The free-to-play business model is one of the most contentious topics in video games today. The strategy, which results in free games with in-app purchases for additional content, divides not only fans but developers and publishers alike. David Polfeldt, managing director of Massive Entertainment, has said that the free-to-play model scares him to death, whilst some of the most well-loved games on the market are free at entry; League of Legends deploys a free-to-play model well, whilst Team Fortress 2 has been free-to-play since 2011.
Like it or loathe it, the model certainly seems to be changing the industry, and major players in the market have been taking notice. MMOs have been slowly moving away from the subscription model, with The Elder Scrolls Online dropping its subscription fee from March 17. Meanwhile, Lionhead Studios has revealed that upcoming multiplayer title Fable Legends will use a free-to-play plan in a similar way to Killer Instinct.
Lionhead and Bethesda are not alone, and may have other free-to-play bedfellows sooner rather than later. As revealed by Gamespot, a Sony spokesperson has stated that the free-to-play market will become an important component of the gaming giant’s business strategy. Speaking at the 2015 Game Developers Conference, Sarah Thompson said Sony was looking at the model as “a significant part” of its digital business.
Thompson, who is a senior account executive at PlayStation’s free-to-play division, added more detail to Sony’s potential plans, stating that she expects free-to-play purchases to become “a really big chunk” of the company’s revenue over the next 3-5 years. It’s clear that free-to-play games are seen as a strategy to help keep Sony on gaming’s pulse, with Thompson even referring to a move towards free-to-play as “future proofing.”
Sony was not alone in proclaiming the impact of the free-to-play model. Laura Naviaux, senior vice president of sales at the Daybreak Game Company, revealed that console gamers have been accepting of in-app purchases. Daybreak, which was known as Sony Online Entertainment before it was sold off by Sony last month, has seen PS4 players embrace the business model for titles such as DC Universe Online, and Naviaux believes there is more to come. “There is a tremendous amount of opportunity for growth with free-to-play on consoles,” said Naviaux.
This news may not come as a surprise to some. Sony has given free-to-play games plenty of time on the PS4, with several titles available at launch. Warframe, Digital Extreme’s free-to-play shooter, was the second-most downloaded free PS4 app as of April last year, and iconic PlayStation franchise Little Big Planet was once planned as a free-to-play title. Even so, it’s an interesting move from the publisher. Here’s hoping that Sony’s strategy is more free-to-play than pay-to-win.