Observations about EQ going Free and other F2P ‘stuff’

EverQuest (the original this time) will be going “Free to Play” this March.  It would be crazy to begin any conversation about EverQuest without first tipping our hats to a game that has lasted, as a subscription model game with a population, for 13 years.  SOE loves making things free now.  It’s the new trend.  But is it really free?  There’s a break-down as to what is what is free, what costs $5.00, and what remains available for the full subscription price of $14.99 per month.

Let us not forget, this is a business.  Their goal is not to provide a free service — they aim to make money.  Sure, you can play that first tier without paying a single penny.  Anyone who knows EverQuest knows that the restrictions on that first tier are enough to make it quite unpleasant for any long-term play.  The point I want to make, one that I feel is very obvious, is that SOE is going to use you if you’re a free player.  You’re not getting -anything- from SOE by playing for free.  They have turned that first tier of free players into value for their own product.  You become a body in a world that makes the game feel alive for the people who truly matter: those $14.99 per month players. If nothing else, you help retain those people.

Know why the $5.00 tier exists?  Because even if it were $1, they’d be making money on you.  Anything is better than nothing, and a free to play model such as this works by increasing volume.  Essentially, they’re hoping they get enough people trying it that someone is caught in their fishing net.

I don’t mean to make this sound so cynical.  It’s reality, though.  This is about retention; retention of those players who would pay $14.99 already. It’s also about a cash grab, which I feel I’ve made plain enough already.  I don’t think what they’re doing with this free to play model is a bad thing, despite pointing out the obvious reasons which in and of themselves sound bad.  It’s just business.

Interestingly, Turbine pipes up in an article on Eurogamer about the subscription model not being dead.  Know why? They make great money using the subscription model because they use a model very similar to SOE — one that prominantly features monthly subscriptions to actually play the game the way it was originally meant to be played!

Turbine takes the ever-popular neutral position by saying that it’s all about giving players options.  My first inclination is to agree.  It sounds neat on paper. Look at the choices, though.  Do you really have choices in a model like the one Turbine and SOE use?  It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.  You’re going to end up paying about the same price no matter what way you go (if you actually PLAY and not just visit a few times), and the free to play model that they use ends up screwing with buying advantages (a problem Turbine does have, and one I predicted).

Know what would be interesting?  I want to see a MMORPG designed to play free using a model like League of Legends’.  From the ground up, have any purchases be cosmetic or relatively as obtainable as anything in LoL.  Why not?  LoL makes plenty.  Shouldn’t a MMORPG be able to as well?  I can’t vouch for how fun it would be.  I lean heavily to the side that believes free to play games can not offer the same scope or gameplay as subscription games, but I would certainly be willing to give one that claims they can a try.

I encourage you to take a closer look at these “free” to play models.  Be especially cautious about subscription games going free to play.  There is always a business decision behind the reason, and chances are they’re using you one way or another.


  • I said it before, I think F2P is here to stay, but hopefully it will evolve to the play style of the Western mindset. In Asia internet cafes are everywhere; friends get together and play free MMO’s for the next to nothing hourly cost of terminal usage. It is much more of a daily LAN party and so it is acceptable to have 1% pay for the right to be battlefield demons, while the rest coast by enjoying the social aspects of gaming.

    In the West everyone can be an astronaut, ballerina, or the President (insert sarcasm emoticon here), so being second best isn’t acceptable. I think that is where the F2P marketers think they will make their money especially from relatively large Western disposable incomes; they naturally conclude that Westerners will pay through the nose for the privilege of being the best. What they miscalculate is the high expectation of Westerner’s of the service industry. We do have a great sense of self-entitlement with the “I want to speak to your manager” attitude, and what other societies consider privilege we consider our right. So unless one is very sneaky utilizing spaced out “micro” transactions the Westerner will feel cheated and take their business elsewhere (I can’t help, but remember when Allods announced a different fee schedule for North America, bad move GPotato).

    I think the evolution of the F2P model will finally gain acceptance in the West utilizing vanity items (people will always pay for a status item if only to stand on top of a mailbox and show off), experience boosters, and mini content updates (unique classes, vendors, VIP areas). One can still charge for the box/dl to recoup some money up front.

