With last week’s announcement that EverQuest II is going free to play on all servers, and DC Universe Online having just made the transition to free to play, Sony Online Entertainment feels like it has turned a corner.
The company has gone from being a subscription MMO company with a few free offerings to a free to play focused company with a few legacy subscription games hanging around. The weight of games… and the absolute weight of most of their popular titles… has tilted towards free to play.
Technically, the title line up will shortly be five free and five subscription, if you consider EverQuest II to be a single merged game now, and you count Star Wars Galaxies. But new players cannot join SWG, and it will be going away on December 15th in any case.
And the lineup definitely looks biased towards newer, more popular games going free to play.
- EverQuest II – 2004
- Pirates of the Burning Sea – 2008
- Free Realms – 2009
- Clone Wars Adventures – 2010
- DC Universe Online – 2011
Okay, Pirates of the Burning Sea isn’t popular by any stretch. But EverQuest II is arguably the flagship game for the company.
While the subscription only lineup looks pretty long in the tooth.
- EverQuest – 1999
- EverQuest Online Adventures – 2003
- PlanetSide – 2003
- Vanguard – 2007
Those are some old titles in terms of video games, and the only one that still draws a crowd is EverQuest, the one time champion of the subscription MMO world.
So what happens to subscription titles at a company that appears to see free to play as the future? Will any of the remainders join the free to play bunch?
EQOA, peaking at ~30K subscribers, has never been a big title. It is only for PlayStation 2 and hasn’t seen any new content for almost five years. It is being sustained as long as it remains profitable to run, but its days are numbered. I think the era of benign neglect will continue until the subscription base dwindles to the point that SOE turns out the lights. (You can read more about EQOA over at Massively or, as Harbinger Zero suggested, check out Stoney’s EQOA Blog.)
PlanetSide, also something of a dormant title, down a single sparsely populated server. PlanetSide will remain until PlanetSide 2 launches and that will be that. PlanetSide 2 will, of course, have a free to play subscription model.
Vanguard is probably more popular than Pirates of the Burning Sea, which made the move to free to play, so it seems like it might have a chance for a move as well. But PotBS is not actually an SOE title. SOE only hosts and publishes the game. Flying Lab Software is responsible for development and apparently are able to sustain themselves on its meager population.
Vanguard though, appears to be in a maintenance only mode, with no devs assigned to it. A transition to free to play requires an investment of resources. Previously SOE opted to add in LiveGamer, a system that allows players to buy and sell from each other with realm money; sanctioned RMT. However, LiveGamer is going away, so perhaps the door is open to some change on free to play front. (Though LiveGamer seems to be doing okay without SOE.)
But somehow I doubt it.
There are only two groups of players that are going to be more prickly about adding in a cash shot with enough viable items to make money, and one of them is Vanguard players. And for a game that is not generating enough revenue to get more than bug fixes slowly over time, the possibility of annoying the player base has to be viewed as a serious risk. My guess is that SOE will just leave Vanguard on the subscription model and keep it around as long as enough people are willing to pay.
And then there is EverQuest.
Here is the one game on the list that has the population and the name recognition to making going free to play a viable option.
But EQ players are the second group of prickly players when it comes to cash shop items.
On the other hand, SOE has actually been working on the UI in EQ. One of the features of the latest expansion, Veil of Alaris (which goes live today), is improved hot bars which, from the description, sound like they are going to try to make them work the way they do in most current MMOs.
That makes me wonder if SOE is planning some sort of free to play option for EQ in the next year or so.
What do you think? Will EverQuest get a free to play option? Will Vanguard?
And will it matter?
While the free to play option is out there, the subscriptions still exist if you want to play without some of the more onerous restrictions on a free account. And with the new and attractively priced SOE All Access available if you play more than one SOE game, is free to play anything more than an unlimited trial at SOE?
Do you still have to subscribe to “really” be playing any of these games?
First up – if you want more on EQOA (which was my first MMO), visit Stoney’s excellent blog:
Secondly, you do really have to be subbing to play Clone Wars, as my son found out the hard way. Without a sub, you only have the first two or three levels of any of the minigames, and you cannot use the in game credits you earn to buy anything without a sub.
