Consoles missing out on free-to-play boom

Hi-Rez Studios concentrates on open PC platform for Tribes: Ascend

As the free-to-play movement continues to grow on mobile and PC, console formats slow to adapt to freemium are missing out on the increasingly popular - and lucrative - business model.

Another studio embracing the PC space is Hi-Rez Studios, creators of Global Agenda and owners of the popular multiplayer licence Tribes. Tribes: Ascend was original announced as a PC and Xbox Live Arcade game, but co-founder Todd Harris recently told that all effort is being placed on the more open PC platform.

"Our first initial focus is the PC as far as what we're developing on, testing on, and as far as availability we're focused first on the PC. Because that's where people associate the franchise, that was its home. And because we do want to be able to deliver updates for it… we think that's the strongest platform for it right now," he said in an interview published today.

A platform that lets the developer update the game frequently will continue to win out

Todd Harris, Hi-Rez Studios

Harris isn't completely dismissive of free-to-play on consoles, acknowledging Sony's efforts with Free Realms and DC Universe Online, but in the free-to-play space the business model has clearly evolved and outdated home hardware.

"I think that is possible, and yes we'd like to see [free-to-play] expand. It's not quite as far along as obviously the PC, so we continue to look at the PC as our focus in the short term."

"Until the console allows for faster, more frequent updates and alternate business models then it's less of a sweet spot for us than PC," he added.

Last week, research and analysis firm Games Investor Consulting told the audience at GameHorizon that it didn't expect free-to-play to make any significant impact on home consoles in the short term.

But Harris is still holding out hope, adding: "I do think it's realistic in this generation. There have been rumours of free-to-play on the Xbox - which I don’t know anything more about than you do - but it feels like there’s no reason that faster updates and specifically free-to-play models or alternate pricing models, those should be able to be developed on this generation consoles, and those things would be very interesting to us."

But in the meantime - and after considerable success with Global Agenda as a free-to-play business - Hi-Rez is sticking to the PC.

"I think a platform that lets the developer update the game frequently will continue to win out. The PC and the mobile platforms are very strong in that regard and we’d like to see the consoles move in that direction also."

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Latest comments (13)

Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
Bandwidth, bandwidth, bandwidth... Until these devs can see how REAL people live and the shitty speed many are capped at (with more limits to come, oh joy!) OR the core gamers who STILL can't afford/get higher speed connections... that's always going to be the main issue at the end of the day. YOu can't get close to 100% acceptance or saturation if only about 3/4 of the users have access to your games (and a good chunk of those have to deal with lag and other nonsense...
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Luke McCarthy Indie Game Developer 7 years ago
On the upside, they'll also miss out of the free to play bust...
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 7 years ago
*DING!* Yup, that too... It's coming and it's not going to go down easy, that's for sure...
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Show all comments (13)
Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 7 years ago
Why is it hard to accept a change like free-to-play? Team Fortress 2 does it well, NOVA Elite (the Facebook shooter) does it pretty good too. It's been lucrative for some developers and publishers and allows for a more quick and personal exchange with the consumer.
As for bandwidth, I imagine the total bandwidth used by a free-to-play game is much less than the average bandwidth used on a AAA title. I don't know the figures though
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago
Why would a console manufacturer, earning licensing fees on every game sold, accept developers giving games away for free and then earn money without said console manufacturer seeing a single dime?

Why would a console manufacturer, again, earning licensing fees on every game sold, accept games on its platforms which are being played so excessively that the players buy fewer other games.

At best, an MMO, or a free to play scheme might have a chance, if the console manufacturer itself is the publisher of such a game, but I doubt third parties are going to applaud such a decision. Worst case, they simply release their games exclusively on the platform with the higher attach rate, total hardware sales be damned; i.e. the Wii problem.

Bandwidth is so dirt cheap that it plays no role. A company such as NCsoft, (running five MMOs and their websites, and free client demo downloads and all update downloads), spends 3% of its revenue on server rent and bandwidth. Bandwidth being a costly factor is a consumer myth companies are happy to exploit and they will never correct. But take a look at any large publisher's quarterly statement and for all of them bandwidth is little more than a footnote.
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 7 years ago
I see what you're saying about console manufacturer's not seeing any of the money. But I think that's with the model and standard setup right now. If they demanded 20% of all revenue generated from free-to-play games on their console I think that problem would be solved.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
People keep mentioning TF2, but lets face it, most people who are playing it probably had the orange box anyway, it is a 6 year old game, it often was selling for a few quid, and the slight loss in revenue from not charging that few quid is easily swallowed up by the fact that it's developers own Steam, and any customers who play TF2 F2P have probably given Steam more than enough money to make it worth Valve's time. On top of that, people where complaining about Valve applying MTs, which they did before going F2P, but now no one can complain. Apart from people who bought it full price and don't like MTs.
I am not saying that as a way of knocking F2P, just saying that TF2 isn't the best example, as most companies don't own the biggest platform on PC, or have a game most of said platform's users had already bought to give away free.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 7 years ago

