Published on May 19th, 2016 | by Suros_Six1
Is Atlas Reactor Buy to Play the Right Call?
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It definitely seemed like Atlas Reactor was on track to becoming a new free-to-play MOBA, but on May 5th Trion Worlds announced that instead it was shifting to a buy-to-play game with a $30 price tag. This free-to-play now buy-to-play shift is nothing new as there are many instances of planned free-to-play games changing models, LawBreakers being a recent example. The difference here though is LawBreakers is an FPS, whereas Atlas Reactor is a turn-based MOBA.
The reason the FPS/MOBA comparison is relevant is because in shooters that are free to play, specific guns tend to have a price for both in game currency and real life money. In this case you choose which of the two grinds you want to do: the real life grind that you probably already do anyway (i.e. A job) or the in-game grind which may probably be many hours of your free time. If said weapon is particularly strong then it tends to become a pay-to-win FPS which many people aren’t a fan of and it can potentially kill the population of the game due to lack of enjoyment. Therefore, it’s much easier for an FPS to have a price tag as balancing for both the real world market and in game market no longer becomes an issue. However, in F2P MOBAs the only microtransactions for real world currency are typically cosmetics that change the look of a character or the characters themselves, which can usually also be earned in-game for free if they aren’t already given to the player.
Atlas Reactor had the typical MOBA set-up: their characters could be bought with both forms of currency and there was plenty of cosmetics that a player could purchase through microtransactions that would support the developers of the game. This is why it was a huge surprise to me reading that it was being shifted to a buy-to-play model. Even though I did buy a $25 pack for access, which was $15 extra than the original access pack, I did so because I wanted to support the developers in hopes that it would lead to a smoother launch with more money being poured into it by the community. While I did have some complaints about the fact that some characters were $10 to buy and the alternative method of earning them was quite a grind of time, Atlas Reactor, for the most part, had a perfect Free-to-Play system in my eyes as the consumer. Their free week rotation of characters allowed me to test them out and decide if I wanted to grind for them or just outright buy them. The taunts and skins made me feel like I was a bit more unique and added character to my favorite freelancers, and buying levels which gave cases to open gave me all the RNG I could ever want.
I think the choice Trion has made in turning Atlas Reactor into a Buy-to-Play game was indeed the wrong call. During my time with the game it has suffered from some pretty bad queue times except when it was in open beta for a weekend. During that time I had matches found pretty quickly, but now with a $30 barrier to entry I’m worried that if many people didn’t bother to pay the $10 closed beta entry free, then even fewer people will want to pay a more expensive one. Trion is giving copies of the game to anyone who bought any earlier Founder Packs including the $10 one which makes me wonder if the player base will expand much more than the size it already is.
Another problem is now the question of microtransactions. Atlas Reactor will still have the cosmetics it had before and Trion say that they will be cheaper than before. Furthermore, all the characters are given to the player upon purchase. While this seems like a nice change, in all reality I don’t think you could really say you’re paying less for these cosmetics as you already paid a minimum of $30 for the game. Taunts are a type of cosmetic in the game. Before, you’d buy each one individually with each character having at least 4 of them — now, they are just bought in packs which will possibly be less than buying them one at a time. As a supporter who bought the original $25 pack I already get the one taunt pack I wanted along with a few others as extra. So I don’t feel very inclined to spend any more money on it. Along with the changes of the game being buy-to-play, the idea of purchasing levels has been taken out and now players can purchase loot boxes with real money or the in game currency. This change is pretty significant as a lot of players before this change purchased levels including myself. The reason being is that certain level milestones granted you with titles that you could show off in game along with the loot boxes you earned for leveling. You still earn loot boxes for leveling and the titles but now you really have to grind to get those. Some titles even take hundreds of levels to get to, which is kind of silly.
This change really made me wonder why they felt the need to switch models. Maybe they weren’t making enough money or maybe they felt they could make more money this way. However, both of these ideas don’t really make sense to me. I know of multiple players who spent HUNDREDS of dollars on levels for whatever reason even though it didn’t give them any in-game benefits. I personally spent about $40 on in-game levels to see how the system worked and what drop rates were like and, because of this switch, I’ve chosen to have those $40 refunded to my bank account. I feel like the value of the money I spent was severely slashed and I’m not the only one who had a problem with this. I know a few other occasions of players getting their money refunded, sometimes for their microtransactions and sometimes for their whole copy of the game. So if their plan was to make more money, in some ways it backfired.
Now Trion says that if they kept the game free-to-play they would have to make this game less fun and go against player wishes. From experience on their community Discord, I can tell you that the main complaint players had was that they couldn’t purchase all the freelancers in one payment. People believed that if players bought the $100 Trust Pack that they should get every freelancer that’s out at the time and all the future ones for free, and most agreed. Others who hadn’t spent that premium asked for a freelancer pack that was similar to Smite’s Ultimate God Pack that gives the players all the characters, or gods, for $30. Now in the end that is what essentially happened with this model swap except the pack is mandatory. The game’s $30 price tag, as stated before, gives players all the characters. What baffles me is why they didn’t just keep the game free-to-play and add the character pack and make more money that way.
Discontent with what Trion’s reasons were, I reached out to their community manager, TheBlueMuzzy, and had a chat with him. I didn’t get too much of an answer and more or less got a runaround of typical PR speak. The idea he told was essentially, “Looking at data we know that this is the best choice.” Now, this is paraphrasing but he didn’t specify what data he was talking about and he told me that he couldn’t share any more information. Now when he says, “Best choice,” he means best in terms of the best choice they could go forward with without “Squeezing more money out of the players.” That is a direct quote. The real only statement with substance I got from him was this:
“So going b2p gives us a solid amount of money that we can count on and allows us to focus on fair and balanced gameplay with better features that doesn’t get compromised by the need to design around microtransactions.”
Now I can agree, if your game has a barrier to entry that needs to be paid that is, “A solid amount of money that we can count on,” but that amount is only as solid as the amount of players you have purchasing the game. It could be argued that you could have just as many players if not more purchasing a character pack for the $30 price in a free-to-play model. Now the part of this that gets me is TheBlueMuzzy implies that if the game was free-to-play they would HAVE to make the game unbalanced to make money. I don’t know where he gets off saying something like that. Many games in the MOBA genre make lots of money in a free-to-play model without compromising the fairness of the game. If anything this is also an implication that games like League of Legends are purposely unfair to make money, and even if they are it sure is working because it still has a huge playerbase. So I don’t understand what exactly the problem is.
I think one of the main problems is that Atlas Reactor is being backed by Trion who is notorious for being money hungry and making their games pay-to-win. Had this been another company I think I’d be more on board with this huge change and it makes me worried for its future in terms of its competitive scene and player base. The $30 barrier to entry is enough to scare new players away, thus reaching a much smaller audience and possibly costing the company more money in the long run. I don’t know how much extra money Trion expects to gain by abandoning an already well thought out system, but I can tell you one thing: as it stands now, they won’t be gaining more from me.