Friday, 29 June 2012

Free to Play, Freemium, and Future Speculation Part 1

If the future goes free, what will it mean?

It's always difficult to speculate on just where any industry will be in five or ten years and the video game industry is hardly an exception to the rule. Just as it would be difficult to imagine things like the PS3 and Xbox360 during the Super Nintendo period, it's equally hard to imagine what the generation after the next will look like, or what it will capitalize on. Of course the difficulty in speculation has never stopped people from engaging in it before, and recently there have been some intriguing comments from a couple of different groups that are centring around the idea of free content, but each viewpoint takes a very different stance from the other.

The first position is one taken by Cevat Yerli, President and CEO of Crytek; a company best known for making games that push the bleeding edge of computer hardware and are fairly solid as benchmarks. The shocking thing is that Yerli has admitted that as soon as work on Crysis 3 was finished that the company would be moving to adopt a model where all future games would run on a free-to-play model. In this interview with Yerli muses:

"I think PC gaming should never fear new consoles. PC gaming is always going to be on your eyes. The only thing that will happen is that PC gaming is going to change and adopt different business models - and we are trying to change it ourselves with high quality, premium free-to-play titles.

"There is absolutely no reason why gamers shouldn't get triple-A games for free. Absolutely no reason. But we're going to bite the bullet and do it. Somebody has to lead the way."

Interestingly, the Game Politics article that I found the interview from makes some statements which go even further. Now before I post these I feel that I must point out that I cannot find any source for these comments, and as such cannot feel that they can be properly attributed to Yerli. With that in mind if he has said the following I believe it's quite telling:

"Why are free-to-play online games not widespread on consoles?," asks Yerli rhetorically. "You should ask Microsoft and Sony this question. We see the future of consoles as free-to-play - ideally focused on free-to-play. That's what I want to see in the future. But unfortunately not everybody shares this vision due to many other reasons."

To allege the the future of not only PC but console gaming as well will be free-to-play is quite the drastic shift from the current mindset that pervades the industry. Certainly there are free-to-play games, but at the moment it seems that those that begin their lives as free-to-play are not of as high a calibre, which isn't to say that there aren't some impressive titles out there, just nothing that I think anyone would deem Triple A.

Other games like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic are free-to-play to a point, after which a subscription is required (although it should be noted that the rumours of the latter going completely free-to-play are swirling quite heavily at this point). And games like Team Fortress 2 have gone free-to-play after enjoying a long shelf life as a cost efficient game. There would have to be a marked shift in dynamic in order to see the entirety of the market adopt this model though; one that I'm not entirely sure I can even picture as it stands.

As I mentioned though, this is all just speculation, and not the only speculation regarding free-to-play, or free content either. There's another discussion going on, one not quite so rosey for console in particular. That, however, will be for Monday, because I'm a tease.

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