FreePlay: Free-to-Play and the Next Gen

I’ve gone on at some length before about the advent of free-to-play gaming on consoles. However, in the wake of E3, the next gen consoles and their associated manufacturers seem to be embracing the free-to-play model more than ever. This raises a lot of interest from consumers and the gaming community, and can be an avenue which may bring many more people into the gaming community.

With the Xbox One attempting to be the ultimate all-in-one box under your TV that you use for gaming, films, regular TV, Skype, Netflix etc. free-to-play games make more sense than ever. If the range of people willing to turn on the Xbox, even if it’s only to watch a film, increases, then the more chance that some of the non-gamers will try to use it for games as well. In my opinion, free-to-play games exponentially increase the chance of these non-gamers joining our community, what’s more likely to make somebody try something new, than giving it to them for free?

There were several free-to-play developments at E3 this year, notably Microsoft teamed up with eastern European studio Wargaming to unveil World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition. As is rather apparent, Wargaming have moved their outrageously successful free-to-play tank battle sim and brought it to Xbox 360. Personally, I wonder whether the meticulous attention to historical accuracy and slow pace, and frequency of stalemates makes World of Tanks suited for the console environment, but we’ll find out soon.

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World of Tanks however, isn’t the only big name in free-to-play games which we’ll see moving to consoles in the coming months. Ultra high-scale FPS Planetside 2, which up until now has been one of the few free-to-play games that I’ve not tried (my puny desktop can’t handle it) is confirmed as a free-to-play release on PS4.

However, it’s not all rosy in the land of next gen consoles. As we’ve gotten used to over the last 8 years, Xbox 360 (and Xbox One in a few months) require Xbox Live Gold membership in order to play online, making the free-to-play rather less than free. This seems like a huge roadblock which almost entirely negates the point of moving free-to-play games over to consoles at all.

And to make matters worse, Sony are implementing a system requiring Playstation Plus subscriptions in order to play online games, similar to Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold requirement.

I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding the reasons that Sony and Microsoft have for bringing free-to-play games to their consoles, but it seems like madness to bring them into modern console infrastructure, only to hide them behind an obnoxious paywall!

Luckily, an announcement from Shuhei Yoshida, head of Sony’s Worldwide Studios has cleared up the matter somewhat, at least on Sony’s end. He has confirmed that whether or not to put free-to-play games behind the Playstation Plus paywall is a decision taken by the developers rather than by Sony.

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This is getting to be a trend recently. Whenever there are features of a console which, lets say, are less than happily received by the community, the manufacturer in question decides to pass the buck and make it the developers responsibility to decide what they do with the games.

It’s the same trick Microsoft used when they backtracked over the used games situation, and now Sony are pulling the same trick. Whilst I don’t appreciate manufacturers passing responsibility for mistakes or unpopular features to developers, I do welcome the greater power that developers seem to be getting in the next gen. It’s always been a sour point that the games developers are held hostage to the manufacturers of the mediums upon which they are played.

There are a few games so far which are confirmed to playable without a Playstation Plus account. As mentioned above Planetside 2 will be available on PS4, but it is also outside the PS+ paywall.

Other free-to-play games which are confirmed to be playable without a Playstation Plus subscription are Blacklight Retribution, Warframe and DC Universe Online.

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