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Most games start as pay-to-play and then go free-to-play. It's very rare that they start free-to-play and then ditch that and go pay-to-play. Well, Sandbox Interactive is doing it the other way around and actually abandoning any free-to-play models for a number of reasons.
PC Gamer points to a forum post where the CEO and founder of Sandbox Interactive, Stefan Wiezorek, explained in simple terms why the game would no longer be free-to-play...
Making the game ready for a free to play model would take up significant development time which we would much rather use to make a better game. Free to play would also create a lot of risks for the game - spamming, botting, world too small, etc - which we do not want to take if it can be avoided.
They put the free-to-play model on hold and will instead focus on selling starter packs, which will be condensed Founder's Packs.
Don't fret over pricing models and payment, though. The game won't see the light of day for a long time given that closed beta testing is expected to run all the way through 2016 to August 1st. After closed beta testing is completed the company will then launch the title into open beta.
They actually have a lot of plans for the game in their 2016 roadmap, including significantly increasing the game's world size. Diversifying the city and zone hubs to be more unique and make players feel as if they're actually traveling around to different locations. Different biomes, presumably with different resource gathering opportunities per biome. And they have plans to completely rework the PvP system for reputation and crime – players who continually player-kill will eventually be labeled as a criminal.
The criminal aspect could be pretty cool. As it stands, guilds and such can battle each other and lift armor off rival players they kill. However, making it where anyone can kill each other in various zones and earn a reputation for it could create a thrilling dynamic for players who want more than the safe-zone theme-park MMO experiences that most standard MMOs offer at the moment.
They also have plans on improving the game's economy, fast travel system, the resource gathering to add more options for alchemists, and other quality of life and UI features to flesh out the game even more than it is at the moment.
Some gamers describe it as being similar to Runescape or Conqueror Online. Albion Online's isometric gameplay is similar to typical point-and-click ARPGs like Diablo where you can click on monsters and engage in auto-combat. There are bosses and various dungeons and zones to visit either solo or with a party.
The change from free-to-play to pay-to-play is still a shocking move for a small MMO such as Albion Online. Even EA and BioWare had to back away from the pay-to-play model with Star Wars: The Old Republic after losing plenty of subscribers the first few months out. Then again, ArenaNet's Guild Wars 2 has managed to prosper quite well with the buy-once-to-play model and has managed to avoid a lot of the problems of gold spammers and bots that infest free-to-play games from top to bottom.
We'll see how well the new payment model works for Albion Online as it continues development throughout 2016.