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Free for All Launch Interview

By Michael Bitton on January 26, 2011 | Interviews | Comments

Free for All Launch Interview

Champions Online went free-to-play today, how is the re-launch going so far and what has user reaction been like?

Shannon Posniewski:

It’s only been going for a few hours now, but it’s going well, we switched over the servers, there were a couple of hiccups there with our network configurations, but as soon as we fixed that everything’s been running really well. We have a lot of people who are currently playing, the number is easily already many times the number of people we’d normally have playing this time of day and so it’s going really great.

Players seem pretty interested in it. We’re getting a mix of people who have previously subscribed and have come back to see what it’s like and also people who are saying, “Hey! It’s free, I’m going to give it a shot.” But it’s still a bit early for much feedback.


Can you give us a break down of how the new arrangement works? What will free players have access to?

Shannon Posniewski:

So the difference between free players and subscribers, what we call Silver players and Gold members is that Gold members have access to all of the powers and they can choose them any way they want. They can choose whatever powers they want more or less in whatever order they want. Whereas a non-subscriber, a Silver player, they need to choose an archetype, which is sort of like a class from other games, where the general progression is set for them in advance. There’s other things they can choose, they get a couple power choices in there, and the also get a choice of travel power, also what we call Advantages, which are, basically, take a power and you add special things to it, and you get to choose sort what those special things are, those are called Advantages. They get to choose all that stuff, they just don’t get the free-form ability to create any hero they want, instead they have to stick to an archetype.

Other than that, everything is practically shared. All the core content of the game at all levels is available to free, you can level up your character all the way to top level and probably have a, it’s not like it’s really hard or anything, it’s not like we put up road blocks or anything for Silver players, you can level up and play for free. There are no roadblocks there at all.

What went into the decision to go the hybrid free-to-play/subscription model with Champions Online? Why did you feel this set up was right for the game?

Shannon Posniewski:

Well, I think, well obviously the game used to be a subscription game. Back when we were first developing it and when we launched it, it seemed like North American players especially weren’t really interested in playing and paying onesie twosie nickel-and-dimey sort of stuff. Instead they seemed to like an all-you-can-eat plan, and so that’s the way subscriptions went. That’s why we did subscriptions, but since then there’s been a huge change in player perception of the value proposition of subscription games and also their willingness to pay for stuff that is one at a time as they play, as opposed to getting it all for free, or seemingly for free, as just part of the included price. So that was a huge change, but there’s still a bunch of people out there who like the subscription.

In terms of business, we like subscriptions, businesses like subscriptions because it’s a very predictable amount of money that comes in, whereas when people buy things when they want them it’s a lot less predictable. So, we like subscriptions, but on the other hand we know that our players, or a good number of our players like microtransactions, so that’s why we basically went to a hybrid model. We and some people like subscriptions, and players sometimes like subscriptions, sometimes like microtransactions, so we give them the option of both.

How has Champions Online grown and changed since launch? Why should gamers who have played it in the past give it another look now that it is F2P?

Shannon Posniewski:

Over the last year we’ve made an enormous amount of changes to the game itself. It’s still an action based superhero game, rock-‘em sock-‘em sort of action, so that didn’t change, so if you were hoping for that, that’s not gonna happen. But it’s still a superhero game, what’s different is we’ve gone through a lot of the powers in the game and we’ve cleaned them up a lot, we’ve made a huge number of improvements just the way the balance and the way the different powers work. Which is very hard in a game that has effectively a free-form choice, you can do whatever you want, it’s very hard to balance that. So, we’ve made a lot of improvements there.

Our content, we’ve expanded our content significantly since our launch, we have a couple new, we have one gigantic new zone called Vibora Bay, we also have Adventure Packs that we’ve added, and we’ve also gone through many of the zones and we’ve added more side content and stuff like that. For free-to-play specifically, we’ve changed the first 20 or so levels of the game, where we’ve changed the basic storyline in the beginning of the game. Now you can directly enter Millennium City with all the other heroes right after the tutorial, before you used to go out to the desert and so you didn’t necessarily see as many people in the game. But we’ve decided to centralize a lot of our social stuff right in what’s called Renaissance Center in Millennium City and players go there right away. So we’ve revamped a bunch of story there as well. Obviously, we’ve had a year of updates, we did updates every, major updates every two to three-ish months, and there’s been a lot of stuff out there.

