Thursday, 29 September 2011

Free to Play or not Free to play...that is the question

Star Wars: The Old Republic is unlikely to be the last subscription MMO to successfully use the traditional business model, according to BioWare.
BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk expressed his belief that subscription-based MMOs will continue on in the future.
This is interesting considering some of the larger user based MMO titles have adopted the free to play model as a way to retain players and increase revenue. Star Wars is a relatively safe bet however, free to play works well on titles that people aren't over familair with, a sentiment that Zeschuk firmly believes in.
"Free to play is very much about trial, about 'Hey, I don't know what this is, I don't have confidence that it's any good, but I'm willing to take a look at it,' versus 'I know this is good, from a trusted source, and it's the biggest license in the world.' So it's a different value proposition."

Premium MMO's can still work, they just need to deliver the content and quality that players are willing to hand over hard earned dollars and pennies for. World of Tanks subscriptions skyrocketed earlier this year and has established itself very well even if it is a World War 2 tank sim. DC Universe Online revised its subscription model after only 9 months on sale and another clear sign that overall the genre is finding better revenue through free access. Ubisoft too will launch Ghost Recon online as a free to play model with micro-transactional content in addition to versions ported to Facebook and social network platforms. Browser based games attract millions of players through the genre and experiences they provide, moreso the playing 'experience' is vital to retaining players and market share-something that traditional publishers are only really just focusing on, the market size has been eroding the console player base as more and more viable mobile formats are becoming available to play the games on. In fact if you look at social games like Angry Birds and Moshi Monsters both those properties have now expanded onto console. Angry Birds merchandise lines and its wider adoption into the social space all initially came from a free to play model, Moshi Monsters too is now branching out into handheld platforms with moshling Zoo on DS, its lady Goo goo single and TV station, again all from a free to play module of business that generated enough revenue to compete in an aggressive marketplace.

Intellectual property, especially Sci Fi always has a massive fanbase, titles like Star Wars, Star Trek and BattleStar Gallactica have devout followers, bringing those fans into a social gaming environment is  a way to increase their experience of a brand and for the property holder to monetize its content. Battlestar for example from Bigpoint games is owned in part by NBC Universal which owns SyFy, the channel that brought Battlestar to our TV screens. 

Get the kettle on there's a war on

Hardly what I'd call the best kept secret in the world but EA's latest and greatest episode into the Battlefield series on PS3 and Xbox 360 gets its beta launch today. Yes indeed, access all areas and it'll mean more late nights, eating raw coffee from a jar or drinking copious amounts of Red Bull just to stay active in the kill zone.

In a matter of weeks EA's two biggest titles will be duking it out for the Christmas sales once again and capturing two segments of the playing market, namely footie fans for the next Fifa and FPS fans keen to get their gun on before Actvisions MW3 hits in November. The War of words between EA and Activison shows no sign of slowdown, on the one hand the sniping about who has the better product has been well documented across the specialist press sites but now that the May 7 court date for ex Infinity Ward members West and Zampella has been set they'll be a lot more mud being traded.

EA should rest assured though, from what I've seen Battlefield 3 is a much more tactical led gameplay style to the traditional run and gun of Activision's FPS series, Black Ops has always been a faster more rapid fire game, besides, other than its single player content Modern Warfare 2 was no different but larger maps and a different objective layout makes BF3 require more brain matter as to how you're playing each of the levels.
A slower more tactical process of identifying enemy targets and weaknesses within their position on a map rather than visually radar tracking your next takedown with an Uzi is a welcome difference when two of the largest FPS titles go head to head over a relatively short release timing from each other.

The Battlefield series is hugely rewarding, it's been well over 2 years since battlefield 1943 launched and I'm still playing it, diversity, map size and vehicle use help differentiate the product, obviously EA's Medal of Honor reboot was a slight hiccup despite strong sales but I just Know that Battlefield 3 will put the franchise firmly back on track with some stellar review scores and strong sales.