Sony MMORPG Free to Play Transition

by Jessica Brown, April 17, 2012

All Sony MMORPGs will be Free to Play by summer 2012.

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Free-to-Play as a model has really been picking up in the MMORPG world in recent years, but particularly since 2010. In the last two years alone, several major MMORPGs have transitioned into offering free-to-play models, including Star Trek Online, Champions Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and even Age of Conan. The reasons for this vary, but the general mindset is that allowing various tiers of subscriptions allows people to play the games their way.

In fact, "your way" seems to be Sony's new slogan within the past year or so. Both the original EverQuest (which went free to play this past March) and EverQuest II: Extended use the slogan "Free to Play. Your Way."

The transition of the original EverQuest into a varied model that allows for free-to-play accounts in March was a historic event in MMO history. EverQuest was, and is, a genre-defining game. Released back in 1999, the game has been a subscription-based MMORPG since its original debut. To celebrate the 13th anniversary of the title, Sony announced that they were shifting it into a similar model to EverQuest II in order to allow a classic, ground-breaking game to be available to a much wider audience. Reaction to that, particularly from long-time fans of the game, has been quite varied and is the topic for a separate article; but one thing seems clear: Sony is quite insistent on offering free-to-play games to its fans.

This summer will mark the transition of their final subscription-only MMORPG into a free-to-play model. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, which was released in 2007, was announced to be entering the free-to-play style back in March. While Vanguard is certainly not the most popular MMORPG out there (which certainly may speak towards the reasons for its pending transition), its move into the realm of free-to-play games will mark the move for Sony, as a company, offering all their MMORPGs free of charge.

While it is true that Sony's move, in this regard, is driven by a desire to have their games meet a much wider audience (and potentially to rope players in via micro-transactions or the allure of added features with paid subscriptions), some have had negative remarks on the quality of the Free and Silver versions of their titles. The Free and Silver accounts seem to have fairly transparent limitations in EverQuest II, but the limitations imposed seem much more tangible in the original EverQuest. Perhaps this is due to the fact that EverQuest has been a much longer established game and so enticing new players into the game world still puts them years (literally!) behind those who have been playing for some time. With this knowledge, it's hard not to wonder whether Vanguard - a rather mediocre game at best already - will suffer a worse fate as a result.

Will any future Sony MMORPGs be following this model right at the get go?

If nothing else, perhaps Sony's plan will allow for people that otherwise have never played EverQuest, EverQuest II, or Vanguard: Saga of Heroes to see what those games are all about. Perhaps, too, they will eventually subscribe to one of them. After all, they get to delve into the game with minimal-to-no investment and, if they like what they see, they can opt to invest some of their own money into the game. This might not save Vanguard (which only has two operating servers worldwide), but perhaps it will prove useful in getting new blood into some of their older game worlds.