Champions Online Going Free-To-Play In 2011

By John Walker on October 26th, 2010 at 2:21 pm.

She's burning prices!!!!!!!!

Champions: Online, the spiritual successor to City Of Heroes, has announced that it will move to a free-to-play model from the first quarter of 2011. This also involves a new closed beta test that starts on the 9th November, mostly aimed at current players, with a possibility of outsiders being let in too. There’s more super-details underneath the sentence I’m super-typing right super-now.

It’s a sign of the times, really. Subscription models are working for very, very few games, and the somewhat disappointing Champions seemed unlikely to draw in Blizzard-sized crowds to keep it going. So next year’s relaunch, joining other major MMOs like Lord Of The Rings Online in making the switch, is presumably intended to breathe new life into the project.

There will be non-essential “additional premium content” to buy, alongside being able to play for free, forever. So you’ll be able to purchase all manner of bits and bobs from Cryptic’s in-game C-Store. They say you’ll also be able to continue subscribing for a Gold Status, which will unlock “most of the game’s content and include extra features.”

There’s also a new feature being added: archetypes. Thus:

“With the Free-to-Play launch, Champions Online is adding a new way to define your hero: Archetypes. These hand-designed character progressions are built to be simple but exciting. They’re based on the superheroes you know from comics. They make it fast and easy to get in and play Champions Online. When you play a Archetype, you don’t choose which abilities you acquire over time; instead, you advance similarly to class-based RPGs. Of course, all players will still retain full control over how their character looks using our costume editor. Players interested in complete control of their character can opt to create a custom class. Doing so gives players access to the same unparalleled character customization available in Champions Online today. Custom classes are available only to Gold Members.”

Cryptic’s CEO, John Needham, put on his best press release tone of voice and uttered,

“Transitioning Champions Online to the free-to-play model is a great opportunity to reach a whole new audience of PC gamers that view subscription fees as a barrier to entry. By taking care of our current subscription-based community and welcoming the addition of new players through free-to-play, Champions Online is poised to build upon its success and to establish a new leadership position as the first free-to-play superhero MMO.”

It’s being done for the greater good! That’s the superhero way. There’s an FAQ that answers most questions current players may have about the change.

There’s no word yet about Star Trek Online, but my suspicion is that it will see a similar change soon.

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55 Comments »

  1. W Main says:

    Yay! Champions Online was good fun and i’m glad to see it move to F2P. Hopefully STO may go that way as well soon enough.

  2. Hesp says:

    i’m curious what they will do for people who bought the game, i got it on release and stopped playing after a few months but for others to be able to just DL and play for free is a bit of a kick in the teeth to those who invested

    • Mortis says:

      More curious about those lifetime subscriptions. They’ll probably get a free Dr. Destroyer “action figure” and an exclusive cape. Wouldn’t go back to this if it were a get-paid-to-play model, myself.

    • drewski says:

      I don’t understand this logic, to be honest. Whether the game is or isn’t worth the money you’ve spent on it shouldn’t be affected by what people much later in the game buying/playing process pay. (Or don’t pay.)

    • hesp says:

      well, feel imagine someone charged you money for a pizza, it was worth it ( barely) but then t hey started giving everyone who wanted it, pizza for free.

      wouldn’t that slightly annoy you? you paid good money for something that others got for free, and for supporting the company that makes that pizza, you got no recognition, and are as good to them as the people they are giving the free pizza :p

    • Al Ewing says:

      Not really – seems more like cheese and tomato is free, but extra toppings will cost you. If this extends the game’s lifetime, I’m down with it – it’s been improving steadily since launch.

    • Urthman says:

      You must have serious head-explodage every time Steam has a sale.

      “GTA4 for SEVEN DOLLARS?! I paid FIFTY DOLLARS for that game! HOW DARE THEY!”

  3. kai says:

    Awesome! I wanted to play it on release, but the lack of funds successfully made me forget about it. I hope they make most of the customization free, as a lack of parts available for free would be really bad.

