Free Indeed: An EverQuest II Roundtable Discussion with SOE's David Georgeson
For over a year, EverQuest II has dipped its toe in the free-to-play pool, dividing the playerbase into EverQuest II Extended (i.e. item store enabled), Live Gamer "Exchange" servers (where items, coin, and characters could be bought and sold for real money), and legacy populations. With today's announcement, SOE is reining in its experimental side and making EverQuest II one game for all again, and removing the box price entirely. The entire game through the Sentinel's Fate expansion will be free to download, and current subscribers will be rolled into the game's freemium offerings.
Ten Ton Hammer joined a roundtable conversation with EverQuest II Executive Producer David "Smokejumper" Georgeson in the wake of today's Free to Play (all the way) announcement, as well as the upcoming Age of Discovery expansion due out in December.
"From our perspective, there's a couple nice things that come out of this as well. Chiefly, a simplification of message," Georgeson explained. That simplification will occur in several ways. First, the game's multi-tiered subscription model will be reduced to three tiers - free (formerly bronze), silver (for a one-time payment of $US 5 - down from the current $US 10, and silver purchasers within 60 days of launch will be refunded the $US 5), and gold (race pack purchasers within 60 days of launch will be eligible for a refund as well).
The platinum level and current subscribers will be rolled into the gold level, which will now have access to all races. Gold subscribers will also have the option of purchasing a non-recurring subscription to avoid automatic charges at the end of the subscription period. ). If you're still as confused as I was about membership options past and present, take a look at the current EQ2 membership info matrix.
Second, the previously separate marketplaces for the free-to-play, exchange, and legacy servers will be rolled into one marketplace that, according to Georgeson, will most closely resemble the legacy marketplace. That is, no "power items" such as health potions will be available in the item shop, and items and characters will no longer be available for real-world currency purchase.
- Power potion
- Health potion
- Self-rez scroll
- Wand of Obliteration
- Rune of Devastation
- Mastercrafted Equipment (all)
- Tradeskill Components
Georgeson confirmed that these items will persist in inventory after they disappear from the marketplace, but that these items could potentially come back based upon player feedback. I asked if he was concerned that players might potentially stockpile these items. He agreed that that was a possibility, but noted that "sooner or later, these items will be gone."
All of these changes will affect the current server landscape, so Georgeson noted that the "shackles are off" - SOE will offer free server transfers soon, along with Live Gamer server merges (Vox with Nagafen, The Bazaar with Freeport).
Age of Discovery, Freeport, and Qeynos
Georgeson noted that the Age of Discovery expansion is unusual among EQ2 expansion packs in that it is centered around features, not content. With the new mercenaries system, AoD borrows a page from the original EverQuest (among other MMOs stretching back to DDO and Guild Wars). Item reforging and "tradeskill apprentices" - interactive NPCs that crafters can "coach" as they do the grunt work of research and scale production.
But the key element of the AoD - what Georgeson called the "sleeper hit" of the expansion - is the "dungeon maker" feature (formerly Design Your Own Dungeon). City of Heroes kicked off the DIY approach to questing with Mission Architect, and Dungeon Maker will adopt a similar rating system, complete with "builder rewards" for highly rated dungeons. However, this marks the first time in a fantasy MMO has allowed players to design their own dungeons, and Dungeon Maker will have an EQ2 twist. Georgeson explained that Dungeon Maker will tie into the game's best in class collection system, allowing budding dungeonmasters to collect fixtures, features, and enemies for their dungeons.
Little was mentioned regarding the "GU 62: Freeport Reborn" enhancements announced at last year's Fan Faire and the "dynamically scaling, multi-level quest hubs in Freeport designed to make Freeport as alive and vibrant as it can be again." Georgeson noted that the changes will set up the Qeynos revamp "next summer."
EverQuest II's Newest Class: The Beastlord
Dave Georgeson also offered some new insights into how EQ2's 25th class - the Beastlord - will work. Unlike EverQuest beastlords that were limited in animal pets, Georgeson confirmed that EQ2's beastlords will work more like the WoW Hunter. Excluding sentient and themed creatures, "If it's warm-blooded and has some level of intelligence, you can probably tame it" using the taming skill or the more advanced Beastlord's Sight ability.
Different "warders" have different primal abilities, and Georgeson explained that "Beastlord gameplay is intended to be more active. Less of the macro kind of thing. You have to watch the warder and react to what the warder's doing, using specialized skills at certain times. It's a different kind of gameplay than you find elsewhere in EQ2.” To wit, players have a "savagery bar" that increases as the player interacts with the warder. The warder senses weaknesses, and the player allows the warder to execute attacks in those narrow time windows to grow more savage. And as savagery grows, more primals become available.
Taming is by genus; once a player tames a brown bear, for example, he or she will unlock the Bear Summoning ability, though different species of bear will of course have different looks and slightly different abilities. Only one warder may be active at a time, though Georgeson explained that SOE is looking into an AA that will allow more than one.
Free for All ... but when?
The timeline is still up in the air for both Age of Discovery and EQ2's free-to-play transition, but SOE seems set on December. Furthermore, Georgeson noted that the expansion would go live "in less than a month, which seems to point to the first week of December.
As for the Live Gamer ("Exchange") program, players can post items through November 21st, and have until December 13th to claim items, characters, and coin to their accounts. The latest Producer's Letter addresses a number of edge cases, so if you're a player directly affected by these announcements, be sure to check out the links.
Ten Ton Hammer thanks Dave Georgeson and the SOE EverQuest II team for their time in answering our questions as EverQuest II consolidates its free-to-play status.