How do you feel about the status of the subscription-based model as it stands today?

Shannon Posniewski:

I think that at least for our games, and I think for massively multiplayer games in general, I think that players are very willing to spend money on micro transactions, and, enough so that games can actually support themselves; I think we can see that. So, I don’t think it’s dead by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t imagine launching an MMO today without having some kind of microtransaction based model attached to it. Honestly, unless you, the free to play option is really attractive because, for businesses, because the barrier to entry to play is extremely low, there is no barrier to entry, except for the download time, and so the chance that someone might play the game, even for a short time, and buy even one thing, is a lot better than if you have to pay 50 or 60 bucks for the game or something like that, and then maybe they’ll buy something after that.

The barrier to entry is low and so the classic statement is well you make it up in volume. So, you get a lot of people playing, not all of them have to spend a lot in order for you to make good numbers. So, in any case, from the business side, subscriptions are great to have, like I mentioned before, because they are very predictable. So, I think that the hybrid model, which a lot of North American games are doing now, really is a strong model.

What differences, if any, are there in running a fully subscription based MMO vs. a hybrid F2P/subscription MMO?

Shannon Posniewski:

What’s the difference, well there’s a, a hybrid means you have a lot more, in general, your playerbase just increases, it’s huge in comparison, compared to one where people have to pay ahead of time in order to get in there and subscribe, and so when it’s free-to-play, because the barrier to entry is very low, many many people are going to at least try it out. And because of that, that means you have to make sure that your servers are scalable and can handle spikes of people in addition to your online community relations and your customer support people have to be able to handle a larger number of tickets potentially, and dealing with people who perhaps not necessarily the nicest citizens in this particular community, if you know what I mean, and so there is a little bit of that that has to be dealt with as well.

Other than that though, in terms of how the game is constructed, and how the game updates and content stuff like that, it’s all basically the same. I guess one extra thing that we do now is instead of bundling a lot of stuff and making a big update every three months, like most pure subscriptions do, we’ll probably trickle things out rather continuously so people see stuff that’s new all the time in the store.

Is a free-to-play/subscription setup in the cards for your other properties such as Star Trek Online, or even future or in-development projects at Cryptic Studios?

Shannon Posniewski:

We’ll certainly look at it. I mean there’s a tradeoff between subscribing and free-to-play, and so we’ll be looking at it, and obviously we’ll look at how Champs fares with this hybrid model and we’ll go from there.

Finally, what lies ahead for the future of Champions Online? What can players expect to see in the coming months?

Shannon Posniewski:

So, I can tell you in the next couple of months what we’re going to be doing. There’s a brand new power framework, so a brand new set of powers, 14 or so powers, we’ll turn that into an Archetype. We have new Archetypes coming down the pipe; each one of them is a little bit special and plays different. We have two different costume sets that are being worked on right now that are pretty cool and will really expand some areas of costuming that we actually don’t have right now. And we’re working on another Adventure Pack called Resistance, which is a three to four hour chunk of content with special stories, zones, and all that stuff, bad guys, loot, that we’re working on as well. And all that’s coming in the next few months.

After that, like I said, we’re trying to get to a cadence, where once a month you’re going to see a costume set or two, you’re gonna see two Archetypes every month, and along those lines. And content updates will be longer spaced updates, every three months, like they typically are. So, that’s what we’re working on in the short term.

I know I said it’d be the last question, but they’ll kill me if I don’t ask. Can you say what the new power framework is?

Shannon Posniewski:

Let me think…Can I? Yeah! I think so. It’s currently being called the Heavy Weapon Framework, and it is a single-handed large weapon attacks, so sort of great big anime sword sort of thing, or great big hammer or axe sort of thing. It is big heavy weapons, and there is an archetype called a Devastator that will go with that.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined as the site's Community Manager.
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