Continuing a trend started by D&D Online and Lord of the Rings Online, Sony Online Entertainment is launching a free-to-play version of EverQuest II, completely separate from the existing game. EverQuest II producer David Georgeson explains why.
Free-to-play fever is burning through the massively multiplayer online role-playing game industry like wildfire, and today it consumes its biggest target yet. Following the lead of Turbine's Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II will soon have a free-to-play option, but it will be just that - an option.
Rather than convert the entire game to its new free-to-play model, SOE is splitting the game in two. There'll be the regular subscription-based service that players are used to and a completely separate free-to-play game, giving players limited access to game features, with the option to pay for more levels, characters, quest slots, races and experience point-enhancing items.
According to game producer David Georgeson, it's those experience point enhancing items that are the reason for EverQuest II's new split personality.
"A lot of EverQuest II players didn't want the sort of game-enhancing items you find in a free-to-play marketplace in the game," he explains.
Many free-to-play games market items to players that make it easier to earn experience points, effectively bypassing the work other players have put into the game by applying cash to the problem. Rather than upsetting those players, SOE has decided to give players two options.
SOE is calling the new service EverQuest II Extended.
Why make the change now, after nearly six years in operation? Georgeson says the move is meant to introduce new players to a game that deserves their attention. "I think the world of this game. I think it's a really good game, and I just want people to rediscover and find out the kind of depth that it has, that other MMOs just can't touch."
It's also a matter of evolving to fit the needs of the consumer base, says Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley, in the official press release.
"As the digital entertainment market evolves, SOE is focused on continued innovation in content delivery that best fit the needs of the growing consumer base. Our goal with Extended is to offer players an alternative to our current subscription program that gives them the option to choose a program that best fits their play style."
The service, which goes into alpha testing today for existing EverQuest II subscribers and is scheduled to launch "sometime after this year's SOE Fan Faire (August 5-8)", will allow players to access all of the EverQuest II content of the live game, sans the latest expansion, Sentinel's Fate.
There are some pretty severe limitations. Players with a free bronze membership to the game will only have access to four races, eight character classes and will be capped at level 80. Spell tiers will be limited to adept level, legendary and fabled equipment will be off limits and the player will only have two character slots to populate.
Other bronze restrictions include coin limitations (5 gold per level), no access to the game's broker system, and limits on active quests, the mail system and chat channels.
Of course, money changes everything.
For a one-time $US10 fee, the player can upgrade to silver membership, which gives them access to an additional character slot, more gold per level and access to the auction channel. "You won't be able to use the broker system," Georgeson explains, "But if you want to start up the trade tunnel from the original EverQuest, you can do that."
By paying $US14.99 a month, the same price paid by subscribers to the main game, players of EverQuest II Extended will get full access to nearly everything the game has to offer, though they will still have to purchase additional races and levels.
You can see a full listing of the subscription tiers in the image at the bottom of this post.
Extended players will also have access to an extended cash marketplace, where they'll be able to purchase items and equipment to help them on their journey through Norrath. On launch only moderately powerful items and experience-enhancing gear will be available, though eventually that could extend to include the straight sale on in-game platinum or even pre-made characters.
With free-to-play gameplay and access to experience point enhancing items, is SOE afraid of a mass exodus of players from the main game once Extended launches? "If there is a mass exodus," says Georgeson, "that'll just prove that this is something the players wanted."
SOE has published an extended FAQ on the new service, which is available here.