Love it or hate it, free speaks to pretty much all consumers. And in the case of interactive entertainment, it could be your best friend.
Subscriptions games are a hard sell, yes there are exceptions like WoW, but even now the title doesn’t boast the numbers it once did and there is no doubt that Blizzard couldn’t pull off another sub-based hit like WoW again. The offered content, for many, has to sit in the ‘outstanding’ column to even be considered for such an investment. On the other end, free-to-play has continued to prove fruitful for all those involved. It allows anyone to join the fray with an option to buy content for an enhanced experience. No pressure. No financial risk.
Bottom line: this is no novelty. Free works, just ask, En Masse Entertainment. TERA: Rising, a once subscription-based title, went F2P last month and has announced a growing community, topping well over the one million players mark; 1.4 million to be exact.
“We’ve been blown away by the waves of players logging into TERA, and we’re seeing amazing growth in both registrations and daily users. It’s always great to eclipse the one-million-player mark, and at our current rate, it won’t be long before we hit two million,” said CEO of Masse Entertainment, Chris Lee. “This success is pushing En Masse even harder to deliver more content and improve our service, so stay tuned,” Lee adds.
TERA: Rising’s transition to F2P wasn’t the only enticement. The online title simultaneously launched with a new dungeon, PvP arena scenario and new servers. EME also plans to release a 20 player raid for the “hardcore players” and a 20v20 battleground. In addition a player-driven alliance system will be implemented. All of this content is due out this summer. While TR seems to be enjoying some new found success with fresh content to boot, most of its recent prosperity can be chalked up to consumer’s favorite 4 letter word: free.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a title has shifted gears. DC Universe Online followed suit when the $15 monthly fee began to dissuade players. Same goes for the ambitious SWTOR, though their F2P model is more laughable than inviting.
Other companies have adopted the F2P method right out of the gate. Planetside 2 offers everything to any player regardless of how much $$$ they invest. It's good to be free. However, if you do drop cash, you’re entitled to XP boosts, character/vehicle swag and instant weapon unlocks. World of Tanks offers free online play and has garnered pro gaming attention with $2.5 million prize pool. Crytek believes this philosophy so much that they plan to exclusively develop free games within the next 5 years. Their first entry into this transition, being the FPS, Warface.
You may want to note that these games all rest on the PC plain. Let’s not forget the mobile gaming market that offers hundreds of pickup and play games available upon a single touch, at no extra cost. You had me at hello. Small, quirky, short titles can get away with this, but AAA single player experiences like BioShock Infinite, Batman: Arkham City, and Mass Effect cannot, at least not now. Most players don’t mind this one-time money exchange, which explains the apprehension towards a monthly subscription. “Wait. I have to keep paying to play?”
I have no problem with free games whether it be my phone or PC. A risk free title sounds fantastic. It's a growing theme that seems to swell with participants each year. Question is, will all games, even single player titles go this route? Crytek thinks so. Almost all MMO titles are free, though vary in quality. Online FPS titles are beginning to see this trend, is it only a matter of time? Perhaps, to a degree. What I can say is, I’m willing bet nothing that free-to-play will be a viable option for many games to come, both large and small. What say you?