players. In May, SOE released a second spin-off known as EverQuest: Hero's Call for cell phones and PDA's. Also in May, they released a new brand of MMO with Planetside, a first-person shooter take on the genre. Then, in June, was the juggernaut release of Star Wars Galaxies. EverQuest's sixth expansion, Lost Dungeons of Norrath, released in September, featuring the first appearance of instanced zones in the game. And before the close of 2003, SOE released expansions for both Planetside (Core Combat) and EQ Online Adventures ( Frontiers). SOE closed out 2003 with the release of a third spin-off of the EQ franchise with an RTS called Lords of EverQuest.
In February 2004, SOE released the seventh expansion to EQ, Gates of Discord, and a fourth spin-off of the franchise, Champions of Norrath, which allowed players to explore Norrath through a Diablo style hack 'n slash action game. The eighth expansion, Omens of War, was released in September and increased the level cap to 70. This was followed by the first expansion for Star Wars Galaxies, Jump to Lightspeed in October. SOE opened a studio in Seattle in October as well. But, in November, the true sequel to SOE's star franchise was released when EverQuest II hit the shelves. Alongside the release, SOE launched their Station Players website that featured player profiles, leaderboards, guild pages, and item databases for all of their games.
In January 2005, SOE announced a new program called Platform Publishing allowing third party developers a channel to get their games published through SOE. This program has led to the release of titles such as Pirates of the Burning Sea, Frantix, Gripshift, and Disney's Toontown Online. February saw the infamous implementation of "/pizza" into EverQuest II, as well as the release of the Champions of Norrath sequel, Champions: Return to Arms, and the ninth expansion to the original game, Dragons of Norrath. SOE joined the launch of the PSP in March with Untold Legends, then went on to release adventure packs for EverQuest II and Rage of the Wookiees for SWG through the Summer. They also opened the Station Exchange website in June, a controversial marketplace where players could buy, sell, and trade in-game items for EverQuest II. In July, SOE acquired The Matrix Online from Sega and announced a deal with DC Comics to produce a new MMO. September saw the release of an expansion for each of the main two branches of the EverQuest franchise with Depths of Darkhollow, the tenth expansion for the original game, and Desert of Flames, the first expansion for the sequel.
February 2006 saw another pair of expansions. The Prophecy of Ro marked the eleventh expansion for the original game, while Kingdom of Sky increased the level cap to 70 in the sequel. March brought a sequel to SOE's PSP title Untold Legends: Warrior's Code, then in May, they released Field Commander, which is explained by many as Advance Wars for PSP. The biggest announcement of the year for SOE though was in March when it was revealed that Brad McQuaid was returning to SOE along with all of SIgil Games. After a deal with Microsoft fell through, SOE picked up Sigil to publish Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. A deal was also announced to publish Gods & Heroes, although the game did not see a retail release until many years later through another publisher. In August, SOE acquired Worlds Apart Productions, a leader in card games, and renamed them SOE Denver. The twelfth expansion to EverQuest, The Serpent's Spine, introduced a new playable race for the first time in many years. November brought the release of the third expansion to EQII, Echoes of Faydwer, and a PlayStation 3 launch title, Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom. And in December, SOE Denver released Pirates Constructable Strategy Game in partnership with WizKids.
In January 2007, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was released as a mostly unfinished product and did not garner much support from players. SOE signed a deal to release classic Midway arcade titles on PSN including Q*Bert, Gauntlet II, Rampart, Rampage, Joust, and Mortal Kombat II. In April, SOE Denver released Stargate Online Trading Card Game. Then, in July, SOE announced development of a new MMO called The Agency for both PC and PlayStation 3. September saw the release of a fifth EverQuest spin-off, Legends of Norrath, a collectible card game where cards could drop in both EverQuest and EverQuest II. In October, almost out of nowhere, SOE added the Black Ops empire to Planetside. November saw yet another pair of expansion for the EQ franchise. The Secrets of Faydwer increased the original game's level cap to 80, and Rise of Kunark did the same for the sequel while also bringing back one of the most beloved areas of Norrath.
In January 2008, EverQuest won an Emmy at the 59th Annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards in the category for Development of Massively Multiplayer Online Graphical Role Playing Games. SOE also announced that the original EverQuest game would now receive only one expansion per year, rather than the normal two. Seeds of Destruction, the fifteenth expansion, would be released in October. The fifth expansion to EverQuest II, The Shadow Odyssey, was released the month after.
In 2009, SOE released a new surprisingly successful online game known as Free Realms. At the end of July, The Matrix Online was shut down for good, which was the first SOE-run MMO to be closed. In March, the company celebrated the 10th anniversary of EverQuest, and the sixteenth expansion for the game, Underfoot, was released in December.
In 2010, the sixth EverQuest II expansion, Sentinel's Fate, was released and increased the level cap to 90, while the seventeenth expansion to EverQuest, House of Thule, also increased th elevel cap to 90 and introduced player housing to the game. At the 2010 SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas, John Smedley announced the development of EverQuest Next, which was a working title for what was described as a reimagining of the world of Norrath.
In January 2011, SOE released DC Universe Online for both PC and PlayStation 3. The game originally only had a $15/month model, but, in October 2011, a free-to-play model was introduced while still allowing subscribers many benefits over free players. In November, EverQuest players saw the eighteenth expansion to the game, Veil of Alaris. Expansions for EverQuest II continued with Destiny of Velious in February and Age of Discovery in December. At the 2011 SOE Fan Faire, the company officially confirmed development of PlanetSide 2 as well as the in-house development engine known as Forge Light. This new engine would be used not only for PlanetSide 2, but EverQuest Next as well. December saw the closure of the long running MMO, Star Wars: Galaxies - An Empire Divided.
In March of 2012, coinciding with the celebration of thirteen years of EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment introduced a free-to-play model to the game that started it all. Players could play for free to a certain point, while subscribers continued to receive many benefits. At the end of March, SOE shut down the PS2 MMO, EverQuest Online Adventures, after eight years.
On January 24th 2014, SOE announced the closure of four games: Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures, Free Realms, Wizardry Online, and Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.