EverQuest, once the king of all massively multiplayer online games, will open the doors of its virtual fantasy kingdom to all on Friday as a free game.
The move by Sony Online Entertainment is part of a broader effort by the company to shift its online titles toward the more popular free model, in which games make money selling virtual goods rather than charging a monthly fee, typically $15. Sony, for example, decided to make parts of its DC Universe Online game available for free last year in order to lure more players.
Launched 13 years ago, EverQuest defined the massively multiplayer online, or MMO, genre long before World of Warcraft came around in 2004. But Warcraft gradually eclipsed EverQuest as well as its successor, EverQuest II, and amassed 12 million subscribers at its peak in October 2010.
Sony will not disclose current subscriber numbers for EverQuest, but the game had less than half a million players when the company last released its subscriber count in 2004.
In total, about 5 million people have played EverQuest, according to John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment.
“Our goal with EverQuest is simple — bring a lot of older players back,” he said. “When we’ve done our win-back campaigns, they’ve been very successful.”
After EverQuest II became free in December, Sony saw a 300% increase in the number of players in the following three months — many of them lapsed EverQuest players. Sales of virtual items grew 200% in the same time period, Smedley said.
“The economy’s changing,” Smedley said, “and we’re trying to change with it.”
— Alex Pham
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