Could FIFA 14 Be Free To Play?

In my humble opinion, the idea of ‘freemium’ games – those with zero entry cost but come with repeated, optional extras that cost real money – are one of the most obnoxious new trends in the industry. They’re massively popular on smart phones, so much that finding a game that you actually just buy and don’t have to worry about in-app purchases is becoming alarmingly rare.

I actively try to avoid them completely now, because although I’m well aware that I don’t really ‘own’ any particular digital purchases, at least I know that I won’t have to keep topping them up with 69p micro-transactions for fuel, coins, bullets or skill points.

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However, I’m also well aware that that’s the way the industry is heading, and reading the quotes from EA’s Interactive senior VP Nick Earl this morning made me wonder how quickly the shift will be to consoles as the mobile market becomes ever more saturated.

“The future is not about one-time payments, the future is about freemium,” he said.  “A decent number of people convert to paying and they may not pay a lot but most of them actually pay more than you’d think.” It’s clear that there’s a market for such titles and mechanics just by looking at what’s shifting on the free App Store charts and then looking at what’s actually making the most money on the revenue charts.

The correlation is clear, and games like the recently released CSR Racing (which is free but requires purchases for pretty much everything unless you want to sit it out and wait for things to happen and have determination of steel) show that people are absolutely happy to spend.

But will that notion translate from smart phones to consoles? Earl thinks there’s no reason why not. “I don’t know if freemium gets to console but I do know that humans like free stuff. I also know humans who will pay for something if they’ve tried it out and they like it,” he said.

Ignoring the bizarre human references, he then continues. “I’ve wondered if freemium expands beyond the tablet, Facebook and smartphones, and out into consoles? I don’t think it’s impossible for that to happen.” He’s not directing EA’s path here by any level of reasoning, but he is suggesting that at least the company are thinking about how this might work.

And although it seems like an obvious transition, the user base and pricing models between those on a smart phone and those on a living room console are massively different and expectations couldn’t be more apart. The mobile market is already used to micro-transactions, they want cheap (like less than a pound cheap, or free) games and are happy to supplement that with additional purchases.

Console-only gamers aren’t.

If EA do push this towards consoles, they’ll need to be very careful how it’s delivered. The uproar over the online pass system has passed and already seems generally accepted, but offering up a fully fledged title for free and then adding payments for content beyond a bare skeleton will be an exciting but dangerous prospect. Titles like FIFA will presumably just have a handful of teams, the rest 69p each. Or a cost per season, or transfer.

I’m sure it’s coming, and I’m sure next generation will feature the first waves of freemium titles for consoles. Some publishers have dipped their toes in the water – like Treasures of Montezuma on Vita, or the Home shooter No Man’s Land – but AAA titles from top tier publishers will be another matter entirely, and everyone will be watching EA very closely.

Epic’s Tim Sweeney’s keen on the idea too – “we’ve been building these games like Gears of War where you go into the store and you buy a piece of plastic! You just buy this DVD. That is going to change rapidly” – he said back at GDC, and Crytek have also backed the idea that freemium is the way forward. The future – it seems – is free, at least at point of entry. There’s a lot I’m not looking forward to for next-gen, and freemium – personally – is one such thing.

Hopefully publishers like EA are smart, and if this is the path that the industry is heading I hope that the games don’t end up being quite as repulsive to me as I’ve found lots of mobile games to be. Games might be expensive, and I know that paid-for DLC is now pretty much a given for every title out there, but I’d still rather pay £40 and know I’ve got at least half of the whole thing.

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14 Comments

  1. Honestly I’d rather pay hard-earned cash for a good game than something that’s F2P, its been going on for years so yeah.’ but I guess with Fifa 14 we’d be paying to cure fatigue after like three matches or something pretty much like another game from a Big Publisher does with Mech sorties and other various things in more F2P games like buying more power to limit progress for a few hours….

    • Personally I have always thought a subscription model would be more suitable for FIFA – pay £5 a month and get rid of new editions every year. EA would make more over the year than wit a boxed product but in return players would receive monthly updates and new features as they are created.

