From the first time we saw Atlas Reactor and were blown away by it back in September of 2015, one thing was made clear by the developers at Trion Worlds: This was a game that was inspired by free-to-play titles and designed from the ground up to be free-to-play. Today, however, Trion has unexpectedly revealed the decision to turn Atlas Reactor into a more traditional buy-to-play game.
"We've been figuring out how to best tune our Free to Play ('F2P') game to create a sustainable business," wrote producer Peter Ju in a letter posted on the Atlas Reactor site. "To make it viable, we would have had to do some things that run counter to your feedback, making the game less fun. Instead, we've decided to change the way we offer Atlas Reactor to you."
The announcement comes after numerous closed beta tests during which Trion worked on tweaking the microtransaction formula in the game. Transactions were already turned on during these tests, which means some players have already spent money as they would in a free-to-play title. Trion says anyone who's purchased $10 or more of in-game credits or bought a Founder's pack will now own the full game, even if they paid less than the $29.99 fee the company will be charging.
Further rewards are promised for players who purchased the Starter Pack, Freelancer Pack or Trust Pack, though they will be announced at a later date.
Along with turning Atlas Reactor into a buy-to-play product, Trion is promising that all current and future "freelancers" (the game's playable characters) will be available to everyone who owns the game, free of any further cost. Some cosmetic items can still be purchased via microtransactions, but Trion says they will be at a reduced price compared to what was planned and many will be "obtainable through gameplay."
While the shift away from free-to-play may be surprising for a game in Atlas Reactor's competitive, hero-based style, Trion CEO Scott Hartsman says it's about "matching the business model with the correct team, the correct game design and the correct audience."
"What we learned over the last few years is that some game audiences really love the idea of free-to-play, and some game audiences really love the idea of buy-to-play," Hartsman told Polygon. "We're at the end of the era when free-to-play is going to be the default answer for everything."
Hartsman pointed to other contemporary competitive multiplayer-focused games, such as Overwatch, Lawbreakers and Battleborn, all of which could be wrenched into the traditional free-to-play model but have chosen to go buy-to-play instead.
"We ran the entire Atlas Reactor alpha with the default assumption that it was going to be a free-to-play game," Hartsman said. "I'll be honest. It wasn't even something we put a ton of thought into. We were like, 'Of course it's going to be a free-to-play game, because that's what we do.'"
However, over the alpha, Trion discovered that the audience playing Atlas Reactor seemed much more open to just purchasing the game rather than buying it piecemeal via microtransactions. Hartsman said the company will continue looking at ways to pull in new players after Atlas Reactor's launch, which could include a free version one day, though he says it's "too early to say."
"We're at the end of the era when free-to-play is going to be the default answer for everything."
Whatever its eventual shape, Hartsman absolutely believes in Atlas Reactor's future and assured us that this change shouldn't be seen as viewing the game as a shorter term project.
"I would love to be having this conversation about the business model changes we're making to the game seven years from now," Hartsman said. "Even if you look at League of Legends, you can see that even they have had to evolve their model over time to keep up with the times. People don't come in and make changes like that when there isn't an outside need to do so.
"The fact that there are changes in that game tells me that they're starting to feel a little bit of a pinch of people going, 'Okay, this model has been great for the last four years. I don't know that it's going to be a big success in the long-term forever.'"
Atlas Reactor doesn't have a set release date at the moment. Hartsman says it will remain in closed beta for a while yet, after which time Trion will figure out when it's ready for an official launch.