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Opinion

How Long Until Consoles Adopt EA's "Real Racing 3" Payment Model?

Freemium is the future, so why are the publishers still dragging their feet?

I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour staring at a game trying to decide whether I think it’s utterly brilliant or completely rubbish. Last night I was doing just that, though, my eyes transfixed on Real Racing 3′s plethora of buttons and options, most of which seemed to point to a method of me handing over real cash. The UI is smart (if a little cluttered): the buttons to RACE and SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY are devilishly similar, a stray tap resulting in yet another microtransaction.

And some of them aren’t so micro. Much has been written about Real Racing 3′s payment model, and although a fair chunk of the criticism seems to have stemmed from authors a tad unfamiliar with how smartphone gaming is being financed, there’s some truth to the notion that EA have, with this otherwise exemplary slice of gaming, locked down the model for everyone else for years to come. If you’re making a racing game on a smartphone or tablet from this day onwards, chances are you’ll want to emulate Real Racing 3.

The first two Real Racing games didn’t subscribe to this methodology so adroitly, despite hints of it in the second game – it’s only really with this third game that developers Firemonkeys and publisher EA have so definitely moved down the freemium model. It’s a delicate balancing act that is seeing constant tweaking (with so-called hotfixes apparently possible) in order to get the game flowing and the cash trickling in at rates that are suitable for both shareholders and gamers.

In essence, the game features wear and tear on your cars. This is twofold: cars need servicing (oil, and so on) but they also feature damage modeling and thus require post-race fixing. These can be managed with in-game money but doing so, like a lot of the progress in the game, comes with a real-world wait. Just replacing your oil takes five minutes on a Focus RS, but installing engine parts and tweaking your tyres present a similar pause. If the upgrades aren’t related they’re done in parallel, but there’s still that waiting time.

Unless, of course, you spend some of your in-game coins. Coins that are in short supply and can – as you might have guessed – be topped up (like you can with in-game cash) with real money. We’ve seen this elsewhere of course (in fact, in-app purchases have pushed mobile gaming down this route steadily for the last couple of years) and some games are hugely successful at it (look at EA’s Simpsons: Tapped Out for a shining example) but apart from a few notable exceptions (hi again, Dead Space 3) publishers have stayed clear of trying this with living-room console games.

It’s because, quite simply, that this is the norm for on the go gaming where a five minute wait isn’t a big deal (chances are you’re playing the game whilst commuting, so just flip to the web browser and check on the latest news around the world whilst the mechanics do their job) but at home, in front of the TV, being presented with a screen that says “wait five minutes or give us 69p” would result in a sudden, forceful uproar across every website and forum on the planet. It’s just not done, it’s unusual, and it’s going to take someone with real balls to try it.

EA, perhaps? I can’t think of anyone with more experience across the two very distinct formats. But if they do, they’re going to have to dramatically review the entry price points: Real Racing 3 is free - it costs nothing to play until you decide to buy some currency or skip a waiting screen – when was the last time you came across a free PS3 game? Some publishers have tried to offer half a game and then pile on DLC on top of it, but that’s not what I’m talking about here: freemium gaming is a very unique model, and so far it’s been left out of the main console space.

Not that I necessarily agree with what EA and Firemonkeys have done with Real Racing 3 – I’m unlikely to really stick with the game long-term despite that fact that it looks absolutely stunning and handles brilliantly – but you’ve got to admire their collective courage. I don’t know whether the PS Vita is technically on par with the iPhone 5, but if it is and EA decided to bring Real Racing 3 to Sony’s latest portable without the in-app purchases I’d happily pay £30 for it. It’s a game that would work just as well with a single one-off high level purchase, and it would immediately trump anything else on the platform. It’s a seriously good racer.

The issue is (and the rationale behind EA’s decision) is that nobody’s going to pay £30 for an iPhone game. It’s just not done – the pricing of the App Store took a dive a long time ago – but by the same token EA are unlikely to offer the game for free on PlayStation platforms because the gaming market is so massively different that they’d probably struggle to make anything back. PS3 gamers aren’t used to forking over continuous trickles of money to keep progress going, and they’re not used to free games – the two together would probably be disastrous for the publisher.

It’s going to be interesting to see how Ouya does. Running off Android will mean the games library will be substantial, but financed by what are now normal smartphone pricing models. But Ouya is a TV-based console. If it works, perhaps we’ll see some tentative steps in this direction on PlayStation and Xbox devices (there were some strong hints from Andrew House last week regarding new ways to monetise games on PS4) and, who knows, a year or two down the line we’ll be seeing free (or very cheap) games being propped up in a similar manner to Real Racing 3 but running on a regular console, not a smartphone.

Until then, I’m back to staring at this game and trying to decide whether it’s a future I’m really keen on, or not. I get the idea, and I can see how it works for gamers happy to fund this growing market, but I’m not sure it’s for me. Not yet, anyway. The day that Gran Turismo 6 asks me to do the same I’ll maybe be forced to think differently, but until then I’d much rather pay a set fee and know that I’m getting the full game and won’t be pressured into parting with more cash every other day. How long that oddly Utopian view of the industry can last is anyone’s guess.

25 Comments
  1. Kennykazey
    Member
    Since: Mar 2010

    I bloody hate freemium, it’s constantly begging for money, always. Paying real money to shorten wait times in a game is such a cheap shot and I don’t see how developers or publishers can be proud of such a product. I’ll always prefer a one time payment.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 09:45.
  2. cc_star
    Team TSA: Writer
    Since: Forever

    Publishers will follow the money.

