completely redesigned its
gameplay when they went free-to-play. Ten Ton Hammer talked with Design
Director, Jordan Itkowitz, about the new progression system, faction
kits, future content, and staying microtransaction-free.
Ten Ton Hammer:
is hardly the first triple-A title to go
free-to-play, but its the first to completely redesign its gameplay to
incorporate a DikuMUD-style level progression system rather than the
previous hitpoint and gear-based progression system. Why was level
progression a good fit for LEGO
new freemium outlook?
We have a lot of Missions and Achievements
to do in LEGO Universe
(accessible via the Passport), but until
recently, you were mainly compelled to do them all in order to earn the
rewards and gear attached to them. That collection incentive was
satisfying on its own at first, but we felt we could do more to bring
focus and structure to the game, while also encouraging players to
drill deeper into their Passports.
A level progression system seemed like the most natural fit. You earn
Universe Score by completing Missions and Achievements (rather than
incremental xp drops from mobs) to raise your level. Pretty
straightforward, and it drives players to really explore everything we
have to offer.
As far as gear goes, it was critical that we design a progression
system that integrated neatly with the collect-and-customize experience
that’s so integral to our game – frequently
outfitting your minifigure is just a very LEGO
Aside from max Life and Imagination, all of your stats are stored in
your gear, and so we went with a system that maintains that dichotomy
(as opposed to a typical upgrade path where you tweak your
character’s stats and skills.) We also gated the gear, based
on your level, rather than just allowing you to use overpowered gear at
any point in the game. It definitely provides a much smoother pace and
experience through the game.
I’m very pleased with how the level progression system was
integrated. It accentuates the systems that were already working well
– frequent character customization and the deep reserves of
Missions/Achievements – while also bringing more clarity and
momentum to the overall experience. It’s been especially
gratifying to watch new players ding Levels all around you –
and also to see how many of our existing players really took up the
challenge to hit Level 40. And now they’re able to hit 45!
Ten Ton Hammer:
has never been a game to nickle and dime players
for bricks, and you've upheld that microtransaction-free approach now
that the game has gone free-to-play. Premium subscriptions are still
all-inclusive, much like the game was under the previous monthly sub
model. Is microtransaction-free still the plan moving forward?
Yes. Our main goal right now is just to open the game
to as many players as possible, and get them so excited about the
worlds we’ve created – and more importantly, the
worlds that they can create themselves – that they want to
sign up and continue the adventure.
Once you’ve become a paid member, everything in LEGO
is available to all players equally. For our core audience (8-12 year
olds), this is a crucial consideration for parents, and directly
affects how children view the overall gameplay experience. We want LEGO
to be about
collaboration and creativity – earning
rewards and achievements, not simply paying for them.
Ten Ton Hammer:
Will players be able to play all the way to level 40
without opting for the premium subscription? Are higher level worlds
Not really, no, although I suppose if you kept doing
the Dailies in Avant Gardens (the main content zone in the free
offering), you might get close to 40. But to really take advantage of
the higher Levels – where you can access Faction
Kits and Spinjitzu and race cars and Pets and lots of other worlds
– then you’ll need to become a Member!