Thursday, July 29, 2010

Conflicting EQ2 Payment Models In Action

A conversation over at Ardwulf's place helps point out how counter intuitive SOE's decision to offer F2P EQ2 alongside its subscription parent really is.

In the currently announced model (which could be changed during the Alpha/Beta), non-subscribing players are completely forbidden from equipping group dungeon drops.  There is no option to pay to unlock this ability, group content rewards are simply irrelevant to anyone who does not want to pay the $15 monthly subscription.  Non-subscribers are also unable to purchase the ability to access the broker or carry more than 18 plat (at level 90), both of which are all-but necessary for repairs and consumables at endgame.  This makes no sense for a traditional free to play game.  If you want to sell players increased power, you have to allow access to content that actually requires more powerful characters.

The Gear Dilemma
The problem is that EQ2 is not going to be a pure free to play game.  If you could unlock the ability to equip Fabled loot, such as through the one-time Silver/Premium account upgrade (conceptually similar to what DDO has), raiders who are currently paying the monthly fee could sit down and calculate the cost of dropping down to free to play.  $35 to copy over their characters, some amount of money if their current race/class is not one of the free options, maybe the $10 silver upgrade, and suddenly a couple months' subscription fees are looking like enough to raid the latest content (expansion boxes will cost F2P players extra, just like the traditional sub players) in perpetuity, without paying any more monthly sub fees.

The purpose of going Free to Play is ultimately to make SOE more money, but their decision to hedge on the two payment models has put them in between a rock and a hard place.  Without the restriction on gear, they could lose the fees from existing raiders.  With the restriction on gear, they lose out on potential item sales as players on the free servers either avoid dungeons (why run a dungeon when you can't equip the loot) or jump to the paid servers (with their less "robust" cash shops) in search of a more group-enriched community.

Meanwhile, the free servers will be left heavily skewed towards the free classes and players who have too many restrictions to do group content long term (why stay on a server that charges extra for standard features like races once you're paying the same fee?).  This will damage SOE's ability to convert new free players into longtime customers. 

If only....
Whether or not you agree with the decision to offer a free to play option for the game, that decision has been made.  Now that it has, segregating out group players to a separate set of servers does not make sense.  Most of the problems I'm describing could have been mitigated by absorbing the PR hit of taking existing servers F2P (somehow, Turbine seems to have survived this) and designing a payment model that does not need to be designed to keep current subscribers away.

If they had taken the existing servers free to play, the influx of free players could have been directed to underpopulated servers (basically all of them other than Antonia Bayle and Nagafen) with existing communities that could have helped SOE convert the newbies into longtime players (and maybe even subscribers).  Instead, it now seems almost certain that SOE will have to eat the PR hit for merging these servers, which will only exacerbate the perception amongst existing players that they are being neglected and cannibalized in favor of the shiny new cash shop server.

UPDATE: Feldon reports that SOE is also adding in-game merchants that sell items for station cash to the regular (non-free-to-play) servers.

2 comments:

Jayedub said...

How is it that EQ2X is not going to be truly free? Because you can't equip dungeon loot? Even LOTRO has limits on what is accessible to free players, just like EQ2X will.

If I'm missing your point then I'm sorry, but you're making a lot of assumptions on a service that hasn't even started yet.

Do I think it blows players won't be able to equip dungeon loot? Yes. Would it be nice if SOE took more initiative and do some server mergers sooner rather than later? Yes. I would also agree that not everything outlined in the F2P service is perfect.

Indy said...

This appears to be a 'no cover charge' model such as DDO converted to, but poorly done... or more accurately, a bad deal for players. (Well, this *is* SOE we're talking about, maybe 'bad deal' should have been assumed...)

Maybe it'll work out, maybe it won't, but from my perspective EQ2X is being even greedier than RoM ... makes their model look generous in comparison, and I think I've complained about RoM before in comments here.

It isn't so much the fact that bronze players are restricted... that's expected. The problem is that Silver still is limited and *can't* buy the restriction removal. (Restrictions still being on the gold level subscription is just insult to the injury, so to speak. Or perhaps injury to the insult.)