Free-to-play: Is it the future of gaming or just a cheap fad?
The explosion in freemium games has attracted the attentions of the major publishers. But what is free-to- play? Where did it come from? And what does it mean for the future of games? Christopher Dring reports
World of Tanks, GameGlobe (above right), Ghost Recon Online (middle right) and CSR Racing (below right) are proving that free games don’t have to be low quality
PEOPLE don’t want to pay for games. That’s what MCVwas told
repeatedly at E3. And indeed many of this year’s high-growth or most controversial games –World of Tanks, League of Legends, CSR Racingamongst others – were absolutely free.
Of course anyone that has followed this market as it has exploded over the past few years will know that these games aren’t exactly ‘free’. The publishers and developers make their money via premium subscriptions or micro-transactions where gamers can obtain extra items or in-game currency for a small fee. The idea is simple and
attractive. By removing the cost barrier, the potential market for a game is infinitely larger. And although the vast majority of those gamers will never spend a penny, the small percentage that do will often spend more than just £50.
16 November 2nd 2012
Six years ago there weren’t many
successful free-to-play games in Europe. Now the market has growth and social networks have contributed to that.
“ Scott Yoo, Nexon
Despite its recent popularity, free- to-play is not a new concept. It existed as early as the mid-90s, and could even be spiritually linked to the freeware scene. The breakthrough game was even developed in the UK – the MMO RuneScapearrived in 2001. It then exploded in Asia and Korea, via games developed from major players such as Nexon, before slowing growing across the world. Although it took a combination of Facebook and iOS to finally make free-to-play a ‘thing’ in Europe.
“Five to six years back there wasn’t that many successful free-to-play games in Europe,” notes Scott Yoo, director of Game Service Division at Nexon Europe.
“But now the market is growing. What really changed the game was the expansion of social networking and mobile devices. I don’t think the Europeans were keen on discovering content online, particularly things offered for free. I think there may
have been some bias towards free stuff. Lots of people were saying something free is very low quality. So there was some negativity towards it. But with the help of the social networks and mobile devices, people are more comfortable with playing online and that has benefitted the free-to-play market.”
In many ways companies such as Zynga – and before them Jagex and Bigpoint – pioneered free-to- play across Europe. But not everyone was in favour of the business model. Even today there are concerns that ‘freemium’ lacks transparency and tricks consumers into parting with cash.
“It’s not really free-to-play,” says Bohemia Interactive’s CEO Marek Spanel, the developer behind the smash hit Steam game Arma II. The firm has also released a free version of the game.