One thing that leapt out at me also caught the attention of several commenters, namely the apparent policy change indicated by this line in the announcement itself
"Finally, the new plan will also expand to include our upcoming titles, EverQuest Next and EQN Landmark!"
when combined with this statement further down the FAQ :
"Q: I am an EU player but I was grandfathered in as an SOE customer in EQII. Will I become an SOE All Access member automatically too?
A: Those under an existing grandfather clause as SOE customers will remain with us, and will automatically become SOE All Access members under the new program."
After the dust from the original PSS1 explosion settled I thought I had my own position about clear in my mind: as a grandfathered-in, All Access subscriber I would be able to go on playing all existing SOE MMOs without the assistance or interference of any German TV companies. Landmark would be published, distributed and run exclusively by SOE themselves and would stand outside of any existing partnership deals, so that was also safe from interference.
When it came to EQNext, however, I was under the impression that it had been stated repeatedly that all customers in PSS1 territories would have to go through that portal regardless of any other existing account arrangements on the inarguable basis that you can't expect to be grandfathered in on something that doesn't yet exist.
The above statements seem to contradict that and several posters in the thread asked for clarification. Or, more accurately, begged for a cast-iron guarantee that it really did mean what they desperately hoped it meant.
Well, they didn't get either but they did get...something. Community Relations Manager Ashlanne, who's making a considerably better fist of that soul-crushing role than some of her predecessors, sensibly went away and got an official ruling, which turned out to be...inconclusive:
"We do not have distribution information for EQN to give out at this time."
She later glossed this with
"Publishing has not been decided yet for EverQuest Next."
Finally Brasse arrived in thread with impeccable Dwarven forthrightness to make this impressively nuanced point:
"We can obviously say that EQN Landmark is free for all to sign up with SOE, as we are (at least as of this writing) the sole publishers of this game, regardless of region.
No decisions whatsoever have been made regarding EQ Next though, as that game is just too far off from launch to get into distribution planning right now. =) "
All of which leaves us reading the SOE runes once again but perhaps with an unusual sense of optimism. One thing is resoundingly clear: both Ashlanne and Brasse had every opportunity to confirm or even imply that EQNext would go to PSS1 but they chose not to do so. They didn't even imply it was the most likely scenario.
Indeed, you could argue that openly stating that no decisions have been made and emphasizing that with "whatsoever" has implications of its own. I would, but then maybe I did too much Prac Crit at university...
Still, given that last time I was following the progress of this unpleasant story, it was being stated as a fact that Next would certainly be available only through PSS1 in the territories they control, I can only see this as a good omen.
I could speculate on the reasons for the change of emphasis but I think perhaps I won't. Let's just say that history does have a way of repeating.
Euro hopes and woes aren't the only, or even the most, intriguing part of this announcement, either. I was particularly struck by the complete removal of the Silver Membership level from the upcoming revised SOE offer:
"Q: I am a Silver member in EQ or EQII. What happens to my membership?
A: When SOE All Access goes live, we will no longer sell Silver memberships in EQ or EQII. Existing Silver memberships will be grandfathered in under the new program, and can still upgrade to SOE All Access at any time. If you subsequently discontinue All Access, you will revert to the privileges granted by the Silver membership."
Now, Silver membership was a truly excellent deal by which you could remove most of the irritating restrictions imposed by the basic Bronze F2P level for a single payment of $5.00. While that existed (which is the entire time SOE has been "Free to Play - Your Way") I have always felt there was a real choice for players. The Bronze level is fully free but can be pretty annoying but the Silver level is effectively a $5.00 Buy-to-Play offer that will meet the needs of most players.
With the new All Access scheme it's my feeling that SOE is rowing back from F2P in a big way. Yes, you certainly don't have to buy the games - they all come free of any Box or Download fee. Yes, you can certainly play them for free - within certain restrictions. All the same, with the Silver option gone and along with it the option to subscribe to just a single game in the portfolio, I feel the clear intention is to move as many players as possible onto a form of paid monthly access.
And it's a good plan. $13.99 for full, unrestricted access to SOE's entire stable of home-grown MMOs is a great deal even without the perks and by including payment via Krono and Time Cards they've managed to make it eminently accessible to anyone without the need for a credit card. It's another extremely language-bending example of the use of the word "Free", though.
Anyway, whatever they choose to call it, however they like to dress it up, no matter how revisionist the rhetoric, I see this as a step back towards the subscription model for a company that supposedly was going to have no further truck with such a faded notion.
Looks like a good move from where I'm sitting, but maybe that's just the view from this comfy old grandfather's rocker.