The internet has been in an uproar during the last few weeks over the announcement that Breath of Fire 6 will be an online-only game for PC, tablets, and smartphones. I was not shocked to hear that this iteration of the franchise will be a mobile game as Capcom have produced other Breath of Fire spin-off titles for the mobile phone market in the last ten years, though none of them have reached Western shores. No, my amazement comes from the fact that this will only be playable online and seems to be part of a shift that the industry is taking towards requiring permanent connections to play games.
Games produced in this way for the mobile market are often stripped down to the bare basics. Look at Book of Heroes, a fine game for iOS and Android that takes the addictive nature of gearing up from World of Warcraft and removes everything that does not support the player in earning currency to purchase, enhance, or upgrade their gear. Not being tied to any other IP, players picking up Book of Heroes for the first time will have no expectations other than what others have told them about the game, even then, players will enter into it knowing it for what it is. This is not the case for Breath of Fire 6, as players have certain expectations from a mainline entry of the twenty year old franchise.
Other developers have tried to take their game franchises online with varying degrees of success. Blizzard have been taking their franchises online with each new release. Fans cried out when Diablo 3 was announced to be online-only due to the real money auction house. The former lead designer later admitted that the auction house hurt the game as players that wanted to be equipped to deal with monsters on higher difficulties and spent more time farming currency to buy their ideal weapon rather than waiting for one to drop. Later patches to the game made the blacksmith easier to use, and while it still is not as effective as buying a gear from the auction house, it certainly is a lot cheaper and makes the game considerably more fun.
Square Enix took their franchise down a completely different path when they chose to make Final Fantasy XI an MMO. Although it was awkward to setup and required a fair amount of grinding, the game was praised for its large amount of content. Releasing the game on consoles gave gamers without a computer a way to play an MMO and quickly became one of the most played games on Xbox Live. Releasing a second Final Fantasy MMO, Square Enix should not have had much trouble giving their fans more of the same, but the release of Final Fantasy XIV was anything but smooth. The company had to issue two formal apologies to customers, recognising the poor quality of the game. The game was even free-to-play for over a year while in order to allow players to experience a reshuffled development teams updates before committing to the game.
There are many other franchises heading into the online space, though none are huge names or well advertised. The Settlers, Stronghold, Age of Empires, and Anno have all had an online make-over. These game are all free to play and supported by micro transactions. Having played Anno 2070 recently, I decided to give Anno Online a go to see how it compares. The Anno series have never been a fast-paced games, but this browser offering takes the snails pace to a new extreme. Resources come in very slowly, and as the settlement grows, extra infrastructure must be placed to keep up with the demands of the citizens. The fun part of Anno was managing the interactions between islands to secure materials to grow further, but after two days this is still nowhere in sight. In fact, I still cannot use the entirety of my starting island!
So, as long as developers see larger profits from online games, we will continue to see other franchises go free-to-play with micro transactions to keep the money rolling in for years. The only way we can combat this is by not touching these games. If we chose to play Breath of Fire 6 should it get released in the West, then who knows what will come next? What about a Mega Man game where one could challenge Dr. Wily at any time, but the robot master levels must be bought? No thanks!
Would you consider playing Breath of Fire 6? Would you play an MMO on a console if it was free-to-play? Let me know in the comments!