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Is 'free' the future of console games?

Christopher Dring
Is 'free' the future of console games?

It seems inevitable that free-to-play will play a big part in the next generation of consoles.

Last year Xbox launched Happy Wars, its first freemium game. And that game now boasts a player base of over 2m.

PS4 allows for free-to-play titles and even Nintendo is eyeing micro-transactions for Wii U and 3DS.

Crysis developer Crytek believes free-to-play is the future of games, and the firm’s boss Cevat Yerli told MCV last year: “If consoles don’t join free-to-play aggressively from now on, then it will be outpaced by PC and mobile. If they don’t adapt they’re not going to survive.”

David Reid of CCP, the developer of upcoming PS3 free game Dust 514, added: “What is common now on the PC, tablet and mobile is likely to become the primary way of monetising console games by the end of this next generation.”

BUT ARE THEY RIGHT?

Freemium could well play a major role with the next Xbox and PlayStation. But console gamers are a different breed of player to those who play Bejeweled Blitz on iOS or Candy Crush Saga on Facebook.

“Something like free-to-play on a smartphone or a tablet is one thing when you’ve bought the device already, but on PS4 you are talking about people who will have made a reasonably significant investment in their gaming console,” said Sony Europe boss Jim Ryan.

“It’s a different consumer. You are not talking about someone who bought an iPad to read books and who might fancy dabbling with a free gaming experience. Whatever the price point, somebody would have made that financial commitment to PS4. Free-to-play has potentially an interesting role to play, but it might be a different role to what we’ve seen so far on other platforms.”

It’s an interesting observation. Free is a great way to encourage casual players to try new games on their phoens or PC. But when it comes to committed console owners, is free-to-play as important?

Ubisoft says that there will be a variety of monetisation methods over the next generation for different platforms.

“We do a few games on PC that are free,” said CEO Yves Guillemot. “It is one way to monetise our games. We’ll have a diversity of machines in the future and a diversity of monetisation. For us it’s good to work with all of the methods so we can adapt. People just want great content, so you have to make sure you understand all the ways they want to pay for that content.”

FREE FOREVER

Free-to-play does have a place on console. It allows games to cut above the noise. Would Happy Wars be one of the big Xbox Live games of the last six months had it been a paid download? Unlikely.

Nevertheless, to suggest that micro-transactions will be the ‘primary’ monetisation method by the end of the next generation is far from certain. The reaction from gamers when EA stated that all of its future games would have micro-transactions (which it has since retracted) was overwhelmingly negative, which shows there’s resistance to the free-to-play revolution.

There is a role for free games on the new consoles. But it may not be the revolution the likes of CCP and Crytek are expecting.

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Tags: f2p , free-to-play , consoles , Xbox One , PS4 , freemium , dust 514 , free-to-play gaming , happy wars , free-to-play on consoles

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