Overlap Emerging Between Free-to-Play and Console Games

Although competition is fierce, developers of both free-to-play games and console games are trying to compromise and attract a wider range of gamers. Both sides see an opportunity to bridge the gap with a new generation of game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Free-to-play games can attract a demographic of casual gamers to the console, while consoles provide a new gateway to loyal gamers with a tendency to spend heavily on video games.

“It’s only a matter of time before free-to-play gets big on the console,” said David Reid, chief marketing officer at CCP Games. CCP is an Icelandic multiplayer online game publisher that developed the free-to-play “Dust 514” — a spinoff of its hit “EVE” — for Sony’s PlayStation 3. They are also considering possibilities for PlayStation 4.

“Microsoft offered its first free-to-play game on its downloadable games service, Xbox Live Arcade, a year ago, and it has been expanding its lineup of offerings since,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Sony has allowed free-to-play games for its PlayStation 3 and is looking to lure more independent game makers for its coming PlayStation 4.”

“Nintendo continues to shun the free-to-play model, but is experimenting with making some games free for a limited time,” notes the article. “It has also made it easier for mobile game developers to make games for its hand-held consoles.”

Console makers are now lowering barriers to independent game makers, perhaps jeopardizing relations with larger gaming houses, but hoping to gain a variety of new games. In any case, there is clear crossover in the industry, for some console game makers are trying to produce smartphone titles, while mobile and PC creators are developing console games.

“Free-to-play games have generated enough cash that those developers can take risks,” said Daiwa Securities analyst Satoshi Tanaka. “Consoles reach children and hard-core gamers,” who extend the life span of a game by playing loyally and buying merchandise.

“Free-to-play games, which generate revenue through in-game purchases of virtual items such as weapons or tools, are also a popular type of gaming on personal computers,” explains WSJ. “They have swelled in popularity on mobile devices in recent years as connection speeds have gotten faster and the computing power of phones and tablets has accelerated. Historically, free-to-play games existed outside the console, which run games that tend to cost about $60 for the latest and most popular titles.”

According to a survey from the NPD Group, the number of free and mobile gamers is climbing, outnumbering core console gamers 3-1 in the U.S. Console gamers still spend more money per person, but the volume of downloaded games on mobile devices has led to a market explosion.

“Sony hopes to encourage free-to-play games from all developers — including independent and self-publishing game makers — by making it easier to design games for its PlayStation 4, with all its graphics firepower. Free-to-play titles on the PlayStation 3 include ‘DC Universe Online’ and ‘Free Realms,'” notes WSJ.

“We may well see free-to-play games on console be a much bigger factor,” Andrew House, the head of Sony’s PlayStation business, told reporters last month. “It will be a big part of the console landscape in this generation, but it may ramp up first in Japan because there is more experience of developing those free-to-play gaming experiences.”

“The business interests between the two camps may be aligning, but the cultural divide of how they make games remains wide. Console games tend to involve Hollywood-scale productions spanning two years or more and massive investments, complete with teams tasked with everything from storyboarding to making sure a character’s hair strands move realistically when they move. In contrast, mobile games’ success hinges on getting a game out quickly after identifying a gaming preference,” explains WSJ.

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