It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that free-to-play is the future of MMOs. Hell, you don't even need a normal, fully clothed person for that little hop-step of mental gymnastics. Case in point: Even colossal, loincloth-clad barbarians are doing it now. Following in the footsteps of Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest II, and pretty much every other MMO not named “World of Warcraft,” Age of Conan is casting aside its mandatory subscription fee.
Remember Hellgate: London? It was an apocalyptic hack 'n' slasher that rose from the ashes of Diablo II only to make some ugly ashes of its own when its developer went under. Now, though, the game's getting a second lease on life thanks to the helping hand of Hanbitsoft.
We all know that PC gaming isn't (and never was, for that matter) dying, but we'll raise you one: it's thriving. Everyone – whether big-budget, indie, social, MMO, or what have you – is hopping aboard the PC bandwagon, and even the publishing world's biggest players are starting to take notice. The latest? EA's one-time dark lord turned knight in shining armor, EA.
In the future, old fogeys are gonna get all manner of shrugs and weird looks when they wrap up their “back in my day” speeches with a quick 45-minute bit about subscription fees and MMOs. And if things keep up at their current pace, that “future” could be right around the corner. As in, in a year or two. First it was DnD Online, then Lord of the Rings, then Company of Heroes. Meanwhile, World of Warcraft and a whole spat of other MMOs are considering it, and now Everquest II’s taking the free-to-play plunge as well.
“So, we’re about to launch a bold new service named ‘EverQuest II Extended’ (EQ2X). This is a completely separate service from the standard EQII Live subscription service (EQII),” producer Dave Georgson said on the game’s official site. “‘EverQuest II Extended’ shares all the content and features of Live EQII. It plays the same. It looks the same. It *is* the same, with two obvious exceptions: a) it’s free-to-play, and b) it has a more robust marketplace.”
That marketplace, of course, includes the usual list of not-so-free-to-buy suspects: mid-tier weapons and armor, potions, speed boosts to things like research, etc. So no, you won’t see someone decked out in diamond-encrusted pauldrons, leggings so shiny they make the sun go blind, and obnoxious spinning rims just because their real-life wallet was made from the one hundred dollar bills they deemed “unworthy.”
There are, however, some restrictions on what free players can and can’t do. Sure, you can level your character all the way to 80 and explore the full game world, but your class and race selections have been pared down a bit, and your in-game purse will only be able to hold so much gold before it belches loudly and refuses to eat any more.
Don’t like what you’re reading? Well then, you can also opt to stick with old-school EQII, in which case “your existing subscription, game, and support are unchanged.” If free-to-play sounds right up your alley, though, here’s a handy FAQ for your perusal. Us, we’ll definitely give the game a look, at least. It’ll be a total trip, though. Last time we were in Norrath, Y2K was still considered a legitimate threat, and people actually found Britney Spears to be attractive!
Sauron, you might want to grow another gigantic, flaming eyeball to watch your back, because you're about to make a bunch of brand new enemies. Why? Because this fall, anyone and everyone – graphics cards willing – will be able to play Lord of the Rings Online for the same price as developer Turbine's other wildly successful MMO, Dungeons & Dragons Online. Which is to say: absolutely nothing.
“Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited was the world’s first truly premium free-to-play online game that ushered in a new era of choice for online gamers seeking quality entertainment,” said Jim Crowley, President and CEO of Turbine. “The popularity of DDO validated the extraordinary demand by gamers for quality entertainment they can experience at their own pace and within their budget. Extending free-to-play to LOTRO will offer another premium game to a broad spectrum of fans.”
Follwing in DDO's footsteps, Lord of the Rings Online will also allow players to get a little extra bang if they choose to part with a buck or two. The LOTRO Store will offer expansion packs, extra character customization options, and more, while the game's all-access VIP program will essentially function like subscription fees do right now.
Still though, you're getting close to the entirety of fairly fantastic fantasy MMO without spending a dime. You certainly won't see us complaining.