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Champions Online: Free for All Launch Day Q&A with Shannon Posniewski

Posted Tue, Jan 25, 2011 by Ethec

champions online
Ten Ton Hammer caught up with Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski on the eve of the launch of 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!

Ten Ton Hammer: Champions Online is the only comic book MMORPG that has gone free-to-play. Is this an attempt to differentiate 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 Champions Online?

Shannon Posniewski: I think it’s the best model. Back when we first designed 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.

champions online

Ten 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 Champions Online: Free For All apart?

Shannon Posniewski: Yea, 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.

Ten 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?

Shannon Posniewski: There’s 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 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.

champions online

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you talk about the differences between “core” and “special” archetypes?

Shannon Posniewski: Sure. A special archetype is one that you pay for. In 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 allow Free for All players to play it.

"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."
Ten 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?

Shannon 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.

Ten 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?

Shannon 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.

champions online

Ten Ton Hammer: Could you tell us a little bit about how the downgrade (from Gold to Silver) or upgrade process works for existing characters?

Shannon Posniewski: If 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.


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