While knee-jerk analysts (the same ones who incorrectly declared Facebook gaming was a gold rush for all and sundry) at micro-conferences attended only by a minute echo chamber fragment of the games industry ritually declare that free to play is the only possible future of videogames, any number of other business models arrive, persist and grow. Free to play will expand, of that I have no doubt, but that’s not going to prevent a plurality of ways to acquire games. Bundles and crowdsourcing are the two most notable of the last year, while Sony’s shock purchase of Gaikai for $380m today suggests we’re about to see a whole lot more cloud-streamed (i.e. rented) gaming doing the mainstream rounds. Another latter-day content-flogging technique is subscriptions for multiplayer games – not MMOs, but the ‘games as service’ mentality that sees new content regularly generated for popular titles.
Like it, loathe it or be vaguely confused by it from afar (hello!), Call of Duty Elite is the high-watermark for this. A subscription gets early access to DLC and assorted perks and profile-management, and it’s been popular enough to draw 2 million subs. So it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Activision’s arch-rival EA got in on the act with Battlefield Premium. That too has broadly been a success – which means we’re going to see a whole lot more of This Sort Of Thing.
Premium is actually a strange hybridisation of subscription and DLC, entailing a £40/$50 one-time spend for access to all future DLC. EA’s revealed it’s sold 800,000 Premium ‘subs’, which MATHS suggests has brought in around £30m – and that is on top of the 15 million copies of BF3 they’ve sold. So while that game isn’t doing COD numbers it’s been bloody successful and looks likely to have a long tail thanks to DLC and Premium.
So, it’s no surprises but perhaps some alarms that EA are thinking of treading that path further. Said EA Labels big boss Frank Gibeau to GI.biz, “longer term we think that we can bring more properties into that offering and that’ll be great for the business.” He went on to add “BUSINESS BUSINESS BUSINESS BUSINESS BUSINESS BUSINESS BUSSINESS” then flew away on a zeppelin made from laminated $500 bills.
I haven’t personally been tempted by any of these services yet, but that’s because they’ve tended to only be attached to games about guns and sport, rather than thinking and crying and all that stuff we girly-men at RPS like so much. I don’t think I have any great objection to them, though – as long as people aren’t being given bullpoo for their money, I guess I’m okay with both the concept of people paying for extra and the idea of games being given longer lifespans. Although we are talking about the two publishers who are most prone to churning out sequels at the expense of supporting existent titles, so yeah, plenty of scope for this to be abused yet. Let’s hope the general mentality is that these packages need to be good value if they’re to work out.
Still, in theory I’m more down with this than I am the greater excesses of free to play. It is one of those instances where I’m worried coaxing every last penny out of new business models will be a far greater priority for publishers than making great, ambitious games, but I’m genuinely curious to see what comes out of it.