List of ways for a developer to aggravate
(1) their platform holder
(2) their publisher dealing with the platform holder
(3) their customers

- create a flash flood of updates for certification (everybody has to be able to see your shiny new pay-armor, so everybody has to download it and static f2p worlds don't fly)
- create an online game for Nintendo to begin with
- ask Microsoft to allow your f2p game to run on silver accounts
- then try and tell your customers you need a subscription with another company just to play the game (XBL Gold)
- create a game which tries to ruin the gamer's interest in other games by eating away too much time.
- try and adapt your PC game for a controller
- get stranded with a PC games having "console controls" but the console version was ultimately given up on.
- implement payment processing bypassing retail, console manufacturers and publishers
- spend all your money on bribing all of them back to happiness
- feel the wrath of Sony Home, your competition with all the big brand names
- get frustrated by the consoles' options to build a large scale community without the help of a PC
- invalidate the console version by building the community heavily on PC tools
- have your design dreams of a better f2p world destroyed by certification requirements
- go on a red tape rampage rant with Tim Schafer to no avail
- ask yourself how anybody is ever going to find your product on any of these online stores.

Finally cave in and toss all you got in a $60 game. Release some first week DLC, because that is probably the only week anybody will be paying any attention.

For a time MMOs were such a big hype that it seemed as if console manufacturers were interested. Microsoft cooperated with Funcom, Sony presented an alliance with NCsoft at E3. But in the end nothing came of it and for a good reason. Consoles can't handle such games, neither Sony nor Microsoft would ever allow any third party such a level of control over their hardware.

Sony might have home, which is a f2p dime-magnet, but they will never allow anybody else to run anything remotely similar. Not for 20% of their revenue and not even for 80%.
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 7 years ago
Yeah, I guess it would be a problem for consoles, where money is made on software not hardware. Unless some stuff like 'microtransactions done through the console would give such and such percentage to the console builder' is build into the game it's clear why consolebuilders won't allow free to play games on their machines.

Consoles themselves can handle free to play without a problem (at least the PS3)..
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game7 years ago
There is also an argument that, yes F2P is very strong right now on PC and smartphones, but not everyone likes them. Some people are prepared to pay up front, and you know what, maybe the type of person that is willing to spend money upfront is the type of person who pays money for a dedicated gaming device (whether that is a dedicated console, gaming handheld or a PC that has specs and components far too unnecessarily expensive and specific for any application than playing top end games or generating content for them).
A lot of people who like F2Ps like them because they don't plan to spend money on games, but have a PC or phone anyway. Is anyone who bought a console knowing that you can't play free to plays on them actually that bothered? Sure Sony's attempts will do OK, but only becuase there will be 1 or 2 games with the undivided attention.
This is speculation on my part, but certainly the sort of people I know who consider themselves mainly console gamers generally aren't really screaming for F2Ps on them. Most console gamers have a PC these days anyway, and those that split their gaming relatively evenly between the two are looking for different experience on each.
Whether F2P are headed for a crash, or the start of an enduring model, not everyone is keen on the idea, and consoles seem to be the home of a lot of those gamers who arn't.
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Free to play won't work on consoles.

Games are a "side-effect" for PCs and mobiles - people buy them for various reasons, and *then* discover they can spend some time on these devices playing games. The games are free, because its a way to get the users to spend some of their time on these devices, doing things outside of their primary purchase reason. Companies can then generate a *small* amount of revenue from ads, or via microtransactions, or via selling cheap (rather than free) games.

Consoles are purchased *to* play games - and they are typically sold at a loss (or close to), as an incentive to get more people to buy the games (which are sold at a profit).

Free to play games on a console is equivalent to "free to watch movies" on a DVD player, or expecting free cable content once you have a cable TV box.
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 7 years ago
That is complicated but why not run the payments through the platform holder first (say Microsoft) while having the items be released by the developer at will? Microsoft looks at the sum of the payments, takes 20% and hands the rest to the developer.
The main problem I see with what I just said is that the actual number of free to play games available would have to be heavily regulated by the platform holder. But that's the nature of consoles anyhow.
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Rick Cody PBnGames-Board Member 7 years ago
I say the number would have to be heavily regulated so that the platform holder can ensure some kind of fairness in the developer's practices
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