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How free-to-play breathed new life into DC Universe Online

Gamasutra spoke with Sony Online Entertainment's Jens Andersen about how DC Universe Online's free-to-play transition boosted the game to 11 million registered users.
In the two-and-a-half years since Sony Online Entertainment launched DC Universe Online, the business of making MMORPGs has changed quite a lot -- but unlike other MMOs, DC Universe Online has managed to stay abreast of dev trends, first going free-to-play on PC and PlayStation 3 last year, and more recently SOE announced a PS4 version. Gamasutra spoke to DCUO creative director Jens Andersen about the free-to-play design philosophy that pushed the game to over 11 million registered users.

On the free-to-play transition:

"We had to figure out a way to adapt some of the conventions of how you progress through a subscription-based game to justify monthly subscription as opposed to going to a free-to-play model with some microtransactions and premium membership strategies, so it was really challenging, because our content progression, everything was built with a different model in mind." "Basically, what we did is we came up with our 'Legendary' model: You can still pay a subscription fee to become a Legendary member, and that gives you access to all the DLC, features and benefits and perks -- you get Station Cash every month that you can use to buy convenience items and vanity items on the marketplace -- but you also have unlimited in-game cash access, more character slots and inventory slots, all kinds of things to make the game more convenient for you. But free-to-play players still have access to all the same stuff that Legendary members do."

On DCUO's monetization design:

"We wanted people to have access to the entire game -- everything. All of our launch content, I should say. That was important to us; we didn't want to have to say, 'Well, you hit level 14, time to pay now.' Or do this 'poke-you-in-eye strategy' to annoy you until you sub up or give us some money or purchase something. We wanted to make it more like, '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. Otherwise, if you want to play it for free, you'd go at the pace that the game determines for you."

How DCUO's "Lockout" system balances time and money:

"It's not that you circumvent the time with money; we have this system called a lockout system. When I finish this mission, I'll get a reward, and that reward has a "lockout" -- I still can play the mission over and over and over again, but I won't get the loot until that lockout clears, which is usually on a daily cycle. What we did was, we decided to allow players to circumvent the lockout using a currency we call replay badges -- that we gift you every month as a Legendary member, or you can purchase them directly on the marketplace -- to clear the lockout. So your time in the game is the same as a free-to-play person's time, you're just front-loading that time."

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