What Would it Take For Core Gamers to Accept Free-to-Play?

Free-to-play gaming seems to have been nipping at the hells of traditional console gaming for at least a few years now, but over the last couple weeks comments from publishers make it look like it’s really closing in. As I’m wondering if gamers are just gonna have to suck it up, I’m also trying to imagine what it would take for me to start playing F2P games.

Peter Moore from EA has straight up admitted that “hardcore gamers won’t like to hear this”. He ultimately declares that “The $60 game is dying. The mid-range game is no longer profitable. EA has to focus its energies elsewhere in order to meet those quarterly targets.” He puts this all on a timeline of five to 10 years from now.

The main problem here is that F2P gaming follows a mindset fundamentally different from what traditional console gamers have grown up to accept. EA head John Riccitiello put it deftly on the E3 conference floor when he said F2P games aren’t a product you own, but a place you go to. The reason F2P gaming has taken hold everywhere but consoles is because everywhere else is filled with audiences that don’t have preconceptions on what video games are supposed to be. The problem companies like EA and Crytek are gonna have to face is how to make their established fan bases accept the new environment.

In my particular case, the F2P game I play would just have to be a really good game. Unfortunately I still haven’t really had the time to try out an F2P game, but I’ve heard of ones that are either concepts or still in beta that look interesting to me.

The closest example I have played is Jetpack Joyride on my iPhone and I have to admit it is indeed a fun game. It’s actually the only decent example of a singleplayer F2P game I’ve seen (or even heard of). To those who haven’t played it, it’s more similar to an old arcade game than any big singleplayer adventure you’d play on a console today, and I feel like I can definitely reach the end without paying a dime. You just pay money to get upgrades more quickly. For the most part I think it’s a fair system, but without paying real money the game does feel like a grind.

A main issue I think is that we haven’t seen very many F2P games that look like real craft was put behind them. Not having played any of them I can’t really judge, but most of the ones I’ve seen do look like they have painfully low production values. Most of them probably just aren’t targeted at core gamers yet who expect something with a bit more polish behind it.

One exception from what I can tell is League of Legends. Some of my friends play it and I would try it out if I had the time (and a reliable internet connection). I’ve looked at the monetization system and it doesn’t sound like “play-to-win” to me. From what I hear, it also sounds like one of those very delicately balanced games with real craft behind it. The same probably goes for DOTA 2 which I will also at least give a look when it comes out of beta. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody mad about that being an F2P game. Valve also managed to get its hardcore user base to accept Team Fortress 2’s in-game economy with zeal. Another, lesser-known example is a Diablo clone called Path of Exile which I think is going into an open beta sometime this summer.

The final upcoming F2P game that I would definitely want to play is Phantasy Star Online 2 if Sega would just announce an English version. It’s a rare example of a trusted brand going from conventional to F2P. Sega even seems to be taking a risk by only charging for cosmetic items and virtual storage. Everything about PSO2 sounds like they’re taking the high road.

Another conventional game I’ve thought more and more about that might go F2P if we ever get it at all is TimeSplitters. Crytek is going all F2P after Crysis 3 hits and they’ve expressed desire to return to TimeSplitters. For me, an F2P TimeSplitters would really have to feel like TimeSplitters.  It would have to fully retain the controls and the overall feel of TimeSplitters 2 and Future Perfect.

I wouldn’t just play another generic shooter with the TimeSplitters name. I’m not just talking about the weapons, crazy presentation, modes, and maps either. When I play the previous two games, I can still feel the ghost of GoldenEye somewhere in there. I would need to feel it again in order to buy into an F2P TimeSplitters.

Other than that, to be honest I’ve already seen some conventional console games that I think I might play as F2P games if they retained their quality.

At times playing Gears of War 3’s horde mode I’ve seen a weapon skin I wished I could buy for maybe 99 cents (not in packs for $4). If I could buy a single character I wanted, like Griffin, for a reasonable price, I just might do it. As long as Epic didn’t lock weapons and fortifications behind a pay wall I’d be fine. The same goes for Modern Warfare 3’s Spec Ops Survival mode.

The thing that nobody can figure out yet is how to make a big, singleplayer adventure F2P. That might be the major barrier keeping F2P from completely taking over consoles. You might see stuff on consoles in the future resembling Jetpack Joyride, but not much else until some kind of breakthrough is made.

I fully believe that F2P is going to be one of the main things separating the next generation consoles from today’s consoles. The main thing setting current gen consoles apart from the last gen is the change in services and online infrastructure. F2P sounds like a logical evolution of this depending on how many established console game developers are willing to offer it.

BULLETS:

  • It seems that people like Cnet are still why Nintendo won’t go mobile and F2P. I’m wondering why they haven’t compared the financials yet. Sure they might be comparing the growth rates, but the raw numbers are still worlds apart.
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