Alongside our regular day-to-day output of gaming news, reviews, and opinion, this week at TheSixthAxis we have an additional treat for our readers. Starting today, we’ll be posting previews (both hands on/off) for some of the hottest upcoming launches in 2012 and guess what, they’re all free to play!
Described by some as a genre, and by others as an industry-wide movement, free to play (often shortened to F2P) has changed the ways in which we consume video games, it’s expansion subtle yet undeniably significant. Though narrowing down the ramifications of F2P title can be confusing, it’s fairly easy to see where the trend originated and how it came to be a platform for the masses, enthusiasts and non-gamers alike.
Only up until half a decade or so ago, the way in which we consumed video games was fairly straightforward (at least for console owners.) You simply browsed for a game, purchased it, and whacked it into the disc drive. Back then, with game case in-hand, there was a 99% chance that what you had in front of you would be the full package. However, when network functionalities started to become more dynamic and inventive, video game companies were able to structure their products in such a way that they could be enhanced or extended post-launch.
It was quite a while ago, though I still remember Jagex's Runescape as being my first truly immersive F2P experience. The game is currently undergoing a new re-design, bringing Runescape into line with the more flashy MMOs out there.
Only recently, we’ve also seen the advent of the Online Pass, a way in which firms can cut down on second hand sales and piracy (similar to the DRM systems used with PC games). There may still be mixed feeling about DLC and online passes, but they’re undoubtedly here to stay.
In many ways, F2P is a viable solution to the problems experienced by both the consumer and producer. Where any entertainment medium (or any other good or service) is concerned, the word “free” is an instant draw, inferring that whatever is on offer is either partially (or in some cases, fully) without expense; an immediate benefit gamers.
As F2P games usually hinge on multiplayer interaction, it’s a winning situation for publisher too who can easily monitor the activities of their fans without the need for online passes or DRM. Seriously, who is going to pirate a product which is being distributed for free anyway?
The staggeringly fast rise of the mobile/handheld “app” and “social game” have also contributed to the movement. The iOS store is teeming with thousands of free-to-download games and other products, also offering “lite” versions of it’s premium, paid-for ranges.
In conjunction with social networks (most notably, Facebook) they have spawned a new genre that is regarded as a cornerstone of F2P’s modern success. Games such as Farmville and Smurfs Village are free to access and abide to a formula in which players often initiate an in-game sequence and have to come back several hours later to reap the benefits.
Ideal for short bursts while sifting through texts and chatting to pals on Facebook, such games have also introduced a pay model that has been replicated throughout numerous F2P titles. Even though in-game success can be achieved through steady daily sessions, producers start dangling the metaphorical carrot on a stick as soon as you plough through the gates, offering currency, time reductions and other perks in exchange for real money.
For those who consider themselves “hardcore gamers” it’s easy to point the finger and tell people they are stupid for buying into the piece-by-piece payment model, but considering the fact that most of these non-enthusiasts don’t own gaming consoles and rush out to buy £40 new releases, they could argue that we are just as stupid.
Personally, there have been more than a few times that I’ve picked up a game at full price only to play it and realise that it’s not my cup of tea, a feeling that often leaves me discontent and a little miffed off. However, if I invest myself into a Farmville-esque cash cow, I can reach this same point of realisation without that feeling I’ve put a dent in my finances.
Would you object if this were the future of the gaming industry?
It’s difficult to establish whether the drop in subscriptions is due to an industry-wide shift or free to play alternatives including Runes of Magic, LOTRO, and more recently, EverQuest, though it seems they may well be on their way out. It was only last year that Sony Online Entertainment’s president, John Smedley, said that 2011′s Star Wars: The Old Republic would likely be the final subscription-based MMO to find success. Strong words coming from the man who has oversaw the likes of EverQuest II, The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies and DC Universe Online.
In their current state, free to play games are drawing in more and more consumers, with publishers now looking to reel the genre in and bridge the gap between titles such as Farmville and Call of Duty. Combining hardcore game design with an approachable, affordable method of distribution is their goal, and from what we’ve seen already, the results are as promised. Be sure to return everyday this week to get the low down on 2012′s F2P frontrunners.