CCP's upcoming persistent first-person shooter DUST 514 will require a cover charge from PlayStation 3 players, with the fee refunded as in-game currency.
The unusual approach is part of the developer's plan to help manage the roll-out of the highly-anticipated title, where consequences in the console game will have an effect on PC virtual world EVE Online, and vice-versa.
"In the beginning you have to pre-buy credits, so you pay something like $10-$20 to enter the game and you get the equivalent number of credits in the game once you do that. We call this the 'cover charge'," CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson told GamesIndustry.biz.
We might go fully free-to-play down the line, but in the beginning we have a cover charge just to manage the initial launch of it
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, CCP
"You're really getting the game for free but you have to pre-buy credits in the beginning. We might go fully free-to-play down the line, but in the beginning we have a cover charge just to manage the initial launch of it.
He added: "We have always been a big believer in growing up a social network behind the game in a slow and predictable way. Because we have seen that if you don't do that you can end up with a very unstructured experience, where there's no cohesion to the community. By growing it at the beginning we help to make a healthy environment initially."
A PlayStation 3 exclusive, DUST 514 is one of the new wave of titles that Sony is using to try out various free-to-play models on its home console - the only format-holder willing to experiment with a business model growing in ubiquity for online titles.
In-game currency will be spent on micro-transactions, although Pétursson wouldn't elaborate in detail on whether these will be vanity items like those that have caused outrage in the EVE Online community, or more game-changing content such as weaponry and ammunition.
"It's not like in shooters where you've seen virtual goods sales. Whether that's some of the games you've seen in Asia, whether that's Battlefield, or other games," he said. "We dont really have a set of things we're communicating on now because a lot of this comes out in the private trials that we're starting at the end of this year, where we're just starting to tune and test and see what works. That's how we'll define it.
"We have some initial assumptions but we'll put it out there and see how the player base during the trials reacts to it."
CCP was happy to make the game a PlayStation 3 exclusive because it meant the company could experiment more, and would face less restrictions than trying to fit the game to two home consoles.
"The console platforms are very difficult, especially when it comes to how they organise the backend. They take very different approaches. To be able to work within both limits a lot of innovation we can do.
"By going exclusive with either platform allows us to do more innovation. The lowest common denominators would have been so small we couldn't do things that are really interesting. Sony was quite motivated in allowing us to do things we requested of them to the point they said 'no one has really asked about that before and we've never thought about, but why not?' They were very enthusiastic and open to really do something world changing and that's what swayed the decision to go with them," he added.
While the game isn't due for at least another year, the EVE Online community has already mobilised itself, creating a meta-game to recruit top-class first-person shooter players from other online worlds to act as 'mercenaries' for EVE corporations.
"That is very similar to when we announced EVE Online in September 2000, we already saw corporations forming, this meta-gaming happening on the forums, people creating websites and recruiting three years prior to EVE launching," offered Pétursson. "We're now seeing a similar thing happen and it's very encouraging to see."
He also highlighted that DUST 514 should offer more varied experiences than the repetitive crop of online shooters available on console.
"We hear from the shooter community that people really love the idea that there's a persistent action and reaction to their gameplay. A first-person shooter can have a feeling of déjà vu with the same thing happening over and over again.
"And on the EVE side we have a lot of positive reaction that relates to people having friends that don't necessarily enjoy EVE but they like the idea of the content of EVE. So now there's an experience that they think friends will enjoy and they're excited about that. I've heard EVE players say that finally there's something in the EVE world that my son will enjoy."