Only a few things in life are inevitable, to paraphrase about a million different ancient proverbs – most having to do with death and some omnipresent nuisance. In gaming, the axiom holds true; even our most highly-held franchises, most talked-trends, and most time-honored traditions are subject to change at any moment, with any given announcement or new innovation.
So, in an industry that continues to evolve at a staggering rate, who’s to say what “inevitabilties” the future might hold in 10 years – even 5? Peter Moore – the candid chief operating officer of Electronic Arts and he of the GTA IV and Halo 2 bicep tattoos – has volunteered.
Moore gave a lengthy E3 interview to Kotaku, published recently, on the growing trends ready to shake up the gaming landscape. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to future business models, specifically microtransactions and the free-to-play structure of games. While Moore’s views aren’t necessarily surprising – they match up almost identically with EA CEO John Riccitiello’s – they offer an illuminating look at how one of the industry’s biggest power players sees the future.
Moore starts by positioning the industry at a crossroads, a “potpourri” where the forward-thinking ideas of the mobile sector, next-generation console makers, and PC developers are mixing together and shaping each’s decisions. The rapid success of microtransaction-based free-to-play games on Facebook and smart devices, he believes, is gaining heavy attention from the developers of traditional, $60 retail games – and it won’t be long before they follow suit:
“I think, ultimately, those microtransactions will be in every game, but the game itself or the access to the game will be free. Ultimately, my goal is… as this industry progresses, hundreds of millions are playing the games. Zero bought it. Hundreds of millions are playing. We’re getting 5 cents, 6 cents ARPU [average revenue per user] a day out of these people. The great majority will never pay us a penny which is perfectly fine with us, but they add to the eco-system and the people who do pay money–the whales as they are affectionately referred to–to use a Las Vegas term, love it because to be number one of a game that like 55 million people playing is a big deal.”
And keep in mind: Moore’s not saying this change is coming in the distant future, after the current full-price model slowly withers away and dies; he thinks free-to-play will be a staple of the next generation:
“I think there’s an inevitability that happens five years from now, 10 years from now, that, let’s call it the client, to use the term, [is free.] It is no different than… it’s free to me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall. They don’t charge me to walk in there. I can walk into The Gap, enjoy the music, look at the jeans and what have you, but if I want to buy something I have to pay for it.”
EA certainly has the infrastructure in place to facilitate a free-to-play future – Origin, their digital distribution service, witnessed over 12 million content downloads in its first year – but with the sprawling library of games under the publisher’s label, it’s hard to imagine the transition being seamless.
It wouldn’t take more than a few tweaks to convert Battlefield 3 or Madden or the The Sims into charging after entry. But what would the FTP model to do a story-driven game like, say, BioWare and EA’s Mass Effect 3? How would such a title – one that thrives on immersing gamers in a rich, intricate single-player world, only having them come up for air after a 30-40 hour campaign – offer the same structure of accessibility as a garage-building Need for Speed or a multiplayer-based Battlefield? Moore was asked these questions in similar terms, but seemed to brush aside the point. The simplest answers, of course (a glorified demo with levels behind a paywall is one possibility), gamers of the present day might find downright terrifying.
Covering E3, indie games, hardcore vs. casual games, and Moore’s self-awareness of EA’s reputation, the interview extends beyond free-to-play games. Throughout it all, there’s a purveying sense that in addition to making money – the job of a business executive – Moore sees these future courses as the way the industry continues to thrive (as opposed to music, he believes). It goes without saying that many, both gamers and developers, will have some differences of opinion. If one thing’s inevitable, though, it’s that EA isn’t afraid to fundamentally change the way we play games.
Ranters, Crytek, Daivd Jaffe, Team Fortress, and many others have embraced the free-to-play format. Even EA has dabbled in it with Star Wars: The Old Republic. Do you agree with Peter Moore’s assessment that the industry as a whole will head there in 5-10 years?
Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple