As the harsh reality of a fragile global economy begins to bite, two more publishers have revealed that their properties are joining the legion of free-to-play massively multiplayer online games.
First up, the Lego Group have announced that their MMO, Lego Universe is going free-to-play from August this year. Players will be able to create a character, explore two adventure zones and build on their own property without having to pay a penny. To experience the complete Lego Universe and have access to the upcoming expansions, players will need to upgrade to a full price monthly subscription. Membership currently costs US$89.99 for 12 month, US$49.99 for 6 months and US$9.99 for one month. Seven-year veteran super-hero MMO, City of Heroes, is also going free-to-play later this year. Publishers Paragon Studios will be re-branding their game City of Heroes Freedom. Players will be able to experience 80 percent of the current subscription-based game’s content to free of charge. Free-playing super-hero fans will be able to create two characters - either a hero in Paragon City or a villain in the Rogue Isles - and take them all the way up to level 50. Special items will be available for purchase using micro transactions, whilst upgrading to a VIP subscription will garner a monthly in-game cash injection, as well as exclusive powers and costumes. Also, as part of the launch, publishers NCSoft will be adding a special VIP-only server to the existing 15 game servers. Current full-price subscriptions cost US$14.99 per month. As with all these recent free-to-play announcements, the 'free' versions are really no more than unending game trials, designed to entice players into the full-price subscription. With level caps and other restrictions that can be removed by coughing up dough, these subscription-free models should perhaps be more accurately termed pay-as-you-play. Regardless of motive, they do provide gamers with a free distraction and an opportunity to dip their toes in an oversaturated and otherwise rather expensive gaming genre.