Massively Exclusive: SOE's John Smedley reveals F2P model for DC Universe Online

DC Universe Online - Batman and Robin PvP

For those of us who lack Batman's financial resources, maintaining several monthly MMO subscriptions can be a challenge. Sony Online Entertainment recognizes this, and as a result, the company has just announced that DC Universe Online will be officially joining the freemium revolution toward the end of October.

The new business model will feature a familiar tiered access plan with three membership levels. The Free, Premium, and Legendary plans feature full access to the current game while offering different levels of "convenience and flexibility." Free players will be limited to two character slots, and new "downloadable game packs/updates, additional character slots, powers, and more" will be available for purchase via microtransactions.

Premium players, i.e., folks who have spent at least $5 US on the game (including former subscribers and in-game item purchasers), will receive additional character slots, inventory slots, and higher cash limits. Legendary players will take home "maximum features and benefits" including free DLC, more than 15 character slots, and more than 80 inventory slots, all for the regular $14.99 monthly fee. DCUO will also continue to be available on SOE's Station Pass (and subscribing to the monthly all-in-one service nets you Legendary status in DCUO as well as access to all of SOE's MMORPGs).

Finally, Massively sat down with SOE president John Smedley and producer Lorin Jameson to chat about the new model, and you can find that transcription after the break.

DC Universe Online - alert gameplay

Massively: Why didn't F2P happen in the first place when the game launched? At what point did you see this business model as the way to go for DCUO?

John Smedley: From our perspective, the business model has evolved, particularly on the PlayStation 3. We got a lot of feedback from users who said they'd love to give this thing a try but for the monthly sub attached to it. PS3 users voiced that very loudly, and we listened to them, and we decided to give this model a try. We think, long-term especially, it will be much more advantageous to the players.

Massively: In the past you've talked about how you prefer freemium as opposed to just straight free-to-play, so will you be expanding on the existing cash shop?

DC Universe Online - Superman tutorial

John Smedley: Oh sure. F2P games very often have microtransactions built into them. I don't like the term cash shop.

Lorin Jameson: There's going to be a lot of items in the store, both to upgrade the capabilities of your account and your characters as well as appearance items and helpful consumables. It's very similar to the types of items we're already selling.

Massively: Do you see future content coming out specifically for the cash shop, maybe cosmetic or non-combat features?

Lorin Jameson: We'll certainly be adding items to the store. The current items in the store are all convenience or appearance items, and we'll be continuing that trend. Content, at this point, is our DLCpacks, which we'll still be releasing on a quarterly basis. They are optional purchases that you can buy in the store as well.

Massively: So with the DLC, right now there's a distinction between the regular game updates (i.e., the fixes and patches) and the content expansions. Will that distinction still be there between the updates and the paid DLC under the new model?

Lorin Jameson: Most definitely. We'll continue to add features to improve the play experience, and there will be content that will be added as part of the free access level. That will continue, but we'll also be putting a lot of effort into our quarterly DLC releases as well.

John Smedley: Just to be clear, we gave the current Green Lantern content pack to every subscriber for free, and in the future that's the way we see things going.

Lorin Jameson: Yeah, as a Legendary access member you will have access to all future DLC without additional costs.

John Smedley: We listened to the players, and a lot of them felt like they wanted the Fight for the Light content pack as part of their subscription, and we listened and said, OK, let's do it.

Massively: In terms of competition, Champions Online went free-to-play and City of Heroes is working on it. Is this something that factored into your decision?

DC Universe Online - The Flash

John Smedley: Not at all. We have a very strong belief in the future of the F2P business model. We've got our own ideas, and we feel very strongly that this is the future of the industry. We're certainly exploring it ourselves very deeply, and you can expect more announcements in the near future.

Massively: Does that mean that all SOE games will be free-to-play at some future point?

John Smedley: The statement I would make is that we view free-to-play as the future, and we're very interested in it and excited about it. I'm leaving a little bit of room there because business models evolve over time. You can look for some announcements about current games in the future, and we're really looking closely at it. We like the model.

Massively: In terms of advertising, you mentioned that console players were interested in the game, but the subscription held them back. Do you think this business model will open up the console MMO market a bit more?

John Smedley: Yes, and it's interesting because we sold more PS3 units than we did PC. Our sub base right now is like three to one, PS3 to PC. We see this thing really opening up, and it's precisely the reason we see the business model as really advantageous for all users, particularly console users. We will now have the only two F2P console MMOs there are, and I'm really excited about that. Free Realms is doing really well on the PS3, and a lot of the data that we're seeing from that is what drove us to this decision.

Lorin Jameson: There's no doubt that DCUO really resonated with PS3 players. The combat style, the art, the fidelity of the content -- there's no doubt that many players loved this game. This is an opportunity to give as many people as possible a chance to play and enjoy it.

Massively: Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Lorin Jameson: We're going to be adding a lot of things to the game, and we're going to continue with the great content we've added to date. We think the new model will allow everyone to find his or her own way of experiencing the game. It's going to open up a great experience that our existing players have been enjoying for eight months now.

John Smedley: This move to F2P indicates how we've been listening to our players. A good example of that is the addition of non-recurring payment methods (which may not happen at launch but definitely down the road). That's really going to be a big deal for players. Forty percent of players who quit EverQuest II cite recurring subscriptions as a major reason.

I'm married, I have kids, and I have a stupid number of games that I play, and every month it adds up. That's exactly the kind of thing that consumers are wary of when economic times are tough. Part of the future is giving players the ability to play and pay the way they want to.

Massively: Kind of like the lifetime VIP in Free Realms?

John Smedley: No, more like a three-month pass that you can buy and then it doesn't recur. Eventually I think it'll be month-to-month non-recurring.

Lorin Jameson: If you really want to experience DCUO but you don't want to pay on a recurring basis, you'll be able to say for the next 30 days that you have all of the features of the Legendary level without the credit card commitment. A lot of players that feel like they're getting value from the game are also nervous about subscriptions.

John Smedley: Giving players choices is the central theme of where we're going as a company. We don't want people to feel like they can only go down one path. Anything you can get in a subscription you'll be able to get outside of a subscription.

Lorin Jameson: Pretty much free-to-play your way.

Massively: Thanks for talking with us!