Champions Online Goes Free-to-Play

Story at Massively, matrix of free vs. subscription benefits HERE. And here’s a FAQ.

Can’t say this is a surprise; everyone has suspected Champions of underperforming for a while now. As a lifetime subscriber, I’m not yet sure how to take it. I’m not really losing anything, but I’m not gaining anything – as LotRO lifetime subscribers did when that game went FTP – either.

On the potential upside, if Cryptic parlays this into a more populated and popular game, then I suppose I’m all for it. I think Champions Online is a very good game that deserves better than it was probably doing. Unless the effort fails to draw in more people, I don’t really see a downside. But I’ll say this – if Cryptic actually wants this to work, they’re going to really need to improve their in-game store.

On the other hand, the market is becoming increasingly filled with high-quality games that are “free to play,” meaning of course that they’re free to try at your own pace, rather than being limited to a set trial period. But this is a big deal for more casual players – the vast majority of the market – who’d balk at a monthly commitment for any number of reasons. Plenty of those people will be happy to toss a in few bucks here and there, as insulting drivel like Farmville amply demonstrates.

This means two things: First, that competition in the minipay market is increasing and will clearly continue to increase. The time will come, though I don’t think we’re there yet, when the conversion of a AAA subscription game to minipay is no longer a guarantee of increased attention from players, much less enhanced revenue.

Secondly, this increased competition doesn’t apply only to other minipay games – these titles will be competing with subscription games as well. As the number of quality games that are free goes up, paying a subscription becomes less and less attractive. If the trend continues (as I and just about everyone else thinks it will,) the current crop of in-development subscription titles (like Rift: Planes of Telara) may be the last we see.

EDIT: This means that a clock is ticking for underperforming subscription games. Wait too long to move to free-to-play, and you may miss the boat, and it’ll be too late to salvage the game. And understand clearly here that by “underperforming subscription games” I mean “Vanguard” and by “you” I mean “SOE.”

For me personally, every game I like (and Champions is one of those, although I had lifetime access for free anyway,) that goes free-to play is a disincentive to pay subscription fees ever again. As it stands today, there’s just about one game I’m willing to pay for a subscription to (EVE Online.) (ADDENDUM: I’d consider AoC as well.)

Champions, from a first glance, will be taking its cues more from the EQ2X model than the LotRO, with the exception (it seems to me) of not leaving existing players feeling particularly shafted. It appears (again, at first glance) to be more a function-limited but not time-limited trial aimed at getting people subscribing. I doubt this will really affect the bottom line much without a robust array of microtransactions to get “free” players spending money too. We’ll have to see what Cryptic has up its sleeve, because right now that’s not there, although the FAQ promises more to come.


5 responses to “Champions Online Goes Free-to-Play

  1. I’m going to personally take credit for this occurring, because I was just saying the other day that I wished there was an F2P superhero game. So like Windows 7, this was clearly my idea. 😉

  2. I am a bit worried that they went with the EQ2X model rather than the Wizard 101/ DDO/ LoTRO model. It means a limited revenue stream (at least from me). So far I’ve spent much much less in EQ2X than I have in DDO, and I can level all the way to 90 without every having to spend a dime a again. In DDO, I’ll get stuck by level 12 or 14 if I don;t start buying content again (though at my current rate, I’m unlikely to ever make it much past 10 on any of my characters).

    It also worries me that you will never ever be able to do a custom build without subbing. On the one hand, you don’t want all the new FtP players rolling gimps, it’s easier to do in CO than most MMOs. So keeping first time players away from custom builds is probably a good idea. On the other hand, I think making players pay $10 or $15 to unlock custom builds would be more than enough of an entry barrier to make sure that new players won’t try any custom builds until they understand the game.

    Overall though, it seems far less restrictive than the original EQ2X matrix (at least for anyone FtP that is willing to spend money).

  3. I agree on the custom build option. It tempers my enthusiasm a bit to know I’ll be stuck with a premade path unless I become a subscriber. And it doesn’t really so much encourage me to be a subscriber as encourage me to hope they change their mind and make it purchasable before I get tired of the game making my advancement decisions for me. I understand the reason for archetypes just as I understand the reason for paths in DDO. At the same time, a superhero is almost more about rolling your own unique style than a D&D character is even. How much superhero fiction is there, in comic and story form, about superheros with really weird powers or power combos? I see some phrasing in the Massively article that could suggest archetypes may not be absolutely entirely restricted to complete cookie cutter, more a template, but we shall see.

    That said, I will definitely be trying it out once the f2p goes available, and seeing if I like it. If I don’t, I’ll just wait for some other superhero game to go f2p as well. Not that there are any other superhero games current or coming out or anything. 😀

  4. The one thing you probably get as a lifetime subscriber is freedom from being charged for paid mini-expansions now that this is a subscriber-perk. Public outcry may have stopped that train the first time, but Cryptic would almost certainly have gone back to that model eventually if the game had not gone F2P.

  5. Competition in the F2P market is an extremely healthy thing for the genre. Games will have to compete on quality, not price. The death of the sub-only game can’t come fast enough in my book. Subs should always have a place, but only as one option of several.