      Just an idea – and it’s going to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams… muah haha!

  2. Such is my loathing of EA Sports that free is still too expensive to buy one of their titles again!

    But generally speaking, as long as freemium stuff remains an option, I don’t see too much problem. I own and love the mentioned Treasures of Montezuma for Vita, and it can be played for free as well as speeding things up by parting with pennies. Perhaps games like FIFA could be sold at retail for the full title, or a kind of build your own from the Store…”OK, I’ll take just the skeleton for free, and I’ll have the Premier League for £1.99…”

    Or knowing EA, £19.99…

  3. I can’t see it really catching on with some of FIFA’s less ‘gaming’ orientated players (if that makes sense) at the end of the day, games like FIFA and Call of Duty have more casual players than ‘hardcore’ players, if you over complicate things too much you could lose that audience. I don’t think ‘freemium’ will ever be anything more than a payment choice if im honest, like mobile phones for example, you can pay for the phone outright or pay in installments/subscriptions. Console gaming will go that way if anything. I think mobile games are better suited to freemium because they don’t cost that much (therefore fairly risk free for the consumer) – it will suit some but it will always be see by others as a bit of a rip off, or risky. Me personally, if I buy a game I want to always own it not for 3 months then having to pay to keep it.

  4. I was speculating on twitter how I think BF4 could make the jump to F2P after the various statements EA have made. There are already two F2P games in the Battlefield franchise (Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield Play4Free) so they already have experience with the F2P model within the franchise.

    Personally I hope the whole F2P/ IAP etc fad is short lived.

  5. I wont be buying F2P games, end of. Its a con and a way of getting more money from gamers. If they don’t tell you what you will need to buy in game then its a con, and thats the way most games are that are f2p.

    OH well, looks like with online gaming and F2P models coming through, it could end gaming for me.

  6. This model could work really well for football games if the price is right and there is a constant improvement to the game engine.

    I tend to skip a season of FIFA to ensure there’s enough of a difference between releases that I notice where my money is going.

    What I’d prefer to do is have a base-game that I can subscribe to seasons on.
    For me, £10 a season would be a particular sweet spot.

    I’m impressed with the amount of modes that FIFA has, and their card-based game surely pulls in a nice amount of money.
    Shifting their career modes over to something like New Star Soccer’s RPG elements would also fit well.

  7. Agree with the article. Free to play games are anything but, even on the smartphone, I play for 2 mins, realise its crap and that I’ll have to spend a fortune to upgrade. Then I delete it.

    If this is the trend, I’m glad I’ve got a library of classics I can delve into to get my gaming fix.

    Not sure how it could work on consoles. The reason why games are generally £10 more expensive on console than on PC. Is that the console manufacturer gets a slice of the games cost. Will they get the first few DLC costs then the dev?

  8. I don’t know many people that refer to other people as ‘Humans’. In fact, the only time i recall the term ‘Humans’ being used was when it was being used by an alien race.

    I therefore believe that Nick Earl is either an Alien, or is being mind controlled. By Aliens.

  9. Not once have a bought one of these freemium games and I don’t intend to change that any time soon. If I buy a game it needs to be complete.
    I’ve recently found myself buying a bunch of older games (stuff that came out in the first year or two of the 360s launch) and that feeling of putting a game in the disk tray and not having to worry about downloading extras and redeeming online passes is great.

  10. Freemium can fruck right off.

    No good can come it for the consumer and I see a lot of frustration amongst gamers who invest partially in a freemium title only to see it wind up early or not get the support they were expecting. Given a ‘new’ freemium title is almost impossible to fully review (as a lot of the content is released in dribs and drabs) I can see the market being flooded with half-ass games that promise a lot and deliver very little.

    As for AAA titles going freemium, they’re only going to do it if it makes more money. Again, not necessarily great for the consumer. Not to mention the fragmenting it will cause online. It’s already bad enough with multiple DLC packs for online games creating divisions – imagine that times 100.

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