Free-to-play set to take off on consoles?

Chris Morris talks to devs about F2P and how it may actually be better suited to consoles than the PC

Consoles, traditionally, have been centered around the traditional retail model. Pay for a game. Take it home. Enjoy. (And, lately, pay again for DLC.)

But the rise of mobile has made free-to-play titles one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. And Microsoft and Sony are attempting to position their current and next generation systems to capitalize on this growing segment.

So far, for Microsoft at least, there has been a definite learning curve., which is currently in the midst of a public beta for its World of Tanks on Xbox Live, made waves last month when its outspoken CEO Victor Kislyi called the quality assurance and certification processes for the Xbox 360 "totally unacceptable".

"Since these are dedicated gaming systems, you're more predisposed to try something, whereas when you're on the PC, you might get distracted by, say, Facebook or something"

SOE's John Smedley

Some news sites ran with that sound byte to imply Wargaming was fed up with the console manufacturer. However, Kislyi was making a larger point - and the team that's working directly on World of Tanks for Xbox 360 says that while there have certainly been hiccups, Microsoft has been working hard to accommodate the free-to-play gaming giant.

"I'd be lying if I said this is clear and precise," says Denny Thorley, head of Wargaming's Chicago-based studio and former president of Day 1 Studios. "What we're trying to do is something Microsoft hasn't attempted to do before, but they've been terrific partners in trying to be flexible where they can."

For instance, he notes, incremental changes to the game are now being certified faster than they have previously - as testers are already familiar with the game.

While Microsoft is working through some issues, Sony has a bit more history in the space. Its Sony Online Entertainment unit has been the internal torchbearer for free-to-play games - and it has seen notable success.

"The single fastest growing segment of our business is DC Universe Online on the PS3," says John Smedley, president of SOE. "70 percent of our revenue [on that game] comes from the PS3 and 70 percent of our players come from the PS3."

Because the company has been offering deep free-to-play experiences longer, it also has worked out a system to more quickly approve updates - something that could aid it in the next generation.

"One of the advantages we have had is we were the first with Free Realms," says Smedley. "With that, we've helped the QA group set up the system. What happened is there's a trust level that builds up. They do certain checks every time - but over time, if you don't screw up, they start to trust your [internal] QA."

Consoles, he says, actually have some notable advantages over the PC when it comes to free-to-play. There's consistently stable hardware and software and the installed base is constantly growing. Most importantly, though, the barrier to microtranscation purchases is lower.

"There's a higher likelihood of having a payment system on file," he says. "And since these are dedicated gaming systems, you're more predisposed to try something, whereas when you're on the PC, you might get distracted by, say, Facebook or something."

When it comes to monetization of free-to-play titles, Microsoft and Sony approach things differently. While both take a cut of microtransaction sales, Microsoft gets two bites at the pie, since players hoping to play World of Tanks for more than a one-week trial must be Xbox Live Gold members.

(Wargaming, Thorley notes, will not begin monetizing the game until it is out of its beta period - something that will happen "real soon now".)

"They're looking at what we're doing on the [Xbox] 360 to understand all the issues and I'm convinced it will get easier and easier on the next platform"

Wargaming's Denny Thorley

While the console audience is certainly vast, not all free-to-play game makers are interested in pursuing that audience. Kabam, for instance, says there are no plans to work on a console version of any of its games at this point.

"Sure, there are games you absolutely want to play on the console, but there are plenty that people want to play with convenience [in mind]," says Chris Carvalho, Chief Operating Officer of Kabam. "They want to play in the living room or the kitchen or wherever. ... There's a huge growth factor in the tablet market - and consumers are saying loudly that they want the convenience."

The factor that's driving that decision is less about the longer certification process - and more about growth forecasts of platforms. Juniper Research estimates there will be 64.1 billion games downloaded to tablets and smartphones in 2017, which is more than triple the 21 billion downloaded last year.

Those are impressive numbers, to be sure. But it's certainly too early to count out consoles. Both Microsoft and Sony have shown in their pre-launch maneuvering that they plan an all out war against each other - and other platforms - to retain their strength in the gaming world.

"They are a very sharp group of people and are clearly paying attention to the questions we ask - which usually begin 'why can't we?'," says Thorley. "They're looking at what we're doing on the [Xbox] 360 to understand all the issues and I'm convinced it will get easier and easier on the next platform."

