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Ton Hammer caught up with Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski on
the eve of the launch of style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online: Free
for All – the
free-to-play revamp of the Cryptic’s crimefighting MMOG.
Shannon delivers new details about archetypes, downgrading characters
from (or upgrading characters to) premium status, and reveals the name
and a few details about the next adventure pack!
Ton Hammer: style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online
is the only comic book MMORPG that has gone free-to-play. Is this an
attempt to differentiate style="font-style: italic;">CO
based on price, a convenient way to relaunch the game, or do you
genuinely believe that this is the best possible model for where you
want to take style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online?
Posniewski: I think
it’s the best model. Back when we first designed style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online,
which is years ago now, the market was a lot different. At least in
North America, people weren’t into being “nickeled
and dimed” through microtransactions. Since then,
there’s been a sea change maybe driven by Zynga or other
online games that have microtransactions. Given that, plus
the fact that these games existed in Asia for a long while, it allowed
people to say, ‘Hey, I’d just prefer to play for
free, and pay for the cool things as they come up.’
That’s been the change in the perceptions of players, so I
think it’s the right way for us to go. I think it’s
a good way for MMOs to go, because a good part of the value of MMOs
comes from the social interaction; the massively multiplayer
side of the game. Free-to-play brings lots of people into the game and
makes for richer gameplay.
Ton Hammer: In the last year
or so, other free-to-play ports around the MMOG market have met with
mixed success. What have you learned from other free-to-play efforts,
and what sets style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online: Free
For All apart?
we’ve looked at the various offerings that are out there, but
we had some of our own ideas as well. One major thing that we
weren’t planning on doing – and other games
confirmed this for us, which was great because otherwise
we’re out on a limb – is gated content. We
don’t make you pay $5 or $15 to get past level 15.
Ton Hammer: Archetypes are a
new and attractive choice for players who may not be comfortable with
freeform leveling. Along with players’ increased
comfort with microtransactions, do you view archetypes as another way
to meet mainstream players where they’re at?
a couple things in play here – there’s not just one
reason why we went to archetypes. For one, it’s easier
– when there’s a class – for players to
get a hold on… “ohhh, this guy’s
supposed to be a tank” or “ahhh, this
guy’s supposed to be a damage dealer.” Players of
other MMORPGs understand those classes and us providing those classes,
so us providing archetypes makes it easier for new players coming to style="font-style: italic;">Champions Online.
At the same time, we know that freeform leveling can be daunting, and
this works out well because we know all these archetypes are balanced
pretty well and are going to be fun to play. Another reason is that, on
the microtransaction side, we didn’t want to hold up any kind
of content for silver members, but we needed to hold back
something. That’s why we decided to monetize these,
basically, so we’re going to be selling new archetypes as
time goes on. A bunch of these reasons work together, so it felt like
the right way to go.
Ton Hammer: Could you talk
about the differences between “core” and
Posniewski: Sure. A special
archetype is one that you pay for. In style="font-style: italic;">League of Legends,
you pay for champions. The difference between the basic and the special
is that, as time goes on, the core archetypes will become really
obvious about what they are. We even specifically say that
they’re things like tanks, DPS, and so on. The special
archetypes might not fit in those slots quite as well and there might
be a little bit more nuance in playing them. On the other hand, we
might put out a new framework and put out a special archetype that will
for All players to play it.
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">We are currently working
on our next adventure pack. It’s called Resistance. Players
have really enjoyed the Adventure Packs so far, so we’ve
taken what we’ve learned so far to make our next one even
more interesting. One lesson we have learned is that, in the past, we
had players do some things that were perhaps not fun, but took some
time. We’re basically removing that."
Ton Hammer: Under the basic
archetypes, you’ve listed 3 Avengers, 2 Protectors, and 1
each of Sentinels, Guardian, and Brawler. Why the disparity in numbers
between different archetype and role offerings?
Posniewski: In MMOs, you can
say that there’s only three or four classes : a tank, Melee
DPS, Ranged DPS, and Support / Healer. We already have more than that
in our core set. Why? Because we have one that’s a melee DPS,
one that’s a tank / support role, and likewise you might see
a special archetype be a blend of even more roles.
That’s really what you get in the freeform characters too,
except that you have these extra power points that you want to use to
pick up abilities that your friends don’t have, like
“Teleport Team.” Archetypes won’t have
these wildcards, they’ll be fairly thematic.
Ton Hammer: Player skill and
all other things being equal, will archetype characters be on-par with
freeform characters, or will freeform characters always have an edge?
Posniewski: For someone
that’s min-maxing, a freeform character almost definitely
will do better than an archetype because you can really tweak and tune
what powers you get. Your freeform character will most likely be more
powerful than any arbitrary archetype, if you’re min-maxing.
If you’re just playing the game, or maybe a role-player
that’s playing something themed, you’re probably
not going to end up being much better than an archetype, because
you’re sticking to your theme.
