Earlier this month, Sony Online unveiled EverQuest Legends, a new premium subscription service for its popular online role-playing game EverQuest. The service is designed to offer players additional features and exclusive content for an additional fee--$39.95 per month versus the basic subscription fee of about $10 per month. While the official Legends Web site offers information about the features that will be included in the service, we had some questions about the reasoning behind the move and how the service has been received so far. To get answers to these and other questions, we talked to John Smedley, COO and senior vice president of Sony Online Entertainment.
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. First, can you tell us what inspired Sony to launch a premium subscription service for EverQuest?
John Smedley: We felt that our customer base was large enough that we could try out something very unique.
GS: How long has the project been in development?
JS: About five months.
GS: What is the service designed to provide?
JS: We're trying to provide much more of a tabletop RPG experience to our Legends customers. We really want to try to have people feel like they are part of a world that's changing at a much more rapid pace. In fact, players will feel like they impact the world in a much greater way. For example, if players complete a specific dynamic quest, they could end up getting a sword named after them. Eventually, that sword could find its way to other servers. How cool would it be to have other people getting the "Sword of (your character)" and know that the epic adventure you had on Legends is what led to that item actually being created. That's the level we're going to go to. It's going to be absolutely mind-blowing.
GS: Is the service live now? What kinds of changes have you had to implement in EverQuest in order to support the Legends service?
JS: The server will be live soon. As for changes, what we've mostly done is assembled a Legends-specific quest team. This team is in addition to the EQ Live team and is totally funded by Legends revenue.
GS: How has the response been so far? Can you tell us how many of the 8,000 spots have been filled?
JS: Excellent--we should launch with all 8,000 slots on the first Legends server full, and we're expecting to potentially have another one live shortly after that.
GS: Is there a minimum number of players required in order to make the service worth launching?
JS: Yes, but we don't give out that kind of info. Needless to say, we're past that number.
GS: Will the effort and resources required to maintain the new service detract at all from the basic EverQuest servers?
JS: Absolutely not--in fact, it's just the opposite. We plan on moving the content from the Legends servers over to the other servers on a periodic basis.
GS: Will any of the exclusive Legends content eventually make its way to onto the non-premium servers?
JS: Yes, but only after Legends folks have had time with it first.
GS: What do you have to say to players who claim that Legends is an elitist service? Shouldn't everyone who subscribes to EverQuest get the same treatment?
JS: I wouldn't want to characterize it as elitist--it's more for an audience that's looking to get a special kind of experience.
GS: Can you tell us about some of the plans you have for exclusive in-game content?
JS: The first big thing we're doing is going to be called Marauder's Mire. It's essentially an undead pirate invasion across a lot of zones. We also have some awesome high-level surprises in store.
GS: If EverQuest Legends is a success, do you envision launching more premium servers?
GS: Some have claimed that Legends is Sony's attempt to capitalize on the online market for unique items, essentially saying that if players are willing to pay extra for powerful items in online auctions, they must be willing to pay extra for additional quests and legendary items on a premium server. Is this true?
JS: It has nothing to do with trying to capitalize on the online market for unique items.
GS: Will players be able to transfer characters and items between premium and non-premium servers? If so, will players be able to sell or trade their Legends items with non-premium players?
JS: Legends-specific items that accompany character transfers will be flagged as "no drop" until such items migrate to the regular servers.
GS: Does Sony have any plans to offer trial subscriptions or reduced-price packages for those players who can't afford $40 per month? How was the subscription rate determined?
JS: No. The rate was determined by studying exactly what we wanted to offer and how much it would cost.
GS: What's next for EverQuest? Can you tell us anything about upcoming additions or expansions to the game?
JS: We'll be making some big announcements soon!
GS: Thanks for your time, John.