Earlier today SOE dropped the F2P bomb that is EverQuest II Extended, and Massively was on the front lines to bring you the scoop first. We also sat down with lead producer Dave Georgeson to chat about the particulars of the new service, as well as get his take on where the industry is heading.

He had a number of interesting nuggets to share, about not only the game's alternate F2P business model, but also the fact that SOE is keen on respecting the wishes of its core player base.

Read all about it after the cut.

Massively: Tell us a little bit about your background and experience with F2P.

Dave Georgeson: When I first took over EQII, I spent every waking hour that I [wasn't working] playing the game, and the more I played it the more obvious it was to me that there's a hell of a game here. Over the years the teams have really done a great job at building a huge world with tons of features and depth like nobody's business, but it was kind of laboring under a couple of things that kept it from succeeding. One was that we had a real learning curve at the beginning of the game, which, while we didn't want to make it super easy to play, we do want people to be able to get into it and enjoy it. The other thing was, in today's marketplace, there are a lot of players out there, and by a lot I mean like 10 - 20 times the number playing MMOs, that would love to try out these virtual worlds and get involved in them, but they're not willing to pay 50 dollars for a box and then commit to a 15-dollar-a-month subscription fee before they get to try the game seriously.

The traditional 14-day trial, that's not really working for them, because they know that at the end of the trial they'll have to pay or they can't play. There's so many F2P opportunities out there that they're just not willing, and they won't try these other things. I know that they would love a deep game, so we wanted to make sure there was an opportunity for people to get in and check out this great MMO that we have -- get in and play it a little bit, and then decide what commitment level they want to get involved in. And that's the whole point of the Extended service.

How long have you thought about the Extended service, was it since you came onboard, was it prior to that, how new is this idea? These aren't ideas you jump into.

Personally I've been involved in F2P for several years. When I came to SOE there was no intent to take EQII F2P and in fact I didn't even lobby for it. I did talk to the executives here about the fact that we needed to be thinking about these opportunities for new games, for stuff we're doing in the future, but it was only recently that we started realizing that we could probably do really good things for EQII if we considered it. We knew, for instance, that we didn't want to roll it all into one thing like some of our competitors were doing, where everyone is forced to co-exist with the F2P marketplace and the different kinds of players that are attracted to that opportunity.

We knew that our established subscribers absolutely didn't want that, they were very clear about that on the forums and we were listening. So we wanted to set it up as a completely separate service, so if you're a current subscriber, you don't even have to be aware that it exists if you don't want to. They have separate forums, server rooms are completely separate, you just don't need to be involved in it at all unless you want to. The more we thought about it, if we opened it up as a separate service, we could do really great things with this already-existing franchise. It's been in development now for eight and a half years, and that's a heck of a lot of content. In fact, I would go so far as to say that with today's announcement, what we're creating is the biggest, baddest F2P MMO opportunity that exists. We think we can do really well with this and maybe attract a whole bunch of people who've never even looked at EQII before, not just the core MMO audience but people outside of the fold.

How many servers are you running with this? Is it going to be traditional EQII servers or will there be merges?

The options are still there to play the game exactly the way you played it on the subscription service. We didn't re-balance the game to make it where you have to have these items.

We're opening up new servers for this. We're not merging servers, in fact we just bought new hardware to upgrade the original servers so they can perform even better than they are now. Over time people have copied their characters to the more populated servers so we're upgrading the hardware so there's no performance issues. We're very committed to keeping the subscription servers how they are. Later on if people decide they want merges we can maybe do that, but it has nothing to do with the F2P stuff.

The membership matrix says, underneath the Gold option, that you only get four character races. What happens to existing players who already have a character that's not one of those four races?

If you're playing on the existing subscription servers, your characters are on those servers. Think of it as a completely separate product offering. If you had a Station Pass... EQII Extended is another game in our portfolio, kind of. Even though it's the same content, for all intents and purposes you play one or the other (or you could play both if you wanted to). Your character is not immediately on the F2P servers; you can have it copied over eventually, right now, during this initial stage, we're not even allowing that. You basically start a new character over there; the existing race question doesn't really apply [to the old servers]. You start out with the four free races, and eight classes that you can play for free. You can buy new race packs... or you can upgrade to a gold subscription to get all the classes unlocked.

