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Sci-fi MMO Defiance goes free to play beginning in June

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Defiance is going free-to-play.

The science-fiction MMO, launched last year, will open its doors on a free-to-play basis beginning June 4 on PC and July 15 on PlayStation 3. Plans for a free-to-play shift are still pending on Xbox 360, said Trion Worlds, the game's developer.

Defiance's switch to a free-to-play format straddles the June 19 premiere of the second season of a SyFy TV adaptation of the video game.

Trion Worlds told Polygon that the plan all along was indeed to take Defiance to a free-to-play model, so early adopters who paid $49.99 to play the game when it launched a year ago (there was no subscription) may expect special treatment after the change.

The biggest change, said Trick Dempsey, the game's creative director, will be seen in the level-based progression that Defiance implemented with its fifth title update, which launched two weeks ago. Quests and challenges and the rewards they offered were all essentially flat prior to this, Dempsey said. Now the playthrough will scale, such that previously low-level missions, which returned the same flat payout, will be more worth the time of an experienced player.

"We really wanted Defiance to have that feeling of accomplishment and achievement," Dempsey said, "but we had to first solve how to handle dynamic adjustment. Those things needed to be in place [for the free-to-play switch] or else people would have a hard time playing together.

Defiance's defining trait are the large, cooperative battles and missions, grouping players of all levels together. In pitching free-to-play as a benefit to existing players, because it brings more comrades to the fight, Dempsey acknowledged that newcomers must be accomodated too. Lower level players will be auto-leveled up so they can participate in a hard event and contribute to its outcome, Dempsey said. "They won't be one of the shining stars," in the fight, he said, however; standouts will still be those of an advanced rank.

"Anyone who has played the game in great depth has seen that the game is better when there are a lot of other people around," Dempsey said. "This change provides everyone with lots of other people to play with in a massive co-operative experience."

A slew of other in-game improvements also have been delivered to make Defiance more inviting to those who, for example, watch an episode, find out there's a video game, and try it out. In essence, the preceding year was spent creating as "frictionless" an experience as possible, for these adopters and others.

So if the early adopters were effectively helping with the creation of the free-to-play rollout, they should expect favorable treatment once that change takes place. They'll receive a 30-day "Paradise Patron status," which includes a set of across-the-board boosts for their characters, plus a discount in the game's online store and 1,000 in virtual currency to use there.

As for the experience in the game, "When people find boxes during this transition, we want to make it feel like Christmas for them," Dempsey said. The new leveling system helps with that, by offering rewards commensurate to the rank of the character discovering them. Still, there's an "internal policy of disproportionate response," he said —to the benefit of the player — in hopes they'll welcome the free-to-play transition because of all the loot it offers to early adopters.

"The things we find are that people surf a lot of MMOs," said Scott Hartsman, the CEO of Trion Worlds. "Especially with a game actively promoted on a TV series, we do want [playing] it to be as easy and as fast as, 'I saw this game mentioned on the show, I downloaded the client; oh, cool, now I'm playing it.' Asking people to pay full price in the middle of that is too big of a barrier."

Defiance will stage a livestream over Trion Worlds' Twitch channel on Friday at 5 pm ET to describe the game's free-to-play vision and answer any questions from the community.

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