  4. President Weasel says:

    Champions Online was shallower than Katie Price. Shallower than the gene pool in Norfolk. Shallower than these god awful jokes, and less entertaining too.
    It married an excellent character generator to some extremely generic content, (generically generated with the special generic generator engine that Cryptic boasted would massively cut the time and expense needed to make an MMO – and you could see where every minute and every dollar hadn’t gone).
    There just wasn’t enough “there” there to hold people’s attention – it’s fairly obvious they try to make their money on box sales rather than long term subscriptions, then squeeze some more on upfront lifetime subscriptions before people realise they probably won’t be playing in 3 months let alone a year.
    Even while it was subscription-based and before it was really finished they were trying to milk a little money from the players for premium content.

    Still, it was an excellent character generator, I’ll give them that.

    Bah at you, Cryptic. Bah I say.

    • adonf says:

      “you could see where every minute and every dollar hadn’t gone”

      I think a lot of time and money when to behind-the-scene stuff, like programming a new Database engine that was more fitted to MMOs than Oracle or Mysql. I saw a presentation about this at GDC 07 or 08 and I was rather impressed. Well I was impressed mostly because DBs bore me to death, so it seemed like an impossible task ! I don’t know how well that went or if they ended up using it in Champions, though. But still, big development tasks that don’t appear on-screen.

  5. noobnob says:

    Guess the korean MMOs really forced the competition to change in the past few years. “Easy to get into and easy to ditch” seems to be the only way to get people to play MMOs.

  6. Simon says:

    I played the beta of Champions Online, it was entertaining enough, but not really enough there to properly drag me in. I didn’t bother to buy it when it came out.

    And I’m with Mortis above. What about the folks who paid some stupid amount up-front for a lifetime subscription?

    • Mortis says:

      Having thought about it I’m sure they now have lifetime “gold membership” or whatever Cryptic is doing, so no net change for them.

      Game’s still hot garbage. I’m sure teleport is still the “get out of jail free” card for pvp, psionic blades are the “I win” card, and 100% of the (tiny amount of) PVE content can be soloed with the block button and the mines power out of munitions.

    • Simon says:

      Yeah, the horrible lack of content was a glaring factor in the beta and even after launch. I recall reading something saying that if you did every quest in the game, you still wouldn’t be at the level cap- so good luck having fun leveling up an alt. Did they ever fix that?

    • President Weasel says:

      actually, while I am generally down on Cryptic, if the move to free to play keeps the servers running, but those with lifetime subs get to keep playing their characters and those with free to play accounts get less fancy stuff, then that actually sounds like the best outcome for the lifetime subscribers.

      Better than “screw it, we’re shutting the servers. thank you and goodnight”, anyway.

    • Chris says:

      Do wha? I’m wondering what game they were playing with–I had, if anything, the *opposite* problem–I hit the level cap and hadn’t touched two of the major locations in the game yet. I’m wishing they’d up the cap to 50 or something.

  7. Daave says:

    Any word on LOTRO being free in Europeland?

    • YogSo says:

      @Daave: European F2P LOTRO is coming soon. You can register here for the Preview Event and will receive 500 (Codemasters?) free Points when the service goes live (enough for buying the Basic Riding Skill and the first Quest Pack -the Lone-Lands- when it goes on sale*).

      *If Codemasters follows Turbine example, they will put a 20% off sale on this Quest Pack soon after launch.

  8. Mike says:

    Huzzah. This is the way forward, I feel.

  9. Premium User Badge Dolphan says:

    Fingers crossed for STO, which I’d really like to give a go but can’t really justify paying for.

  10. jonfitt says:

    Hooray also! Another western MMO going f2p.

    I am resolved never to pay a monthly fee for a game, as I don’t want to feel guilty for playing other games.
    So far the only MMOs I have played outside of an Auto Assault beta are Guild Wars, and now LOTRO.

    I’m quite enjoying LOTRO, and if Champions is any good I might give that a go too.

    I wonder when I’ll get to play Old Republic f2p?

  11. DK says:

    I love how they’re trying to sell restricting the main draw of the game for non-paying customers (make your own hero) as a feature (Archetypes! hurray?!).

    The best thing is people won’t be able to play their already made characters if they ever stop paying.

    • jonfitt says:

      Oh, I read that more closelier.

      No thanks Cryptic. I’m not interested in being locked into a pre-done character. The whole appeal of that game was the character design.

      Oh well. Next.

  12. Dominic White says:

    Hahaha. In the last Champions thread, I said that I’d be far happier if the game went free-to-play, but sold more exotic costume/power-packs. I got shouted down by a bunch of angry people for it.

