Defiance Designer on Free-to-Play: ‘More People is More Fun’

Defiance has changed a lot since it launched 13 months ago, and now it’s making the biggest change yet — it’s transitioning to free-to-play.

In a press release this morning, publisher Trion Worlds announced its open-world sci-fi shooter will be making the move to a free-to-play business model. Previously, Defiance followed a similar model to Guild Wars in that it required a purchase of the game, but not a recurring subscription fee, as with World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online. Now even the purchase barrier is being removed as Trion throws the game’s virtual doors open to the world.

Defiance isn’t the first game we’ve seen make this transition. It’s not even the first game Trion has gone fully free-to-play. That distinction belongs to Rift, which has flourished since it was made free. If you’ve played Rift’s incarnation of free-to-play, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Defiance. In short, boosts and cosmetics in the in-game store, alongside a subscription model that will give more benefits to those who pony up.

Trion’s main goal in taking Defiance free-to-play is to get more people into the game to make everyone’s experience better, said Trick Dempsey, Defiance’s lead designer, in an interview with GameFront. Obviously, they also want to increase their player counts, as the game has less than 500 players on Steam as of this writing. While that number clearly isn’t indicative of peak player counts, I’m sure Trion would like it to be higher.

“We know that bringing a larger population to Defiance enhances the game drastically,” Dempsey said. “We are removing barriers so people can get into that cooperative shooter experience together because more people is, honestly, always more fun inside our game. As long as we have that strength, let’s leverage it by making certain that everyone can come and play”

The move to free-to-play will be incremental across platforms. The transition on PC is taking place on June 4, and will be the first version of the game to go free. The PlayStation 3 version will follow on July 15. There’s currently no timeline for when the Xbox 360 version will make the move to free-to-play.

“Essentially, all partners work at their own pace,” Dempsey said, explaining the delay. “Some are quicker than others, and some are not. We’re working with our partners. We love working with them, and it’s just taking more time to nail down the details with Microsoft.”

Though the game is making the transition to a free state a little more than a year after its original release, Dempsey said the transition isn’t a hard one. That’s because that free-to-play was considered when Defiance was initially being designed; since the game doesn’t have a subscription model, it’s already supported by an in-game store.

“We did design knowing that free-to-play was definitely a possibility and that since we had an in-game store all along, the concept of selling boosts and a lot of other standard things were already there in the game. We knew that transition would be easy,” he said.

The more difficult part was revamping Defiance’s character progression to suit the new model, Dempsey explained.

“The hard part was that our game had a very flat progression scale because we were on sort of the battle between ‘What’s good for PvP?’ ‘What’s good for PvE?’”.

In a recent content patch, Trion made major changes to Defiance to address not only the coming move to free-to-play, but issues with progression and scaling as well.

“With our last DLC that we released 2 weeks ago (Arktech Revolution), we changed the game drastically from what you played when you last played it, so now leveling progression is a huge part,” Dempsey said. “There’s that little celebration at every step along the way as you become more and more powerful. We had to wait to do that because we needed to implement dynamic scaling for our enemies so they would continue to be a challenge for someone when they came in, but also automatic mentoring so that low-level players that come to those massive events don’t feel like they’re the third wheel. They get a chance to contribute to the event, and feel important, even though they’ll still be outshined by their higher-level brothers and sisters. That’s why we had to wait until now.”

So, what’s the model?

Much like the design of Rift’s free-to-play model, Defiance will not lock content behind paywalls. Instead, it will be entirely possible to play everything the game has to offer, from missions to events to dungeons, without spending a dime.

Of course there will be some restrictions, chiefly on things like character slots, inventory size, and the like.

“New players who come in will only have two character slots available,” said Dempsey, “and two loadouts available on each character. They’re going to have more limited inventory space, but it’s still something that you can come to the game and you can play all the way to the end with it. We didn’t want people to be sitting saying, ‘Ah, this is impossible.’ We don’t want that experience. We want people to say things like, ‘You know what, this is a lot of fun, but I wish I had more space.’ or ‘I want to roll an alt.’ We want them to have an experience where they say ‘I want more of this,’ and so they take a bigger piece of it.“

Dempsey was quick to emphasize that Trion wants to be sure that the players who have supported Defiance up to this point are rewarded. In his words: “We want to make certain that these people who’ve supported us for this first year feel like we’re treating them like kings.”

To that end, Trion plans to make the paid user game experience feel very much the same. If you’ve purchased the game in the last year, you won’t see any change to the number of loadouts, character slots, or other features that you have available.

That’s not all. Dempsey also said that every owner would receive “a bunch of a currency that was introduced to the game called ArcForge, which lets them upgrade and change their weapons in a significant way. You can level them up to change their level. You can change their rarity if you happen to have a lot of it. You can change the mastery roll the weapon got. It’s a significant object, and we’re just going to give those people a whole bunch of it — 1,000 units of it.”

Trion also will give owners of Defiance a 30-day Patron Pass. Much like the Patron Pass offered in Rift, players will receive a host of monthly goodies. Dempsey briefly described the benefits, saying that the pass “gives you these massive boosts to earning scrip and experience — weapon skill and reputation inside the game and score in the events.”

The TV tie-in

With the second season of the TV show version of “Defiance” looming just ahead, you might think that SyFy would resist any changes to the game, especially one this major. Not so, says Dempsey.

“They are totally all-in. We love them,” he said. “I talk to them every week as part of the writing of the show. They get involved in the writing of the game. We’ve been in bed together a long time. It’s great and honestly they see it as an opportunity, too. They’re like, ‘You know what, we’re a cable television series and we really wish that we could reach a wider audience than that, and hey, wait a minute, you guys are going to reach a really wide audience. That’s great!’”

Dempsey emphasized that Trion will continue to support for Defiance for quite a while, regardless of what happens with the SyFy tie-in show — even if it were hypothetically canceled. When presented that scenario, Dempsey said that while he didn’t expect the show to be canceled to happen, if it did, the game would go on.

“We’re definitely keeping the game going. Last year, I believe it was the second or third episode aired, and SyFy lined up the second season,” he said. “My expectation is, especially since the quality of the show is intensely good, that it will continue for quite some time. However, even if it were to cease, the game stands on its own two legs, and we have content plans going out an embarrassingly long duration of time with new features, land expansions, enemies, all that kind of stuff.”

There are obviously a lot of changes coming to Defiance in the next few months, the least of which is another season of the show. If you’re interested in seeing more about the changes, and maybe getting an answer to questions you might have, you can check out the livestream Trion is holding on its Twitch channel at 2 p.m. PDT Friday, which will go into even more detail on the upcoming changes.

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1 Comment on Defiance Designer on Free-to-Play: ‘More People is More Fun’


On May 5, 2014 at 7:43 pm

Rifts hasn’t “flourished” since it went FTP – it just stopped bleeding users like a stuck pig. The numbers have been flat ever since. Still, compared to the Defiance MMO I suppose Rifts looks pretty healthy. Limiting an MMO to what a console can handle is bad enough, but the TV tie-in insured it was doomed from day one. Cross-media fails every single time and yet still the industry keeps coming back with another sorry attempt. Maybe someday they’ll learn.