Super hero MMORPG Champions Online hasn’t done the kind of business that Cryptic expected it to. Despite its incredibly deep character creation suite, players have complained about the game’s grind-heavy structure, repetitive gameplay, and overall lack of depth, and as a result, subscription rates have never approached Cryptic’s expectations. So what does a publisher do when their MMO is struggling to attract players? Make it free to play, of course.
In a press release today, Cryptic has announced that Champions Online will adopt a free-to-play model in the first quarter of 2011. The new pricing model will allow players to play as much as they want at no cost, with the option to become a “Gold” member for $14.99 a month. Gold members will have access to “most of the game's content and … extra features.” Existing subscriptions can be rolled over into new Gold memberships. Players who choose to remain Silver members will still be able to experience most of the game’s content, and have the option to “pay for certain a la carte premium upgrades and services that Gold players can access.
John Needham, CEO of Cryptic Studios, explained the change; "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.” He added, "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."
For me, Champions never quite scratched that superhero “itch” the way City of Heroes did, and I abandoned the game pretty quickly. This new pricing model is enough incentive to try it out again, and see if there’s something there that I missed the first time around. The transition to “free-to-play” has saved other struggling MMOs like D&D Online and Lord of the Rings Online, so hopefully the removal of monthly fees will help CO, as well.