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F2P Week: An Introduction

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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.
Already enjoyed by many a PC gamer for some years, it was still seen as an innovation, though it didn’t take long for accusations to crop up that developers were deliberately portioning off content so they could release it later at the expense of consumers.

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?
Such a lack of confidence and certainty in the products we buy has also led to the demise of subscription-based MMOs which are arguably a harder sell than boxed retail products. With games such as World of Warcraft and Rift, not only do we have to convince ourselves that we’re enjoying these games, we also feel pressured into committing an uncomfortable amount time so that we know our £10 top up wasn’t a complete waste.

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.

  1. ashw92
    Since: Aug 2010

    Great piece and a great idea for a set of features.
    I can’t understand why so many ‘hardcore gamers’ resent games like farmville. And the end of the day its still bringing money, popularity and people onto gaming who wouldn’t be otherwise which will also help in the development of full ‘hardcore’ games in the long run.

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 11:09.
  2. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    One problem is falling into the trap that F2P games are like Farmville, it is the success of a small number of titles like that which cloud people’s judgement of the whole market.

    I possibly spend more time with F2P than a I do on my PS3 now, I’ve sampled Battlefield Play4Free along with of course Battlefield Heroes, Need for Speed World, Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online although I prefer WGT Golf Challenge, right down to quick play stuff like Bejeweled & Angry Birds. I’m not one for MMOs but there is far more to F2P that will appeal to typical console gamers than just them.

    A new frontier has opened up in F2P and that is Google’s Chrome browser and it’s Native Client (NaCl) which allows any code to run natively in the browser this means console-like (or even console beating) experiences run right their in the browser with no plug-ins required and as a browser has an install base in excess of even the top selling console it’s quite a tempting market for developers to target. It even has control pad support & of course supports multiplayer action. As this is right in its infancy, the few games around for it are PC ports of premium games as publishers test the market’s appetite, but the sky really is the limit especially with the automatically online nature of a games code running within the browser regardless of platform.

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 12:39.
  3. Jakster123x
    Since: Aug 2011

    Dust 514 is going to be a big landmark for PS3 F2P gaming i think

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 12:40.
  4. An-dz
    Since: Oct 2010

    sometimes those little flash games are more addictive than anything you pay for

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 12:41.
  5. Burgess_101
    Since: May 2009

    Firefall and planetside are reckon will be some of the biggest. Guild Wars 2 on the MMO front I know you have to pay for it once but it looks more than worth it!

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 13:39.
    • Burgess_101
      Since: May 2009

      *I reckon

      Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 13:40.
  6. hazelam
    Since: Feb 2009

    Runes of Magic has been one of my favourite free to play games, though i don’t think i’ve played it since i got Minecraft.

    i did reinstall WOW the other day though, they have a free option where you can play any of the, i think, 8 races up and including to the Dranei and Blood Elves from the Burning Crusade pack, and play them up to level 20.
    with each race having it’s own starting area that’s still a hell of a lot of content even though you can only get to level 20.

    anyway, i look forward to seeing the articles, i’m looking for something to pull me away from my Minecraft addiction. ^_^

    Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 18:28.
    • Jim Hargreaves
      Since: Nov 2009

      Hopefully there will be something. At the moment, Wrath of Heroes has me hooked which is surprising as I’ve always avoided MMO PvP in the past.

      Comment posted on 09/04/2012 at 19:35.

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