    This is a seriously good move. The game has so many elements that COULD be optional and sold to people who want to play dress-up, but making the core gameplay available to anyone who wants to play superhero is a great idea.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      What, seriously? This is probably the best move possible. Champions already had micro payments anyways. I can’t believe anyone other than trolls thought it going F2P was a bad idea!

  13. MKharris says:

    These moves to F2P make buying-in to a subscription game on launch look less and less appealing, especially anything like a lifetime subscription.
    The smart move nowdays for gamers is to be wait 18 months then get it free, with plenty of patches and fixes and extra content already in place.
    Given this, plus the range of higher-quality F2P games now available, the space for new MMO to come in with subscription-based model is rapidly dwindling; if not already dead.

    From our point of view it’s great to have all these new toys to dip into and try.
    Although dissapointing that only gold members will be able to customise class and pick skills as they level. Everyone else will have to stick with an archtype.

    • jonfitt says:

      I’d argue that the space for new MMO to come in with subscription-based model has in reality been dead for some time.
      Some new MMOs have interpreted the twitching of the flogged dead horse as life, but it is not.

    • Dominic White says:

      Subscriptions provide a huge initial barrier to entry. You have to buy the game (either in a store or online), THEN prove that you’re a potential subscribe with a credit card, even if you haven’t decided whether you’re going to subscribe or not. Then it relies on sunk cost fallacy in order to keep people going – if you’ve spent $150+ on a game in a year, you’re going to be hesitant to lose it all.

      That’s a whole lot of obstacles between someone just picking up and playing something. The F2P model just makes the whole thing that much more accessible to both get into, and get out once you’re done. It’s why there’s a range of F2P publishers who have a ‘stable’ of games, and any unspent credit on one can be used in another. It’s good business, so long as you’re not charging extortionate amounts for particularly useful items.

  14. Delusibeta says:

    I’m off to the Champions Online forums to see how many times “DOOOOOOOM!” has been posted by City of Heroes players

    • Choca says:

      Yeah there’s a good chance the forums will be far more entertaining than the game in the next few weeks :D

  15. Quests says:

    Alright, so these games are going F2P.

    Now comes the next step payment model, payMe2play.

    And then i MIGHT consider wasting time playing these WoWs with different looking tings.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      That’s a shame because it wasn’t another Warhammer or Age of Conan. It actually was different enough. I mean for one thing, you can fight while flying.

  16. pissant says:

    day follows night, another MMO dies.

    • Dominic White says:

      Dies? You are aware that Lord of The Rings Online doubled revenues and quadrupled player-numbers in just a couple of weeks after going F2P, right?

    • pissant says:

      according to whom? Their publisher? Latest graph on mmodata.net show it still in decline. Even if it’s true, the exception doesn’t prove the rule. A MMOG going free to play may as well be an ad saying ‘don’t play me. I’m shit and dying’.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yes, graphs on MMOData really contradict companies having healthy financials because of F2P models.

      And it’s really not an exception anymore.

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      Kinda tricky to tell from their graph, but I think the last LotRO datapoint on MMOData actually predates the transition to free-to-play.

    • geldonyetich says:

      According to this entry on MMOData, DDO showed a remarkable improvement after going F2P and they expect LOTRO to follow suit, so I’d say that’s not contradicting what the publisher/developer says at all. Nor should it, considering MMOData’s information likely comes from combing media sources that likely received from the publisher/developer.

      I’m glad to hear Champions Online is going F2P. I don’t hate the game, but I never really felt it was particularly worthy of subscription — all games as heavily instanced as Champions Online is should be F2P right out of the box. Especially when they’re already charging micropayments along with subscription price! I look forward to it and hope this turns out to be a good move for Cryptic Studios.

    • Shadram says:

      Apparently, since its switch to F2P, DDO is now the third most-played MMO in the US (after WoW and Runescape), according to a post on Massively a couple of months back (and maybe here too, I forget). The switch saved an almost certainly doomed game and gave it a new life, and it’s since seen 7 content updates. It was dying before, it definitely isn’t now.

  17. Javier-de-Ass says:

    why are the ads plastered all over the site here now for a console only game?