  • You know, even with the limitations of the free version, EQ is a better game than most modern MMOs. Most modern MMo’s are just too easy and boring even if they look pretty, in my opinion. I’ll probably play it when its free but I’ll be treating it like a casual game, something to play if I want a break from Minecraft or Skyrim.

    I remember the first time I played it, it just blew me away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to stick with it because I was very into DAoC but if I could go back in time I’d probably play it more. Now I can play it for free.

  • You’ve said it before Keen…f2p ALWAYS results in p2w. LotRO was the 1st and last time I’ll need to learn that lesson. And the hybrid model is so much worse because they can double dip you!

    It’s sub or nothing for me. I’m a somewhat competitive gamer…at least so much that sub is my cheapest option by far. And if the corporations think they can get more $$$ out of me because of that, they’re in for a surprise. Because if I don’t have a sub based game out there I won’t be playing a mmorpg at all.

  • I second the comment about MMORPG’s going the LoL route. I don’t know why but LoL is the only f2p game I’ve ever played that seemed to get it right. The others I’ve played, like Maple Story, LotRO and DDO all seemed to come off cheap and slimy for their free ness, whereas with LoL you are getting the full product for free. I really don’t see why it’s so hard to approximate League’s success. I realize it’s a somewhat different gameplay genre and stuff but come on, no one’s even tried!

  • World of Tanks also has a very successful FtP with Payments Options model like LoL: the entire game is free but you can buy a Premium Account for various periods (which accellerates accrual of XP and Currency). They have 7 millions accounts and I get the impression they make millions.
    They also sell Premium Tanks (they sell tons of them), “Gold Ammo”, cosmetic elements and mechanics that encourage you to spend gold, but you really can play and progress the game for nothing until a fairly high Tier when it starts to need the Premium Account to breakeven on the in game currency (Credits).
    So successfuly they planning World of Warplanes and World of Battleships with the games linked to the one account so sharing gold.

    LOTRO on the other hand managed to drive me away from their game: they changed the model by essentially breaking lots of the game and asking me for money to fix it.
    I could have just carried on paying a sub as I had been doing but I felt cheated and abused when it went “free” and I found I’d lost my ability to Fast Travel etc.

    I’ll be very interested to see what Blizzard does with Diablo 3’s Cash AH and what they do with WoW subs once “Titan” appears.

  • Speaking as someone who’s had a subscription to Everquest since 1999 with just a single break of less than six months, I really like the direction SoE is moving in. It’s “F2P” in the same way that MMOs used to be “RPG” – a partially relevant but largely misleading descriptor that carries on being used as a kind of catch-all for all sorts of systems and products that are more different than they are alike. It’s a much more sophisticated, flexible system that serves a wider demographic much more effectively and attractively.

    As things used to be, you either paid a subscription or you didn’t play at all. Under the new version you can play at a basic level for nothing or at a very reasonable level for a single payment of $5.00, or you can pay for full service for a single month at a time, or you can take a recurring subscription. What’s not to like about that?

    As for the restrictions themselves, for people reading and writing blogs on MMOs they might seem onerous enough to be off-putting, but that’s coming from a very particular perspective. Having played EQ2 on Freeport since launch I’ve met many players who have come to EQ2 as free and stayed for months at a stretch, playing very happily under those restrictions. We’ve had players in our guild who have bought the expansions and have max level characters and play almost every day but still aren’t interested in subscribing. Almost everyone pays the $5 to go silver, though.

    The other thing that doesn’t get mentioned often is what a huge boon SoE’s F2P system is for existing subscribers. In addition to filling out the world as you mention, which is extremely welcome, it allows us to multibox for for free 😛 I never had any interest in multiboxing in all the years I subbed and I certainly would never have paid a second subscription to do it, but now I have several Silver accounts I can run around in a little gang along with my Gold. I can’t wait to do that in Everquest as well.

  • Heh my mind blanked out the part where the Silver account was a one-off payment. I don’t play EQ but that’s an encouraging system.

  • I plan on going back to it and giving it another look in March. I think overall the ‘free to play’, even if there are a few additional costs, should breath massive new life into the thing. It’s still a great game but, for me, became a bit stale — especially when I was paying for it 🙂

  • Keen was it Everquest or Ultima Online that you could pull a monster train that you would have to run from all the way across a zone?

