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EA: Free-to-play can be "as profitable as a console game"

Publisher reaching new markets with low costs and no cannibalisation

The free-to-play market can be as profitable for Electronic Arts as the console sector, with the publisher reaping the rewards of cheaper production costs and reaching brand new markets.

That's according to Frank Gibeau, head of the EA Games label, who said the publisher will continue to push IP into the freemium market, and so far there has not been any cannibalisation as brands are stretched across multiple formats and devices, from console to smartphone, browser and tablets.

"We're aggressively investing in things that are very low cost like free-to-play," said Gibeau in an interview published today. "The free-to-play group inside of EA Games is growing extremely fast - we've got 17 million users.

With Need for Speed World, Russia and Brazil are number one and two. I can't sell packaged goods in those territories.

Frank Gibeau, EA

"Frankly when they get to scale, have huge audiences, are very profitable, they're not cannibalising the main games and they actually reach markets that we're not currently serving. With Need for Speed World, Russia and Brazil are number one and two - the Ukraine is in there too. I can't sell packaged goods in those territories.

"But I'm reaching an audience with Need for Speed content. It's an engine that's not as advanced as Frostbite 2 but it's certainly got great production values and great game designs, and it's free-to-play with micro transactions. It's a very exciting time from our perspective because it's not all about consoles. It's about smartphones, tablets, free-to-play, browser, social."

Earlier this month the publisher unveiled Origin, its direct to consumer store where it will selling digital versions of upcoming MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic exclusively. Looking further ahead, Gibeau said EA is evaluating new technology that will allow it to bypass other partners, including developments in web-connected television sets.

"There's new emerging technologies that we're always interested in," he said. "Exotic stuff like smart televisions, where you get the full chipset and push the game directly to them. That's right on the horizon and could be a very disruptive technology for the console manufacturers. But not for us because we'd be perfectly happy to do that."

The full interview, where Gibeau also discusses the Wii U, growing Origin with exclusive content and more, can be read here.

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Latest comments (16)

Adam Campbell Studying Games Technology, City University London10 years ago
I agree.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 10 years ago
Nothing is completely free. The term needs a slight change.
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Victor Perez CEO, Games GI10 years ago
No, really!!
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Show all comments (16)
Free = lure and bait. Then pounce!
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Jan Bauch IT-Operations / Adminstrator, Bigpoint10 years ago
The full term would be: "Free-to-play, pay to enjoy the full set of features."
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 10 years ago
Completely utterly free? That'll be the day..
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Mark Mikulec Cofounder/Technical Director, Antic Entertainment10 years ago
If things were completely free we would all be out of a job.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 10 years ago
You're quibblying about the term "free to play". We all know what it means.
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Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos10 years ago
You'll note that they are not making SWTOR F2P.

The key to making money in F2P, as EA says above, is to make dirt cheap productions that cost very little to operate.
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Tom Hunt Game Developer, neocade10 years ago
"Free-to-pay" might be a more apt description
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Peter Stirling Software Engineer, Firelight Technologies10 years ago
"free to play" carries the implication that part of the product is not free.
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Dan Toose Senior Designer, The Creative Assembly10 years ago
Note quite... 'Free to play' purely implies that it is free to play, and you're filling in the blanks that could actually go either way. Team Fortress 2 is now branded as 'free to play', and no features are held back from the player - There is simply the ability to spend money to acquire content quicker.
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Abbass Hussain International Business Development, AQ Interactive10 years ago
The idea of a standardised console chipset built into TVs seems like a very realistic proposition... In fact it almost makes the idea of a new generation of seperate, branded consoles seem outdated already... GULP!
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
@Abass, I don't think they'll include all of the equivalent components of a 300 new console in a 350 32 inch tv, so I'm not sure it makes the next generation redundant just yet. If a standard console chipset is used across the board it will probably fall somewhere between wii and 360, it will need to be compact in order to not affect form in a way that will put off those more bothered by asthetic than playing Call of Duty.
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Stephen Woollard Online Infrastructure Specialist, Electronic Arts10 years ago
As Dan said, free 2 play is just that - free to play. A great example of this is League of Legends whcih you can play for ever entirely for free, as one of my friends does. I however have spent about 40 on champs, skins etc, and another friend has spent about twice that, but you can indeed play the game in it's entirety completely free - there are two types of currency, Influence Points and Riot Points. Champs can be bought with IP that you get from winning games or you can buy RP with real money and buy stuff that way.

