The massively multiplayer online market has proven to be a hotbed for announcements thus far this year. Both Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online have gone free-to-play, hype is building for World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion, and BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic is marching ahead for its 2011 debut. Today, Sony Online Entertainment added more fuel to the fire, announcing Everquest II will adopt a free business model…with a twist.
SOE--which recently cut 4 percent of its staff--will unleash a free version of the popular MMO Everquest II titled Everquest II: Extended. The game will operate parallel to the paid version and will be effectively a separate game from Everquest II.
Instead of adapting the entire Everquest II to the free-to-play model like Dungeons & Dragons Online and LOTR: Online, SOE is bifurcating the game and will release two distinct entities. Players will have the option of taking part in the subscription-based game or the completely free game. Extended will give players access to all the paid game's zones, including those added with the game's Shadow Odyssey expansion.
Extended will adopt a microtransaction business model, whereby players can purchase power-up potions, armor, classes, races, weapons, mounts, and more through the marketplace. Additionally, Extended will use a smaller Web-based application download model allowing would-be players faster access to the game.
Everquest II: Extended is currently pegged to be released "on or around August 17." For more on the upcoming release, check out the game's FAQ at Everquest II's Web site. Additionally, SOE compiled a membership matrix for the game's multiple patronship levels.