Pete Davison: Championing the Free to Play Model

Posted on June 20, 2011 by


I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to give some of Steam’s free to play games a try, and mentioned I might investigate APB Reloaded and World of Tanks. I have played a tiny bit of APB (it’s quite fun, if nigh-on-incomprehensible to begin with) but haven’t touched World of Tanks yet. I also continue to enjoy Spiral Knights, although with the game’s lack of quest structure and progression system tied to your equipment rather than your character I’m not entirely sure what the “point” is — but it’s fun, regardless.

Instead, though, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time playing Champions Online, akaCity of Heroes 2. This is one of a growing number of MMORPGs that used to be full-price products with subscription fees, but which have adopted the free to play model as a means of drawing in more customers and potentially earn more money via microtransactions.

Champions Online takes an interesting approach in that you can still pay a subscription fee for a “Gold” membership if you prefer, and that keeps the game pretty much in its original form — you get free access to all new content, are able to play a hero with your own completely customised set of powers and have a bit more flexibility in terms of how much currency you can own and the like. Free “Silver” members, on the other hand, are limited to selecting preset archetypes for their heroes and have to pay for episodic “adventure packs” — story-heavy instanced missions that offer experiences a little different from the regular world-and-instance-based PvE that the main game offers. Regular promotions allow Silver members to get access to some things for free for a limited period, and players can always buy individual things via microtransaction if they don’t want to pony up for a full-on subscription every month.

The way this is implemented is incredibly smart. The fact that Silver players are limited to preset archetypes which are nigh-on-impossible to fuck up while Gold members actually have to plan out their builds in advance means that people are less likely to get themselves into a situation where it’s impossible to proceed due to some unfortunate decisions 20 levels ago. It also allows players to effectively try out the various combinations of powers with characters that actually work properly — and have a lot of fun in the process. I’m playing a “Soldier” character right now and she doesn’t feel gimped at all — she feels like a preset character class in a traditional action RPG. There’s just enough level of choice to allow me to customise her a little bit without daunting me with complete freedom.

Champions Online falls into the usual traps that MMOs do — the interface is a bit clunky, the animations in cutscenes are either laughable or non-existent and aforementioned cutscenes have been put together by someone who doesn’t know what “directing” or “cinematography” is. But that doesn’t stop it being fun — and definitely higher quality than some of the crap that has been released under the free to play banner in the past. Quality of these games is definitely increasing, and I foresee that Champions Online will hold my attention for quite a while yet. So if you’re a player, do join me! Look for “Lap Cat@AngryJedi” or just add me on Steam to see when I’m playing. Feel free to give me a shout and we can team up.

Posted in: Pete Davison