So there has been a few interesting developments in terms of games within the first half of the year. Though it was predicted a few years back that free to play would be more high calibre and more diverse than the previous games that came before. Business models now accommodate two main trends in gaming now for PC and console games; DLC and F2P.
First off to those that are just tuning into the world of mainstream video games. What are DLC’s and F2P’s? First DLC are downloadable content features for games which are previously released. Like a game within a game or an expansion pack, usually they require you to own the original to play the DLC though some break that barrier and go with a standalone DLC meaning you can play it without the original game. F2P or Free To Play games have a unique approach whereas rather than buying this puppy on the shelf, you can download it freely and play it right off without payment (except your electricity bill and internet). Most of the time, F2P games contain some sort of microtransaction store within the game or on their website to purchase virtual goods with real life funds. From a F2P gamer, my opinion is partly split but towards these games to be more jokingly P2W for play to win. Though depends how greedy the developers and publishers are when they made the game. Of course there are rare exceptions to this though I haven’t encountered such, but most games you see today are sitting in either camp. On computer and in console, you see this everywhere. To name a few titles Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes of Liberty City, Half Life 2 and it’s 2 (and maybe it’s third) episode, and because of the recent title launch Fear 3 (or is it F3ar?), Fear 2 and Fear 2:Reborn all have done successfully to go down once more with a DLC or expansion. I think it’s due to it’s well received reviews on their title to weigh their worth to the consumer to continue playing with similar content. Usually the DLC’s don’t make more than the original but they do rack up more money to continue with a new project. However some do it for the popularity which draws them the consumers needed to generate the money to continue like large publishers like IJJI, Nexon and GPotato send out lots of genre based MMO’s to sell to everyone to focus more solely on the compounded gain. Some however make it on their own though like Runes Of Magic and SAGA, but hardly receive the same treatment unless coming from a die hard fan base.
Those days are numbered for those into the subscription based games and the “hot shot” companies who can sell at the near 70 dollar mark for a DVD or CD. Games are becoming more common and more easier to produce. Don’t believe me? Type in “Crysis SDK” and “UDK” into Google, you’ll find communities of the average gamer with some design background creating games from blockbuster game engine developers. Some I’ve played and do compete with what you can buy. While under F2P, I wouldn’t call these games that just yet considering these seem more into projects than a full fledge games. However with the power of popularity, it’s almost irresistible to not get into the free to play market. Few instances now have some companies turning into this area to try and entice some gamers to come back and attract newer ones into their games.
A few I know off the top of my head is Bohemian Interactive who have developed Armed Assault and ArmA 2 have unveiled a beta test of their new free to play ArmA 2: Free which is free with some minor exceptions; mostly low-end graphics and you only have multiplayer without mod support so you’re stuck with just the game as it is. Team Fortress 2 from Valve has gone free to play with a microtransaction store in the game, I haven’t found what they’ve changed besides the business model yet (best guess is drop rate decreases). And in this menagerie of games, Age Of Conan is an MMORPG which along with it’s more mature release; it went free to play for all to enjoy.
So who’s now left standing that might face a crippling defeat from such an intangible object? From the few games I know that are subscription based, it’s a hard fight to stay alive now. Not that you’re competing for what’s left, but you’re competing with your own demise. This is how I see from today and in about 10 years down the line. World Of Warcraft, probably not in 5 years but might lose subscriptions in about 7 years from now to force server merges. Doing pretty good but at 14 bucks a month, there are others about to take your place for free with optional features. Large franchised games like Call Of Duty and Halo, maybe not in 9 years but you have to really push hard and be absolutely flawless to beat out anyone making some good shooters in the same genres. Cryptic Studios who have made Champions Online for free, good work on moving on but Star Trek Online’s going to get more people playing if it went free as well (or at least one more since I’m into the Trek). And to an open letter to anyone with a subscription based game remaining or require a payment to play (like Guild Wars), really recommend getting on this band wagon if you wish to stay on top or have a game that can be your foot in the door.
Who wins out; DLC or F2P? It’s a touch call from where I look at it. DLC’s pride themselves for expanding storyline and game aesthetics, really pushing out every dime they have to get back the same reviews. At the end of the day, you can’t keep selling DLC’s for 20 bucks for over 10 years, something’s going to give; it’s the game or the company. F2P on the other hand is much more scalable in terms of the people employed to develop and deploy the game. Downside to this is the method in which you place yourself in a financial mercy of your players and fans to purchase goods for real money over a longer term at a cheap price. In my opinion, F2P is a risk but a manageable one if you know exactly how to sell a product that can provide joy to many for many more years, all you have to do is sell it cheaply but reasonably so you’re not losing out on a business opportunity and remember that each person who sees the game world is likely the next person to buy that exclusive cash store pet you just put up a day ago.
The stage is set for another round of revolutionizing games and how they’re played. It’s anyone’s game!
UPDATE (June 29): You sure shut me up Blizzard, well done.