Champions Online Q&A with Shannon Posniewski – Fighting Crime without Spending a Dime!

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Champions Online has made a lot of news recently. First, there was the release of the Demonflame adventure pack, and after that came the huge news that CO was going to go to free-to-play in early 2011. To get the lowdown on all the recent events, Ten Ton Hammer talked to Executive Producer Shannon Posniewski about the game going free-to-play, the reasons behind the decision, and details on the newest adventure pack, Demonflame.

Ten Ton Hammer: The big news is that Champions Online is going free-to-play. What prompted the choice to go free-to-play?

Shannon Posniewski: Well, we’ve been looking at free-to-play for a long time now. We started with a subscription game a year ago. The game did pretty well, but it didn’t do awesome. We think that the whole market for MMOGs has been changing, especially since we started working on Champions Online. I think that it has been a big change. There are only a handful of multi-player games that can be full-priced, subscription-based games. Years ago, back in the beginning days of MMOGs, people were more interested in paying higher fees because that’s what they expected it. That has changed a lot over the last couple of years, and there’s the advent of games such as Farmville. Farmville is an example of a game where they nickel and dime you every step of the way. People are now used to buying an individual song for 99 cents, as opposed to buying a whole album. We’re seeing that reflected in the massive multiplayer space as well.

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So we’ve been looking at free-to-play for a long time, but we didn’t want to leave subscriptions behind because we felt that there were some people who really liked subscription; they like the all-you-can-eat plan. We decided to go with this hybrid approach where you can play Champions from beginning to end as free-to-play, never paying anything if you don’t want, or you can get a subscription, if you like, and get extra things as a subscriber.

Ten Ton Hammer: The points you bring up are totally valid. We discuss this a lot on Ten Ton Hammer of free-to-play coming on in a really big manner and seeing big moves from companies such as Turbine and Sony Online Entertainment and now Cryptic. The question becomes then was there anything else that sort of instigated it in terms of other companies doing it? We have DCUO coming up. Did that factor in when you made the choice?

Shannon Posniewski: I would consider it more of a happy accident, honestly. In a vacuum, except for the market in general, we were looking for free-to-play stuff. As you lose subscribers perhaps, you start looking at free-to-play as a way to bring in new blood. We were looking at it along those terms. It’s a happy accident that DCUO is going to be pay, because we think that we have a better value to start with, even for full pay. We think that they’re coming in awfully late, honestly, with a pay plan. We were shocked when they announced it. I think that it’s going to work in our favor. We’re pretty happy about it, but it wasn’t really driven by their choices. The timing here isn’t driven by them either. The timing was driven that we felt that it was good for our subscribers in terms of a transition and good for us in terms of development plans and good for the game as a whole.

"Champions Online is a blast to play. As a free-to-play game, it’s really a perfect game."
Ten Ton Hammer: So this has been under consideration for awhile then?

Shannon Posniewski: Yes. Cryptic Studios is always very introspective in terms of what we do and how we do. Even before we launched, I’m sure that we discussed it, but we were still pretty certain that subscription was the way to go. We’ve been talking about it internally off and on and paying attention to what Turbine and other people do since early this year. We were pretty certain that we wanted to do it mid-year, but the real question was when was the right time to do it? I think that we found a good spot.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is the C-Store an in-house solution or did you go externally to develop that?

Shannon Posniewski: We developed that in-house.

Ten Ton Hammer: Obviously, Cryptic points are the currency. Are they usable across other Cryptic games?

Shannon Posniewski: Yes. Cryptic points are usable across other Cryptic games. In the future, we may have a currency that is specifically for Champions. Maybe you’ll get some Champions bonus points that you can use for Champions stuff, but Cryptic points are across Cryptic games, including Star Trek.

Ten Ton Hammer: I was looking at your chart showing what would be available to the silver players as opposed to the gold players, and one of the major things are adventure packs, which makes sense for a free-to-play game with microtransactions. If you could explain to our readers, what are adventure packs and how much gameplay do they offer?

Shannon Posniewski: Well, an adventure pack is a self-contained story arc. The game has many, many story arcs in it, but an adventure pack is like a play-through movie almost, an adventure. It has multiple missions or quests that are all connected to each other. They usually start in the normal static world where you’re used to playing, and they usually go off to a new place. For example, in Serpent Lantern, that started off in the city and that moved off to jungles and underground lairs. It provides a new place that you haven’t seen before as well as a bunch of missions that all revolve around that. It’s one giant story, with lots of action and a giant climax at the end, and hopefully, you’re successful. There are two to three hours long. Some people take longer whilst others take a little less time. They are good bite-sized fun. Basically, they’re a full evening of fun.

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Ten Ton Hammer: Will you be able to buy these on the C-Store?

Shannon Posniewski: Subscribers get all of the adventure packs for free. They just come in as part of the subscription. If you’re a silver player, a non-subscriber, you’ll be able to buy them in the C-Store.

Ten Ton Hammer: Let’s talk a little bit about the newest adventure pack, which is the Demonflame. Could you summarize the adventure pack for us?

