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F2P: The next generation of free

Greg Lockley
F2P: The next generation of free

Last year one of the questions was whether free-to-play was really a legitimate business model or a temporary fad?

One year on and we have our answer. It is definitely here to stay. And the model has evolved and changed even further.

From its humble beginnings on PC with the likes or Runescape, and then onto mobile and now the recent tentative steps into the console space with the likes of Dust 514 and World of Tanks.

But we’re experiencing a further development as Xbox One and PS4 launch with a variety of F2P titles available at launch. Killer Instinct and Warframe are just a couple of the cost-free games that are luring in users and generating revenue from microtransactions.

These games mean that customers already have games ready to play from the moment they switch their consoles on. It’s convenient, and poses the question:?Will one day all consoles games be free?

“It’s inevitable,”?says Rob Kinder, marketing director at Jagex. “Gaming has moved in many new directions since the last generation. The landscape has changed in a way that developers can no longer ignore. Business models and gaming habits are changing dramatically and free-to-play experiences are at the heart of that, whether it’s on PC, mobile or console.”

But CCP Games’ chief marketing office David Reid, the company behind F2P?console game Dust 514, believes the premium blockbuster games will never die.

“There will always be a market for blockbuster titles, which command a premium price on launch day," he says. “Free-to-play provides a really interesting way to debut new IP, but I don’t imagine gamers will suddenly be unwilling to pay for the next Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto.”

Of course, the games industry is far from black and white. What works for EA and Activision on the PS4 and Xbox One is entirely different to what mobile games developers are looking to achieve with their titles.

“I don’t think we’re heading for a future where there’s one true answer,” says Scott Hartsman, Trion Worlds CEO. “We’ll continue to see a variety of models. What’s best for a game whose goal is to acquire 100,000 dedicated people would be vastly different than a game that’s aiming for a larger scale audience.”

“There will always be a market for blockbuster titles,
which command a premium price on launch day.
Free-to-play provides a really interesting way to
debut new IP, but I don’t imagine gamers will
suddenly be unwilling to pay for the next Call of
Duty or Grand Theft Auto.”

David Reid, CCP


Free-to-play may not be the only direction for console games, but it’s making an impact in even the premium blockbuster games.

Take some of the biggest games this year, such FIFA 14, Grand Theft Auto V and Forza 5. All three of these games employ microtransactions to generate additional revenue on top of their £50 price tag. GTA?Online lets players redeem real money for in-game currency, while FIFA?Ultimate Team has been a massive revenue driver for EA.

This is the hybrid business model and it is growing in popularity. It is a model designed to help recoup the rising cost of development, whilst not adding too much onto the main boxed price.

“We see that as an entry point to the universe. Mixing business models, you will have part free-to-play, part premium,”?says Thomas Paincon, EMEA marketing director for digital publishing, Ubisoft.

Ubisoft has been heavily experimenting with the free-to-play model in particulary. It has also created a number of free mobile apps that tie-in with new releases. The hope being that it will attract new fans to the premium £40 game.

“The companion app will be the key for people that are not interested in the licence to interact with players and then, maybe they’ll be interested in it, understand the story and the background,” adds Paincon.

Both Xbox One and PS4 launched last month, and with them a host of £50 titles. The cost of next-gen has certainly proven divisive amongst players. But with the abundance of F2P titles available, could it turn customers off from the new consoles?

“I don’t think there’s any shortage of people willing to pay premium prices for quality games, but gamers have grown tired of plunking down a lot of cash up front for a game they’ve never played and are almost taking a bet they will enjoy it,” says Reid.

Tim Hodges, brand director for Jagex’s Transformers Universe believes that it’s the games that drive purchase decisions, and not the business model.

“Will it be the deciding factor in moving to next-gen? I’m not convinced. If the right games are available on the platform then that’s what will drive consumer choice.”

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Tags: free-to-play , Next-gen , ftp

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