With Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft now over 12 million players worldwide, staying relevant in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game space has been no easy task. An increasingly common option for doing so, though, is switching to a free-to-play, microtransaction-supported business model. Recent converts include Turbine's Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online, as well as Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II.
Today, one more struggling MMORPG can be added to that list, as Atari and Cryptic Studios announced that their superhero-themed Champions Online would adopt a hybrid free-to-play/subscription model during the first quarter of 2011. A closed beta test for the free-to-play model is scheduled for November 9.
When Atari makes the switch over next year, gamers will be able to download Champions Online at no cost and play for an unlimited amount of time. However, those players will be able to augment their experience by purchasing premium content, including adventure packs, items, powers, and costume pieces. This content will be offered through what Cryptic is calling the C-Store, a Web-based and in-game marketplace.
Gamers will also have the option to continue paying a flat rate for Champions Online. Both new and continuing players can opt in to the $15-per-month subscription rate, which will grant them access to "most of the game's content" as well as other bonus features.
Champions Online was the first of two MMORPGs that Cryptic launched within a five-month period, having debuted in September 2009. Though it received more favorable reviews than its Star Trek Online cousin, the game failed to elevate Atari's full-year earnings out of the red. In August, Cryptic creative director and Blizzard North cofounder Bill Roper departed the company, with the studio going on to announce the Dungeons & Dragons-themed Neverwinter later that month.