Tribes: Ascend -- Taking the League of Legends Approach
A fast, frantic and free shooter is on the way, but will it be successful?
June 27, 2011
Setting up a game for the free-to-play (F2P) market seems like risky business. I mean, how do you make money from something that you are giving away for free? In actuality, and perhaps counter-intuitively, the free-to-play model seems to be lower-risk than the traditional boxed-game model. With no barrier for entry, thousands can try a game and the developer can let its quality speak for itself. By cleverly throwing in micro-transactions a developer can make fistfuls of cash from a growing, often competitive audience looking to get some edge over their friends and rivals. If a developer makes their puchasables too valuable (say, a sword that is more powerful than anything a player can reasonably obtain for free), however, the developer may alienate the majority its players.
Hi-Rez Studios, the development team behind free-to-play MMO shooter Global Agenda, is all too aware of the difficulties of creating a good free-to-play game. But they're also acutely aware of the potential benefits. That's why Tribes: Ascend, the next game to come from the studio, is going to be free-to-play. Tribes: Ascend includes all the halmarks of the series. The setting is futuristic and colorful, players have jetpacks, and skiing -- where players glide along the surface of the terrain at great speeds -- is central to the gameplay. It's very fast-paced and a huge amount of fun, but making a game like Tribes: Ascend free-to-play and still financially viable may be a challenge.
The traditional microtransaction model that a lot of F2P MMORPGs have used, where potions and convenience items can be bought and used, doesn't work so well for a first-person-shooters. With Team Fortress 2's recent switch to free-to-play, the approach was to give players alternate weapons. For Tribes: Ascend, Hi-Rez is talking inspiration from one of the most successful games in the free-to-play market -- League of Legends.
For League of Legends, Riot develops brand new champions and releases them on a two-week cycle. These champions can be bought using in-game currency (the standard new champ requires about 40-60 games worth of in-game currency to buy) or can be bought using actual cash for five to ten US dollars. There's a roster of freely usable champions that rotates every week, so even if you don't buy any champions you can still have a lot of fun, but getting really good at a few particular champions typically requires a purchase.
It's a model that has worked extremely well for Riot, and with Tribes: Ascend, Hi-Rez hopes to emulate that success. Naturally, there are some differences, though. Instead of buying champions, Tribes players will be buying loadouts. A loadout determines the characteristics of your character in battle -- specifically, their armor type (light, medium or heavy) which also affects movement (heavy units move slowly, light very quicky), the two weapons they will be carrying, the type of explosive they will wield, and what their pack (which can change the dynamic of a character) does.
As an example, one loadout gave my character medium armor, an explosive-disk-shooting gun, a decent rapid-firing handgun, a set of grenades, and 20% more energy for my standard jetpack. It was a sort of all-rounder loadout that allowed me to assault the enemy's base or defend my own depending on what was needed.
A different loadout gave me heavy armor, a repair tool to fix structures with, a basic rifle, the ability to throw down mines (instead of grenades), and the ability to drop turrets. This was a much more defensive build, letting me patch up base structures like generators and cover key areas with my turrets.
There were loadouts designed for stealth and infiltration, for long-range siege, and for straight-up killing too. Like League of Legends, Hi-Rez wants to be able to push new loadouts out regularly, providing new ways for players to take on the enemy, as well as make available cosmetic buyables like skins. There will also likely be ways to increase the rate of your character growth, as an experience and leveling system of sorts will provide customization options and perks.
The question is, will a model that worked for League of Legends still work for a completely different style of game? I have concerns about giving players customization options in a game where the distinction between friend and enemy at a glance is so important. I'm also not sure how desirable owning different loadouts will be. With LoL, it's simply a case of being facerolled by someone in a different champion to make you want to own that champion. With Tribes: Ascend, the ability to tell what loadout a person is using is much tougher, and it is likely that you will be able to switch between a limited set of loadouts during a match, making the distinction even tougher. Even if each loadout was visually distinct, the pace of the game means that by the time you're close enough to identify another player, you might already be dead.
The core game is very strong -- I played it for a couple hours and thoroughly enjoyed it -- so that may be enough to ensure its success critically, but whether it will be successful commercially will depend on how well Hi-Rez can make one player want to fill a dozen roles. I'm not 100% certain that a FPS like Tribes is where something like that can happen, but I probably would have said the same about DotA a few years ago.
Anubis wrote:Perrinoia wrote:That's what I thought, now write your mollying.
They are copying Lord of the rings Online's style free to play, man... Thats not new.
plus, look at those weapons. I really hope they allow moddeling, so someone can make t1 models for it
Perrinoia wrote:If you had to choose between a monthly plan like WoW, or what ever they are describing, which would you rather have?
C-- wrote:Unreal 3 engine. I expect physics similar to T:V
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