Senior Staff Writer Chris "Pwyff" Tom sat down with Game Director and Executive Producer Craig Morrison to talk about Age of Conan going free-to-play and what it means for the community.
ZAM: For many MMORPGs, changing from a subscription-based model to a free-to-play model usually comes with significant changes to the game's development cycle; will adventure packs like The Savage Coast of Turan be a key focus for Funcom in future developments, or do you have other plans in mind?
Morrison: We will pretty much be sticking to our regular content schedules, so there won't be many changes there, we will still be planning content updates, of both the paid and free varieties.
ZAM: Speaking of this upcoming adventure pack and your new revenue model, do you have any approximate price ranges for microtransaction purchases like premium dungeon passes or raid entry passes?
Morrison: No we haven't announced the final pricing yet, but they will be similar to what you see in other western hybrid games, like Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest 2 Extended, our own Anarchy Online, or Dungeons & Dragons Online.
ZAM: You've mentioned that players will be able to purchase weapons and armor in Age of Conan's upcoming microtransaction store. Are you referring mostly to cosmetic and low-level purchases, or will players be able to supplement their end-game gear with in-game purchases?
Morrison: The items with stats that will be sold will more be gear aimed at those leveling up, rather than end game. The best items in the game will always be those available through gameplay. The items with stats that we may sell will mainly be seen as "convenience" type items, much in the same way you progress a little faster with an exp potion, you'll progress a little faster if you want to supplement your equipment with some gear you buy.
ZAM: How did you decide on the restrictions for free players when compared to premium members? Do you have a specific goal in mind for free players?
Morrison: There is a full FAQ over on our forums, so people can check that out. Overall we want free players to be able to experience the game all the way through to level 80 should they wish to by allowing them access to all the outdoor leveling content, and a selection of the instances along the way without charge. So players really will be able to play a huge portion of the game for free. Obviously we hope they enjoy it enough to want to continue as a premium subscriber, but if not, they will still find months of content available for play.
ZAM: Some MMORPGs that have made the shift from the subscription-based model to the free-to-play one have created "three-tier" systems, where players who make microtransaction purchases above a certain amount can gain access to a few convenient features that aren't available to free-to-play players, like the lifting of chat restrictions. Is this something that's being considered by Funcom, or will you stay with a simpler two-tier free versus premium model?
Morrison: We did consider that, but we felt it was easier for people to understand if we kept the offer as simple and straightforward as possible, so we went back to a simple two-tiered model.
ZAM: Finally, Age of Conan has always been a game that emphasizes its PvP aspects - with non-subscribers not having access to key features like the Alternate Advancement system introduced in Rise of the Godslayer, how will PvP be balanced going forward?
Morrison: Free players will definitely be at a disadvantage at maximum level PvP. If someone is really a competitive PvPer, they will probably want to switch to the premium offer. Our game doesn't have as large a statistical gap between things as some games, but yes, it will be noticed. We definitely think that free players will still be able to contribute well in group PvP settings even if they may end up a little short in a pure 1v1 situation.
ZAM: And that's all the questions we have for now! Once again, congratulations on your third anniversary; it sounds like this summer will be an extremely busy one for you, and we look forward to seeing it all unfold!
Morrison: Thanks for asking! It is going to be an exciting year for sure.