Ton Hammer: Could you tell us
a little bit about how the downgrade (from Gold to Silver) or upgrade
process works for existing characters?
you’re currently a subscriber (which means you’re a
Gold Member), and you decide to stop subscribing and still play, your
account becomes silver. Your characters are left unchanged until
you go into the game and opt to convert this gold character
to a silver character. When you do that, we’ll remove
everything from the character that you’re no longer entitled
to. That might include costume parts, inventory
slots, all sorts of stuff. Then we force you –
because you’re no longer a gold character and a
freeform character – to choose an archetype.
So you keep all your experience points and items –
they’re sent to you in email, basically – and you
keep all of your resources. Right after you login, you go to the
trainer and train up to whatever level you are at.
That’s when you downgrade.
Upgrading works in basically the same way. If you upgrade, you have the
option of converting your character to a freeform character or an
archetype, and you get whatever entitlements you don’t have
from before you upgraded.
Ton Hammer: Is the downgrade
and upgrade process free?
let you convert a particular character one way for free. If
you’re swapping back and forth in one character more than
once, you’re doing something a little weird anyway and
we’ll charge you for that.
Ton Hammer: Will that charge
occur through account services, or will it be a C-Store item?
be a C-Store thing. It’ll look like a respec token.
Ton Hammer: Some players have
voiced concerns over the types of items available in the C-Store and
item prices. Could you tell us how you went through the
process of selecting which items to make available, and how you arrived
at their various price points?
Posniewski: We actually
looked at what other games did. Obviously the archetypes system is a
new idea for our game, but it’s not really a new idea. But
things like health potions, xp increases, inventory slots -
those items are pretty standard across the board for
microtransaction-based games. We started with those things, and as for
price – we did market analysis, and obviously
there’s a lot of bunching that goes into it because not every
game is the same so, for example, the relative merit of a bag slot
isn’t the same between games. But we did our best to
normalize them, then we set our price – to be honest
– a little below that.
" style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman";"> style="font-style: italic;">So you keep all your
experience points and items – they’re sent to you
in email, basically – and you keep all of your resources.
Right after you login, you go to the trainer and train up to whatever
level you are at. That’s when you downgrade."
We have some things that other games don’t really do, such as
wholesale unlocks for all of your characters. So, when you buy a
costume that all of your characters can equip, how much should that
cost? Or if you buy something that any character can use forever, like
a device that turns you into a werewolf, how much should that cost. We
looked at our games and their games and tried to come up with
a price that was better than competitive.
In addition, this is the first microtransaction game that Cryptic has
done. We tried to spread out across the spectrum in terms of the kinds
of things that we would sell. As players respond to that and vote with
their wallets, we’ll start making more of one and less of
another, or maybe they’ll come up with some cool new idea and
we’ll start making those.
Ton Hammer: Will Gold Members
have to purchase C-Store items to have a reasonable chance to complete
content. Is this what the monthly stipend of 400 Cryptic points is for?
a couple reasons to give out the stipend. The balance of the game
isn’t shifting radically, so there’s no need to go
in and buy power boosts or health potions, whether you’re a
subscriber or a non-subscriber – it’s a convenience
thing. But even before we went free-to-play, we had stuff available in
the store. With the advent of a few items in the store that can make it
easier for you to play, we wanted to make sure that subscribers had the
luxury of getting those if they wanted to. It’s a
thank you, and on the marketing side, it’s a little bit extra
back so you can go look through the store, maybe you’ll find
something you’ll want to buy and buy it. Those points accrue,
Ton Hammer: Silver Members
can purchase Adventure Packs such as the style="font-style: italic;">Demonflame
and the Serpent
Lantern. Are more adventure
packs planned? Will they be slated on a regular basis?
Posniewski: We are currently
working on our next adventure pack. It’s called style="font-style: italic;">Resistance.
Players have really enjoyed the Adventure Packs so far, so
we’ve taken what we’ve learned so far to make our
next one even more interesting. One lesson we have learned is that, in
the past, we had players do some things that were perhaps not fun, but
took some time. We’re basically removing that. Players more
or less shouted loudly and said, ‘It doesn’t matter
how long it is, just make it a blast.’ So that’s
what we’re doing now.
will be a little bit shorter than the previous ones in terms of getting
it done, but it’s going to be a lot more fun.
Ton Hammer: Are there any
details you can share about style="font-style: italic;">Resistance
or perhaps a timetable?
not far enough along that we can guarantee my schedule is good, so
I’m not going to say anything yet.
Ton Hammer: Last
question. We’re on the eve of launch as this article goes to
print. What’s the atmosphere like at the studio?
subdued – kind of the calm before the storm – but
upbeat. But our downtime starts at 9pm Pacific tonight, and
we’re just all waiting for it. We’re still logging
into our beta shard, it’s been very stable. But
we’re all on pins and needles – things have gone so
smoothly that we’re waiting for something terrible to show
up. (laughter) Of course we don’t expect anything
to. We’re really excited to turn it on and see what
happens after that. When we opened up the original beta shard, we had
an enormous number of people come in and play. That was incredibly
gratifying, so we’re hoping to see the same thing tomorrow
Ton Hammer: Good luck with
launch, Shannon, and thanks so much for taking time out to talk with us.
been my pleasure!
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