City of Heroes Freedom Interview with Matt "Positron" Miller at SDCC 2011

Posted Tue, Jul 26, 2011 by Sardu

Freedom. It’s a word that evokes many different reactions based on the context in which it's used, as well as the personal life experiences of the person hearing it, even though it has a pretty clearly defined meaning. For some, it might resurrect embarrassing memories of early 90s high school dances courtesy of George Michael. Others might associate it with the patriotic rhetoric drilled into our young, impressionable minds each day in grade school as we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.

When applied to City of Heroes, it takes on yet another possible interpretation. It speaks volumes to me that Paragon chose that word rather than announcing City of Heroes: Free-to-Play, neatly avoiding some of the negative connotations associated with that particular business model, even if they have thankfully been on the downswing for the past couple of years.

No, Paragon chose to use the word Freedom, but in many ways you could consider it to be synonymous with Choice, because that’s exactly what the new hybrid business model brings to the table. Putting the choice of how to pay for a service directly into the hands of players is one of the best things Paragon could have chosen to do.

Announcements of this shift in philosophical and marketing approaches typically go one of two ways with fans, and it all boils down to how much you respect your existing fan base. In the case of Paragon, it’s abundantly evident in the following interview with lead designer Matt “Positron” Miller that respect is king.

I caught up with Matt just as the show floor at San Diego Comic-Con 2011 was nearing a critical mass of culture-hounds, and it was great to see that City of Heroes was receiving as much attention as its monolithic NCsoft booth partner, Guild Wars 2.

CoH Freedom Celestial Armor 1 CoH Freedom Celestial Armor 2

Ten Ton Hammer: It seems like a very smart decision on the part of Paragon to make the CoH Freedom release a la carte based on some of the other free-to-play conversions we’ve seen for existing MMOs so far. What inspired you to go in the direction of giving players choices in terms of how they invest in different gameplay options?

Matt “Positron” Miller: We love our subscribers, and our subscribers love us. We have an excellent relationship with them, and we did not want to damage that in any way, shape, or form in going to this business model. We wanted to make sure that we were catering to them, and their needs, and their concerns, and make sure that they felt special – that we didn’t forget about them and were just concerned about the free players.

So really that became the genesis for all our design decisions going forward. What could VIP players get? How could we make this more attractive for the VIP player? It really has just been that relationship we’ve had with those players, and we didn’t want to damage it at all.

In fact, we had a focus group about three months ago where we brought in some of our biggest board posters from all over the country, and went over everything with them so that they knew what we were doing and we could get their initial reaction. It started off with some hesitation – kind of, oh my gosh, what are you doing – and by the end of the day they were like OK, I’m on board with this.

That was really validating for us that our veteran players got on board with this within the span of eight hours of doing that focus group.

Well for better or worse it looks like the game is going to reinvent itself after seven years. Not that it hasn't already done so with all the end game grinding recently added.

I've subscribed almost from the beginning. My husband from the beginning. I've tried free based games and while I enjoy them I find that you end up with a lot of teenie boppers running around "help me help me" and not able to pay. they want the people who pay to group with them and get them into the areas they cannot get to. Or help them level or any number of other things. What is NCSoft doing to prevent this from happening? I have not been able to play for a year yet have never put my sub on hold because I felt that if I wanted to keep my info, my characters, my friends, etc it was only fair. I'm dissabled and because of surgeries etc was not able to get to my computer. Now with a laptop things are a bit easier, however energy... The thing is if I'm going to play, I want my energy to go to playing, not listening to players whine for help, etc. If we can avoid that and bring in new blood, I'm all for it, thing is, the games out there now well they have a marketing stradegy, more visibility to people. My childre are all the time telling me of new MMOs and other things they are seeing advertised more regularly on TV. They both play CoH and love it, yet as with most children of this erra, seem able to hop from game to game without any issue. I am a person who sticks with 1 or 2 games. I agree with Positron it is a step up, and bringing in their forum posters was an awsome idea, The thing is the loudest voices are not always the ones who know what the masses are thinking. Remember you range in age groups and don't forget the many married couples who play this game together. My husband and I started on text driven games, I was even a god which ment I coded for the game among other things. The thing is you need to remember a lot of things with any change you do, I hope that with this one they will add for those things that are missed.

My best wishes to CoH and CoV that this is successful for them and for those of us who have been loyal from the beginning.

Most of the "help me help me" types hang out in Atlas Park and Cap au Diable and ask for AE Farms. To avoid them, all you have to do is spend time outside those zones or keep your broadcast turned off while in the zone. Nothing I've read indicates this will change except maybe a third zone will be added to the list if they start to hang out in the new zone that's being introduced. Also, the recent addition of the helper/help me titles on character creation funnels those sorts into a dedicated chat channel, appropriately enough called "help" and only people who want to help have to deal with them. So the game already has infrastructure setup for it.

Right now, they don't need help getting anywhere. Level restrictions have been pulled from all zones and even level 1 characters can go to the Shadow Shard and other end-game locations solo. I do it all the time to get the jet pack temp power as it is faster than levelling up for a travel power. So again, unlike other games, CoH already is protected against it. Really I'm more interested to see how the "gold farmers" will react. Will they start using free accounts to spam again? Will the new players be begging for money due to the massive inflation on the top items despite so many new ways to get top-end enhancements? Still there are built in limits on email and chat, and the team have been quick to ban spammers, so overall I'm not worried, I'm just watching. Plus as I recall there's limits on how much inf free characters can have and what enhancements they can use/sell.

Last, if you just want to play and not hear freebies asking for help, they did announce a VIP-only server. So you can just play without them.

All in all, I think you're covered. Not 100% sure until it ships, but at the very least, if you're paying, you can go to the VIP-only server and they can't follow.

Fascinating information! I cant believe Ive finally found the information Ive been searching for for so long. Thank you!

Their Kickstarter campaign reached its goal in under a week so we sat down with Project Lead, Chris Hare, to learn more about their story.
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