Will Champions Champion The Free-to-Play Market?
Whenever a game that was once pay-to-play goes free-to-play, it usually means that the company is re-thinking their directives for success and aiming to turn the online game around so that it profits any which way that it can, while simultaneously milking gamers any which way that they can. Sometimes the free-to-play ventures work and other times they work really well. A number of big companies and big games have even converted from the pay-to-play model to the free-to-play model after witnessing the success of triple-A F2P games such as Allods Online or Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online.
Both Electronic Arts and Turbine even jumped on the free-to-play bandwagon, converting once popular pay-to-play premium games such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, into free-to-play titles, which instantly seen a huge surge in both player population and revenue. Nevertheless, EA and Turbine aren’t alone in the venture of converting a P2P online game into a F2P online game. Atari and Cryptic Games have actually announced that Champions Online will abandon the pay-to-play only model and yes, Champions Online is going free-to-play.
The Good and Bad About Free-to-Play
Some people might automatically assume that Champions Online going free-to-play brings with it lollypops and candy canes, as well as sparkling rainbows and glitter filling the sky. However, as cool as it is that a premium title such as Champions Online is heading into the free-to-play arena, there are a number of drawbacks that come along with it. And while some pay-to-play elements will stay in place, working alongside cash shop microtransactions, for the most part the game will be accessible to anyone who has a PC that meets the bare minimum requirements. Hence, here’s a few reasons why this transition will be both good and bad.
The Bad: Youth Revolution
Let’s not kid ourselves, the main reason why certain pay-to-play games have managed to stay in business for as long as they have isn’t necessarily inherent to their groundbreaking gameplay features so much as it has to do with the fact that most people who can afford to pay monthly for a game can also afford to construct legible sentences and make coherent decisions. In other words, you won’t find whiney 12 year olds on EVE Online or petulant teenagers running rampant in a game like Fallen Earth.
The same can be said for Champions Online…while a free trial is available for the game, the one thing you won’t find crowding up the servers are the same kind of folks you might find in a game like RAN Online, Lunia, Valkyrie Skies or FreeStyle Online. Once Champions heads into beta as a free-to-play action MMO, expect a lot of kiddies to start crowding the server one way or another, which is a headache and game deterrent in itself. This is especially considering that a lot of pubescent kids will want to re-create a bunch of Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hulk clones.
The Good: Wider Audience and Content Updates
There’s really no arguing that any game that goes free-to-play picks up a vast population of diverse players, often times breathing new life into a game that sometimes feels a little stiff, barren or crowded with players who are just trying to play long enough to get their money’s worth out of the product (i.e., City of Heroes, Fallen Earth, Entropia Universe, etc).
One good thing about the free-to-play arena is that given that most players are just there to hang out and have fun, the community is a little less in a rush to get places, creating a slightly more organic and richly populated playing environment. Let’s also not forego the obvious fact that free games receive more frequent content updates with seasonal themes, experience bonus events and the like, (mainly to the cash shop to keep the money flowing in) which is a good way to keep bringing in newer players, thus keeping the cycle active.
The Bad: Cash-Shop Missions Or Party
One thing about pay-to-play games is that there is often a large gap of leniency allowing the player to freely roam, quest and interact with other players on an almost leisurely basis (and they should). It’s also possible to get through most P2P MMOs single-handedly with a little bit of grinding, a tight playing style and the right gear. However, free-to-play games approach missions structures slightly differently, more-so getting players to focus on either using cash shop items to progress at a steady pace or having to party rather frequently, with the alternative being that you might die rather frequently. This kind of tactic plagues many F2P games, including Fly for Fun, Mabinogi, Gunz The Duel and even Atlus’ Neo Steam.
And no matter how hard they try, the free-to-play RPG always seems to fall victim to this fault and there’s a good chance that Champions Online will, too. In fact, I’m quite sure that just about every gamer out there who isn’t already paying for the game, can expect a similar juncture for Champions Online once it goes free-to-play, creating the incorrigible result of having to either team with a lot of unfriendly kiddies or paying to avoid them.
The Good: Specialty Items And Cash Shop Goodies
Most pay-to-play games don’t have cash shops, but when they do it’s usually to buy useless novelty items. Heck, why pay an extra $20 for something you’re already paying $12 a month just to play?
The logic changes greatly in the world of free-to-play games, however. It’s almost a requirement to purchase cash shop items to actually enjoy the game at its fullest, in regards to a free-to-play title. While some cash shop gear and items are worthless ways just to keep the masses playing, other cash shop items are actually quite unique and not only enhance the player experience but also adds a bit of depth to the character customization. Given that Champions Online will use both premium services and cash-shop microtransactions, it’ll be very interesting to see what sort of items, powers, or other goodies that will be available for purchase in the cash shop.
The Bad: Spammers
No idiot is going to go out of their way to pay $10 through $14 bucks every month just to tell people to go to a website to pay more money for game cash. Well, there are some idiots that do so but let’s face it, that’s why they’re idiots. While spammers might be scoffed at and ridiculed in a pay-to-play or premium title, they’re very well despised and absolutely hated in free-to-play games. Many spammers will even level up a character to get strong (or high) enough just so that they can get to the main town and spam the crap out of it.
Champions, undoubtedly, will be plagued with the same problem. New titles that were once pay-to-play and have become free-to-play like Uncharted Waters Online or Bounty Bay Online, have also encountered the same spammer infestation. The only way Champions could avoid this plague is automatically enable PvP flags if a player spams…once the flag is up, it’s open season on spammers.
The Good: Seriously, It’s Free-To-Play
There’s not much to say here other than one of the coolest superhero based, action MMORPGs will embrace the free-to-play model. Even if cash shop items are required just to deal out nominal damage, the fact that the doors will be open to any and all comers will not only provide the community with a bevy cache of new custom superheroes to fight against or alongside, but if it spells further success for the game then we could be seeing additional sequels or spin-offs that enhance or further delve into the concepts already established by Champions Online, and that’s definitely a good thing.