News Article

Talking Point: Is Free-to-Play the Future for PlayStation 4?

Posted by Sammy Barker

Thinking different

In theory, you won’t need to spend a penny on software when you pick up your shiny new PlayStation 4 on launch day. While there will be boxed blockbusters vying for your attention, all flaunting familiar price stickers – unless the executives at EA get their way – the console will also be complemented by a handful of free-to-play releases, spanning superhero soiree DC Universe Online and neo-ninja excursion Warframe. But while this is a relatively new concept for console gaming, does the model actually represent the future for Sony’s next generation system?

The free-to-play format – or freemium as it’s more commonly referred to among more cynical consumers – has been an outrageous success on smartphones, tablets, and computers. League of Legends is often used as a case study for the model’s popularity, averaging approximately 12 million players globally per day. Meanwhile, summer sensation Candy Crush Saga currently has a stranglehold on online storefronts such as iTunes and Google Play. And yet, despite the initiative’s triumphs, it currently feels like an unexplored frontier in the classic gaming space.

That’s not to say that the model hasn’t been present, bubbling beneath the traditional practices that we’ve all come to understand. Sony Online Entertainment kickstarted the revolution on the PlayStation 3, deploying its casual online adventure Free Realms as a complimentary download. DC Universe Online followed suit, attracting a console audience larger than its PC counterpart. Since then, DUST 514, the ambitious first-person shooter experiment from Eve Online developer CCP Games, and Tekken Revolution, a stripped-back edition of Namco’s classic fighting series, have joined the party. But the drive still feels somewhat half-hearted.

Part of the problem is that the PS3’s creaky infrastructure is just not equipped to cope with the model in the way that more modern interfaces can. Despite the catalogue of errors and oversights made by the platform holder when the current generation console launched, it could not have foreseen the popularity of free-to-play when it initially deployed the system in 2006. Subsequently, such hang-ups are less conspicuous on the PlayStation Vita, where the format has proved much more popular in games such as Treasures of Montezuma Blitz, Travel Bug, and Jetpack Joyride. But with the PS4 likely to be designed with the necessary technical hooks in place, will the system pave the way for the model’s overdue success in the console space?

There’s certainly been no shortage of announcements in the area. In addition to the aforementioned launch titles, the likes of Blacklight: Retribution and PlanetSide 2 are also set to deploy on the system without a fee. In fact, Sony Worldwide Studios president Shuhei Yoshida recently said that the platform holder itself is working on a free-to-play game for the PS4. Whether the likeable executive was actually referring to SOE’s ambitious first-person shooter remains unclear, but the company is betting on the model with Vita title Destiny of Spirits, so it’s clear that it sees the potential in the format moving forwards.

But while the content appears to be in place, the big question is whether consumers will actually take to it. The format has a bad reputation among hardcore players for being exploitative and a token of questionable quality. Furthermore, the expectations attached to console games are much higher than those on mobile phones; Candy Crush Saga’s simplistic mechanics may excel in a tablet environment, but it’s unlikely to be as successful on home systems, where players demand deeper gameplay and better graphics. And yet, titles such as DC Universe Online have proven that, with the right game, it’s not impossible to achieve success in the space.

But a single triumph is not enough to deem the format the future, and it seems unlikely that we’ll be playing a free-to-play version the next Mass Effect anytime soon. And yet, it’s interesting that the microtransaction model – which funds many freemium games – is starting to find its way into traditional console titles. BioWare’s space opera cleverly incorporated a trading card-esque system into its surprisingly popular co-op mode, while Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception siphoned off its competitive multiplayer component as a free download. As additional revenue streams, these are savvy moves – even if they are still a long way away from the freemium dream.

But perhaps the solution for console games sits somewhere in between. DriveClub, the next generation racer from Evolution Studios, will be available as a full Blu-ray release for PS4 at launch. However, subscribers to Sony’s premium PlayStation Plus service will also be able to download a complimentary copy of the game, which will include all of the core mechanics, minus much of its content. You’ll have options to upgrade the package as you play – picking up additional vehicles and circuits for a fee – or you’ll be able to stump up for the full experience in one sweep. It sounds more like a swanky demo than a true free-to-play game, but it could yet work.

