Home > MMORPG, Opinion > But Don’t Worry, It’s Free!

But Don’t Worry, It’s Free!

Champions Online Lite

But It's Free!

In just about a week yet another Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) will be taking the plunge into the risky but profitable waters of Free-to-Play. It’ll be offering up a feast to those people starved by the fairly heavy fantasy offerings that flood the still rather untapped market. It’ll be striking a blow to both City of Heroes/Villains, the current top of the heap in Superhero MMORPG’s and newcomer DCUO which just came out. Not to mention with the C-Store system they already had in place before deciding to take this plunge, they should have little issue making themselves a niche out of a good item shop to sustain themselves.

Of course, to do it, they’ll take out all of the front-end customization of your heroes that let you be something more than a Shadow style gunslinger, or a Superman style brawler, or a Zatanna style Magician. They’ll be limiting what travels powers you can take to really make your hero who you want him to be. They’ll even take away the simple ability to change the Hue of your powers to better match your concept. Basically they’ll take away everything that made Champions Online interesting beyond the Costume Editor, which CoX has more options on, and the Combat System, which by all reports DCUO has refined down to an artform.

But don’t worry, It’s free!

That’s the excuse you’ll hear pretty much every time someone brings up criticism of the Free-to-Play model that Cryptic has decided to use. Just a brief perusal of the forums will leave one buried in examples of just that. It’s become almost a motto for the current subscribers who see the move to Free-to-Play as something altogether different than what the term has come to mean. The problem is it seems Cryptic is right there with them. They see Free-to-Play not as a way of selling things via the Item Store, though they’ll have one, but as a way to sell subscriptions to their product. They see Free-to-Play as a taster of what you’ll get with the real game and a chance to dabble in some of it in the hope you’ll want more.

They see Free-to-Play as a Demo.

Funny enough, Champions Online already had a demo, and they already had a subscription service. It’s almost brazen that their big desperation plan in order to deal with declining numbers and disinterested players was to stop everything, turn it around, and do the same thing they were doing! All they’ve done is extended the Demo out to the whole game, while in turn removing what makes Champions Online interesting. Make no mistake by the way, they do consider it important; so does everyone who decries the complaints with ‘But it’s free!’

The ability to really customize your character, to turn it from the same as everyone else into something you yourself designed is what Cryptic considers the core of their product. As such, that’s what they’re keeping away from those freeloaders on the bottom. It’s the bait to get people to pay a subscription, or better yet get a Lifetime Subscription to the game. The problem remains the same though. That’s what we call a demo. You’re not offering your game free to play, because your game isn’t the story, it isn’t the quests, it’s that silly thing you’ve decided to lock away for people who give you money.

I’m not even bothered by that, you have the choice to make money however you need to. You cannot, however, expect it to work out better the second time around just because you’re calling your Demo “Free-to-Play”. It’s still a demo, for a product that wasn’t selling all that well. I know it’s hard to take risks, and due to the trouble you set yourself up for selling Lifetime Subscriptions it’s hard to really find a way to do this properly. That subscription plan is going to gimp the item shop more than anything else as well.

They’re never going to offer customizable characters as something you can buy once from the item store. They can’t. The moment they do that they’ve screwed over their lifetimers and unhooked the bait from the hook. I sympathize, but that bait’s been there since their game went live just over a year ago. It hasn’t been working so far, and it’s grown a tad moldy in light of the new spiffy baits of DCOU and CoX’s Going Rogue. Risks need to be taken.

Sometimes there’s no point taking risks: WoW doesn’t need to take risks, but they also have the weight to do so with little issue. CoX doesn’t need to take risks, they have the market fairly under lock and key for their genre. DCOU doesn’t need to take risks, they’re still new and have a powerful brand beside them. Champions Online however needed to take risks. They needed to change their business model away from subscriptions and towards something that would get more people to spend money.

I’m not going to say that Champions Online screwed up, or that this won’t work out for them. If it does however, it’ll work out in spite of them. They’ve taken the gun that companies like Turbine and Frogster gave them, turned it around, and shot themselves. Very few people wanted to buy your product over the ones already out there, a glorified demo won’t change that, a gimped Item Shop won’t change that. You needed to pull people in who wanted to play your game and maybe splurge occasionally versus people who wanted to subscribe, because they already are subscribed.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m biased. I’ve also however seen a lot of amazing Free-to-Play MMO’s and this isn’t one of them. This is a Demo, and it’s an incomplete one. You’ll actually be made to buy extra Archetypes from the store just to be able to play the gimped version beyond the default. That’s not just cheap, that’s extortion. I liked Champions Online when I got to play it. I sure as hell don’t like this.

But Don’t Worry, It’s Free.

Categories: MMORPG, Opinion
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