    If people buy the boxed £40/$60 & DLC which follows then publishers will focus on that, but if sales decline… Retailers push preowned over new etc & people keep buying these costumes, trinkets & virtual goods then publishers will focus on that.

    Look at the opportunities for this sort of monetisation in Drive Club Vs the GT experience.

    Destiny Vs CoD

    Games in the next generation will just be smoke & mirrors masking what’s essentially a trading platform.

    Market forces will decide, but EA are driving home the thin end of the wedge now acclimatising people to in – game stores which will grow in importance with each subsequent release until you’re buying your FIFA players some branded energy drink so they’re fit for the next match, or your dragon slayer better armour.

    Deary me, I’ve depressed myself. Fuck MegaCorps, the future is indie devs who want to make great experiences.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 09:50.
    • KeRaSh
      Member
      Since: Nov 2009

      That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Drive Club in the context of subscriptions or in game purchases. I haven’t read anything about the game that hinted at such models. Where do your claims come from? Did I miss something?

      Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 10:08.
      • Alex C
        One for all.
        Since: Forever

        Driveclub is highly likely to have a subscription model.

        Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 10:08.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        Based on what information? I’m just curious.

        Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 10:36.
      • Alex C
        One for all.
        Since: Forever

        Common sense and a bit of guesswork.

        Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 12:06.
      • KeRaSh
        Member
        Since: Nov 2009

        I don’t see it. How could they justify a monthly subscription for what is looking like a full RRP release? It’s not a driving MMO. It looks like a regular racing game with a more sophisticated Autolog or whatever the system in Burnout Paradise and NFS was called.
        Also, welcoming the early adopters of the next generation with a subscription based racing game seems like an incedibly stupid idea.

        Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 12:42.
    • cam the man
      Member
      Since: May 2009

      Unless they sell it at a drastically reduced price, but I cannot see that happening.

      Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 13:32.
  3. tyrant161
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    I wish that EA would bring this game to home consoles as well as mobile devices only. It looks awesome and would be great controlled with a wheel or joypad…..the control on a tablet or phone just isn’t quite right.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 10:12.
  4. CR8ZYH0RSE
    Member
    Since: Sep 2012

    The reason they’re still dragging there feet is because when they want to fuck you over they want to do it right.There is no way they will want to give you cheaper games when it changes to digital download and becomes a so called ‘competitive market’.Why should they when they can give it to you free and slowly but surely fuck you over and by the time you’ve finished the game you realise you’ve paid double what a disc game would of cost.
    If you were drowning they’d charge you for a life jacket before they threw it to you.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 10:16.
  5. jimmy-google
    Member
    Since: Feb 2009

    I’ve never spent any money on freemium games and probably never will. That doesn’t mean I don’t pay them, jet pack joyride and equilibrium get a lot of play time on my vita.

    DLC is fine like new cars or tracks or modes but i hate things sold as timesavers or similar

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 11:23.
  6. Broonba
    Member
    Since: Mar 2009

    As I’ve said before, EA are a bunch of money grabbing bastards so this doesn’t surprise me one bit.
    I don’t mind paying £40 for a game, hell, I don’t even mind paying a tenner for DLC, but EA can fuck right off if they think I’m gonna spend real cash on in app/game purchases.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 12:22.
    • bunimomike
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      Thing is… they’re all a bunch of money grabbing bastards. It’s business in a free(ish) world. Sadly, EA seem to have gone about things in such an antagonistic way, they’ve managed to induce scorn from nearly every consumer.

      However, it’s that very freedom that we can embrace. The market will shift and avoid nonsense like this as long as enough people think it’s a useless business model and out to gouge the consumer more than other revenue streams.

      I only ever want to play the single player components of Modern Warfare/Black Ops (1, 2, 3, etc) so I wait. I wait until they’re on offer on Steam and under £20. We all must vote with our wallets and choose whether to support a particular system of them making money from us. They’ll get the message loud and clear if that happens. If not, then we have ourselves to blame.

      Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 14:44.
      • Michael
        Team TSA: Development
        Since: Forever

        *applause*

        Comment posted on 02/03/2013 at 20:12.
  7. teflon
    Community Team
    Since: May 2009

    Hopefully never. I absolutely do not want to sit down for an hour of gaming, prang my car in GT7 and then have to wait 10 minutes for it to be fixed, or pay for it to be sped up.

    At least with iOS gaming you can excuse it by saying that many will play these games on the train or bus, so it is by nature a more stop-start experience, and adding little time barriers isn’t as much an inconvenience.

    I just want a single payment option of, say, £10, which will let me cut out all the crap. I’ll not buy any of the rest, so at least aknowledge and respect that there are people who want to pay, but don’t want endless annoyance.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 12:36.
  8. TSBonyman
    Member
    Since: Dec 2009

    Set fee for me, when they stop offering that choice i’ll stop buying.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 13:28.
  9. Mathematicool
    Member
    Since: Mar 2011

    Really it should be called free to pay.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 14:01.
  10. BULLofDOOM
    Member
    Since: Feb 2013

    Freemium is bollocks, I’d like to elaborate so please pay me £1 per word to see the rest of this comment.

    Comment posted on 01/03/2013 at 14:15.

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