Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Remaining Conflict In EQ2

"Personally, the argument that they're leaving things separate out of deference for existing players would ring more true if SOE didn't have a consistent track record of pushing through unpopular expansions of RMT and item shops in defiance of those same customer expectations.  I think that it's more likely that they're just holding off on sending the golden subscription goose to the butcher for as long as possible so that they can get a better idea of whether people will actually pay to see the golden wolf cub they're planning on feeding the carcass to."- My post titled "EQ2's Unsustainable F2P Divide", July 2010
EQ2 is currently the most expensive major subscription MMO, with a full priced monthly fee plus $80 in expansion boxes over a ten month period, plus a cash shop that gets things as significant as a playable race (for $20 on top of the $80 in expansion fees).   When they convert the old subscription servers to the new free to play model in December, SOE will no longer be maintaining two clients, communities, and business models within the same product.  

They will, however, retain a core challenge of the old split; making the non-subscription model attractive to players who were not interested at the old prices, while attempting to make the swap down to the less costly plan unattractive to veterans. 

A year apart
Sony's decision to test the waters for a year may have longterm consequences: 
  • There are now complicated character slot issues because the two services had separate character limits - it sounds like affected players will get temporary additional slots, but the process for determining which characters go in those slots for non-subscribers is unclear.  Also unclear is what happens if you want to free up a character slot for a new character but you are currently temporarily over the cap due to grandfathered characters.
  • Opening up the remaining servers to non-subscribers is attractive for players who specifically want to play on those servers, such as returning players and friends of existing players.  Absent such pre-existing ties, I see little reason why new players wouldn't choose the most popular servers, such as Freeport or Antonia Bayle.  EQ2 could quite possibly become the first game to simultaneously experience massive queues and server merges.
  • Some of this material appears to be out-of-date copy+paste of stuff that changed since the press releases for EQ2X.  For example, the feature matrix states that the non-free classes can be obtained by subscribing, but Producer Smokejumper continues to refer to paid class unlocks for non-subscribers.  My guess is that they're just trying not to spell out how current subscribers can drop down to Silver, but I can't entirely rule out the possibility that they are rolling back some of the changes that made the non-subscription service less crippled as an alternate payment model. 

    Even if they are keeping the current EQ2X model, there will still be restrictions (e.g. the low currency cap) that cannot be bought out by non-subscribers for any price.  DDO and LOTRO's hybrid subscription models also have subscriber-exclusive perks, but nothing that is really mandatory.  SOE's model in EQ2X and DCUO really feels like they're doing everything they can to keep the non-subscription model from being viable at endgame. 
Limited impact
EQ2's reunification under the free to play model is unlikely to have the impact of other conversions, such as LOTRO, DDO, DCUO, or even EQ2X's original rollout.  Players who want the deal SOE is offering have been able to get it for over a year now, if they are willing to play on the Freeport server. 

Personally, I would be looking at more than $20 in unlock fees to unlock Lyriana's race, class, and gear, and approximately 50 cents per gear upgrade thereafter.  (This assumes that legendary gear unlock tokens remain available, though I haven't seen this explicitly confirmed.)  I would be willing to pay this is it actually means that I no longer need to pay for the subscription.  Whether SOE is willing to accept that agreement remains to be seen.


Bhagpuss said...

I think you can put most of the current confusion down to the absolutely typical incompetence of SoE's marketing department coupled with the also absolutely typical propensity of SoE producers to shoot their mouths off before checking the facts. We've seen this over and over.

I would bet that the racial unlocks and the item unlocks are both staying. Indeed I'd bet there was never any intention to remove them. The character slot debacle is clearly something that just didn't occur to anyone, although obviously it should have done.

I would foresee server merges over time. The DCUO solution of a small number of very large servers would seem to be a natural goal. As for pushing players into subscriptions at high levels, I think it's probable that players who stick around long enough to get to 90th will mostly wish to subscribe. Most of the take-it-or-leave it players will never get that far, although they may play for years. Our guild has mostly players who've been on Freeport for 6 months plus and who at times have played fairly intensely and regularly, yet hardly any of them have adventure levels much past 50th. There are a couple of 90th crafters though.

It's still a messy version of F2P but SoE are just pathologically incapable of doing anything in a plain, straightforward fashion. It's always been that way and I'm resigned to it now. The upcoming version looks to be a big improvement on the current one, so I'll settle for that.

Yeebo said...

A fantastic breakdown.

On stuff EQ2X players seem to be losing (restricted classes, ect.): We'll have to wait and see whether the new grid they published is accurate.

Several possibilities:(1)Someone started editing from the first (August 2010) grid, and made a mistake. (2) SOE is intentionally deceiving players about their long term plans (e.g., we say you need to stay subbed to play the classes you like, but really you don't). (3) SOE might have actually decided to gimp silver and bronze (free) accounts.

1 implies incompitence, 2 implies the rulers of SOE are greedy bastards that don't give the first shit about their customers, and 3 implies that SOE doesn't understand FtP even after more than a year of EQ2X. They all look bad imo.

Indy said...

Yeebo, this since this *is* SOE we're talking about, I suppose we shouldn't rule out the possibility that they're clueless, incompetent, greedy bastards...

Green Armadillo said...

@Yeebo and Indy: You'd think they'd know they were going to be asked highly detailed questions, since that's what happened the last time they took this game F2P.

New intriguing tidbit - Smokejumper's post mentions that subscribers will get 500 SC monthly. I thought he was talking about the old EQ2X platinum plan, if it's the regular plan and you can pay for your subscription with SC, that is an intriguing change.

Ferrel said...

I get the feeling that this transition is going to be a train wreck. I really do love my people at SOE but the management there is just atrocious.

Do I think the separation should have existed? Certainly not but fixing it is really going to be tricky.

I also can't wait to see just how "exactly the same" the subscription plan is.

Some days I miss EQ2, the "good ole days" and that version of Ferrel. Most days though I'm glad I'm not around to see it.

Indy said...

From a FAQ, once a free player hits the gold limit, any more is actually LOST. Not put into escrow, like LOTRO, but just *poof*. If a subscriber drops down, the extra bags can only have things withdrawn from them (and SOE probably thinks they're being *generous* for allowing that...) and legendary/fabled items worn are stripped off and placed into inventory.

It's not just that SOE only knows the stick and doesn't understand carrots... they think they need whips. I was thinking I might try the game, but all I see are aggravations heaped on the free players.

Wilhelm Arcturus said...

"EQ2 could quite possibly become the first game to simultaneously experience massive queues and server merges. "

And, as usual, I want to nitpick while other discuss real issues.

Have you actually ever seen server queues in EQ2?

I played on Freeport for a while and saw as many as 8 versions of the New Halas area zone running at once during some peak hours, but never a queue. I am curious as to whether they ever hit a server cap situation with their multiple versions of a zone architecture.