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.