In the fourth of a series of features answering the biggest questions about the industry's future, Dominic Sacco evaluates the threat of the free-to-play model
Will all games be free?
The most played PC browser and mobile games cost nothing to play.
Zynga's CityVille is the most popular Facebook game with over 40m monthly active users. Capcom Interactive's Smurfs' Village iOS?game is also incredibly successful, and has helped the firm reach 56m mobile game downloads. Both titles are free-to-play, with users able to pay for extras.
More PC online RPGs have adopted the free-to-play model over the past few years, such as Lord of the Rings Online, which is free to play but there's extra content available that can be paid-for.
But this doesn't mean consumers will be playing Call of Duty or FIFA for free on PlayStation 5 in the future. Big boxed releases generate hundreds of millions of pounds between them. However, even these titles have learnt a thing or two from the free-to-play model.
For example, EA's FIFA Ultimate Team mode allows users to spend real money on packs of virtual cards. Players don't have to pay to play, but it helps them build a strong squad quicker. That mode nets EA $100m each year – on top of the money it makes from boxed sales.
And free-to-play has threatened to make an impact in the traditional console space for a number of years now. CCP's new free PS3 FPS, Dust 514, is due in just a matter of weeks.
It is highly likely that in the future, the vast majority of games will have a zero-price point of entry and a flexible spending model,” says ngmoco Sweden's general manager Ben Cousins. If Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo truly allow free-to-play on their platforms, and it's a big if, there is a good chance the biggest games on those platforms will also have a zero-priced point of entry.”
Free-to-play is making a big impact on PC and in the MMO?space. It is influencing today's blockbusters and is even set to infiltrate the console space. But don't expect it to be the only way to pay for games in the future.