It comes as no surprise to anyone that free-to-play games will be a part of the current console generation and play an even stronger part in the next generation. Basically, it’s something we all already predicted, since it’s the path that the videogames industry is following. Popularity and quality of free-to-play games is increasing drastically each year that goes by. As soon as free-to-play titles proved viable and extremely lucrative in the west, it was merely a question of time until they jumped from PC to consoles.
Rumors abound of Microsoft planning to jump in the free-to-play wagon very soon. They are, according to several sources, working on the micro-transaction backend for Xbox LIVE, something that is, as we all know, the real reason for a prolific free-to-play market to exist and grow exponentially. Micro-transactions of virtual items are an incredible source of income for developers – at nearly no cost (only the creation of the shop and items) and without any danger of stock rupture (how can you run out of something that isn’t physical?), this is a commercial dream come true.
Besides selling in-game items, Microsoft is reportedly looking at other free-to-play model: premium upgrades. What this means is that players who want the full experience will have to pay for something like a premium subscription (“freemium” is the word that is becoming the norm).
Tribes: Ascend is coming to PC (free-to-play) and Xbox 360 sometime this year, and it seems that Microsoft is working as fast as they can to get this anticipated Tribes sequel as a free-to-play launch title in Xbox 360. It’s a difficult objective, but not an impossible one. Sony is also experimenting with the free-to-play market, with their MMORPG Free Realms already available on PS3 (and there’s also the Japanese-only MMORPG Angel Love Online).
Nintendo is planning to add in a near future DLC content to 3DS and Wii U on their eShop, as reported by Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president. This will allow for purchase of additional content for games. That being said, the eShop will be technically prepared to offer micro-transactions and freemium content for future free-to-play games. The announcement that free-to-play tactical shooter Ghost Recon Online will launch on Wii U and PC is telling of Nintendo’s will to bet in free-to-play games.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the industry are conflicting opinions about the subject matter, saying that free-to-play MMO games will take quite some time to prove themselves on consoles and that their success will be far from that attained on PC, since the experience isn’t exactly the same. However, some MMOs are proving the contrary, with DC Universe Online (a pay-to-play MMORPG game) being reasonably successful. In the old days the FPS games were also an experience only possible in pc… Besides, other genres such as MMOFPS games, Racing MMO´s and much more are reliable additions to consoles and their integration seems relatively easier.
Free-to-play games are here to stay and are also confidently gaining their share in the mobile market, in devices such as mobiles and iPads, and I would be surprised if handheld consoles stay out of the deal, even if a steady online connection is strictly necessary all of the time.
Talking about the future of videogames is an arduous task, since technology is constantly evolving. If it’s related to cloud gaming or other format, one thing seems certain about it – free-to-play games will be with us all the time. The Internet access is getting better and better and this allows for the ideal conditions for free-to-play online games to evolve for something even more surprising. As for us, we can’t wait for the future to happen!