Perhaps the most notable holdout against the spread of the free-to-play model will finally succumb this November, when CCP Games adds a free tier to EVE Online.
First launched more than 13 years ago, EVE Online's reactive, single-shard universe attracted and retained a relatively small but fiercely dedicated subscriber base. In the time since, dozens of premium MMOs came, went free-to-play and, in some cases, went altogether, but CCP Games held firm.
That changes in November, with, "a big, fundamental change to the way EVE works." In a post on the EVE Community website, CCP explained a new pricing structure that it hopes will open up the game to more players than ever before.
"Our single shard server means that every player truly affects every other, whether through economics, resource gathering, direct combat or bad posting," the company said. "This in turn means that our universe is more interesting, more exciting and more dangerous with each additional citizen.
"Omega can be summed up in a very simple way: It works exactly like subscribed accounts always have"
"Just like you, we've known this for a long time and, just like you, we've been doing everything we can to bring more people into our spectacular sandbox. Part of our vision for the future of EVE has included more open access for some time, but with the interconnected nature of the game comes vulnerability. We knew that if the floodgates were opened in the wrong way, we could see anything from server meltdowns to the collapse of the EVE economy.
"Over time, our hardware has improved, code has been untangled (mostly!) and we've found a design we believe in... EVE is ready for this."
Within the lore of the universe, that change takes the form of two distinct clone states, with all players being either one or the other: Alpha and Omega. Alpha is a "base state" with restrictions on available skills, skill levels and rate of training. The Omega state uses "neural expanders and cerebral acceleration technology" to remove those restrictions. Alpha will be free to all players, while Omega, "can be summed up in a very simple way: It works exactly like subscribed accounts always have."
"The clone state prevents access to powerful skills like Cynosural Field Theory and Cloaking, and limits farming through skills that control scaling and efficiency," CCP continued. "We are also able to react to unexpected issues by refining the Alpha clone skill list further, should the need arise. Of course, Alphas also have enormous freedom. They will be doing everything from rampaging null sec in Caracal fleets to exploration sites in high sec to playing a major role in faction warfare."
"We've found a design we believe in... EVE is ready for this"
There is more detail on the EVE Community site, but CCP has assured players that it will continue to, "develop and release expansions and features for free as we always have." The price and content of EVE's subscription tier will be unaffected by the change.
While CCP's stated motive is to increase the size of EVE's population, it will certainly be hoping that new players also equates to more revenue. According to The Mittani, the single most influential figure in EVE's community, the company stopped disclosing its financial information in 2015 after withdrawing its corporate bonds from Nasdaq Iceland. The last time we had access to CCP's reports, in 2014, it made an annual loss of $21 million. At around the same time, it cancelled the development of a new MMO, World of Darkness, resulting in the loss of 56 jobs. Another 49 redundancies followed two months later.
In November last year, CCP raised $30 million in funding to support its activities as a pioneer in the market for VR software. EVE: Valkyrie, its Oculus Rift exclusive, was one of of the most prominent VR games when the high-end headsets finally hit the market.
However, another EVE offshoot, the free-to-play PS4 shooter DUST 514, was taken offline in February this year. It launched in May 2013.