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Behind the Mask: Perfect World and the future

Patrick Mackey

If I were to describe the emotions of the Champions Online playerbase regarding the Perfect World buyout, I would have to say "mixed." Some players are happy that the days of Atari are behind them, and some are really skeptical about the future of the C-Store.

CO is a fairly "pay-to-win" game in that Gold members have a lot of gameplay advantages over their non-subscribing counterparts. A lot of players are suggesting that the C-Store might become inundated with paid features and that we might possibly see the removal of certain free features (like global-purchased respecs).

I am cautiously optimistic about the whole thing. Perfect World Entertainment holds controlling shares in Runic Games, and if the recent Mac and console ports of Torchlight are any indication of PWE's approach to management, I'd be more than happy to welcome our new alien overlords.

A lot of questions open up in my mind about these changes. Will we see CO integrated into the PWE website? Will we see the C-Store prices change? What about the price of tokens? Will we see new features added or removed in the C-Store?

We've all got our opinions, of course.

CO's integration into PWE

I am not sure about this situation in particular. I'd actually like to see this happen, but it would take a ton of programmer work to integrate everything in the CO website into the PWE website. There's going to be a lot of backend work regardless, and I'm sure Cryptic's web programmers are cringing already. Still, the Torchlight community is not integrated into the PWE website, so I suspect integration may not happen for Cryptic's titles, either.

Regardless, I would love to see it happen. Perfect World is a huge company and has a huge Western playerbase. If players of PWE games could see Champions Online alongside Forsaken World, I think that alone would cause a big jump in new players. PWE is going to push to make CO more profitable, and I think more marketing cross-pollination is a good thing for PWE -- players who quit CO would be more likely to play other PWE games and vice-versa.

The current state of the C-Store

I've talked in the past about how I think the C-Store should be improved. I am hopeful about changes in the C-Store's current offerings, but at the same time, I'm not sure what PWE's plans are.

Perfect World has its own universal currency, ZEN, which will probably be somehow be convertible into Cryptic Points. I'm almost 100% sure that some pricing changes will be made in the C-Store, but I'm not sure what form they will take. The prices for skill resets and such on the majority of PW games are fairly homogenized, so it's hard to imagine some tweaks happening there.

I'd also like to see tradable character slot tokens, bag slot tokens, and respec tokens, similar to those in other PWE games. I think it's a missed financial opportunity to have these basic features not be available to Silver members without spending real money. Most Silver members I know would pay a ton of global resources for a single extra bag slot; that's lost income potential for those players who spend money in the C-Store to get globals, and in turn, that's lost money for Cryptic and PWE.

Likewise, I'd gladly buy respec tokens from other players if they were tradable. It is such a huge pain to respec for globals in CO that purchased respecs would be the most ideal thing ever. I'm not willing to pay $10 for a freespec, but I'd absolutely buy one for 500 global (I'm aware that the market is crazy right now, so the price of a Cryptic Point is kind of in flux).

Do I really think this will happen? I don't know, to be honest. I think that if PWE's marketing execs look at some of CO's boost items (especially experience boosts), they'll find that they are horribly out-of-line with cash-shop items in PWE's other titles. I honestly hope that changes.

Paying to win

The bigger concern on everyone's mind is this: Will CO become "pay to win?" As I mentioned before, it kind of already is. So my question is, "What could PWE really change to make CO's cash shop more pay-to-win?"

My first thought is to add in purchasable freeform characters buyable by players without Gold accounts. I don't think this will make much money; it might actually lose money as many subscribers might just drop their subscription and purchase only their main character. It's also possible that the Silver freeform customization might also require the purchase of power frameworks, limiting crazy, top-level builds to Gold members and people willing to shell out lots of cash. I'm not really convinced this would make a lot of extra money, and it seems like it would alienate a lot of people.

My only other thought is in the direction of gear. SL gear is already gated by adventure pack purchases, although people without adventure packs can still buy it off the auction house. It's possible that gear might become upgradable somehow via C-Store purchases; imagine being able to add SL benefits to any gear piece without the benefits' being random! That's kind of scary, especially for purple items that currently have minimal value. That'd be an interesting cash-shop addition. Depending on the price (I'd imagine at least as much as an hour with Emily Lovett, if not two or three times that price), I'd spend my stipend on that.

What else really is there to add? CO isn't a tremendously loot-focused game or even a progression-focused one. Although I think the current C-Store prices need to be adjusted, I don't think that there are many more options available.

Actually, I guess I'll amend that: Cryptic shot itself in the foot slightly by making extra bag slots vet rewards, but I think bag slots beyond four would have made great C-Store purchases. Unfortunately, the devs already gated the 5th slot behind veteran rewards, so I doubt that feature will get added to the store. I think that's really a missed opportunity.

I don't actually think the C-Store will get changed for the worse -- more likely the team will add in some new powerful consumables, which isn't really game-breaking in the land of CO.

Overall, I'm just hoping that Cryptic doesn't break my account more; I still don't have vet rewards or my VIP lounge access. I'm hoping that, at the very least, the backend changes don't break my account like F2P did.

When he's not touring the streets of Millennium City or rolling mooks in Vibora Bay, Patrick Mackey goes Behind the Mask to bring you the nitty-gritty of the superhero world every Thursday. Whether it's expert analysis of Champions Online's game mechanics or his chronicled hatred of roleplaying vampires, Patrick holds nothing back.

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