The Evolution of Free2Play (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here

This year a new player entered the Free2Play arena, Nintendo! Yes the company whose games that refuse to drop in price, the same company who only last year properly began experimenting with paid DLC. This move by Nintendo culminated in a new Steel Diver game, although very different to the side view title that launched with the 3DS. Steel Diver: Sub Wars is essentially an FPS, only slower, because it’s submarines. Anyone could download the game for free, and this included the first two single player levels and access to the online multiplayer.

Instead of relying solely on microtransactions you could pay £8.99 to unlock the remaining single player missions and the ability to unlock the other 20+ submarines. Oddly though, you have to unlock the full version to be able to buy DLC? Another interesting aspect added in the recent update is that when playing the free version, every time you want to play an online match, it uses two Play Coins (which you earn by walking with you 3DS). So if you don’t want to pay, prepare to do some walking.

It’s also worth noting the other Free2Play game from Nintendo, this being Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball. This is only out in Japan and the US, because why would they launch a baseball game in Europe? Like Sub Wars entry to the game is free, almost like a demo, but you can pay to unlock the other minigames that are available. But there is a twist, you can actual haggle with Rusty to get a better price on these minigames. That might just be the most ingenious way to implement free to play, providing you don’t mind taking advantage of poor old Rusty. Although Kyle Bosman provides the best take on this unique title which you should really check out.

Now onto the game which inspired me to write this article in the first place (well in combination with the E3 announcement), Ace Combat Infinity. A Free2Play Ace Combat game; considering previous tended to focus more on the single player it did seem like an odd decision. Although this new game does feature a single player, but similar to Sub Wars only the first couple (three in this case) are available early on.

Unlike Sub Wars you can play the game long enough and unlock the other missions using the ingame currency, but the amount required is so much I’m not too sure how one is able to do so. Despite the inclusion of the single player, the games main focus is the online “co-op”. What this actual equates to is two teams of four take on AI enemies in a large map and the team with the highest score wins. This is an interesting approach, and as the AI provides a decent challenge it results in an enjoyable way to play with others.

Now you might be wondering, how else does the game monetise itself? This is mostly through the purchase of fuel. As each time you successfully finish a game (singleplayer or multiplayer) you use up one unit of fuel. The game provides you with three which are replenished every 3-4 hours. In addition you also stack up fuel which you obtain by finishing games and completing challenges. If you want to continuously play like you would Halo or Call of Duty then you’ll likely feel the need to pay for extra fuel. But I only tend to play 3-4 games a day, so with the stock three units and my healthy reserve fuel I have felt no need to pay. I’ve always wanted to give the Ace Combat series a go, and Infinity  has provided me with a very enjoyable experience, for free. Although I might end up caving and paying for the single player missions, because there is no way I’m getting 200,000 credits anytime soon.

Whilst games like Ace Combat: Infinity are sticking fairly closely to the standard Free2Play formula, others like Nintendo are using more of a free to try approach, which is not too dissimilar to what Microsoft did with the trials for Xbox Live Arcade titles. Then there is League of Legends which is quite possibly the most successful Free2Play game there is right now (except maybe Candy Crush). However LoL is widely respected for its monetisation strategy, which is that money is not needed to get the most out of the game. You can buy additional characters, but these can easily be unlocked through normal play. The main source of revenue is customisation aspects, these don’t make any stat difference to the character, they are purely aesthetical. It is because Riot Games (the developer of LoL) is held is high esteem for its non money grabbing approach that players are happy to pay a few pounds/dollars every now and then because they know it helps support the company which is providing them with an experience they enjoy.

Even though the majority of Free2Play titles are found on PC’s or Mobile, Infinity is just one example of a growing trend which is seeing more being either brought to consoles as well such as World of Tanks and War Thunder or being made specifically for consoles like Suda 51’s upcoming Let It Die. This has been enabled because of the increasing connectivity of consoles and their constantly updating ecosystem.

When Microsoft first revealed the Xbox One and announced its always online requirement the Internet raged, yet whilst it might come across as ironic that these titles, due to their very nature, require an constant online connection, the difference is that they are part of a widening choice available to gamers. They allow players to experiment with games they might not have tried due to the financial requirements of entry. This does not mean the demise of “traditional” games as there will always be a place for them, but it enables more diversity and ultimately more games for people to play.

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