DC Universe Online gained one million new players in a week when the MMO went free-to-play. We talk to SOE's executive director of development Lorin Jameson about why it has taken so long to go this route, and whether subscriptions are still relevant.
Q: It's already been said that the free-to-play model was the goal for the game since the beginning. Why did it launch as with a subscription then, and what took so long for the change?
Lorin Jameson: We've listened to our community and have determined that the free-to-play model is the best fit for DCUO. Giving players choices is the theme of how we're moving forward as a company – it's really about Free to Play. Your Way – meaning that the decision is in the players' hands so they can play the game on their own terms.
Q: DC Universe Online has had a major influx in new players on PC since going free-to-play. Do you expect the numbers of console players will grow now as well?
LJ: In the first week alone, we had 1 million new players join DCUO with a 50/50 split between PC and PS3, and have seen fantastic uptake on the European PC servers since we transitioned to Free-to-Play. I definitely think that the European console players will continue crowding in as the word gets out. We built this to be a great game on both the PC and the PS3, and the numbers show that.
Q: What was the initial incentive that caused the move to free-to-play?
LJ: We have a great game and we wanted as many players as possible to experience it. We heard the community and its desire to have more play options for DC Universe, and we worked hard to get them in place. There really is no better incentive than having a great product and the will to succeed.
Q: John Smedley has said the traditional subscription model will disappear in AAA MMOs after Star Wars: The Old Republic comes out, do you think DCUO's move to free-to-play is further evidence of this?
LJ: I think the response we have had to our Free-to-Play launch is certainly evidence that there is a lot of pent up demand for flexible ways of enjoying large scale worlds like DC Universe. It's always difficult to predict the future for the online space but for DC Universe Online it made a lot of sense to expand our business model.
Q: This is one of the very few MMOs to make the leap to console. Why are there so few on the market?
LJ: Quite simply it is incredibly complex to implement a large scale, dynamic world with the constraints that a developer faces on game consoles. The types of tricks and optimizations that you can use to create seemingly large spaces on the consoles simply will not work in a game where you can never predict what will be happening on the screen at any point in time. We had to invent a lot of techniques to make it work and we are still challenged every day to come up with ways of making what we want to do work.
Q: Do you feel this game has opened up the possibility for more MMOs to move to console?
LJ: I think so. A lot of high profile MMOs announced that they would be shipping on consoles, yet ended up not delivering in the end. I think a lot of folks in the industry took that as a sign that it would not work. The success of DCUO on the PS3 and the shear scale and beauty of the world we have created is a challenge to the rest of the development community to work harder to open up these games to a new, and very large group of players.
Q: Can you explain in depth about the $5 "Premium" membership? Is that a one time fee, and what exactly does it buy?
LJ: We have tried to keep it simple. Spend at least $5.00 in purchasing items in game from the Marketplace – like an extra character slot, a cool set of wings, or the Fight for the Light DLC – and you get the Premium access level for life. That's it. Now if you had ever been a player in DCUO before the conversion to Free-to-Play we have also flagged you for Premium access. So if you played DC Universe before and want to come back and try it again, you will already be Premium. Premium access grants you a number of benefits above the Free level, such as more character slots, larger inventory, and a higher cash cap.
Q: How is SOE prepared to deal with the new influx of players who have come through since the game went free-to-play? Are there plans to separate F2P players from Premium or Legendary players?
LJ: We have been working very hard since the free-to-play launch to upgrade our capacity to handle the influx of players that far exceeded our expectations. More network capacity, more machines, etc. We want to keep all players together and not separate the population. People want to be able to play with their friends regardless of their access level.
Q: So what are your plans for updates to the game in the future?
LJ: We have Game Update 6 that just came out, which wraps up the Fortress of Solitude raid series. And of course, DLC #2, Lightning Strikes, is coming before the end of the year as well. We will be adding new adventures and gameplay features to the game at a rapid clip moving forward.