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The Story of the Week

Jon Wood Posted:
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It’s been a full week in the world of MMORPGs, at least in terms of news. Two new games hit the market in the form of Gazillion’s Lego Universe and Nexon America’s Vindictus. There are also all manner of Halloween themed happenings and announcements, not to mention continued buzz surrounding the revelation that Hi-Rex Studios is making a Tribes MMOFPS.

Still though, in taking it all into consideration, I think it has to be said that the week’s biggest story was the one coming out of Cryptic Studios. Specifically that the company’s second super hero title, Champions Online, will be joining the ranks of games that launched with a subscription fee and later transferred to a F2P item-shop based revenue model.

In case you’ve been living under some kind of rock for the last week, the actual news in question is as such:

”Atari and Champions Online developer, Cryptic Studios, have announced that the game will become a free to play title beginning in Q1 2011. Premium content and adventure packs will be available in the CStore for additional purchase. Current subscribers will be called 'gold members' and regular monthly subscriptions will be available to new players for $14.99 per month. Gold members will receive all content at no cost. Free players, or silver members, will be required to pay for things on an individual basis.”

The system itself is at least vaguely reminiscent of what has become known around the industry as the “Turbine Model”, offering a continued “subscription service”, this time around known as Gold membership alongside a more familiar F2P item shop style model.

All-in-all, I think that this is a good move on Cryptic’s part. At the very least, it should entice a large number of people who may not have otherwise given this game a second look to pick it up and give it a try.

One of the biggest banes of subscription style games is, and will continue to be in the future, the perception that their game worlds are dead and bereft of players. Offering a F2P standard allows games to fill up their streets. At worst, in this scenario, non-playing players are a nice backdrop for the players that ARE giving the company money. It’s a win-win situation.

Champions Online has the added benefit (in this scenario) of being a game that had a less than stellar launch and has since garnered a less than stellar reputation among the P2P MMOs. Recent history has indicated that this might actually be a boon for a game that is under performing.

Dungeons and Dragons Online, arguably the pioneer in moving from a subscription model to a F2P model, was in the same situation. The game’s detractors were many, players complained of empty feeling worlds, and it was widely accepted among players and industry insiders that the game had utterly failed to meet the expectations of both company and community.

Moving into the F2P realm was a rebirth for the game that is now generally fairly highly regarded in the MMO community and is a game that the company involved never misses an opportunity to talk about.

Will Champions Online enjoy the same kind of success? It really depends on a number of factors:

  • Will the items in the shop be reasonably priced
  • Will the items available in the shop be benign enough that competition in the game remains in the realm of the game and not in player pocketbooks
  • Does the game offer enough to players for free before asking them to pay?
  • Is the game accessible to players who might not be regulars in the MMO space?

And probably most importantly

  • Has the game improved enough since launch that returning players might be inclined to re-think their first impressions?

Time will tell as the game gets set to move to the new model in Q1 2011.


Jon Wood