Pirates of the Burning Sea from Sony Online Entertainment is going free to play tomorrow on November 29, 2010. From what I’ve read and seen, the free to play version of the game won’t be nearly as “restricted” as the free to play version of other pay to play MMORPGs that converted to free to play games. Like EverQuest 2, Champions Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea will have to a monthly subscription component which is priced at $14.99. Luckily, free to play users aren’t being penalized for “not paying” so much as paying players are receiving bonuses. The only real restrictions on free users is their limited access to “premium missions”. They also have limited economy and character slots, but that’s not really a big deal. EverQuest 2 on the other hand literally limits you on how much gold you can have and which skills you can and cannot learn. So relatively speaking, Pirates of the Burning Sea is quite free. Much more so than other games.
I think launching as free to play with as few restrictions as possible will definitely give the game some love by F2P gamers. Most F2P gamers reject games like Allods Online from gPotato and Ministry of War from Snail Games, which are incredibly cash shop heavy. Game publishers need to realize that making cash shop items absurdly over powered is not the way to go. In my opinion, the ideal cash shop is the kind that MapleStory has. The only items available in the MapleStory cash shop are aesthetic ones (clothing / hair / etc) and things like EXP scrolls. Basically everything in the cash shop is designed for convenience, and does little to break the actual gameplay. Games like Shaiya and Last Chaos and to a degree even Runes of Magic, have some ridiculous game breaking items in their cash shops. Runes of Magic isn’t that bad with it, but upgrading gear in the game can be quite expensive without shelling out money in the store. Though F2P users can still technically get anything in the game without paying.
I think one of the reasons that EverQuest 2 didn’t really take off when it launched as a free to play game is its restrictions. Games like Dungeons and Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings online both launched with much looser free to play restrictions, and have thus enjoyed a lot of success. Compared to other naval themed / pirate MMORPGs, Pirates of the Burning Sea is definitely the best of its kind. Current F2P naval games like Uncharted Waters Online from Netmarble and Voyage Century from IGG both pale in comparison. I played both of those titles, Uncharted Waters Online is certainly the better one, but Pirates of the Burning Sea should wipe the floor with both. But time will tell whether people actually play Pirates of the Burning Sea or not. I suspect the game will attract a larger playerbase, but I don’t know if it’ll be large enough to keep the game afloat.