Down at the bottom there's a $35 fee for transfers.

If you want to copy an existing character from a subscription server to Extended, yeah there's a $35 per-character charge for that. What that does is it lets you shortcut the XP path, so you can bring your level 90 over if you want to. The copy restrictions are fairly severe, so we expect a lot of people will start from scratch.

Last time we spoke, you said you didn't want players buying their way to power. Players don't like that, you want the world to stay as it has been and will continue to support it with new content items, etc. That was from last month.

Right, on the existing subscription servers.

So what will we be seeing in the F2P item shop, what can the players buy there?

It's very much a convenience level of items. You can't buy the best items, but you can buy good items, and by that I mean stat-based. You can't buy legendary and fabled stuff, we still want to leave reasons for people to game and quest and get something that's even better than what you can buy on the marketplace. Let's say you were out there and you got some good gear but you couldn't find a really good helmet. You could go to the marketplace and buy something that's pretty decent. If you solo a lot... you might want to buy a couple self-rez potions, or a buff potion, there's a lot of those convenience things. Standard mounts are available for sale. You can buy harvestables, common and rare packs, you can basically just save some time or you can get it the same way you've always gotten it.

The options are still there to play the game exactly the way you played it on the subscription service. We didn't re-balance the game to make it where you have to have these items. We're just making it all available. And that's the thing that current subscription players said they didn't want to see, which is why we're setting it up as a completely separate service.

Are you afraid that this might fragment the community by creating two different services?

[Long pause] Afraid? No, but at the same time it's definitely experimental. We're going to have to wait and see. The players have told us they didn't want this stuff and that's why it's a completely separate area, but at the same time if they end up going over to that service because that's what they really want to play, that's kind of a win too. So we'll find out based on what they actually do. We'll react to that. At the very worst, let's say that a bunch of players did flock over (which I don't think is going to happen)... we could still compensate by doing server merges of the existing subscription-based servers so that population stays high. We could do a lot of things to make it really successful despite that. If it did happen, it would be because that's what they really wanted.

Let's say I really enjoy the game, can I still buy the boxed edition of the game and play the EQ Live service?

Absolutely, in fact we'll still be running the recruiting friend programs. We're going to be adding a more expanded rewards program for multi-month subscriptions so that they can get exclusive items that are not offered in any other marketplace, as well as Station Cash rewards. We don't want to second-class-citizen the subscription servers at all, that's not our intention. We're putting a lot of effort into making sure that people still have the opportunity to go there.

You know people are going to riot over this.

[Laughter]

What do you think of that, what do you say to those people?

[Long pause] We need to do this as a business, we need to look into this opportunity because if we don't the rest of the industry is going to move on without us. I don't like putting us in the position where we're reacting to the industry. We need to move forward with these kinds of opportunities. Even saying that, we're doing it in such a way that we're trying very hard to cater to what we think our customers wishes are.

Most of the opportunities you see to do this are going to be "well this is the way it is and all of our players have to adapt." We don't want to do that. We know that we have a certain amount of people that want to play the exact same way they've been playing, just with new content, new quests, and new stuff that's coming all the time. So we're giving them that. We're also making this other option available. It's a no-harm-no-foul kind of opportunity. It's like a really super big free trial kind of opportunity, with an extended marketplace. Other than that, it's the same game.

It's the same game, but it's not the same game -- it's such a weird alien concept. What will happen when you extend the game in the future? When you bring out a new expansion pack, how will EQII Extended change?

All of our content will upgrade at the same time on both services. The expansion we're doing this winter will be available for purchase on both servers at the same time. Any kind of update... those will be available at the same time on both services. The only differences are some of the restrictions on the F2P membership side and some of the items in the marketplace. You don't see the stuff that's F2P-specific on the regular servers, but that's the only difference.

Thanks for your time this morning.

This article was originally published on Massively.
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