And it’s easy to envisage this model being adopted by some of the biggest brands. Imagine a free version of Call of Duty: Ghosts, where the single player campaign can be procured for extra, and guns, perks, and additional loadout slots can be purchased à la carte. It may sound borderline offensive on paper, but it could prove a more cost-effective option for the more astute player. After all, a large chunk of Activision’s annual playerbase fails to even touch the solo component of its colossal first-person franchise, so why should they be forced to pay for it? Surely greater choice is a good thing – as long as it’s handled in the right way.

Irrespective of guise, the one thing that’s clear about the coming generation is that it will represent something of a playground for experimental ideas. With the infrastructure finally in place, we’d be surprised if the PS4 wasn’t awash with different interpretations of the free-to-play model within the first few years of its life. And while it’s hard to predict what will stick, we suspect that much like the advent of digital downloads and DLC, the way that we consume content is about to change. In some ways, that may seem scary – but it’s also exceedingly exciting.

What are your thoughts on the free-to-play model? Would you prefer to purchase titles in an à la carte manner, or do you like knowing that everything’s available out of the box? Let us know in the comments section below.

Do you think that free-to-play represents the future for PS4? (35 votes)

Yes, the traditional boxed product is an outdated concept


I’m not really sure at the moment


No, the model’s not really scalable to all types of games


Please login to vote in this poll.

User Comments (22)



ShogunRok said:

I think as of now it's an unproven business model as far as consoles are concerned. However, if games like Warframe prove popular on PS4, it could really take off. After all, if people can try the bulk of an experience for free, the product is already appealing to a massive market. It's just a question of who comes back for more and starts paying money.

To answer the question, I don't think free-to-play will become the most popular model - at least not yet - but there will definitely be a place for it on PS4 in the long term.



Paranoimia said:

I hope F2P dies a quick death. I would rather pay a single fee up front than be "nickel and dimed" throughout the life of the game, with it eventually adding up to more than the cost of a regular game if I really want to get anywhere.

I've been using an Android phone since July 2011. I got a Nexus 7 shortly after launch last year. I've had no problem paying for actual apps that I use, but so far I've found just one "free to play" game worth actually spending any money on - and I've even stopped spending money on that now, once I hit the total amount of a regular console game.

The problem with the model is that even the genuine F2P games (as opposed to "pay to win") tend to have something at some point that you need to pay for. They'll release 'events' that are only accessible if you're a certain level, and to get to that level you need a certain item, and that item can only be obtained via real cash or will otherwise take you many weeks, perhaps months, of play time - and because the game is free, it's usually not advanced/deep enough to keep your interest for that long.

Just let me pay for the game and be done with it. Release some decent DLC further down the line if must.



get2sammyb said:

@ShogunRok The interesting thing about this model is that it can be difficult to quantify - at least initially. Everyone at the time assumed that DC Universe Online was flopping on PS3, until SOE came out and confirmed that 70 per cent of the game's playerbase was actually on PS3.

The real problem I foresee for the model - at least initially - is that big multiplayer games like Blacklight are going to be competing for players against Killzone, Battlefield, and Call of Duty, and on a pretty small install base to boot. These games need huge install bases to make money, so I think that's going to be a problem in the platform's early stages.



Jaz007 said:

I think they have a place and are good for the occasional game, but I think I would quit gaming if all went FTP. For many games it would ruin them. Having a bunch of little features locked away. I might not think I want something, but would end up loving if I got everything at once. The opposite could also happen if I buy something I think I want and then hate it. I would then feel bad about the money spent the and miss out on what I would have enjoyed. It could also tempt developer too much to make something too hard to unlock because that's the only revenue stream. Buying items also could eaisily start to feel too much like cheat codes as well.



irken004 said:

TF2 proved to me the model can work without breaking so much of the game in the first place. Hats are far more valuable than most of the weapons, and the weapons never have much of a pay-to-win feel. As long as games like Blacklight Retribution (which, unfortunately, has a pay-to-win type style on pc) and Warframe break that mold, it can work in their favor.



Snorky said:

Personally I cannot stand free to play games with in app purchases, designed to make the player feel like they're not getting the most enjoyment possible out of the game unless they make additional purchases. Give me one-time-buy experiences anyday!

From a developer perspective though, I can understand how it's a viable model, so many kids with easy access to mommy and daddies' credit card mean they'll never be without the newest downloadable outfit etc.

I hope it doesn't catch on.



ObviouslyAdachi said:

I hate freemium. I never spend money on microtransactions and because so many other people do, they appear to be better. They are higher on the leaderboards and they've got more to show off. Microtransactions almost always sour the game for me.



