Positron: Designing Freedom's Hybrid Model

It's been a busy week for City of Heroes. On Tuesday, they announced that the game will soon be adopting a free-to-play hybrid model. On Wednesday, Nate "Second Measure" Birkholz wrote a producer's letter that explains the team's logic behind the switch. And today, Lead Designer Matt "Positron" Miller discussed what went into designing Freedom's business model.

The following quote sums up Miller's entire letter: "One thing that I was making clear to everyone is that we needed to treat our subscribers, past as well as present, with the respect they deserve." That could be Paragon's motto for City of Heroes Freedom.

According to Miller, the team members did everything in their power to ensure this hybrid model actually treats subscriber VIPs as Very Important Persons and gives returning players some perks to honor their previous time with the game. They also looked at other hybrid MMOs to weigh the pros and cons of the model and pick a format that works for City of Heroes.

Want more details? Read Miller's letter after the jump!

Designing Freedom by Matt "Positron" Miller

Over the past several months I have been keeping a secret, and now that it has been revealed to the world, I can finally share that secret with all of you: City of Heroes is undergoing a transformation. Several times this past year I have been asked in interviews, "Is City of Heroes ever going to go Free to Play?" Now, I know as well as you all do that an "I can't comment on that" will be taken as a 'yes' more times than not, so I have been very careful with my answers, and it has been an answer I still stick by today. If we were ever to go to this type of business model we will make sure that not only it fits the game, but the game fits the business model.

Going to the new "Hybrid" business model is not something we have taken lightly. When we broke City of Heroes development into Strike Teams, I took on the role of Lead Designer to ensure that all the moving parts were talking to one another and that a consistent vision of how the Hybrid model is going to get applied worked across all the Strike Teams. One thing that I was making clear to everyone is that we needed to treat our subscribers, past as well as present, with the respect they deserve. I have seen what happens when an MMO decides that it needs "new blood" and doesn't care who they have to lose in order to get it. All that does is show your new customers that you have the power to change the rules whenever you feel like it, and the veteran customers left out in the cold become a lobbying force against new people wanting to try your game. That was something we were consciously not doing with City of Heroes Freedom.

In fact, an impetus of "what more can we give our subscribers?" was the order of the day. We looked at what a subscriber was getting today and added things like exclusive rewards and the entirety of Going Rogue (if they hadn't already purchased it). We called our subscribers VIP because to us they are Very Important Persons. We built the Paragon Rewards system around giving more and more perks to our subscribers, simply because we feel it is the right thing to do.

We also looked closely at other games that have adopted similar business models before us and adapted our strategies to avoid some of the more glaring pitfalls we have perceived. We closely followed forum threads that complained about "this" and "that" and did everything in our power to ensure that when City of Heroes Freedom launches, players will no longer have those things to complain about. Two examples I can give are the new VIP-Only server, where subscribers can play without non-paying players simply because we saw that as an oft-requested feature, and the ability to return as a Free player and create a brand new character, not be forced in reactivating (or worse deleting) old characters that are still on your account.

Finally we recognized that there are a large number of returning players who have already invested some of their time and money into City of Heroes. We wanted to ensure that those players didn't feel like they were restarting from the ground floor, that their previous time with us was honored and worth something in the larger scheme of things. To this end, we modeled the Paragon Rewards program around our current Veteran Rewards program and this enabled us to give returning players perks for their previous time commitment, even if they are coming back as a Free player. In addition, we ensured that everything they might have purchased previously, like character slots or Super-boosters, remained on their account, even if they stay as a Free player. If you earned it or paid money for it, you can still get it.

I am very happy with how things have turned out for City of Heroes over the past year. The team has never worked harder to bring you awesome content, we have a very solid plan for the future involving lots of cool story-lines and updates, and the team is super excited about what the new business model means to being able to deliver you content above and beyond what we have been doing in the past. We've used our own version of Ouroboros and peered into the future, and we have seen that the future is Freedom.


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