When archaeologists dig through the layer marked "early two thousands" they will notice a change in the colour of the rocks at the beginning of the second decade. (Yes, this IS how archaeology works.) Eventually one monocled genius will identify this as the time the games started going free. With news of online stalwarts such as Team Fortress 2 and World Of Warcraft catching the bug, this is no longer the domain of seedy half-arsed MMOs my lord, but increasingly a mainstream option. It's a significant shift for the PC, and one that I think it's safe to say everyone is pretty wary of. But it's one that EA are claiming can be as profitable as the console market. And that's a big deal.
As spotted by the eagle-eyed VG27 in GI.biz's interview with EA's Frank Gibeau, on Wednesday's morning, on God's internet, the head of EA Games believes that F2P could be a market as profitable for them as their console games.
Let's put that in perspective. A game like Modern Warfare XVIII sells around 60% on 360, 35% on PS3, and 5% on PC. It's still a significant number of sales, millions and millions, but clearly nothing close to the cascading downpours of gold bullion that they source from elsewhere. So if F2P can equal this, you can bet your mum's bum that publishers will be all over it like Kieron on your mum's bum.
In discussing whether AAA game budgets are getting out of control, Gibeau explains that EA's own game label has dropped from 20 releases a year to six (cripes), and acknowledges the "top twenty market" of modern gaming. But then he adds,
"But at the same time we're aggressively investing in things that are very low cost like free-to-play. The free-to-play group inside of EA Games is growing extremely fast - we've got 17 million users, 4-5 services stood up right now. And if you get a couple of those to scale they're as profitable as a console game."
You may groan, thinking of the mishmash of nonsense that's formed so much of the F2P market until recently. But times are changing, folks. Real proper games you're going to want to play are going to launch as "free", as developers figure out the correct way to deal with micropayments and the like. And they're making lots and lots of money. And money attracts publishers, and that means the PC will be getting some of that attention it's been missing from the bigger names in the business.
But of course it's happening now. Two years ago the future was DLC. So where will this all be in another two years?