Certain items such as skins must be bought with Riot Points, but you don't need them to play, they are vanity items. You can also get temporary XP and IP boosts, but again you don't need them, they are just convenient.

Battlefield Heroes uses a similar standpoint - you can buy vanity items etc but you don't need to; if you wish you can play entirely for free.

For MMOs, there is sometimes more pressure to buy items like mounts etc, simply because in most cases the operating costs are higher and therefore require more revenue.
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Sean Warren Inspector 10 years ago
Since we are debating the ridiculous notion that f2p is or isn't free... lets not forget the simple factors involved in the branding of this marketing scheme. Monetarily it is free so long as there is not content within the set we are analyzing that is restricted...
So long as you don't have access to it with in reason, without spending money it is not free. You may have the liberty to pay with cash, but liberty is not freedom. That said, I cant think of a single f2p model that is not pay to win... LoL included, last I checked(though I could always be wrong).

Obviously, if there are limitations to the content you can play or obtain, to do with as you will(this is playing BTW... consumption of content can be interpreted in no other way as the players have the liberty to do with it as they will), then ALL of that is Trial Content, meanwhile anything you have to pay for in the end is the Real Content. It doesn't automatically make the trial section irrelevant, but generally, that is the case, and even if it wasn't I guarantee that would be the implication and thus perception.
That is why players feel betrayed from time to time, and whether I am a designer, or not has no real bearing on my experience playing in other GM's campaigns(if you will).

One perfect example that I have just endured, I was good enough to experience yesterday. I add that I am not complaining about this for the sake of complaining, but mention it because it is speciffically relevant to this topic(though EA wan not behind this.)
I played the launch of Turbine Inc.'s DDO. I payed for it up front, I payed for a subscription and I played the content as I sough fit. I supported turbine, and they supported me. Then I had to sit it down for quite some time. When I logged in yesterday, all my "unlocked", characters, statistics, settings, whatever... was gone. Now, do I feel a little angry with them for the decisions they made that effected me? Sure. Did I agree with their right to make those decisions by agreeing to their terms? Sure. But none of that takes away the sting, and I will be the first to tell you they wont be getting a penny from me until that hic-up is compensated for. If they fail to provide the goods, they will be worse off with me as their loyal customer, than when they first started, and if we forsake our customers, we do it at our own peril.
I had a War-forged character... but now, under the new f2p model, I have to pay for a new one. I have payed in, but now in lieu of a sub, I have to pay another 1 time fee... to have access to what I already payed for. Well then, I suppose that's the betrayal because the 1 time fee, is an illusion and those of us wise enough to keep track of all the beans, know the game that publishers, and by extension the game industry as a whole are playing, like it or not.
Now this cant be a good thing because it causes resentment... but I imagine that's another conversation all together.

Now, I also know that is not done it without reason, but I won't argue that it is purely altruistic either. As example of reason, I will mention that I also played Earth and Beyond when that launched... and several other MMO's and single player games that no longer carry the support of their publishers, who are or are not still in business.
My point is, the whole thing is a bit of a mess, and as a gamer and a business person, I am certainly one to draw lines in the sand when I feel that publishers are doing the wrong things. That said, the line I draw, could be to take my toys and go home entirely, and I don't consider myself all that special when it comes to being a consumer. So, I'll call a spade a spade and admit that the free to play moniker is a bit fluffy. IDK if that is how it should be, or if it is "normal". But it certainly comes as no surprise to me. It is just how marketing works sometimes, hence the idiom "If you cant dazzle them with brilliance"...

It just seems to me like it is a RL game some like to impose on others because they don't particularly like a game unless they can actually rule others or die trying. Like another game, with in the game, that's a campaign, made to keep players and Dev's on their toes. But... I don't judge the bean counters too harshly, I've played Mancala. Comfort and Stability are not F2P and the discomfort we endure is just part of the struggle that those without must bare for the sake living with those that have... which in the end translates to players and Dev's continued relationship with one another and the bolder rolls uphill another inch.
But "f2p", that's child's-play compared to re-branding of payments as "Micro-transaction's".
The first time I heard that, I died a lot inside.
For my next trick, I will find shed a tear for the implementation of balance in game systems.
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