Sony Online Entertainment has announced at the Austin Game Conference that one of their next releases will be an experiment in following an alternative revenue stream. Traditionally, it has stuck to the model of charging for the base game at retail for titles such as the EverQuest series and Star Wars Galaxies, as well as receiving income from subscriptions, but, according to SOE president John Smedley's AGC keynote, its next title will adopt a model pioneered by Korean and Chinese MMOs of allowing users to play the game for free.
The alternate method of monetizing the game's user base comes from fees charged not for the base title, but for extra services such as powerful items or bonus levels. Sony has already experimented with item merchandising through its Station Exchange auction service, which allows users to legitimately pay one another in real money for in-game items and characters. Prior to that, such dealings were confined to black-market dealings and were officially frowned upon by the company.
The new game's model will come about "as a powerful way of getting people in" when it comes to online games, commented SOE president John Smedley when announcing the game, the title of which has yet to be revealed. By eliminating the mandatory subscription fee, Sony hopes to attract a wider audience who would not normally play online games, and thus build up a large enough user base to support the optional marketplace.
Little is known about the new game, save for Smedley's comment, as reported to the Dow Jones Newswire, that "We're going to be launching this one very quickly." The title is set to debut in fall 2006 for unspecified platforms, a comparatively short time from any prospective announcement for the notoriously labor-intensive MMORPG genre.