Lately I’ve been reading a lot of positive talk about free to play games and that the traditional box purchases may be a thing of the past. Whilst I can’t disagree that there is a wonderful business model developing there, I don’t believe that this is the future for most games.
A free to play model really requires players to put in a fair amount of time for the content available. Many, if not most, major titles have a plot and a linear campaign with a clear beginning, middle and end with X amount of playtime. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all and these titles will remain for some time. Aside from micropayments for additional items and perhaps in game advertising, there isn’t a great deal that you can charge for. The main content HAS to be provided in one big lump. Imaging getting quarter the way through an epic single player and hearing that you need to pay $10, then another $10 in a few hours. Not only would this break up the play, but it will but players off. So no, these games don’t need nor want to be free to play.
Similarly along this line of thought, what about games that have both single player and multiplayer action? The online space is a lot easier to monetise through micropayments and DLC but what about the single player? Perhaps it could be purchased as a DLC but damn, this is gonna be quite complex. I (providing I have internet) download my game, do all the registration, put in my credit card details, wait until the unlock goes through then can FINALLY play my brand new game. I think not. Lets not forget, people are idiots and this is a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps one of my biggest fears of Free2Play is the lack of retail. Games make great gifts. I imagine that for the past 15 years I’ve had at least one new game every Christmas and of course, it is fun opening it up, reading the box then of course putting in the disc for the first time. Simply owning a physical copy of a game can’t be under-rated and in order to retail these, we need stores selling boxed copies. It would be a shame if this was to disappear. I also quite like having my stack of games in boxes, something that I’ve missed a little since becoming a reasonably heavy Steam user. If things went F2P I’d never have new discs, every time I want to put a game on my laptop I’d need to download it and of course some games won’t let me access them offline, especially F2P with a login, so how exactly do I play games on the train, visiting my folks or simply when I don’t have Internet?
Finally, I hope my local game stores never have to close. I remember being dragged into town shopping and spending my time browsing the local games store. Going into Game the staff are always very friendly and helpful. Being able to browse titles, purchase them and take them home is an experience that we’d lose that with free2play. They are already competing against the online stores and if the major titles became F2P, our favourite stores would all but disappear.
Don’t game me wrong, I fully appreciate that Free2Play is great and is providing an exciting new way to monetise games and feed hungry games developers. However that is for some games so lets not get ahead of ourselves and try forcing the idea of F2P.