Develop Conference: Dave Ranyard on how the SingStar developer 'pioneered' console F2P

SCE London Studio’s mission to break free from the walled garden

SingStar’s shift to free-to-play on console has almost doubled the number of players for the game, says London Studio director Dave Ranyard.

Speaking at the Develop Conference in Brighton, Ranyard said total lifetime sales for the disc-based PS3 release reached two million since 2007.

A switch to digital and free-to-play only as of October last however has seen an extra 1.5 million users play the title.

He said that of the 3.5 million registered online players, around six per cent were monetising.

Ranyard added that due to the rapid growth, there would be no packaged disc release of SingStar this year. He refused to rule out a return to disc in future however, although stressed the team was now focused on developing the title as a service.

The F2P journey

The Studio London director went on to detail the "baby steps" taken by the developer as it moved into console free-to-play from premium packaged disc.

He explained that being packaged with a microphone had previously been a barrier to entry, and added friction for consumers.

In 2009 the studio brought in wireless mics, and also began making the game compatible with other third-party microphones, headsets and the PS Eye to open up more people to buying SingStar and break down the barriers to entry.

"This was really about making it as easy as possible to try the game," he said.

During this year the developer also introduced SingStar on Demand, enabling players to buy songs in-game, rather than having to exit the title and enter the PlayStation Store just to make a purchase.

By 2010 London Studio also revamped its website, which Ranyard said was to integrate the community deeper within the game and house user-generated content.

"Before that had been a walled garden for the community, so we opened that up so people could push their content out further," said Ranyard.

On the changes for accessibility, he added: "Suddenly it’s not somebody who’s going into the store and thinking they’re going to get SingStar at the weekend, it’s somebody sitting at home with Guitar Hero thinking they might give it a try. Before it was six or seven clicks before they were getting a song, now it’s down to two or three."

Before going completely free-to-play last October, Ranyard said it had been a challenging shift for the development team, who had previously focused on a full console experience, but said the developer was "pioneering" console free-to-play and the creation of console game communities.

He said the team had to research existing free-to-play examples and create a different mind-set before taking the plunge, and also suggested the developer needed the right timing to ensure it was a success with other F2P titles also around on the PlayStation Store, particularly on a platform where free-to-play is still emerging, unlike on mobile where the business model is flourishing.

He explained that a focus on the core experience of SingStar, singing, was made, and the development team now runs "as a full digital service", turning into a quick, agile team responding quickly to user needs and implementing updates.

As part of its free-to-play shift, Ranyard said the development team was now working heavily with the marketing team, and was "completely embedded" with them, working on promotions and with music partners.

In future, as part of the wide industry digital shift, the London Studio director said the team would look at creating more ‘touch points’ to connect with the game on different platforms, as things had changed greatly since shifting from a packaged disc.

"From a brand perspective it was about on touch on disc. Now it’s about other touch points," he said.

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