ShogunRok said:

But at the end of the day, imagine you get a great game for free. Imagine you end up really enjoying Warframe and don't mind giving the developer something for their trouble. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, especially paying a grand total of £5 for a few add-ons as opposed to paying £40 for a full retail release.



InsertNameHere said:

F2P seems like it would be more suited for Shooters and RPG's, maybe MMO's and Fighting games as well. Before my internet got shut off, I was really enjoying Tekken Revolution - which I spent not one penny on - and was just about to give Dust 514 a shot.

Some people have a problem with F2P because they feel like they're at a disadvantage if they refuse to spend money, which is a very common misconception. A friend of mine is a pretty high ranking player on Planetside 2 and he hasn't bought anything yet.

I would love to see more F2P titles on console, as long as they didn't cross into P2W territory. I'm hoping that D514 follows DCUO and makes the jump to PS4.



get2sammyb said:

@TheRealBatman Sorry, I misread your comment! Duh! On topic: I'm pretty confident that DUST 514 will make the jump. I'm quite curious how that game's doing actually.



rjejr said:

Why no mention of Home, theres a bunch of free games in there?

I've played Candy Crush and Puzzle and Dragon and my new favorite I Need a Hero w/o spending any money and I've survived, they're just time wasters. I couldnt imagine Uncharted that way though, or inFamous. But I like all kinds of games, just depends on my mood at the moment. But they shouldnt impose 1 model on all games. I dont want to pay per bullet in a free Resident Evil but Im also not paying $40 for Angry Birds.



mibtar said:

A lot of games that people play on the PC are F2P. It's not a model that should be ignored. In fact I think I would be good if the same kind of games will be adopted to the PS4. The more people playing on the PS4 the better.



BlueProxy said:

As long as the trans actions don't spam us to death, and the add-ons are things like skins, and maps vs. skill enhancements, it's fine. Not likely though, they want to make it hard not to spend money. If everybody else is outranking you because they spent a couple of bucks for a mod, it takes the fun out of it.



Reverend_Skeeve said:

I think F2P is an awesome concept that will definitely have its regular place on PS4. I don't think boxed AAA releases are gonna die out anytime soon, but F2P is going to gain market share. It's a great way for developers to get the consumer interested in their game...and a great way for gamers to check out the product before paying any money.

If the quality of the premium content seemed good enough to me, I'd pay small amounts of money for it. And if a game keeps me interested for weeks and month, I wouldn't even mind to pay more than for a boxed AAA game eventually. If I pay 60 bucks for a boxed game that entertains me for 20+ hours or such, why should I mind to pay 80 or 100 bucks over some period of time when the game in question entertains me for 200+ hours during that time? It's all a question of value for money, so I think F2P is here to stay. Also on PS4.



Reverend_Skeeve said:

On a side note: just got a friends PS3 and upgraded my profile to PS+ in eager anticipation for the PS4...

And talk about value for money...PS+ is amazing! I have Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, BF3 and Saints Row 3 sitting on my HDD, waiting to be taken for a spin! Love it! Especially since I never had a chance to play SotC...can't wait.



charlesnarles said:

Way to break the 4th wall, says me. After I leave the counter at the store (or close the PSN store), I do NOT wanna think about spending more money on it. It's mine now. I own it in its entirety, including any and all updates/upgrades that come later. They shouldn't even release games they're not 100% done with, I'd rather wait for a finished product, duh.



Reverend_Skeeve said:

@charlesnarles Agreed, with most gaming experiences, I don't want to think about continuing to play or such when I leave the store. I'm a big fan of AAA boxed games. But I think boxed games and F2P games can peacefully coexist. Especially for MMO games that evolve over time, F2P combines with microtransactions is a good model, I believe. As long as the game in question avoids pay to win, of course.



Zombie_Barioth said:

As long as its handled the right way I don't see a reason F2P can't co-exist with the rest of the market. Games aren't cheap so having an affordable way for people to play more games without breaking the bank is certainly a good thing.

I like the idea of splitting up single-player and multiplayer modes, for online multiplayer anyway. Why should people pay for a section of a game they won't even touch? Following online-pass logic shouldn't I get a discount if I have no intention to play online?



MagicFingers said:

I like the idea of f2p because there ius no investment for the consumer to try something new. This is also a negative though as there is no attachment to the game in the beginning so if it doesn't impress and compel straight away or in the first couple hours, its no loss to delete it. However the game may actually be good and take time to progress to more interesting aspects. If the game is done right it could work.

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