  • “I want to see a MMORPG designed to play free using a model like League of Legends’. From the ground up, have any purchases be cosmetic or relatively as obtainable as anything in LoL. Why not? LoL makes plenty. Shouldn’t a MMORPG be able to as well?”

    I just don’t think it’s possible because the amount of resources you’d put into an MMO would be much higher than the amount you’d need to develop and maintain a MOBA. On top of that, the “content” of an MMO is much more vast than that of a MOBA, which is basically 2-3 maps on repeat.

    The best comparison I can make is that about as much work would go into developing Arathi Basin, Warsong Gulch, and Alterac Valley in WoW as Summoner’s Rift, Twisted Treeline, and the Crystal Scar in LoL. But WoW would not be an MMO with just those three battlegrounds. In fact, those three components don’t even represent 5% of the content of WoW.

  • @Snafzg: When I wrote that I had the tone in mind that it was something that can’t be done. I’ve often gone out on a limb and said the reason it hasn’t been done is because everyone knows it wouldn’t work. That’s why, as I mentioned, I lean so heavily towards the side that believes F2P games can not, by their very nature, be as good as subscription games. F2P can’t match the scope of subs.

    All that said, I would still give one a shot because I feel it’s the ONLY F2P model that would work for a MMORPG without breaking the spirit of the game or the integrity of the game. LoL has one of the least slimy F2P models out there.

  • “…essentially breaking lots of the game and asking me for money to fix it.”

    That is th big problem with most F2P games, 1st the designers are tasked to build a good game, and 2nd the are asked to break it in ways that can be patched back together with dollars, but ends up like plastic surgery gone bad.


  • Oh god, bhagpuss’s post just made me realize I could have a warrior, cleric, wizard and rogue, all gnomes, played be me at the same time… hrrrrmmm 🙂

  • I have a new pay model. Everyone gets to play the game for free at launch for thirty days. If you think the game is good then you pay 50 for the game and 15 per month. What company would have enough guts to use this pay model.

  • @Thomas: I think that would be a very good plan for a game sometime after launch, perhaps prior to a new expansion. The launch month tends to be buggy, look at SWTOR; they wouldn’t have gotten a penny of my money if they used that model at launch.

  • Personally I don’t like the idea of Free to Play. If you like a game, product or service, then you should be paying for it. If you are are playing a F2P and you never pay anything then you’re basically a leech, you’re like a legal software pirate, because for these games to exist someone else has to be paying for your game play.

    I do like what Keen said about SOE using Free players to flesh out the world for the paying customers, congratulations! you’re an NPC!

    The practical problems I see with F2P are your players are split into Free-loaders and Payers so you’re not all equal, which is going to cause problems for your MMO community, and a F2P company is going to spend more of it’s time to set up road blocks and Super painful Grinds to push you to the cash shop rather than making actual content.

  • Keen, getting old sucks, my memory is shot. I hope i will be able to reactivate my Everquest account from 10 years ago. My favorite toon was a Tamer, pretty overpowered. Unless im thinking UO? LOL

  • Personally I think WOT has an excellent model. Sure, you can pay to advance faster, but the matchmaker ensures that you are fighting people on roughly the same level.

    Ultimately I think the reason that hardcore players prefer the sub model is that it allows the more casual players to subsidize the hardcore. If you pay 15 bucks a month and play 90 hours a month, you pay .25/hour. You also get an advantage over the casual players because you advance much quicker. The casual who plays 15 hours a month is paying four times as much for his entertainment. That doesn’t seem particularly fair to me. A free to play model where you get to determine how much the game is worth seems fair to me.

    Personally I don’t see much difference between a guy gaining an advantage because he has way too much free time and a guy paying for the advancement. It’s just a video game, so I’m not sure why anyone is worried about it, except for the whole MMO-as-epeen-measuring contest. A guy paying for what you slaved to get undermines the false sense of accomplishment MMO’s use to get people to put up with a game design that has a very low work to fun ratio. Which heads back to my “MMOs actually suck and few would play them if the game doesn’t give them a false sense of accomplishment” argument.

  • It say that for the non-sub plans that Spell Ranks are limited to Rank 1. I never played EQ so idk how significant a limitation that is (or for that matter what a spell rank even is). Anyone know?