Champions Online is one of my favorite games. In fact, I recently finally took the plunge and bought a LTS. Why? Because I have a lot of fun playing the game! But for a long time, the game has stagnated, with very little content development. The good news is that they recently announced a new system to let people play as some of the game's iconic villains, so apparently Cryptic/PW hasn't given up on the game, and I'm glad.
But without knowing how any of that will turn out or be received, at the moment the game isn't exactly in the best spot, and the reason is simple: it isn't making a lot of money. The fact is, a game's development budget is directly proportionate to it's revenue generation, and one of Cryptic's own devs admitted this is exactly the case with Champs. But saying that Champs isn't making a lot of money is just stating the obvious. The point of this blog post is that I think I actually know what the problem is: Champ's F2P model isn't working. And the reason is because I think Champs gameplay is fundamentally different than most other games.
When I play other games, like TOR, I am mainly playing to enjoy the narrative mission content. Yes, I enjoy the "my character" aspect of the experience, but it's more about the story than about my character. In Champs, it's the exact opposite. When I play Champs, I'm mainly playing with toys; my character and his powers. A character that I have spent many hours meticulously customizing. It doesn't really bother me that I'm playing the same Alert that I've played a mission times before, because I'm doing it with different characters that are all just so fun to play with.
So, while TOR has some pretty nasty restrictions on it's F2P model, they still let you experience the core element of gameplay for free. And for that reason, I don't mind spending money on various things in the game store. However, in Champs, the core element of gameplay for me is a FreeForm character, and you absolutely can't play that for free. So unlike TOR, Champs is not letting people experience it's core element of gameplay with the F2P model, which results in them either not sticking around or not being willing to spend in the store. Or both.
For this reason I am calling on Cryptic/PW to do something brave: give everyone 1 single FF slot for free. But wait! They are selling FF slots in the store for $50 each! If they give people a FF slot for free they will lose a ton of money!!! While this is an understandable reaction, this logic is essentially arguing against the entire philosophy of F2P games. Companies finally realized that you can make more money letting millions of people play without a sub, and buy tons of little random things from their game store, than you can with a small number of people paying subs every month.
Well, due to the reasons mentioned above, Champs FF slot is basically the sub of that game. It is currently the "barrier of entry" that you have to spend money to access before you can really enjoy the core element of Champs gameplay. So in that sense, Champs never really went F2P.
Getting to the point, I believe that if Champs offers all players 1 single FF slot for free, they will have the same end result as the F2P model in general: yes, you will lose some sales on the people who would have bought a FF slot, just like the games that go F2P lose some sales on the people who would have paid a monthly sub. But in the long run, you make far more money from all of the little purchases from a march larger playerbase than you ever did from the small number of people who were paying to get past the barrier to entry.
Like I said at the beginning, Champs is one of my favorite games. I want it to succeed, rather selfishly, so I can keep enjoying it for years to come. So here is to hoping the folks in charge will do what needs to be done to let people really see how fun Champs can be, without having to spend money first. If they enjoy the game, they will be happy to spend money. But the fun part has to come first.