Not surprisingly, the most controversial panel at this year’s Sony Online Entertainment Fan Faire dealt with the recent announcement of EverQuest II Extended, SOE’s own version of the move to Free 2 Play that seems to be becoming more and more popular among developers of traditional subscription-based titles.
Make no mistake though, SOE’s foray into this space is a significant departure from what Turbine is doing with Dungeons and Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. Rather than change their existing service, as has been the trend before now, SOE plans to offer EverQuest II as a concurrent service, operating completely separately from EQII Live (the current subscription based game). This new game will include an item shop that will indeed sell items with stats attached, but will otherwise be free of charge. As is the case in most MMO circles, the idea of Free 2 Play is a an emotionally charged one among the EQ II faithful, so developers David Georgeson, Rich Waters, Greg Spence and Tony Royce set out to answer some of the most common questions and concerns.
First, they pointed out a number of times that EverQuest II: Extended is a completely separate service from the one that players have known and loved for so many years.
The reason, we were told, was that player feedback had told them that their current players didn’t want to have a stat-infused item shop show up in their game, that they felt, like so many of our readers here at MMORPG.com, that players should have to earn what they get rather than buy it.
The Extended version of the game is instead to be seen as a F2P “attract mode”, meant to bring it to the attention of a generation of gamers that hadn’t necessarily had a chance to try EverQuest II. Being a game of six years old, EQ II isn’t attracting a lot of attention from either the gaming media or players, both of whom are naturally prone to look toward the newest and shiniest new thing that’s being talked about and not into the past. Put more simply: The developers feel that they have a game that is rich and deep in both content and storyline, and that no current or newly released MMORPG can match it on those terms. EverQuest II: Extended is a way to not only allow those people to try the game, but also to make them aware that the game is currently living and thriving.
In response to player fears that Extended will draw people away from the current service, they were also quick to assure their fans that the new game has been designed to encourage F2P players to upgrade to the subscription service without requiring it, thus actually feeding the current subscriber base rather than diminishing it.
In response to deeper player fears, the team went out of their way to point out that this move was not a part of a larger conspiracy. It was not a slippery slope to make EQII subscribers beg for F2P mechanics. In short, this move isn’t evil, and is rather intended to breathe new life into the current product.
When one of the assembled fans asked the panel what the incentive would be for Extended players to move over to the Live game, she was told that players would be prompted before they began to choose which side of the fence they wanted to play on. This will be accomplished via a landing page that will make both choices, Live and Extended, available to players looking to start out in the game. This landing page will serve as a gateway from outside links and advertisements.
Another fan asked if the F2P service would launch with a PvP server. The answer was that there were no plans for that at this time.
Asked what this all means for the Live Server marketplace, the developers assured players that there were no plans to have new items appear in the Live marketplace that carry stats. That option will be reserved only for Extended servers.
I thought it might be fun at the bottom of this article to compile a few of the smaller tidbits of information that I gathered in my time at the panel:
- Characters will be allowed to be copied from the Live servers onto the Extended servers, but the option does not exist in the reverse. Extended characters will not be able to move to the Live service.
- All updates to the game are going to be shared between Live and Extended. For example, when Update 57 launches, it will launch on both Live and Extended servers.
- Extended players will always remain one expansion behind the Live servers.
- EQII’s developers believe that with the launch of Extended that they will have the most in-depth F2P MMO experience currently available on the market.