The headline says it all: S2's Heroes of Newerth is going free-to-play, and we couldn't be happier. Since the game's official release on May 12th of last year, there's been a barrier of entry to players who wanted to try out HoN's intense hero-vs-hero battles, but weren't willing to pay the game's one-time fee. Now that the cost of access has been completely lifted, HoN's popularity is bound to explode as more and more people get their friends to give it a try. Come check out what's changing, what's not, and what S2 plans to do with HoN next.
If you're already a proud owner of HoN, don't panic—you haven't been ripped off. S2's approach to the change in payment model comes in the form of a three-tiered account system. User's accounts will be categorized into three distinct types, as follows:
- Basic: The standard, free account new players will receive upon sign up.
- Verified: Basic accounts that have been upgraded through a show of commitment to their account, by either purchasing Goblin Coins or surpassing a certain threshold of play time. This allows them to participate in Verified Only games.
- Legacy: Paid user accounts that existed prior to the free-to-play model. These accounts receive a lifetime of free access to all HoN heroes and are able to play in Verified Only games, to ensure that experts and beginners are separated. Legacy accounts can no longer be purchased.
Verified Only matchmaking should solve the problem that Team Fortress 2 faced when it went free-to-play: keeping expert and beginner players separate. With Verified Only games, we have faith that more players will feel like they're on an even playing field during matches. This is especially important given HoN's notably hardcore community; new players have a tendency to get raged at pretty hard, as we've experienced firsthand.
If you took advantage of HoN's $10 price drop this past week, don't worry, you're still getting your money's worth. Basic and Verified accounts will have access to a rotating pool of 15 free heroes at any given time, while Legacy accounts will have free, permanent access to all heroes. One catch is that there will be a short delay between a hero's release and it being added to the Legacy player's roster, with the option to purchase early access if the user's keen on trying every hero as soon as they're released.
We wanted to know more about what S2 plans to do now that they've entered the F2P ring, so we asked James Fielding, director of design and development at S2, about where HoN is headed now that the playing field's really opened up.
PCG: Congrats on making the switch! What are the specific goals you're trying to achieve by making HoN free-to-play?
James Fielding: We're aiming to lower the barrier of entry, making it easier for our existing players to get their friends playing alongside them. After all, HoN's a heavily team-based game, and playing with your friends is what it's all about. We're also aiming to open the game up to some new audiences.
PCG: Will the inevitable influx of new players open you up to implementing anything you weren't able to before?
Fielding: Because we're anticipating more players bringing in and playing with their friends, we'd like to reward them for playing together. Players will receive bonus coins after every match they play with friends—the more friends you play with, the more coins you get! In addition, depending on the success of the model, we may be able to do things faster (and work on more of them at once). HoN's numbers generally tend to exceed our expectations, so we're pretty optimistic.
PCG: How will the existing shop be affected? (Bonuses, XP/Coin boosts, etc) Are you planning on making any UI changes?
Fielding: The shop had a few new items added to it, but nothing too drastic. The biggest example is the hero browser, so that F2P players can browse and purchase heroes. There have also been a number of UI changes. We included difficulty ratings and categorization for different hero types in the hero browser, to enable players to make an informed purchase. We've also spruced up the alternate avatar preview for browsing these items in the store. We've had to do a lot to make the F2P experience compatible with the experience that the existing players are used to. All in all, we tried to keep the experience for existing players as similar as possible, while adding new things for the F2P players.
We've update our spectator interface, as well—it's much flashier, easier to read, and a lot more entertaining in my opinion. We added some graphs to make it easier for spectators to identify what players are the strongest in the game, have the most kills, most gold, etc; [this also helps spectators to] identify what team has an advantage in gold/experience. We also worked a bit with certain members of our community (including shoutcasters) to get an idea of what features and tools they want available when spectating a match.
PCG: With the switch to microtransactions, will every hero be getting an Alternate Avatar in the near future? Deadwood needs some Captain Falcon love!
Fielding: We'll certainly continue to add Alternate Avatars—we add based on a number of factors, though, [so we're not necessarily] aiming to add one for every hero. I'll see what I can do about Captain Falcwood (pun gods: forgive me).
PCG: How often can we expect updates once HoN goes F2P?
Fielding: The frequency of updates probably won't change—we currently patch once every 1-2 weeks (with a hero usually coming every two weeks). The amount of content in them may [increase], though, depending on how things go with the new model. We wouldn't want to add [an excessive amount of new content], or the game changes too frequently to the point of instability.
PCG: What are the projected Goblin coins / time spent needed to upgrade from Basic to Verified? What are the upsides of being Verified?
Fielding: A purchase of any amount of Goblin Coins will automatically promote your account to Verified. If you choose to get there without wanting to spend any money, you must play until your account reaches level 5. It's hard to say how many games that is, because it varies from person to person (for example, your first win of the day awards more account experience), but we estimate about 60 to 70 games for the average player. Being Verified allows you to choose to play in "Verified Only" matchmaking, alongside the current (Legacy) HoN players. We expect Verified Only matchmaking to achieve a higher quality match—due to the entire player pool all being people with a vested interest in their HoN account, they're less likely to do something that would get them banned. Additionally, you gain access to the Report A Player (RAP) feature, which further improves the quality of Verified Only games. You also get a few tokens once you become verified, which grant you the ability to play in game modes other than All Pick (Basic accounts are restricted to only All Pick games).
PCG: How long will the waiting period be between a new hero's release and them being added to all Legacy accounts?
Fielding: Heroes that enter Early Access are intended to stay there for about 4 weeks, at which point they're released into the general hero pool. [At this time, though], not all numbers are final (and we always adjust to what makes sense, based on live data).
PCG: Thanks for your time! Anything else you'd like to add?
Fielding: We're very excited for the Free-to-Play switch here at S2. Ultimately, we're interested in providing the best multiplayer competitive title out there, and securing HoN a place in the ever-changing, competitive marketplace. HoN has been continually growing since it's release [and consistently retains players] (90% of all time sales are active), so we're really excited to open it up to some new audiences. If you've never given HoN a try, there's no time like now.
Be sure to check out the two new brawlers coming to Heroes of Newerth in today's patch: the Monkey King and the Drunken Master . Also, be sure to invite your friends to give HoN a try, and join the official PC Gamer clan while you're at it!