You can imagine that at a mobile conference that all you hear about is how free-to-play is the fastest growing model in the gaming industry. “With the console industry slowing in growth it is only a matter of time until paid games are no longer a thing.” As much as I heard about the amazing growth of the mobile industry I do not believe paid games are going away.
Free-to-play without a doubt has changed the gaming market dramatically there is no denying that. The advantage of having a low barrier of entry is too enormous since you have access to a much larger audience able to play your game. Free-to-play is an amazing model and I am very glad it has grown as big and fast as it has.
Though free-to-play currently has its huge disadvantages also. Free to play games are restricted to designing their game around monetization which doesn’t allow for too much creativity. Successful monetization games are always based around managing some sort of resource.
Free-to-play games are also hampered by an extremely saturated market place. One of the hardest if not hardest task is getting your game discovered. With so many competitors offering free-to-play getting found normally means spending a lot of resources on marketing. This can lead to arms race for marketing dollars which in turn create clones of known successful gameplay monetization mechanics.
It makes sense since managing resources means being able to sell in game resources. The problem with micro transactions are they can lead to pay-to-win scenarios which are never fun. The player shouldn’t feel he needs to pay to play but pays because they enjoys the content. Free-to-play games has the hard task of balancing between making a game fun and selling worthwhile in game purchases.
Premium games also have the advantage of hardcore gaming fans. Core gamers are some of the most passionate consumers in the market. Grand Theft Auto 5 has generated the most revenue for entertainment releases across all media in one day ever becoming the quickest to reach one billion in revenue.
Consoles makers are also looking to have the best console release with the PS4 and Xbox One both looking to having preorders sold out in the millions. They both are looking to have the quickest selling consoles to date. There is an appetite for premium experiences that currently the free-to-play cannot replicate.
While I love casually playing free-to-play games on my tablet I still love having that high quality immersive experience. There were just way too many epic moments in a game like The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5 that I haven't gotten yet from free-to-play games.
The high production costs those game used to create a highly polished game is not possible for every free-to-play model. Too many people enjoy exploring a world like Los Santos without having to worry about any micro transaction.
Make no mistake I do not think free-to-play is any less immersive and fun than paid games. I play League of Legends consistently more than I do any other game right now but it is a built around a business model of building an online community. Not all games should be built around a free-to-play model if it does not make mix with the gameplay design.
In this console generation we also saw tons of game studios being closed like THQ and Acclaim. Though what was being happening wasn’t the lack of interest in premium games since we saw an increase in core gamers. What we saw was a change in the business model of the industry with fewer games are being made but are more focus on AAA hits that are making more profits than ever.
But to be fair both models are victims of lack of creativity and originality. While there are still many great unique games coming out most companies are relying on proven brands or clones from city builders to first person shooters. It is no wonder games like Grand Theft Auto 5 which hasn’t seen a sequel in five years became such a hit.
Free-to-play games are still evolving and will no doubt create refreshing new IP. American markets have just really experience the growth in these markets. China and Japan have had longer success with this model so it is possible. They are still trying to fix the saturated market place to make finding games easier and when they do the market will be a force to be reckoned with.
Both next generation consoles are embracing free-to-play with their own studios developing games with that business model. There is no question the power free-to-play has on the industry but it is important to note that consoles have also embraced the more creative indie market too. All models are being explored as the amount of gamers in the global world is at levels never seen before.
There is a market for high quality immersive games where paid games will still be viable option. I see the free-to-play market expanding and improving the video game industry as a whole. There is a healthy ecosystem where you can have multiple ways to pay and play video games and that is great for all types of gamers.