In November, Sony Online Entertainment announced that EverQuest II would be going free-to-play at the end of 2011, alongside the release of a new expansion. With nearly all major subscription-based MMOs augmenting their business models to do the same in recent years, it wasn’t too surprising considering EQ2 was seven years old.

What was surprising was the fact that the original EverQuest was still an MMO that players needed to pay a monthly fee to play. That changes soon with today’s announcement that the MMO that revolutionized the genre will also be going free-to-play this spring.

The model change kicks in on March 16, 2012 where all players will receive a ‘Welcome Pack’ which includes a mercenary companion, a customizable weapon and more! Producer Thom Terrazas explains in slightly more detail with the announcement letter on the official EverQuest page:

  • On Friday, March 16th, EverQuest becomes a teenager: 13 years old!!! We will be having some extra added events in the game starting that week leading up to that Friday and we’re introducing some new items within POK to let you know what’s in store.
  • With the free-to-play launch, a renovated everquest.com website will be unveiled and after that, we will bring you upgraded EQPlayers pages.
  • We have improved the functionality of our Map system! Some improvements include being able to view appropriate level content for your character on the map, allowing you to find zone lines much easier; and also showing you your wisps on the map to help navigate to where you want to go!

Details on the model have not been released – check out the official page for a webcast on Thursday, February 2, 2012 for more details – but the goal with the change is to have something for every type of gamer, including, “recurring subscriptions, non-recurring subscriptions, Silver or Free memberships, item unlockers, and more.”

In its 13 years of life, EverQuest has grown thanks to the help of 18 expansions and it endured while games inclulding Age of Conan, DC Universe Online, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, Champions Online and All Points Bulletin moved to the free-to-play model as well.

With that being the trend in the genre, especially in the day and age when there are so many alternative gaming offerings (and associated costs), it’s difficult to justify a monthly fee for a social experience. This has been the question surrounding the recent successful release of Star Wars: The Old Republic which charges monthly in a climate where much of the competition is not.

Can SWTOR last long-term with monthly fees as World of Warcraft and EVE Online continue to?  Will EverQuest Next launch with the free-to-play model? Will SOE’s Vanguard: Saga of Heroes go FTP next?

Follow me on Twitter @rob_keyes.

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