Atari Europe and Cryptic Studios have announced a change to superhero MMO Champions Online: from Q1 2011 the game will be free-to-play.
In practice, that means anyone can download the game and play up to maximum level for free. There is no subscription and no upfront charge.
There will be a complimentary web-based and in-game C-Store, though, where you can grab things like items, powers, costumes and Adventure Packs for real-world money.
You can also upgrade to Gold status should you decide you want to stay a while. This membership unlocks "most of the game's content and includes extra features".
Cryptic will beta test the free-to-play model starting 9th November. Current players will have preference of entry.
Champions Online will follow in the footsteps of Turbine MMOs Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online, which both turned (or are turning) free-to-play. DDO had great success in the US: the switch to F2P attracted one million users and boosted revenues 500 per cent.
Turbine may have proven the model, but Sony Online Entertainment is also keen for a piece of the pie. EverQuest II has turned free-to-play and Pirates of the Burning Sea makes its move this autumn.
Champions Online launched last September and was, by Cryptic's own admission, not as good as it had hoped. As a result Cryptic has decided to focus on online multiplayer games rather than massively multiplayer online games. The first product of this will be Neverwinter, a D&D adventure to succeed BioWare's Neverwinter Nights.
But Cryptic boss Jack Emmert promised Eurogamer that Champions Online and Star Trek Online would not be forgotten. They will continue to "chug along", Emmert promised in September.