    • Man Raised By Puffins says:

      Because a not insignificant proportion of the RPS readership also like to fiddle with their console-toys.

    • Nick says:

      Because Eurogamer runs their ads or something and they like to keep their website afloat.

  18. Miguelese says:

    F2P or subs model isn’t really the issue for me. Apart from being able to try them out for a day or two without a commitment, although subs only MMos usually have a “free period” to do this anyway. The issue is the investment of time rather than cash whereby to get something remotely rewarding from the game you need to put in 25 gazillion hours. Is there an MMO which uses a F2P model and is rewarding enough from the get-go to intice you to make miro payments or even subscribe? If there is, was it designed with that in mind or was it pure luck?

  19. Temple to Tei says:

    City of Heroes is the spiritual successor to City of Heroes!
    Or something.
    Be kind to those of us who only just discovered it.
    Woo hoo it runs on my laptop. I’ll play it. In fact I am. Right now -as soon as I close my browser. And stop typing.

  20. Grey_Ghost says:

    So the F2P players will only be able to play predefined power sets unless they fully subscribe. Color me unimpressed.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s almost as if the game still has a business model, rather than going completely freeware.

      Seriously, what do you expect?

    • malkav11 says:

      The ability to purchase everything a la carte. Work out prices that work for them, fine, make subscription still a reasonable value, fine, but subscribers should not have features that are completely unavailable to free2play players. It should be a simple split in how people prefer to pay for their gameplay – buying bits at a time or renting the whole package.

      Generally speaking, I think Turbine’s model of primarily charging for game content (quest packs and dungeons and such), with a few restrictions that you can pay to remove, is what I’d consider the ideal of the free2play plans I’ve seen. And I really, -really- prefer their model of letting you keep subscriber features on characters post-subscription, instead of disabling the characters entirely or forcing you to “convert” them (which presumably a) strips that subscriber content out and b) means you don’t get it back even if you subscribe again).

  21. RakeShark says:

    The funniest part about the announcement:

    “New Descriptions – We’ve added tech and rewritten all of the power descriptions so that they are accurate and understandable. Tooltips should be more succinct while at the same time being clear and complete.”

    Pottery is a “tech”, nanomachines are a “tech”, hell even mysticism is a “tech” (accorinding to the Civ games at least).

    Proofreading is NOT a “tech”.

    • RakeShark says:

      In all seriousness though, Champions Online suffered/is suffering from a severe lack of time-eating content. At launch, you could plow through everything the game had to offer within a month at a casual pace. Usually such speed is reserved for insane anti-social powergamers who just want to max out because they can, but CO had people maxing out in a matter of days. While the set piece missions were clever and often well done, there wasn’t nearly enough of them, and there wasn’t anything to distract a player from cruising through game in a linear fashion.

      This is why I’m worried about Cryptic’s next project, where they’ve flat out said it’ll have even less content and instead rely on the goodwill of its user base to come up with the content for them. NEVER EVER rely on the goodwill of your customers, because as much as they praise you, they’ll stab you in back the moment you don’t deliver what they want, which is always the intangible “more”.

  22. `Miranda says:

    The subscription I didn’t mind. I could just never get past the retcon in the cash shop. I was always so paranoid about unwittingly screwing up my character and having to pay dearly for it. I’ll give the free version a try – it’s no big deal to have a gimp character when it’s free =)

  23. Torgen says:

    I tried the free trial for CO about a year ago, and had to force myself to even finish the tutorial, it was so grindy. Of course the free trial ENDED at the tutorial, so I got a hearty “FU, lolz” for my definitely un-enjoyable grind to see what the “real” game was like.

    I’d pay for City of Heroes before I’d play CO for free, and if I didn’t want to pay to play a MMO, I’d play LOTR or DDO before I’d play CO.

    Captcha: “MYTE”!
    How appropriate. ;)

  24. Danarchist says:

    Just in case no one above has said it yet:

    “Still overpriced at free”

  25. Tei says:

    /boombox

    wait.. wrong game, CO don’t have /boombox D:

  26. Casino Champ says:

    I’m currently playing the Online Demo which is really cool. My champion’s name is Casino Champ and he is the gambling champion of millenium city. I can’t wait for the free-to-play release so I can take out my champion out of the invasion part of millenium city.