Shannon Posniewski: Demonflame brings back a story that appears in the Champions pen-and-paper game, where a particular person, called Luther Black, is basically trying to become a god. He’s doing that by pulling in energies from the Qliphothic realm. That was 20 years ago, and he’s trying it again. He’s found a new way to become a god and he’s busy capturing the avatars of these deities that are in this place called the Qliphothic, which is this place of chaos and madness. Basically, it’s an alternate dimension of chaos. Luther Black is imprisoning these guys and sucking out their power in order to try to become a god. It’s your task to defeat him and prevent him from becoming a god, because gods are very difficult to kill.

The point of the Demonflame is to deal with this issue. It takes you from Millennium City, where you first hear about this happening from UNTIL, where you’re sent to a magical bookshop with a giant portal in the back that has been broken through to the Qliphothic realm. The majority of the adventure pack takes place in an environment that you’ve never seen before in Champions Online, which is the Qliphothic realm. There’s a great big exterior there that is all spooky, chaotic, strange, and warped, as well as a bunch of interiors of these giant towers. We call them towers, but they’re actually floating cities that you adventure through and try to rescue things.

Ten Ton Hammer: You mentioned that the typical gameplay for an adventure pack is from two to three hours. Is this true for Demonflame as well?

Shannon Posniewski: Yes, that’s the case for Demonflame. It depends on how many players you have on your team or if you’re going in alone. Adventure packs are good for any player from level 11 to level 40. They automatically scale to your level and how many players you have with you. Anybody can play these. You don’t have to be a certain level to play them. You can play them multiple times as well.

Ten Ton Hammer: How many locations does Demonflame offer? Are there separate locations?

Shannon Posniewski: Well, there’s a giant exterior zone that is through the portal that is inside of the magic store. Then there are eight or so interiors, which are basically small maps that you go on as well.

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Ten Ton Hammer: Veering towards the free-to-play market, when you buy this pack or any adventure pack in the future, it unlocks for the entire account, not just for a specific character?

Shannon Posniewski: Yes. Once you buy an adventure pack, it’s for an entire account. In fact, when you buy stuff that unlocks something, it’s for the entire account. So when you buy costumes, they unlock for the whole account. Once you buy the Egyptian set, you have it for all your characters.

Ten Ton Hammer: That’s a big thing. In a lot of MMOGs, when you buy something, you can only equip it on one character, so hearing that you can do it on all of your characters is good news. Would you say that this is a fairly typical adventure pack that players can expect in the future when the game goes free-to-play?

Shannon Posniewski: Very much so. We’re pretty happy with the way Demonflame turned out and so are the players. Feedback has been really great. Now, in terms of the subject matter, the subject matter changes every single time. This time, it’s very mystical and deals with parallel dimensions, while previously it was more dealing with military themes and jungles with a very different story. The new ones are going to be the same sort of thing. Again, it’s always going to be one major story, be about 3 hours long, and big bosses and cool events.

Ten Ton Hammer: When you were developing Demonflame, did you already know that CO was going to go free-to-play? Did you develop it with that situation in mind or were you more focused on the current subscribers?

Shannon Posniewski: We were focused on the current subscribers. We didn’t know that we were going to go free-to-play until after Demonflame had been basically completed. That being said, we had always been keeping in mind the fact that these things are adventure packs; bite-sized things that people want. They work pretty well for both our subscribers, who get a bite-sized chunk of new adventures and they can talk about that chunk, and for us as a way to segregate content.

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In general, the way that we’re approaching free-to-play is not in terms of how we can maximize free-to-play players. We’re thinking about what’s cool in the game and what things can we sell. Obviously, we want to sell stuff. It would be disingenuous to say otherwise. Instead, we take the approach of what things can we sell to make the game more fun as opposed to what can we do to the game to make people buy a whole bunch of crap. That’s the wrong direction. It’s not the right way, and it’s not the direction we intend to go. There’ll be plenty to buy, but it’ll be driven by what we think that players are looking for rather forcing them into a particular set of purchases.

Ten Ton Hammer: How often do you plan on releasing adventure packs after the change to free-to-play?

Shannon Posniewski: That is still up in the air a little bit, but we’ll probably keep close to the same schedule we were on, which is approximately every 3-4 months.

Ten Ton Hammer: Do you have any idea on the pricing yet for the adventure packs once it goes free-to-play? Will Demonflame be purchasable when Champions goes to free-to-play or will it be included in the free content?

Shannon Posniewski: All our existing adventure packs will be purchased by our silver players, including Demonflame. Although the prices aren’t set in stone, we’re probably thinking in the area of five dollars.

Ten Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Demonflame or Champions Online going free-to-play in general?

Shannon Posniewski: I hope that people who have previously tried Champions Online or people who didn’t want to pay for another subscription game stop by and try us. Champions Online is a different kind of MMOG. It’s a very actiony MMOG. Some people who don’t like it don’t think that it’s intense enough sometimes. There’s not enough of this or there’s not enough of that. Honestly, Champions Online is a blast to play. As a free-to-play game, it’s really a perfect game. It’s something that you can go on and play for half an hour if you want and have a really great time, or if you want to play for a whole evening and have a great time. There’s not a whole lot of slogging through giant raids, which some people like, but on the other hand, people who don’t enjoy that don’t want to pay a monthly fee. I want people to come in and give it a shot, because it’s different from the MMOGs they’ve tried, I think.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Champions Online Game Page.

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