After five years years in service, Sony Online Entertainment's MMORPG EverQuest II
is going free-to-play -- but not in the same way as other MMOs have done in the past.
Instead of turning EverQuest II
into a completely free-to-play MMO powered by virtual item sales, SOE is introducing a "parallel" free-to-play version of the game, EverQuest II Extended
. The new version, whose beta launches this August, will generate revenue through microtransactions, while the subscription-based version will continue to operate separately.
producer David Georgeson told Gamasutra that SOE made the move to spark growth in a "stable" yet stagnant subscriber base that's held back by a steep learning curve and a monthly subscription fee.
"What we needed to do was open it up to a large number of people who have never seen [EverQuest II
] before," Georgeson said. "And the obvious way to do that was to break down the walls between the game experience and the players that might want to check it out."
The idea behind EverQuest II Extended
arose recently -- just before June's E3 convention this year, Georgeson said. The game will include free access to all EverQuest II
game zones through The Shadow Odyssey
. Players will be able to buy power-up potions, armor, classes, races, weapons, mounts and and other items through the game's marketplace.
While players of the free-to-play version and subscription version don't interact within the game, EverQuest II Extended
players do have the option to upgrade to a $15 per month "gold" membership. SOE is also taking steps to continually improve EverQuest II
and EverQuest II Extended
's user-interface to make it more newbie-friendly.
Having to retrofit virtual item buys into a game that was not conceived with that model in mind could present design challenges. Georgeson claimed that EverQuest II: Extended
, however, is an easy fit for microtransactions.
"Believe it or not there were very few [problems], actually," he said. "We had to figure out what we wanted to restrict, what we wanted people to purchase. You know, if we made it completely
free it wouldn't be a very good business decision."
He added, "Our biggest concern was not alienating the existing subscribers, and that's why we wanted a completely separate service." Georgeson said that SOE did consider taking EverQuest II
"Our players told us many times that they didn't want 'shortcut convenience-style items' in their marketplace," he said. "They didn't want the feeling that people could empty out their wallets and succeed inside the game. We're not exactly like that on [EverQuest II Extended
] either, but it's a very emotional thing for our existing players."
Georgeson said he hopes the new service will encourage growth in the aging yet respected franchise. "Our subscription numbers have not been dipping. In fact, they've been holding pretty stable. But stable isn't really where we want to be at."