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Free To Play Service Coming Mid-August

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Parallel service will operate on different servers, have different forums and not affect current EQII subscribers

Sony Online Entertainment unveiled a major parallel stride for EverQuest II and the catch-phrase is “Free-to-Play.”

This is not to say that EQII will be entirely free to play. Actually, the announcement is that there will be a parallel service offering that is intended to draw in new players and allow the game to grow.

Producer Dave Georgeson chatted with MMORPG about this major step in the life of the vaunted MMO.

“We’ve actually done a real good job of holding our subscription numbers steady for quite some time now,” Georgeson said, “but the fact is that ‘steady’ is not where we want to be. I have been involved in free-to-play opportunities now for several years, and one of the reasons is why they work is that it allows people to try out the game for an extended period and then decide if they want to play or not. And usually, if they like the game, they are either willing to upgrade to a subscription level, or buy items that make them cool or appear cool or however they want to do things within the game. It’s a much more casual experience, it’s pay as you go and decide what you want to pay and when you want to pay it. Players like that and they come in droves to check out an opportunity that’s really cool.”

One thing that is very important to note is that the F2P service is parallel to existing EQII subscription-based services. Players using the F2P model are on different forums and different servers.

“We talked to our users a lot and some of the things that were really obvious are that they didn’t want to have stat-oriented items in the marketplace,” said Georgeson. “They didn’t want people to be able to effectively buy their way to success. They wanted people to work their way up and that makes total sense – we get it. So we are offering a parallel service; you can buy self-rez potions, you can buy items that have stats – they are not the best stats but they are real good. Everything is very optional. You don’t have to buy items to in order to succeed. We're just making it, effectively, a convenience store. If you want to trade some of your money to save time, you can do that. We are setting it up as a completely separate service.

“In effect, what we are doing is offering a gigantic trial opportunity. You can come into the game, there’s no level limits, there’s very little content lock, you can explore the world and then decide whether you want to stay in EverQuest II or not.”

This was not a decision that SOE entered into lightly.

“We thought about it for a while with EQ II,” Georgeson said, “and basically what it boiled down to is if we went with at free-to-play service like this we were going to be presenting the biggest, baddest MMO that’s free to play. There isn’t anything better than this that is free to play.”

Like many MMOs, EQII has been around a while, having launched in early November of 2004, and the perception is that it is not on par with the titles released more recently. Georgeson said that nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s an odd thing with games, especially with MMOs,” Georgeson said. “Players tend to think if it’s not the most recent thing, if it didn’t come out in the last three or four months, then it’s kind of old hat. But the fact is that with MMOs it is not that way at all. The longer an MMO has been out, the cooler it is because they have had time to customize their offerings, they have offered all kinds of different abilities, features, content and quests – so usually the more mature an MMO is usually the better offering it is.

“But you always have this kind of issue with the press is covering the new stuff, the users are looking at the latest TV commercial, and so on, and so it is hard to make the opportunity (to test an established game) available and visible to newer players. So by going to the free-to-play service, what we are looking to do is to break that wall down. People don’t have to worry about going out and buying a box or immediately subscribing to a service. They can jump in, try it out, and realize ‘Holy God! This is way better than what I usually get in free to play,’ and then if they like it there is new opportunities for them to get further involved.”

Of course, Georgeson explained, the new parallel subscription model is merely part of the ongoing efforts to keep EQII a viable MMO option for players seeking a game they can invest time in playing.

“We have a new expansion (coming out) this winter,” Georgeson said, “and we have a whole bunch of different things as far as the gameplay itself. We are looking at ways to make old content more attractive. As players try to get to level 90, they go through these greased paths and there is a lot of content in this game that people are not exploring so we are figuring out ways to incentivize and make that stuff more attractive so players will utilize it more. We are continuing to hone all our pathways into the game; we are putting a lot of effort into class balance, and PvP, and battlegrounds – we have big plans for making the game very exciting, very fresh and really to revitalize it on fundamental levels. Of course, we are still working on expansions and new content, and new quests, and all the other stuff you would expect from us. We’ve never stopped. It’s been eight-and-a-half years since they started making EverQuest II and they’ve never stopped adding new stuff, and we are not going to.”

But the key announcement of the day remains the F2P element being added to the game.

“It’s very experimental,” Georgeson noted, “but at the same time, it’s kind of low risk. The subscription players … well, the feeling is they are either going to stay where they are because they like what they’ve got, they don’t want to leave their guild halls, their friends, their contacts and their leaderboards and all the stuff they’ve got already; or a bunch of them may move over to the free-to-play servers. We are hoping to bring in a bunch of new users to take a look at the game, and then hopefully the game will thrive and grow beyond what it has up til now. I don’t think it is a gigantic risk. Some people will be upset that we are changing things, but that is always true. We are setting it up so that it is low impact to current subscribers. If we can make it so, it will be no impact.”


Guest Writer