Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

Everquest 2 is going to be Free to Play! Sorta! Maybe?

Posted by Ben Zeigler on July 30, 2010

SOE recently announced their free to play “option” for Everquest 2, confusingly named “Everquest 2 Extended“. We’ve seen via D&D Online that a Free to Play/subscription hybrid can work within the premium fantasy MMORPG realm, so I was initially excited because I assumed SOE would follow Turbine’s lead. Then I actually started reading the 37-question FAQ (already a bad sign), and my hopes quickly fell. SOE has managed to produce the single most confusing game-purchasing system in the history of the world.

Let’s first take a look at the “Membership Matrix” chart that is trying it’s hardest to summarize tons of information. We can compare it to the same chart at DDO’s site for their membership levels.  Here are the 4 membership levels of the F2P version of EQ2:

  • “Bronze” is the free level, fine so far. This is your typical free level of service that is comparable to DDO’s “free” level. You start with 3 character slots, but cannot purchase more a la carte. You can’t have more than 5 gold/character level. You can get to level 80, but cannot equip high quality weapons or spells. You cannot use most chat commands or send any mail. DDO has a few restrictions on free accounts using chat and auction but these are largely to avoid spamming problems. Bronze players can only have 20 quests active which is probably for database reasons but just comes across as spiteful to the average player. A Bronze player has an experience that is significantly inferior to a current subscriber, even if they were willing to pay for those benefits a la carte.
  • “Silver” is a level that can be purchased once, at a cost of $10. This is vaguely similar to the “Premium” level of DDO, but the big difference is that Premium happens as an automatic upgrade with any purchase. Silver is basically “Less crappy free”. You still can’t equip the highest level of spells, but you can do a bit better. You still don’t get unlimited gold storage, but your limit is 4x higher. You get one extra character slot but still can’t buy any more. You still can’t send mail even though you are obviously not a gold spammer. You can now have 40 quests active, but not the full 75. This level is extremely confusing. You’re better than a bronze player, but still objectively nerfed in terms of game balance and functionality compared to a subscription player.
  • “Gold” is the $15/month level, which is comparable to the VIP subscription level of DDO. You’re finally a “real” player in that you have access to all the game’s spells and equipment. However,  a gold subscription does not include all of the game’s content! For $15/month you get customer support, 4 character slots, some classes (still only 4 races), and various upgrades to storable items. But compared to a “proper” EQ2 subscription player you lose out on many races and gain no benefits.
  • Finally we have the “Platinum” level which is the most superflous. First it appears the only way to become platinum is to pay by the year and not by the month, so it’s not a new tier as much as it is a different way of paying. For your $200/year ($20/year more than Gold, so Platinum costs 10% ish more), you get access to a bundled expansion pack, 3 character slots, and a point stipend. Why does this level exist at all, other than just as a “yearly subscription” version of Gold?

With those 4 tiers we have 4 entirely different ways of game acquisition, with a bewildering array (11 by my count) of transitions. Let’s say you buy a Gold subscription, let it lapse, and go back to a Bronze one. You’re now worse off than someone who paid $10 once for a Silver level membership. Or let’s say you move from Platinum to Gold because you don’t want to pay yearly. You now lose access to that expansion content and can’t access your level 85 character despite still paying $15/month. There are 5 different ways to downgrade the service level of an existing account, all of which are tricky and will almost certainly lead to horrible bugs. Contrast this with DDO, which has 3 tiers but only 3 transitions: Free to Premium when you buy anything at all (which is never reversed), Premium to VIP (which can be combined with previous one, as buying a subscription permanently marks your account as premium), and one downgrade path from VIP to Premium. This was already complicated to work out but is significantly simpler than the EQ2 system.

Now, what I’ve described so far isn’t even the most confusing part of the whole thing! The absolutely stupidest thing is that this whole 4 tier system coexists with the current $15/month subscription to EQ2 proper. That’s right there will be 2 completely different, unconnected ways to pay $15/month to play the EQ2 content.  They claim to wish to continue supporting traditional EQ2 for the long term so this may be the case for years to come. Let’s say you have friends on both, you’d need to pay $30/month or pick up a Station pass. Oh, and if you want to move over to the extended server from the current server? You need to pay a $35 transfer fee per character. Whatever the result, the existing subscriber base will fragment, with some of them moving to the extended servers and some staying put. The game will be less fun.

In conclusion, this is a very poorly designed system that is obviously the result of hundreds of hours of negotiations at the corporate level. It makes absolutely no sense. Someone at SOE felt they absolutely had to keep EQ2’s current model alive, and someone else decided that SOE needed a F2P version. So they did both. They’ve lost sight of what the actual goal is of making a free to play game: low barrier to entry. DDO works because the existing players were able to convince their friends to try out the free version so they could play together. Those new players would then start buying microtransactions and maybe pick up a VIP subscription (total subscription numbers went up for DDO). With the EQ2 system, if I have a subscription and want to get my friend to play I have to jump through tons of hoops. I have to pay $35 to transfer my character to the free server, I have to pay an additional $15/month to get the same access I had before (and possibly maintaining my $15/month on EQ2 if I have a guild there), and I have to explain the “free” system to my friend. That friend won’t be able to buy new slots or features a la carte if they want to get into the high end play. So, they’ll stare at that membership matrix for a few minutes, say “screw it” and go play something that makes sense.

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2 Responses to “Everquest 2 is going to be Free to Play! Sorta! Maybe?”

  1. Is DDO worth the download?

    • Ben Zeigler said

      Yeah, I enjoyed the first few levels of it that I could play for free. After about 5 hours of fun it got a bit boring for me and I stopped. I can see how people would like it.

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