It's no secret that EverQuest and EverQuest II have had fairly restrictive free-to-play models, with severe limitations that unfortunately deterred some players from trying or sticking with the games. Although teased with a wide variety of races and classes, free (once called bronze) and silver players could choose from among only a few without dipping into their wallets. Other restrictions included limited bag slots, little to no shared bank access, and a very low cap on active quests.
But if those restrictions are what put you off, fire up that launchpad again because I've got good news for you: SOE has taken a giant eraser and wiped them right off of the free-to-play matrices. And now is a good time to get back into the games as the EverQuest franchise is set to commemorate its 14th anniversary with celebrations in both games.
In my interview with Dave Georgeson, the man at the helm of all things EQ, I scouted out the specifics of the F2P restrictions that will lift come the middle of next week. Georgeson also revealed some incoming updates for EQ as well as discussed the special events marking the anniversary that will kick off on March 16th. And you just know I tried to slip in a question or two about EQ Next.
SOE believes it has not been out of touch when it comes to the free-to-play models in the EverQuest games. Georgeson told me that the team simply couldn't revisit the F2P matrices for EQ and EQII before now because it's been so busy with expansions and updates. But when the opportunity arose, the team really scrutinized the system. The outcome? "The end result was we didn't really like the logic that was in there anymore," Georgeson explained. "We've seen what works and what doesn't work, and one of the things that doesn't really work is restricting people on day one. It's just not a good idea."
Of course, looking back now, we find it easy to see that a heavily restricted model is detrimental to the game's health, but what about when free-to-play was first introduced? Reminding us that F2P didn't always enjoy the growing popularity it is does today, Georgeson said SOE has learned from its experiences:
"When we first rolled these [matrices] out, we were exploring unexplored territory with the free-to-play stuff, and we were quite concerned that we would accidentally wreck our own business. So what we did was make sure that the matrix had a lot of teeth in it so people would naturally want to upgrade. But after running these things for a couple of years now, we realized that the free and silver players have their own way to play; if we're good to them and [let them] experiment with lots of stuff in the early days, they tend to stay longer. And even if they never gave us a dime, it's still good to have people playing the game -- it's good for everyone else."With that knowledge firmly tucked under their collective belt, the powers-that-be are abolishing a number of the restrictions that limit players in both current EverQuest games in order to make them friendlier to newcomers.
Of course, at that point I had to ask whether the changes are in any way related to bringing the payment model in line with what is planned for EQ Next, assuming a payment model has been decided at all. Alas, the answer is no. "We haven't decided on a model for it," he told me. "EQN is a very, very different kind of game... it probably won't have the same kind of matrix restrictions. We may not even have a matrix at all if we don't decide to go down the subscription path, but that's just a possibility. We haven't decided whether we are or aren't doing that."
The sweet taste of freedom
So what exactly will free and silver level players find when they log into the EverQuest or EverQuest II? With the exception of the Beastlord class and Freeblood race in EQII, all races and all classes will be available for play from the get-go. Players who want to create a Kerra Conjurer or a Iksar Shadowknight finally can without pulling extra funds form their pockets.
Now that players can check out more combinations, they'll want to share equipment with new toons. This, too, will be possible as full shared bank space will be granted to everyone regardless of pay level. Pack rats will also appreciate that all available bag slots will be open for use.
What about the lowered quest cap in games whose moniker denotes the plethora of quests available? "I don't know why we had the quest journal restrictions, to be honest," Georgeson said, "but we're getting rid of those."
The final restriction to be lifted is specifically for EverQuest players, who will now get the additional bonus of access to the parcel delivery system.
Of course, not all restrictions are being lifted. If your biggest irritation was the limit on equipment access or spell levels, you are out of luck. Same goes for restrictions on character slots, the broker, or the in-game mail system. The broker and mail restrictions are specifically in place to prevent giving gold-farmers free rein over the market and avenues for spam. There might someday be some relief on the mail front for guilds, however; knowing first hand about communication issues in guilds, I suggested letting free and silver users send mail within their own guilds. Georgeson liked the idea. "We can consider that," he said. Here's hoping, right?
In all, Georgeson believes that freeing those specific things up will "do a lot for people because then they don't really experience the restrictions at all until they've been there a while, and even after that point then it is still optional if they want to participate in other ways."
The next part of the interview focused on the celebrations coming to the games in honor of EverQuest's 14th anniversary. While EQII will have another Chronoportal event, the majority of events are understandably focused in the original game. EQ players will enjoy epic ornamentation quests and new additions to the hero's Forge armor system. Denizens of that first Norrath will also be able to relive epic moments in their class's history and generally experience the nostalgia of the past 14 years.
And the piece de resistance? Gamers will get to play through missions actually created by other EQ players! Back at SOE Live 2012, players sat down with devs and hashed out a number of new missions, which are now being added into the game.
Finally, speaking of SOE Live...
The fruits of SOE Live 2012
In the last part of the interview, I touched base with Georgeson about some of the things he mentioned to us back at SOE Live, specifically the franchise's current stance on expansions and the implementation of point-of-need items (such as rez scrolls, potions, etc.) into the interface.
As for the point-of-needs items, Georgeson noted that while SOE is moving slowly on this feature, some elements are already in game, such as in spell research. Plans are in the works for making the mender accessible this way as well.
And what about expansions? During last year's interview, Georgeson discussed how SOE had been trying to get away from doing large expansions and instead move toward smaller and more regular game updates. He also indicated that Chains of Eternity should be the last official EQII expansion pack. Players would still get new content; it'll just be part of free game updates on a more regular schedule than the yearly expansion cycle.
Georgeson said that the plan is to release four updates a year, one of them bigger and more expansion-esque than the rest. For EQ players, a Shadows of Fear game update is incoming (the scenarios in this anniversary celebration are actually foreshadowing it). The next update after that will tie all of the Fear updates together. Unfortunately, he can't say that this year's expansions will be free because he doesn't know yet.
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!