Space-bastard MMO EVE Online [official site] will go free-to-play in November, devs CCP announced today. It'll introduce a new limited character type that anyone can play for free, keeping The Good Stuff for people who pay a subscription fee. Which is probably a good way to get more people into EVE. It has brought us exciting space-stories of grand betrayals, bankers funding wars and maybe destabilising EVE, propaganda, blockading trade hubs, notorious space-lords, and more than I can reasonably fit in this one sentence, but EVE is not an inviting game. This might help.
November's update will introduce characters who are free for everyone to play but who can only train certain skills. This 'Alpha Clone State' rabble will be able to learn to basic skills, flying low-level ships - Frigates, Destroyers and Cruisers - from their faction along basic weapons and modules, but won't get to play with the really fancy stuff. They'll also learn skills slightly slower (remember, EVE doesn't use XP to level, instead training specific skills passively in real time).
If you want a proper character who can learn and use anything like EVE spacemen can right now, you'll want 'Omega Clone State'. This can be earned by paying a subscription fee or cashing in a PLEX timecard (which can also be bought in-game for in-game cash). Alpha characters can pay to upgrade to Omega, naturally. Omegas will fall down to Alpha if they don't keep paying, becoming unable to use skills and items (and ships!) beyond the Alpha limits until they go back up to Omega status.
Given the way EVE works, analogies to other MMORPGs are tricky. Alpha characters will definitely have fewer options but they'll be able to do a fair bit and find useful roles in high-end play - you couldn't say, for example, "it's like a level 20 character in a game with a level 80 cap" so I won't. Here's what CCP say:
"By specifically selecting skills in this way, we can ensure that the EVE ecosystem and the value of Omega state are both protected, while still providing a wide-ranging, exciting EVE experience for Alphas. The clone state prevents access to powerful skills like Cynosural Field Theory and Cloaking, and limits farming through skills that control scaling and efficiency. 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."
EVE has offered free trials for yonks but they're not quite long enough to get much of a handle on what the game is or what you might like to do. It sounds like this will be a lot better. EVE will still be mighty unforgiving and full of space-bastards, of course, but at least it'll give you a better idea of if that's something you want.
I'm curious to see how established players and organisations will try to use/weaponise/scam this influx of new players. Newbies aren't necessarily useless - I know the Goons used to (and maybe still do?) get their newbies joining operations very quickly as irksome fodder to snare enemies. Enough newbies on free accounts itching for those there space-fights they've heard so much about might lead to interesting things, or at least entertaining stories.
I only played EVE for a few months but I'd recommend going Minmatar then buying yourself a Rifter (that cool spaceship in the middle ↑ up there) to engage in a gentle spot of low-level mischief and piracy. I still miss that mean little scrapheap.