November 28 2012
PlanetSide 2 is with us, and keeping in line with current trends, this massively multiplayer shooter sequel is free-to-play (F2P). Many fans of the original game, which used a traditional subscription model, cringe at the thought of F2P pricing, because it can skew the competition in favor of those who spend the most money. It's a legitimate concern, and even at the best of times pricing schemes for F2P games can be convoluted. Now that PlanetSide 2 is live, we can take a closer look at the new Certification system.
Character progression in PlanetSide 2 is centered around Certification points, which accumulate actively while you're playing and earning experience, as well as passively, at a much slower rate, even when you're not logged on. Certification points are used to buy upgrades for the game's multitude of classes and vehicles, some of which can also be purchased with Station Cash (SC), Sony's virtual currency.
One thing about F2P pricing is that it's almost never simple, but it is flexible. If you decide to spend money on the game, you have the option to buy SC at a rate of 500 for $5 or to subscribe, which costs about $15 per month, with discounts for longer commitments. A subscription includes 500 SC each month, as well as bonuses to both XP gain and the passive Certification point accumulation rate. In effect, a subscription speeds up your progression in the game and provides you with in-game currency.
There are a few things that can only be acquired with SC. At this stage, with the possible exception of camouflage, these items are entirely cosmetic. A large amount of equipment that affects gameplay, such as weapons, can be purchased with either SC or Certs. Upgrades for weapons like scopes and front grips require Certification points, and you can't re-certify the way you could in the original game.
Perhaps more unsettling are some the peculiar pricing decisions they've made. The most obvious example is the flashlight that goes for 100 Cert points, and is arguably useless to the extent of being a handicap. At the same time, a very useful night vision scope costs only 30 Certs. The same Claymores that the Engineer class can unlock for 100 Certs cost the Infiltrator 200 Certs, and so on. Some of it defies common sense, and it leads you to wonder how much thought went into this.
Pay to Win?
Whenever you mix game progression and real money there will be accusatons of "pay-to-win." So far, I haven't found anything in PlanetSide 2 that is quite as insidious as the infamous gold ammo in World of Tanks, but given the prices of items in cert points, the road to better equipment for anyone who wants to play for free is a long one. By the same token, it's hard to imagine that someone who steps into the fray with a couple hundred dollars worth of SC doesn't, in the short run, have at least a small advantage over those that spend less. By my estimation it's a more level playing field than the average F2P game, but not as level as, say, Team Fortress 2.
Long Term Progression
Upgrades bought with Certification points get exponentially more expensive as you reach the higher tiers. For instance, going from 0 to 1 percent damage reduction on a max unit costs only 150 Certs, but going from 4 percent to the maximum of 5 percent damage reduction costs 1000 Certs. This is clearly meant to get new players up to speed quickly, while still providing long-term goals for long-term players. Not many people will bother with top tier upgrades until they've run out of other things to unlock.
The whole system seems a little rushed, so I suspect that changes are in the works even as I write this. Frankly, when I see how F2P often gets implemented, it makes the old monthly subscription fee look like a bargain. Despite studying the system thoroughly, I still can't say how much it will ultimately cost me, or anyone else, to enjoy PlanetSide 2, and that price won't be the same for everyone. Such is the nature of the F2P business model. It hasn't kept me from having fun so far, and that may be the most important thing.