City of F2P

I just saw the news via PC Gamer that City of Heroes is going free-to-play. I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m sure that NCSoft and Paragon Studios have been looking for ways to renew interest in the game and saw Champions Online’s renewed success. I’m just glad that NCSoft didn’t shutdown the game as they’ve never been shy about that before, although admittedly for much younger games.

Free or not, I’m not planning on going to go back to the game. Just like with Age of Conan, the subscription isn’t what keeps me from playing. It’s time.

Unlike Conan though, I do like the Paragon City setting and lore. I played back when a comic came in the mail every month and I enjoyed the two books that were released. But the lore doesn’t offset the aging character models and combat system. I prefer the combat pacing and mechanics better in Champions Online, as well as the open power system and newer graphics. The only reasons I’ve gone back to CoH in recent months have been for nostalgia during free reactivation weekends.

The F2P plan itself is a pretty standard hybrid subscription model with an in-game store, VIP members getting point stipends monthly, and separate tiers for free players, those who’ve spent some money in the store and subscribers. The most interesting feature is that they are creating a VIP only server and giving VIPs one free transfer a month.

Hopefully the new model works just as well for Paragon Studios and NCSoft as it has for Cryptic and Turbine.

Champions Launched… Again

Yesterday was the big F2P relaunch for Champions. The patch notes are pretty extensive, which I think  highlights how much work Cryptic has done to improve the game both for existing subscribers as well as new free players. There were two surprises about the launch that I wanted to highlight, and you can see them both in the minimap image to the left.

First there were thirteen instances of Millennium City when I logged in last night. I’ve not seen more than two or three in a long time. I honestly wasn’t expecting such a large turnout for the launch, but I’m pretty excited to see such a large turnout. I’ll be very curious to see what the population looks like a week from now and then a month from now. How many people were old players just popping in to check things out like me? How many were former subscribers trying out the silver-level version of the game? How many were brand new players? I wasn’t paying much attention to the chat last night so I’m not too sure about any of the answers to those questions. Yet.

The second surprise was the new store icon. It’s the orange circle with the Atari logo on the bottom left of the minimap. Atari and Cryptic are dropping the idea of Cryptic Points in favor of Atari Points, apparently you can now buy Atari points which are good for more than just C-Store purchases. The Atari Points stipend that subscribers get though is locked to the Champions C-Store only. The original C-store button was just a menu item under the Champions C button (top left in the minimap) so the new store button is more visible. But I do like that it’s less conspicuous than the LotRO store button.

While it’s much much too soon to declare Champion’s F2P switch a success, I’m very surprised by the initial level of interest and pleased at how subtle the C-store integration has remained.

Champions Free-For-All Date Announced

Champions has announced their F2P update will launch on January 25th. With DCUO having just launched on the 11th, I’m very interested to see how many new players the F2P release brings in, how many stay, and how many upgrade to a subscription. I’m not expecting to see a doubling or tripling of revenues though like Turbine experienced with LotRO.

I’m a little more excited about this than I thought I would be. Not much changes for me since I have a lifetime subscription, I’ll still have access to everything I did before, but now I’ll also have a stipend of 400 Cryptic Points a month. I’m very curious to see if I can use those points in the STO-side store as well as the Champs-side store.

Besides the points, the F2P launch also includes a substantial revamp of the 1-20 experience as well as a few new powers for each of the existing frameworks. I’m definitely going to roll a new hero to check out the changes.

I know a few people were upset that the free players wouldn’t have access to the fully customizable hero system, but since they are allowing full access to the content (with the exception of adventure packs) they had to do something to incentivise people to subscribe. Like Turbine’s games, Champions is not a true F2P game but a hybrid subscription model.

The more I’ve thought about it though, the more their plan makes sense to me. The open system for building a hero is great for experienced players, but can rapidly get confusing and not-fun for a new player. Things like passive and active defenses, energy forms, etc. are probably more than a new player wants to worry about right away.

LotRO F2P?!?

Turbine and Codemasters dropped a huge news bomb on the MMO community today by announcing that LotRO is going free to play on both the US and EU servers.

First reaction? I have to say I was disappointed. Going F2P makes it seem like the game was in trouble, which was a reaction I saw from several people on Twitter. Also, with the recent acquisition by Warner Brothers, was this really Turbine’s idea? Not that it makes any difference, I’m just curious.

After I read through what the free-to-play switch means for me as a founder and lifetime subscriber, my initial disappointment subsided partially. For me the game will not change much. I will still have access to all of the same features and content as before, and I still won’t be paying any money except for expansions. There will be a new button somewhere to launch the store, and I’m betting it will be up on the minimap near where the lorebook button is now. There will also be a new UI interface to show me how many Turbine Points I have somewhere assuming they’re handled like they are in DDO. Thank Eru that TP’s probably won’t take up bag space like Skirmish Marks. As far as getting Turbine Points in game? I’m ambivalent about having a message congratulating me on getting a TP reward, this seems like it is going just a hair’s breadth over the immersion line for me.

Beyond all of the game and financial mechanics, my major concern regarding the free-to-play switch is what impact this will have on the community. LotRO is well known for having some of the most mature and friendly player communities. I can personally vouch for Landroval. Even in the hub areas (like Bree and 21st Hall) the chat is wonderfully free of complaints, Chuck Norris jokes, and WoW comparisons. The user channel GLFF does get a bit woolly, but it’s not one tenth as bad as the infamous Barrens chat. So will we see an influx of bad apples in the fall? How much of a barrier was that $15 a month to keep all the bored level capped players in other games from rolling on a LotRO server just to try and stir things up?

There’s a discussion about this very topic on the forums today. Clover posted that it’s up to the existing players to keep the community feel by welcoming newcomers. That is partly true where a new player is actually interested in the game, but it ignores the type of player who is just there to grief people. With monsterplay restricted to subscribers only and fully-consensual, there’s no concern about spawn camps or ganking, but someone can still come over and grief in chat.

The community impacts are my biggest concern. Turbine has to be banking on a big influx of players, their current F2P policies aren’t going to yield any additional revenue from lifetime subscribers (soon to be lifetime VIPs). Actually they may lose some revenue there, since further expansions will be purchasable through the store with TPs. So if there’s nothing I’m interested in purchasing, I’ll be collecting 500 points a month waiting on an expansion to spend them on.

So, after having a few hours to educate myself and emotionally adjust to the announcements, the only thing that I’m upset about was this:

When does LOTRO F2P go live?

Free-to-Play will go live when Volume 3, Book 2 releases this fall.

No new content until this fall? When Book 1 came out I enjoyed the content but at the time I was expecting to see Book 2 within a few months, right around now actually. Now that I know there’s likely a six month gap? Book 1 feels pretty pitiful.