DC Universe Online was built with a subscription model in mind, creative director Jens Andersen recently told Gamasutra. How, then, did SOE manage to convert the superhero MMO to a free-to-play model and grow the playerbase to include 11 million registered users?
Andersen says that SOE wanted people to be able to freely access all of the game's launch content while offering the option to maximize playtime via various convenience items. "If you like this game a lot, and you want to dedicate more time to it -- not pay-to-win, but dedicate more time to it, and front-load that time and progression, you can do that through various means," Andersen explains. "Otherwise, if you want to play it for free, you'd go at the pace that the game determines for you."
SOE came up with a system of replay badges that serve as gear reward gates, effectively allowing players to (re)play content for free but preventing them from claiming the reward a second time until the lockout timer has cycled through. Cash shop items can reduce or eliminate the lockouts. "So your time in the game is the same as a free-to-play person's time, you're just front-loading that time," Andersen says.