Since I built my gaming PC, I’ve gotten more serious about following the details of recently released and soon-to-be-released games. Some of the games I’m following include Planetside 2, MechWarrior Online, Guild Wars 2, World of Warplanes and Warface. If you look closely at all these games, you will see that they’ve got one thing in common. That “thing”, that trend has lead me to believe that we might be seeing an end of the $60 PC video game. What is the trend of which I speak/type/write? All of these games will be free to play.
None of the games I mentioned are no-name titles from fly-by-night shops (unless you count SOE, and I wouldn’t blame you). Most of these games are aiming to be
AAA-range games. This is important because it’s the AAA-games that cost the big bucks to develop and for the consumers to buy. The retail price, barring special editions, tends to be around the $60 mark.
Beyond the list of games I’ve provided, you can take a look at the MMO market just to see how pervasive free-to-play has gotten. Numerous games that were released for the standard “upfront and subscription” model have moved to the f2p model since it helped them bring in more money and subscribers. Just a few of the decent sized names on that list include Dungeons And Dragons Online, Age Of Conan, Star Trek Online, Lord of the Rings Online, DC Universe, Everquest and Everquest 2. Now if you expand the list to include MMOs that started out free, like Guild Wars (and smaller/Eastern MMOs too numerous to mention), the list gets quite large.
There are two real large success stories in this early era of f2p games. The first is Guild Wars which had a unique model at launch, you paid $60 for the game and (later on) could purchase any of its “expansions”, but there was no monthly fee. Later down the line they introduced a store which included quite a few upgrades and bonus unlocks — though not “micro transactions” since the cheap items started at $7. The second success story for free-to-play (specifically conversion) is Team Fortress 2. Valve took the aging but popular FPS and made it f2p for a 12x boost in profit. Really Valve has shown the market that if you do it right, you can make good money off “free” products.
Social games need not be taught this lesson though. There are hundreds of games on the iPad/iPhone and Android markets that are totally free. Some of the games are junk (and/or made by Zynga), but some are really good. They get “in the door” (or on the device) and then hit you up with in-game purchases. Purchases which generally make game play faster or allow you to do more with the game. Since I’m a big-boy gamer (I can use a computer or an Xbox) these games generally don’t appeal much to me. I can see the designs artificially limiting play speed specifically to force you into purchases. It’s not a “bad thing” per se since I can see how the games can draw in the casual gamer — I’m just not casual enough for them.
Some of the death blows to the $60 are also being dealt from the traditionally purchased games, but simply at a lower price point. The Steam Store has helped facilitate bringing digital games to the masses. When the game maker doesn’t need to make a box and ship it to a store, they don’t need to charge as much to get the same profit. Some/many may do so but others quickly learn you can sell many more copies by pricing the games more competitively. As I write this article, of the 10 games listed on the steam store’s front page of “New Releases”, only one is $50 or more. The average price across all 10 new releases? $19.70. (Also at time of writing) Steam also lists 1,495 games under the $10 price point.
At the end of the day, do I think Battlefield 4, Modern Warfare 4, Halo 4, or any of the next set of “blockbuster” games will be priced at a dime less than $60? Hell no. The publishers may be looking for ways to make more money, but they’re not stupid (well other than the Lack Of Originality 4). The games will sell like hotcakes at $60 so they’ll keep pricing them right there. In fact, with the amount (and cost) of DLC and “shortcuts” being added to games like Battlefield 3, they’re working on beating that horse as dead as dead can be. In the mean time I do expect to see a lot of interesting games, that aren’t the biggest of the big, scooting in with a free-to-play style model. Entice us to play a game, give it to us for free and see how hooked we get.