After years of infecting mobile devices and PCs, free-to-play games are making their migration to home consoles. Although titles like Killer Instinct 3 and Tekken Revolution are not the first console titles to be free-to-play, the handling of their announcements show that both Sony and Microsoft will hold true to embracing free-to-play games with their new consoles. Many console gamers will likely be upset by this potential tidal wave of free-to-play games, but, due to the insane profits they can generate, it was only a matter of time before the console companies fully embraced the model.
Early free-to-play PC games were almost exclusively of the pay-to-win model, players could play the game with basic items but they would soon find themselves quickly destroyed by opponents that dropped a few dollars into their character. In an attempt to balance out this advantage, and to keep the cash flowing, developers put time limits on purchased content. The transition to mobile platforms brought free-to-play games a huge casual audience that absolutely devoured the model. The pay-to-win model was slightly tweaked to cater to the more social style of mobile games, allowing players to decorate their farms/towns with special items aimed catch a visiting player’s attention. The explosion on to the mobile market showed developers the money-making power that free-to-play games can deliver. During the mobile mania, free-to-play console titles, like DC Universe Online, demonstrated that home console could be another viable platform for the model
The drive for exclusive titles will likely lead to each console having their own flavor of free-to-play games. For the PS4, I expect there to be many free-to-play games from indie developers, while the Xbone will likely feature titles attempting to pander to the same casual audience Microsoft is targeting. Just as it is on mobile platforms, I fully expect a large amount of free-to-play titles to be based around the same model that Simpsons: Tapped Out has, either a player can spend a few hundred hours playing the game to unlock content or they can pay a fifty bucks to speed the process up. The always loved EA will certainly be one of the developers that abuses the free-to-play model in this manner. Not one person should be surprised when EA’s abandonment of Online Passes only serves as a gateway to them further abusing free-to-play titles and fully embracing every ounce of DRM aimed to stop used games.
While some developers will opt for the Simpsons: Tapped Out freemium method, others will lean towards what Tekken Revolution is doing. Tekken Revolution launched this past Tuesday with a whopping eight fighters. Eight characters is a ton for a modern fighting game, but Namco Bandai is not stopping there. Additional fighters will be made available as purchasable content for the game. However, with eight characters, a person who has never played a fighting game in their life will not overwhelmed by seemingly hundreds of fighters. Finding a fighter that suits a player’s style is a lot easier when it is a not a one in fifty chance. The downside to this is that gamers who want the full roster of fighters (Tekken 6 had forty-three characters!) will likely shell out much more than the normal sixty dollars a new game costs.
While attempting to be in the same vein as Tekken Revolution, Killer Instinct 3 takes things a bit too far in a negative direction. Instead of eight characters, Double Helix Games decided that one would be enough for players to get a feel for Killer Instinct. Every other character will have to be purchased. Not only did Microsoft make the wrong decision in farming out the development to the wrong studio (Rare still exists, right?), they appear to fully support this type of free-to-play title. Success for games like Killer Instinct 3 will lead to other developers following in their steps. Two years from now will no doubt bring free-to-play sports titles that give players one team to start out with and sell each other for five dollars.
Free-to-play titles will probably not overrun either console the same as mobile devices. That said, it is a bit disappointing to know that they will have a greater presence this generation. The number of titles that do not abuse the model are dwindling as more and more companies get blinded by the mighty dollar. Too many free-to-play game tip-toe along the fine line that keeps them from being outrageous money grabs, just waiting for a push in the wrong direction. Despite the overall hatred for free-to-play, this model does have its advantages. Tekken Revolution essentially functions as a fully fleshed-out demo, giving players a substantial taste of the experience. Both Tekken and Killer Instinct will allow players to decide how much money they choose to sink on either title, allowing gamers to save money by not purchasing content they do not want. The con of this is that both titles will almost certainly push their price north of sixty dollars to purchase all the content.
The embrace of free-to-play games has potential to be something good for the console industry. If I was writing this article twenty years ago, I would not be worried in the slightest at the potential of evil. Unfortunately, this is not twenty years ago, and I have very little doubt that developers will attempt to push free-to-play games the same way as they are shoved down the throats of mobile gamers. Despite my reservations, I eagerly await to watch the backlash over Madden 2015: Free-to-Play Edition.