ZAM's City of Heroes Freedom Launch Q&A

We sat down with Executive Producer Brian Clayton to discuss the launch of City of Heroes Freedom and beyond.

ZAM: Can you tell us a little about the first Signature Story Arc, "Who Will Die?"

Clayton: One of the great things about owning our own IP is that we can make real, permanent changes to the world, which is what the Signature Story Arcs are all about. The Freedom Phalanx is the most prestigious and powerful group of Heroes in Paragon City. They’ve defended our world from alien invasions, giant monsters and Arch-Villains, but now a mysterious foe is targeting them one by one. There’s a grand plan that involves nearly every Hero and Villain. This is so big, that our signature Heroes can’t handle it on their own, so that’s where the players get involved. When the dust has settled, one of the Freedom Phalanx will be dead.

And by dead, we mean they’re gone from the game. We’re going in and taking them out from missions and zones. There will be a major ripple effect that’ll affect the world once the death occurs. Even if you don’t play the Signature Story Arcs, you’ll still experience the repercussions.

ZAM: The launch of Freedom brings with it the new Paragon Market in-game store. What types of items can players purchase, and how often will it be updated?

Clayton: Upon launch we have a bunch of categories ranging from costumes and powers to convenience items, services, and consumables like XP modifiers. Players can actually try on costume parts in our costume creator in order to decide whether they want to purchase them in the Paragon Market. We also plan to introduce weekly new items to the Paragon Market. Some will be larger items like power sets and costume sets, and others will be smaller. For example, during the VIP Head Start we introduced the Beam Rifle power set, the Rocket Board travel power, and the Barbarian costume set; and this week we are introducing the Circle of Thorns costume set.

ZAM: Seven years after launch, was it difficult to put prices on individual features and balance the options for free and VIP players?

Clayton: Yes. I would say that our highest priority in this entire initiative was to offer VIP Players even more value than they received as subscribers before Freedom. And judging by the numbers we’re already seeing, I feel as if we’ve accomplished that.

With regards to the in-game store, it seems like we had endless discussions around the pricing of our items. It’s difficult finding the “right” prices for each item. So we looked at it extensively from the inside out, assessing what we perceive the fair values to be. And of course we also looked at what other games were selling and charging. We knew that if another game was selling an item that we perceived to be similar to one of ours, players would make price comparisons for better or worse. We have a lot of options and mobility with the Paragon Market, so we will continue to talk to our players and see what they say, what they buy, and what they don’t.

ZAM: The MMO genre seems to be heavily favoring free-to-play over subscriptions. Where do you see the MMO model going in the future?

Clayton: Yes, we believe that having a free-to-play component is the future. For City of Heroes Freedom the hybrid model (free to play and premium subscription) made a lot more sense than going to 100% free to play. Which version of free-to-play to use completely depends on the game itself.

ZAM: Champions online, DC Universe Online and the upcoming Marvel Universe Online are all embracing the free-to-play model. As the veteran, what do you feel makes City of Heroes stand out among the other superhero MMOs?

Clayton: We decided to make the change well over a year ago and we have been preparing for City of Heroes Freedom ever since. This was not about just dropping in a store and virtual currency, but making sure our best content to date is being provided, and that the entire experience from downloading the client to hitting level 50 made sense for our new business model. Beyond the new character creator and tutorial (and of course the Issue 21 content) we created the new Paragon Rewards program which is a cool way to reward all of our veteran players, returning players, and new players with in-game rewards. There really is a lot for all types of players to play and enjoy.

Lastly, as a veteran in this industry, we have so much content that the value of free-to-play is very apparent as soon as players jump into the game.

ZAM: It seems clear that you're planning to quickly churn out a lot of regular new City of Heroes content, such as issues and story arcs. Now that free-to-play has arrived, what's next for the game?

Clayton: We want to make sure there’s plenty of content for all of our players. We’re already working on the next two major content updates, Issue 22 and Issue 23. In addition, There’s also a new Halloween in-game event coming this year, more Incarnate Trials and the monthly Signature Story Arcs.

ZAM: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Clayton: City of Heroes Freedom and Issue 21: Convergence is just the start of the new development philosophy for Paragon Studios. The sky is the limit in what we’re able to do now. Our players were used to getting content updates every 3-4 months. Now they’re going to get even higher quality updates on a monthly basis. What we’re doing in 2011 is setting the stage for even bigger and better content coming in 2012.

Kevin Wallace, Writer

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