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Hawkins: Whatever the format, free-to-play is more lucrative

Digital Chocolate boss says virtual goods are key to any platform

Trip Hawkins has unequivocally endorsed the free-to-play virtual goods model by telling that any game using it, no matter what the platform, will make more money than it would otherwise.

Speaking to after his presentation at last month's Gamelab event in Barcelona, Hawkins made very clear his position on where the smart future lies in terms of monetisation models.

"Well, I don't care what category it is, any segment of the games industry on any platform - if you make it free-to-play with virtual goods it'll be better, financially," Hawkins told "You'll get more people to try it, you'll get more revenue from more customers, in the end."

Hawkins was speaking specifically about the launch of Chair Entertainment's Infinity Blade in Asia under a free-to-play model - a move which represents something of a change of heart for the company which was arguing in March that Apple needed to re-evaluate its curation policy in order to help support higher price points for high-end App Store titles.

Adopting that free-to-play policy, driven by the virtual goods which Hawkins described as the "most important" factor in the making new business models work, does have its own dangers, however. Introducing the ability to buy progress and advantages is likely to upset those players who have already invested time into a gaming eco-system.

"Then of course eventually Warcraft had to give in and say, okay, we need to do this ourselves. So eventually that's the way it's going to go."

"I know in the MMO market this is where it's most difficult for them to believe in it. There are so many customers - the personality of many hardcore gamers is that they want to feel better about themselves because they're dominant in the game. They're willing to put in hours and hours and hours to create a level 65 character in LOTRO and then they get mad as heck when LOTRO decides to go free-to-play and let people buy virtual goods. That drives them crazy, right?

Hawkins went on to detail the story of Brock Pierce, a former child actor who saw a gap in the market for WoW players, founding his own company which allowed account trading - something which Blizzard had precluded.

That strategy soon made Pierce a rich man, but also incurred the wroth of Blizzard, who began destroying his inventory by deleting accounts held by Pierce's company, IGE, for violating game rules. His story is long, complex and strewn with legal action, but Pierce changed the market, Hawkins says.

"Then of course eventually Warcraft had to give in and say, okay, we need to do this ourselves. So eventually that's the way it's going to go."

Nonetheless, Hawkins believes that allowing players to buy advantages is unlikely to drive away dedicated customers. Instead, the investment they've already made in your game is likely to keep them engaged - potentially turning them into the top-level spender 'whales' which exist at the top of every freemium and virtual good economy.

"And yeah, there'll be a small number of customers who'll fight against it, kicking and screaming because it takes away an advantage they have - they can put more time in," says Hawkins. "They're still going to put the time in. They're still going to play the game better than anybody else and eventually they'll put some money in to make sure they're still better."

For the full interview with Trip Hawkins, click here.

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Dan Pearson