Dust 514 developer CCP: "We don't expect most players to spend money"
CMO David Reid reveals the developer's plans to monetise free-to-play console MMOG, Dust 514
CCP is best known for EVE Online, but on Friday it launches its first public beta event for Dust 514, its new free-to-play shooter for the PlayStation 3. Chief marketing officer David Reid has explained that while the developer was hoping for a lot of players, it wasn't expecting them to open their wallets.
"We do not expect most of them to spend money, and we don't need them to," he told GamesIndustry International.
"The vast majority of players in a game like this don't spend money, but the game is much better for having them there."
One of the ways CCP is hoping to encourage console players to try out microtransactions is with its newly announced Mercenary Pack, which at £13.99 comes with a load of perks like beta access, unique items and weaponry and $20 worth of one of the in-game currencies, Aurum. (Like most free to play games Dust will feature currencies, one that can be bought, Aurum, which can be used on cosmetic items, and Isk, which has to be earned over time.)
Reid explained that while CCP believes console players are used to buying digital content, this pack will offer a way for them to try out the free-to-play, microtransaction world without too many consequences.
"I think console players have seen this, whether it's Fallout or Call Of Duty map packs or Rock Band tracks, we know that console players are familiar with this idea overall," he said.
"We think we're kind of doing something fairly historic here"
"But not in the way that a fully free-to-play, microtransaction based game is going to do so this an exciting opportunity for console people to sort of, in a pretty low risk way, try this stuff out. We think we're kind of doing something fairly historic here, and we want gamers to feel excited about trying that without being worried about it. And I think we found a good way to do that here."
Once the full game goes lives the servers will be wiped, but any Aurum bought during the beta will be refunded, giving gamers the chance to spend it all over again. Reid is keen to point out that no matter how much Aurum a player does snap up though, "Dust remains a skill based game."
The world of microtransactions, at least on this scale, is fairly new to console, as is the connection that Dust 514 will have with the PC trading title EVE Online. And none of it would have been possible, says Reid, without Sony's support.
"The Sony folks have been very open and collaborative with us. Everybody realises that it's something different. It's a different project than other projects on the console or in the PC space really have been. And as a result at CCP we've had to find a partner that could be open with us. We have worked through virtual goods policies together to do things."
"This is not something we could have done on any other platform. You have to think about the complexity of connecting the PlayStation gamers on Dust with the PC gamers of Eve Online and there isn't any other platform in the world where we could do what we wanted to do on Dust 514."
He highlighted the importance, especially in a shooter, of setting up an in-game store so that players can purchase items without having to leave the game to head to the PlayStation store. CCP expects to stock thousands of items, and have them easily available to players.
"This is all a brave new world that we and Sony are jumping into together."
It goes beyond that too, right to the heart of one of console's biggest problems when it comes to MMOs and free-to-play. Online games can live or die by the developer's ability to react quickly to problems, exploits and bugs that players discover, and need the ability to address them overnight. But Reid said that CCP has been working with Sony on making sure that can happen too.
"We've been able to work with Sony to come up with both a technical architecture and a business policy that allows us to that very quickly," he promised.
Large chunks of items and game will go through the standard Sony QA process, but CCP also has the ability to bypass that process for smaller tweaks.
"When stuff is live and in the field and now we're tuning dials very carefully, that becomes something that happens more in the boiler room, if you will, of Dust 514 with the designers being able to make those changes on a very rapid pace and put things out in the field that way."
Reid was careful not to comment on the user numbers CCP is predicting or what sort of conversion rate they're hoping for, but he did reiterate that even if they're not spending, the players are still valuable to the game.
"It's not that people who play the game for free are bad for us. Every player playing the game is making it better for everybody else. It is just one more exponential node in the social network because every player that joins the EVE universe is now another social connection for every other player in Dust and in EVE Online."
And with EVE Online players already discussing how to make use of the Dust 514 players, and no doubt planning to form, break and reform alliances in the process, there's no denying that the result will make interesting watching for gamers and developers alike.
"This will be something that no one has ever done. This will be brand new for all of us."