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.