Last week, we brought you news on the latest retail game to go free-to-play, Aion. While there are certainly many more free-to-play online games currently available to discuss and play, for this week let’s turn our gaze to the future and look at two games expecting to hit later this year or in 2013. These games are still in-development, so information is scarce, but they both look to shape the future of free-to-play online role-playing games such as Aion is doing now.
The first game is one for giant robot fans everywhere: Transformers Universe. Transformers has been subject to a massive rise in popularity since 2007 with three incredibly successful motion pictures, a hit cartoon in Transformers Prime and a deluge of toys hitting retail stores everywhere. While there has already been a home console Transformers game released to critical acclaim, with another on the way, Transformers Universe goes in a different direction; it is a free-to-play browser-based game from Jagex, the company behind the popular RuneScape free-to-play game.
Set in the Transformers Prime universe, Transformers Universe doesn’t see you taking on the role of any of the iconic Autobots and Decepticons, such as Optimus Prime or Megatron; rather, you are free to make your own character. The game will feature five character classes, but specific character classes have not been announced yet. The view in Transformers Universe is in a third-person perspective, similar to the home console games, features 3D graphics and transformation into vehicle modes is a large part of the gameplay. Transformers Universe features voice acting, voice chat, both player vs. player and player vs. enemy combat and Jagex is promising a story that ties into your character and is unique to you. Unlike RuneScape, every player will have access to every game feature; the only paid items are those that allow you to level faster. Transformers Universe will have a beta test later this year and will see a release in 2013.
The second game is more for the comic book fan: Marvel Heroes. The free-to-play online genre is looking crowded, with games using unlicensed heroes, such as City of Heroes and Champions Online, along with DC Universe Online, a retail game that has since gone free-to-play; however, what makes Marvel Heroes stand out from other comic book free-to-play games, such as DC Universe Online, is that it puts you in the role of the characters from Marvel comics. Rather than create your own hero, you’ll play as some of the Marvel’s most popular heroes like Spider-Man, Captain America and Iron Man, along with lesser known heroes such as Nova, Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel. The main villain of the game is the everpopular Dr. Doom, with the game’s story being written by a Marvel icon, Brian Michael Bendis, who has worked on such titles as Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man.
Unfortunately, details about Marvel Heroes are slim and not much is known about how the game will play. What is known is that the game will use Unreal Engine 3 to power its graphics, delivering the same graphical quality as games like Batman: Arkham City and Gears of War. In addition, the game will not lock anything out to free customers. Unfortunately, a release date is not currently known, though 2013 seems likely.
Both of these upcoming games represent some very big changes in the free-to-play online genre. Years ago, both of these games would have been retail releases; now, licensed games are appearing in the free-to-play space first, and not going to retail and transitioning later, which is a testament to the popularity and health of the free-to-play genre. In addition, both games do not lock out content to free players; in most current free-to-play games, players who pay gain access to features such as better skills, more character classes or additional areas. Both of these games represent a shift away from locking content and being truly free-to-play for all players, a shift we first saw with Aion the previous week.
Critics once felt the free-to-play genre wouldn’t last; with more and more license holders going free-to-play first, instead of retail, along with a dynamic shift to being truly free, those critics couldn’t have been more wrong about this genre’s future.