Less than two months ahead of Disney Dreamight Valley's full release, developer Gameloft has announced that it won't be a free-to-play game after all. Instead, the studio said that based on its "learnings" from a year in early access, "we've made the decision to remain a paid game for the foreseeable future."
Players eager to jump into Disney Dreamlight Valley ahead of release were required to purchase a "founders pack" which granted entry into the early access version of the game along with various exclusive cosmetics. It's a not-uncommon way for game studios to monetize projects ahead of release by essentially charging excited fans to help them test their games: Fortnite, Heroes of the Storm, Dying Light: Bad Blood, Dauntless, and others have all offered similar programs in the past.
"By purchasing the Founder's Pack and being one of the first players, you'll interact with the game team and help us make a better game," Gameloft explained in the early access FAQ on Steam. "As Founders, you'll experience the game first and will be rewarded with tons of Founder-exclusive items that will not be available later on (after early access).
"After early access, Disney Dreamlight Valley will include an in-game store filled with cosmetic items to customize your character and House. The game features no monetization mechanisms such as a paid Energy system or gameplay time skipper. Paid content is limited to cosmetic or paid game extensions, which will be available in the future."
Those founders packs will remain available until Disney Dreamlight Valley launches, but instead of moving to a free-to-play model as planned, there will be three new, paid editions—the base game, the Cozy Edition, and the Gold Edition—and a separate expansion pass for those who already own the base game.
"This choice ensures that Disney Dreamlight Valley will be able to continue delivering on a premium game experience for all players," Gameloft said. "It's important to us that we maintain our promise to keep delivering free content updates that add new characters, realms, clothing, furniture, and more surprises to your Valley. Purchases requiring moonstones will remain optional, fair, and match the level of quality players have come to expect. Players will still be able to collect free Moonstones via Dream Snaps and Chests, or optionally choose to purchase them."
The reaction to the announcement is decidedly mixed at this point. A good number of players on Reddit and Twitter are happy to see the free-to-play model dropped because they expect (or at least hope) it means Gameloft won't lean hard into monetization through the in-game store. There are several comparisons to Disney Speedstorm, Gameloft's racing game, which did go free-to-play after leaving early access and has faced considerable criticism for its pricing model ever since.
Others, though, point out that Disney Dreamlight Valley will still employ F2P-style mechanics through the sale of currency, battle passes, and cosmetic items via its in-game store. As one redditor put it, "It literally is P2P with F2P monetization." And of course some are just pissed off as a matter of principle, accusing Gameloft of "lying" and "greed" due to the last-minute change.
It's probably a no-win situation for Gameloft, because people are going to be mad no matter what. I think what will ultimately tell the tale will be how the approach to monetization and in-game content shakes out post-launch: If the studio is generous, I imagine all will be forgiven (people do seem to like Disney Dreamlight Valley an awful lot, after all) and if it turns the screws, then perhaps not. I also wouldn't be surprised to see adjustments made between now and launch, and maybe some more freebies tossed to those who have already ponied up for a founder's pack.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is slated to leave early access on December 5. Anyone who purchases a founder's pack prior to the launch will receive all the new cosmetics included in the Gold Edition of the full release, along with 2,500 Moonstones to spend in the in-game store.