FreePlay: Hawken: Genesis and Why It’s a Great Idea

FreePlay

Hawken is a free-to-play mech-based first person shooter currently in open beta being developed by Adhesive Games and published by Meteor Entertainment. Hawken: Genesis is an upcoming graphic novel written by Jeremy Barlow, writer of some of the Star Wars and Mass Effect comics, and illustrated by Francisco Ruiz Velasco, concept artist of Hellboy 2, The Hobbit and Pacific Rim. Meteor Entertainment has decided that in order to promote both the graphic novel and their free-to-play game, they’re going to give away more things for free!

HawkenGenCoverYou can get four preview comics of Hawken: Genesis for free on ComiXology.com. So depending on how you look at it, today’s FreePlay gives you either one or five things for free! The interesting thing about Hawken and Hawken: Genesis is not the mechanics of the game, nor where it places its microtransactions, nor the points system. No, the most interesting thing about Hawken is that this is a free-to-play game which is marketing itself by giving more things away for free.

(For those unaware of ComiXology.com, you can use it to read comics on your phone, tablet or computer, with dedicated apps available for iPhone and Android. It’s also free, which definitely earns it an honorable mention here on FreePlay. But back to Hawken.)

You’d expect that a game which costs nothing to play, and which doesn’t force you to pay money at any point, would try and claw back revenue at any possible juncture. Charging for anything it can possibly get away with. That’s certainly what we’ve seen in the mobile markets of Android and iOS. Congratulations on completing your first objective; buy the next objective for only $0.99!

This is especially true when you consider the number of free-to-play games on the market at the moment. With a market of that size and a limited (although large) number of players, individual games need to distinguish themselves and give people a reason to play them.

It’s an intrinsic part of the market for free games: if your players aren’t paying for the game, they are literally not invested in it.

One way to command attention among your audience is good marketing, which is exactly what Hawken: Genesis does. Broadly, its plan is this: Nerds like robots. We’ll make a game about robots. Nerds also like comics. We’ll make a comic about robots which ties in with our game and give it away for free.

Meteor and Adhesive go further than just marketing however, and have begun merchandising. The Hawken: Genesis graphic novel was released on March 20 of this year and is “both prequel and sourcebook for the game world.” This creative merchandising is very clever; they’ve narrowly targeted their audience, identified another product area of that audience, and given them something to buy.

It’s a great way to still make some money off the people who perhaps like the sci-fi genre and the setting, but don’t like first-person shooters that much.

But here on FreePlay we’re not about spending money!

There are currently four Hawken: Genesis comics available for free, which act as previews to the full graphic novel, but they are all equally awesome in their own right.

Hawken: Genesis is, as you might surmise, the genesis of the story of Hawken. It’s a nice trick to add exposition to a game which is solely multiplayer. Hawken is set on the world of Illal, in a landscape ruined by constant mech warfare, and being slowly consumed by a technological viral replicator known as the Giga-Structure. This allows for some really interesting level design given that the only real restriction is that they are good arenas for combat.

The entire planet has been quarantined in order to prevent the spread of the Giga-Structure, trapping the entire colonist population on the surface. Two powerful corporations battle for scarce resources on Illal: Sentium and Prosk.

Hawken: Genesis explores how the whole conflict started, taking readers back to a time before the accident which caused the exponential growth of the Giga-Structure and the all-out war between Prosk and Sentium.

Whilst it’s not uncommon for companies to release tie-in stories for their games in other media formats, this is the first time I’ve seen it in a free-to-play game — although it could easily have snuck past without me noticing. Only time will tell if Meteor have succeeded in setting a trend.

I’ve been thinking for a long time now that cross-media spread of any given product is going to be the next big thing, and seeing it combined with free-to-play content is exciting. Obviously, IP owners will never be able to make all of their content across multiple media free, because sometimes it’s just incompatible with the medium (free-to-watch films at the cinema?) and at the end of the day, they are a business.

But if you take nothing else from this, if you like giant robots, comics, first person shooters or sci-fi, definitely go and check out Hawken and the free Hawken: Genesis comics. You can find the comics right here, and the game here.

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FreePlay is Games Are Evil’s regular column about games that cost you nothing to download and get started with, hosted by multimedia journalism student and professional cheapskate Ed Prosser.

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