Sunday, October 2, 2011

Freedom Can Sometimes be Confusing

Before I begin this post, I wanted to take a moment to say that I broke 500 page views a month for the month of September. Hardly a big milestone, but it's one that I'm happy about. Just wanted to thank everyone who reads and those who take the time to comment and discuss with me. It means quite a bit to me.

With that out of the way, today's topic relates to the game I've been spending the most time with lately: City of Heroes Freedom. Besides being a far more patriotic title, it means the game has gone free-to-play. I'll spare the exact details, because if you have read an article on it you know the formula they plan to use. If not, Massively will fill that gap for you.

No, I wanted to talk about the design of their rewards program. I find it a very useful gating system, as well as an excellent replacement for the VIP rewards system they once had. You know, if anyone could figure the damned thing out. Let's pull up a screenshot, shall we?

So you got your levels. Tier 1 through 9, and then Tier 9 VIP which you can only unlock if you are a subscriber. All free players are automatically Tier 1, until they buy points, at which point they are upgraded to Tier 2. I'm not sure if they are upgraded to Tier 2 if they buy any amount of points, or if they buy the requisite 1,200 points (15 bucks, a month's subscription worth). You also get a Reward point for each month you subscribe and each year you subscribe. Regardless, from there you need to buy point or subscribe to fill out your tier and get to the next one.

Sounds easy, right? Not done yet. Each tier has certain benefits, the full listing can be found here. Yes, that is a link to a non-City of Heroes site. For some reason, I can't find this information on their site at all, nor in-game. (Addendum: Turns out if you hover your mouse over the bar on the right, it will tell you the permissions it unlocks. News to me.) Regardless, each tier unlocks certain things. For example, Tier 1 gives you "Local, Team, Help, Friends, League, Arena, Leveling Pact, Looking for Group, Emote, and Architect Communication Channels". And you don't get Broadcast chat until Tier 3, locking free players out of most zone-wide channels. Useful for keeping out spammers, yet keeping channels new players would use.

Things like the Auction House, Architect Entertainment and Invention system are locked until much higher tiers, though 30-day licenses for these systems can be bought on the cash store. Of course, all of these things are unlocked if you subscribe of course. Subscribers also get 400 points with their sub, so it's worth a look for those who are seriously looking into the game.

It's a useful system, if not blatantly telling free players they need to subscribe or pay real money to unlock most of the features. As with most new things, it's a bit daunting and new, but it is a way to reward players who play for free but buy a metric ton of points with most of the features subscribers would get. Looking at this chart, it would take 40,800 points to unlock everything a free player could unlock. Which is $510. Which means you probably should just go ahead and subscribe if you're thinking about doing that. Even if you spread those costs over 2 years, you'd still be paying $21 a month to gradually unlock something subscribers get for $15.

Is it a cash grab? Oh yeah. Is it hidden behind this chart and points? Definitely. Is it going to work? Absolutely. I'm playing for free, and I have an itch to buy points from them even though I wasn't willing to pay for the subscription. I commend NCSoft, and hope they find a lot of success with this. But damn it if I didn't have to refer to a wiki to research this post.

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