Everquest 2 goes Free to Play (sort of), and keeps the rabble out

Following in the footsteps of LOTRO, Sony Online Entertainment announced yesterday that they are unveiling a new type of server for EQ2. They call it EQ2 Extra (EQ2X) and it includes a free to play option with a cut down choice of classes and races, no access to send mail or use the auctions, restricted bag space and gold cap, but full access to all of the content.

EQ2X players can also choose to subscribe to pick up an ongoing bundle of extra options for their characters (access to all of the races, etc etc). Now while I would expect to see a special item shop which allows EQ2X players to unlock bits and pieces for their character (such as an extra class or race or lifting the gold cap, for example) there’s no sign of any intent to go this way. You either take the free option with its limitations or upgrade to one of the EQ2X subscription options which each give a bundle of extra options … but are subscriptions (and work out slightly more expensive than a subscription on the regular subscription server).

I think they really should go with the item shop approach, personally. You need to nickle and dime F2P customers so they feel in control of what they spend, not offer strange subscription models. But what do I know?

And for anyone curious, the free options include:

  • Human, Erudite, Barbarian, Half-Elf races
  • Swashbuckler, Brigand, Wizard, Warlock, Guardian, Berserker, Templar, Inquisitor (ie. rogue, caster, tank, healer for either good or the evil faction.)

There have been a lot of posts about this, spurred on partly by SOEs dogged insistence as recent as last month that EQ2 would never go free to play. Ardwulf has checked out the alpha test and returned with a positive outlook.

However stripped down and restrictive the options, this still amounts to a LOT of free content. They’re going into beta with this in mid-August so anyone bored of WoW and looking for something to do before Cataclysm might want to take a look.

Appeasing the subscribing masses

One of the interesting sides to this scheme is that SOE will keep the current subscriber base completely separate from the F2P players. There will be new and separate servers for EQ2X. There won’t be any more 14 day free trial on the subscription servers (I can see the logic in this one, no sense confusing new players with too many different types of free options).

It will be possible for regular subscribers to pay to transfer a character to the EQ2X server but there’s no indication that transfers will be possible the other way.

This means that regular subscribers won’t be greatly affected by the new scheme. Except that they won’t get very many new players at all unless they go out and recruit them. On the other hand, they may end up stuck in a slowly diminishing bubble as natural player turnover favours the EQ2X servers, which may be more inviting to players who just want to try the game before they buy.

But on the other hand, newbies won’t be swamped with hardcore players who have been playing the game for years. It will be interesting to see how this goes. If the EQ2X servers really take off, then SOE win because any EQ2X subscribers will be paying more than the regular ones.

Or maybe new players will use the free time to check the game out, decide if they want to subscribe, and then reroll on the sub server if they do. I feel that regular sub players are likely to lose out – they won’t get the majority of the new players on their servers and unlike LOTRO, if they decide to take a break from the game, they won’t be able to keep logging in, playing lightly, and chatting to their friends.

I am mightily curious to see how this works out, but it’s certainly a cheap way to see the game. I just wonder if the classes they have chosen to give out for free will really give the best impression.