Is A Free-To-Play Future Inevitable?

by Matt Bertz on Jul 04, 2012 at 09:59 AM

I'd rather spend one lump sum for a game experience instead of continually monitoring my bank account to make sure I'm not overspending on microtransactions. The way publishers are talking right now, we may not have that choice for many games in the future. As evidenced by the frequent layoffs of talented development teams and shrinking pool of revenue, the traditional AAA game development model is experiencing some tough times. Sick of skyrocketing game development costs that require huge returns at retail just to break even, publishers are eagerly exploring new revenue and production options. The model du jour? Free-to-play. Battle tested in Asia and increasingly becoming the approach of choice for many stateside PC games, publishers are starting to speak candidly about the free-to-play model's importance as they move into the future. They're not just talking about mobile and PC platforms, either. Don't be surprised to see free-to-play take a larger role in the next generation of consoles. 

Here is what several industry figureheads are saying about the free-to-play frenzy:

“Our highest ARPU (average revenue per user) are free-to-play games among paying users. You think about that and say, 'how can a free game be the game they pay the most for?' We have people who are giving us $5,000 in a month to play FIFA Ultimate Team. And it’s free.” –Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello via IndustryGamers.

 “Ubisoft is positioning itself to capitalize on the forthcoming arrival of the next generation of consoles, which will be increasingly connected and will strongly boost the market thanks to a new qualitative leap, and the integration of social games benefits and the item based model; the ongoing strong growth in the free-to-play market for PCs, smartphones and tablets.” –Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot via Develop

 “I think, ultimately, those microtransactions will be in every game, but the game itself or the access to the game will be free. I think there's an inevitability that happens five years from now, 10 years from now, that, let's call it the client, to use the term, [is free.] It is no different than... It’s free [for] me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall. They don’t charge me to walk in there. I can walk into The Gap, enjoy the music, look at the jeans and what have you, but if I want to buy something I have to pay for it.” – Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore via Kotaku

 “All these western developers spending $30 million to develop these games for dedicated consoles – all of these companies are going to be invading the Asian markets within the next five years or so, and they'll be free-to-play, worldwide, global products...The only way to survive is to go global.” –Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney via Gamasutra

“Right now we are in the transitional phase of our company, transitioning from packaged goods games into an entirely free-to-play experience. What this entails is that our future, all the new games that we're working on, as well new projects, new platforms and technologies, are designed around free-to-play and online, with the highest quality development.” – Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli via VideoGamer

“I'm a massive fan of Valve's games, and when Valve went free-to-play with Team Fortress, for me that was like, 'Okay, that's the vindication.' Valve doesn't do something unless it feels it can be tremendously successful. That was a big deal for me. It wasn't social games taking off or anything like that – if you're engaging a more casual audience, if it's free it's going to be more popular. But Team Fortress 2 went free-to-play, it didn't upset anyone, and now Valve is making loads of money from it. I mean, everyone follows Valve.” – Ngmoco Sweden general manager Ben Cousins via GamesIndustry


What are your thoughts on the free-to-play business model? Have you had good experiences, or do you usually feel like you're getting nickeled and dimed?