Eve Online is going free to play. Announced back on August 31st, CCP is formally opening up their main title to the masses through the introduction of ‘clone states’. Under the new system, characters on subscribed accounts will have ‘Omega clones’, capable of training and using skills without limitations (aside from those already present in the game – namely, it takes time to train). Characters on non-subscribed accounts, though, will be able to access the game via ‘Alpha clones’, which are limited to a maximum of around 5 million specific skillpoints.
This move is, arguably, a bit overdue, but also points to an interesting potential wrinkle in the story of World War Bee, the great war to destroy Goonswarm Federation’s Imperium. In the past, large scale conflicts like The Great War and the Fountain War tended to be accompanied by growth in the player base – new players coming into the game off the buzz of the media coverage that typically surrounds large scale conflict in Eve. Today, you can find hundreds of players whose Eve entry stories revolve around these conflicts.
World War Bee, however, seems to have not done that particular trick – or at least not to the extent that CCP would hope for. Anecdotally, I heard plenty of people contemplate returning to Eve after a lengthy absence, or try it out for the first time, but elect not to. The reasons were varied, but mostly revolved around ‘eh, been there done that’ or ‘eh, not worth my time’.
CCP obviously thinks allowing free to play players into the mix on a permanent basis (they’ve been experimenting with free weekends via Steam over the last year, which was a bit weird) will bring in a new wave of players who (presumably) were put off by the box price. From the devblog that announced the move:
Soon, New Eden will be inundated with a flood of wide-eyed capsuleers eager to explore the world we’ve been building together for the past 13 years.
Will it, though? Eve has never been particularly expensive and trial periods have been around for ages. Chances are that the ‘flood of wide-eyed capsuleers’ have already had a taste or two of Eve Online in the past. Will a skillpoint-limited free trial, rather than a trial limited by both time and skillpoint selection, make a huge difference to the bottom line?
Or will it simply allow veterans of the game a slightly easier path back into New Eden. I know that I have some characters I’ll definitely be checking on when Alpha clones are available – and maybe that little hit of the old Eve Online drug will be enough to get me to drop cash I wouldn’t otherwise.
Moving to free to play is, historically, a play of desperation for most MMOs. It has also, historically, worked at least a little to shore up games that otherwise would’ve died. SWTOR experienced quite a revival with free to play, as did Elder Scrolls Online. And perhaps, with the additional (and ever-growing) revenue from in-game transactions (like SKINs), CCP will find a new winning formula.
Part of me, though, can’t help but see this as a sign of the approach of the end times. No, Eve won’t be shut off within the next five years. Hell, it’ll probably never be shut off completely. But after the novelty of a free account wears off, I imagine New Eden will feel emptier than ever before.