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Latest comments (8)

I dont see how F2P is any better on consoles. F2P is only good for very very specific types of games that currently are not suitable for the console audience
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I agree with a lot of this.
If platform holders and pubs play their cards right, they might get a similar situation like iOS vs. android, with much lower market share, but much higher spending per user. I see a lot of parallels between this scenario and consoles vs PCs, polished, tightly controlled user experience on consoles/iOS vs a rough,fragmented and inconsistent one on PC/android, plus the mindset of the average user.
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Ruben Monteiro Engineer 8 years ago
F2P sucks on the PC, I can only see it continuing to suck on consoles, but anyway....
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Show all comments (8)
Paul Jace Merchandiser 8 years ago
I have found most free to play console games not very much fun unless you are playing with friends. Could it take off? Perhaps but I don't see that happening unless some kind of killer app f2p game launches.
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David Serrano Freelancer 8 years ago
Since it would involve no financial risk on my part, I think I'd be far more willing to give F2P single player titles a try. But the games would need to be radically different from the AAA and indie games which currently dominate the market before I'd even consider making a micro-transaction.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by David Serrano on 23rd August 2013 2:11pm

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Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation 8 years ago
If done correctly then yes F2P can take off on consoles.

Consoles currently have something that the PC market doesn't, which is a fresh start of tackling how F2P games work and interaction with the players. The PC F2P market has a situation of: Due to being in the market already, any change made within the F2P market causes chaos and outrage or points fingers from one company to another. The Console market is still fresh, it's also a different market and a different method of tackling that market is needed.

As Paul mentions, current F2P on consoles are only working if you have friends around, essentially that is the same with PC (For myself) but the appeal of consoles is sociability (Being able to play local co-op or on-line co-op) Normally in multi-player games whether AAA or F2P, I won't jump in without friends. In several PC F2P titles, I have found myself jumping in and searching for people that I can become friends with.
F2P sucks on the PC, I can only see it continuing to suck on consoles, but anyway....
Major generalisation there, which is sad to see as there are quite a few decent and under-rated F2P games out there, then again it all differs on experience and expectations. I'm not going to say you are wrong, since as with anything, there's a lot that could be changed or altered to improve the genre but to slate a whole genre or market like that, to me is a little harsh.

Now to mention your expectation, again going from the PC F2P state; I can't fault you on coming to that expectation, especially if the same formula is used and not changed.

Overall, the problem with the F2P market currently is sadly the fact it is seen as a quick cash cow and no one listens to the community, which essentially makes Community Management and Moderation jobs useless considering the biggest part of the job is in the very job title. That's the problem that needs to be changed not just for the console market but for the PC F2P market as well.

Change the formula, change the expectation.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
The best bit about F2P coming to consoles is that we'll have yet another source of hate rhetoric being spouted about F2P. We don't get enough of that on the internet and it would be nice to break up the constant stream of massive consumer spend with it.

(It's funny, but most people when they think it wins them an argument, they'll say "let them vote with their wallet". But they won't say that about F2P to win an argument because they know people already have. But now it's no longer conscious choice, it's psychological manipulation.)

edited: apalling grammar

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 26th August 2013 9:11pm

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Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven8 years ago
It's cool to see free games come to consoles. That way all your friends can have that game (assuming they are willing to download and sacrifice disk space). There's always a game you can play with that person.

But I believe it won't be as big on consoles as on PC. F2P games are about creating a big community and to keep players invested in the game for as long as possible. I think being involved in a community is a decisive factor for continuing playing the game for a long time. Games on PC are normally played by mouse and keyboard VS. normally a gamepad for consoles. I believe the keyboard eases interaction between strangers. I am more inclined to talk to another player by typing something than talking through a headset. (and voice chat in a crowded town full of people selling items, like in many mmorpgs, doesn't sound like a very good idea...). It is POSSIBLE to play with a keyboard on consoles but I have never seen anyone actually do that. I never turn on my headset unless when playing with friends. Other players might do that but I think that is a smaller percentage of players than those talking through typed messages.

I liked the free Tekken game on PSN and was able to play with someone who has very few games and doesn't spend much on games. The free game influenced my purchase of the newest full priced Tekken game. I think those types of f2p may be successful on consoles. Not the community heavy mmorpgs as seen on pc.
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