Third – PotBS is not as popular here, but it does have a solid (and pretty hardcore) population from Europe. I expect it will be fine for some time.
Finally…I really wish Vanguard would join that F2P list. :-p
In September Smed said that F2P is “something SOE is taking a close look at for our existing games and certainly for our future games.” Since then DCUO and EQ2 have gone F2P. However, he’s also been reported as saying that for various reasons (generally reckoned to be the hideously tangled code) Vanguard would cost more to convert than it would be we worth.
It’s not true, by the way, that Vanguard is in “maintenance only mode, with no devs assigned to it”. That was true for more than a year, but when the SWG closedown was announced at least two, maybe three devs were reassigned to Vanguard and Vanguard now has a patch schedule, including new content. At least one of those patches has been completed and delivered already.
The second hasn’t arrived yet and here’s the post by Naylie, the Community Relations rep for Vanguard:
“The company is also going through a lot of changes at the moment. DC Universe Online and EverQuest II going free to play, EverQuest and EverQuest II expansions, and Star Wars Galaxies closing down are all happening within the same time period. It has us a bit busier then we expected.
While this has been going on Gidoo, Silius and the team have been working on Vanguard. Unfortunately the planning for Vanguard has been more complex then initially expected.
“We are sorry that we haven’t been able to tell you more of what is going on. As of today the plan is to have some sort of development planning news officially posted within the next month. As soon as that is available to be posted, it will be posted”.
As for the Vanguard players and cash shops, you’re right that they’re a cantankerous, conservative bunch but Vanguard has had the LiveGamer service for years and that’s like a cash-shop on steroids. Of course since Vanguard has no players to speak of no-one ever used it, but still the precedent is there.
Everquest, of course, already has a cash shop. And it’s had LoN since time immemorial and that’s just a weirdly complicated cash shop.
The future for SoE is F2P, no doubt about that, but I’m keeping my All Access pass for the time being. If EQ1 goes F2P I might reconsider.
@Bhagpuss – The thing about LiveGamer was that it was still players selling to players, like any in-game auction house. It just allowed real world currency as a medium. It was still limited to in-game, non-bound items, and was probably mostly used as a legal way to buy the in-game currency. (Speculation on my part, I never played enough Vanguard to care.)
A cash shop, which sells items from the company to players is a bit different. It potentially steals from the in-game economy. Look at the list of items that they had to delete from the EQIIx cash shop to make it align with the EQII Live point of view, and a lot of Live players are still cranky about any cash shop at all. There are a lot of vocal players in EQ, EQII, and Vanguard who sound like the men of the Iron Islands… you can’t wear anything unless you took it in battle yourself.
Actually, re:Clone Wars, I’m pretty sure that you can do a one time price to be a “Jedi” level or some such, which lets you buy things with the ingame currency. They offer a box in stores which gets you to that level I believe. It may be called “lifetime”, which is what I mentioned above. Otherwise, yeah it’s $5.99 a month, but tbh I’m not aware of the restrictions. I don’t know off hand if in game currency is different from station cash. If it’s not, then your account has to be in good standing, according to the FAQ. I’m assuming that means “not banned”, but I suppose it could mean “paying a sub or lifetime member”.
Interesting side note – SOE apparently confirmed that the point at which it is no longer worth paying for the server for Vanguard is 1,500 players. Presumably, they liked enough of what they saw when all former players got 45 days of downtime compensation this summer to be willing to sink some dev time in the game, which would mean that it’s somewhere north of that.
@rht – I can confirm, having tried it out, that the Station Cash in your account shows up in all the games I have been in, including Clone Wars.
@GA – Interesting number. Adds some perspective when we talk about six digit subscriber numbers that you could get down that far before you really had to pull the plug.
PlanetSide is down to a single server. There has been no information on what will be done with it once PlanetSide 2 is released.
@Ryan – You know, I went and looked at the server status page before I wrote that, and came back and still got it wrong. I must have fixated on the Vanguard servers. Fixed.
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