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League Of Legends Going Free-To-Play In September

The DOTA-style hero arena game from Riot Games will join the ranks of Battlefield Heroes and BattleForge when it releases later this year.

Play it gratis. 
Play it gratis. 
Say you're a new developer working on an up-and-coming online action game. What's the best way to court a gigantic player base that's gotten used to playing its favorite game for free for the last six years?

If you're Riot Games working on League of Legends, you could always just make your game free, too. The game--which is inspired by the disgustingly popular free Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients--will release in September as a free-to-play downloadable client, Riot announced today.

Of course, there will be microtransactions included to propel the free client toward profitability, and a $30 retail version will be on offer that will have a bunch of exclusive stuff in it. Here's a breakdown from the press release about how that stuff will work. (Riot also has a FAQ up going into more depth on this model.)

Influence Points will be earned by simply playing the game, while Riot Points will be available for purchase with real money. Both currencies will be used to unlock additional content customization options, whereas only Influence Points will be used to unlock content such as Runes, which enhance the power of playable characters. Gamers who spend money in the game will not have a power advantage over other players; they will have access to rare visual customization options.  The system is designed to empower the player with a huge number of mechanical choices that deepen the level of the strategic thinking in the game.  
 
Riot Games will also offer a League of Legends Collector’s Pack that contains exclusive items, such as two unique Champion skins, as well as a number of Champions, Runes and Riot Points. Players who pre-order the Collectors Pack at www.leagueoflegends.com or at retail outlets GameStop and Best Buy will also receive an exclusive Champion skin that will only be available with the pre-order. The Collector’s Pack will retail for $29.99.


The big question for me is how many champions (i.e. playable characters) will be in the free client, and how many will be locked up in the Collector's Pack, since characters are the only piece of content that will really influence the way the game plays. If I'm reading this preorder page correctly, it looks like 20 of the "over 40" characters will be exclusive to the retail game. That seems like a decent value, if you play the free game and decide you want the whole experience.

How's the whole free-to-play model working out for you? Anyone playing Battlefield Heroes or BattleForge and getting suckered in by the microtransaction model? Are you more likely to play League of Legends now? This is still an emerging business model in the West and I'm really curious to see if it will catch on.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+