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EverQuest going free-to-play

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EverQuest (Sony Online Entertainment)

The game that made MMO games a viable force in the industry is going free-to-play.

EverQuest will drop its mandatory monthly pricing strategy in March, as the game hits its impressive 13th birthday — though like other free-to-play games Sony Online Entertainment currently distributes, there will be a tiered pricing plan for players who want more features and content.

"The game will now be setup to be flexible so that you can decide how much to pay, based on how much fun you're having," said EverQuest producer Thom Terrazas in a statement.

Once dubbed 'EverCrack' due to its highly addictive nature, the game boasted 750,000 paying subscribers at its peak. It was, at the time, mind boggling, though it seems miniscule compared to the 11.5 million active players that World of Warcraft boasts today.

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Free players will have access to four character classes and races in the game (they'll have to pay if they want one of the others), but won't be limited content-wise. The original game and all 17 expansions are accessible. Silver level subscribers -- those who pay $5 per month -- will have a little more freedom in terms of coin limitations per character and wider chat ability. Players who spend $15 per month won't have any limitations.

SOE has spent a lot of time lately exploring the free-to-play business model, converting a pair of games that have initially operated on monthly subscription fees. And the early signs have been encouraging.

DC Universe Online, for example, went from being a mid-tier performer in the subscription-only model to red hot, adding 1 million players in a single week after making the switch. The transition was so successful that John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment, was forced to take to Twitter to apologize for lag and login issues, noting "Very bluntly, this has been a wee bit more successful than we planned on."

EverQuest II, the follow-up to the original game, made the jump in December.

SOE is no stranger to the free-to-play model, of course. Free Realms pulled in 20 million registered users in its first two years — an astonishing number no matter how you look at it, though the company hasn't disclosed how much of that group is actual active monthly players.

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