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Free is the new profit

The world of gaming in recent months, or let’s say in the last year, has gone through some drastic and exciting changes. And it all comes down to money. In a shrinking world economy, it seems like the gaming industry has all but slightly acknowledged the worlds monetary restrictions as it zooms right past all entertainment mediums with cash in hand.

A couple of years ago, the idea that we would be playing top-class games FOR FREE was, for lack of a better word, a ROFL. Games had always been a little expensive and that was a sad fact that we all just had to live with. As kids, we saved our pocket money religiously, avoiding social contact, just so we could get our hands on the latest release. This would have our friends booming with jealousy as they watched us carefully open that precious “cardboard box” and insert one of the many “compact discs” into our Pentium 2.

I don’t miss those days. The advent of the internet and digital distribution has turned traditional pricing structures on their heads and games have become more accessible than ever before. Now we have two phenomenons butting heads… Free to play and downloadable content.

Publishers, those greedy suit-type bastards, who could seemingly give a shit about integrity and the general spirit of their consumer, are now quivering in their Italian leather shoezies. Developers are starting to release their games for free. FOR FREE!? What nonsense is this? RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!!!

What is the general publisher response? “Let’s charge people more, for extra titbits that should really come with the game anyway! In fact, let’s do this as the game releases!” Mass Effect 3 is the perfect example.

All they want is your money and they want it NOW! I get it. I do. I know they just want to squeeze every ounce of glistening gold out of their fans’ pockets, but fans don’t seem to be enjoying this type of forced fondling. Not even with the lights off.

Even captains of industry, Valve, with more integrity than most, have seen the light of the free-to-play model in Team Fortress 2. Valve are seeing huge profits from the TF2 Mann Store and probably wonder why they didn’t do this from the beginning.

Riot Games is probably one of the best examples of free-to-play success. League of Legends, their first title, released in 2009, now has more subscribers than World of Warcraft. That is to say, they have more downloads of their title (35 million) with around six million daily active users. They are raking it in. People have taken to their game like ten-year-olds to a Ben 10 convention, and their success is only starting to blossom.

On this note, Hawken, a mech-based free-to-play combat game I commented on recently, has just received a whopping $10 million in funding from the same group who first invested in Riot Games. The investors include Benchmark Capital and FirstMark Capital, i.e. the men with the money.

In a recent interview with VentureBeat, this is what they had to say:  “We are seeing the rise of the direct-to-consumer model, where all is downloadable and free-to-play,” says rick Heitzmann, founder and Managing Director of FirstMark Capital. “You can disrupt the business with a free-to-play title. Gamers are willing to pay via virtual goods to do that. League of Legends is a fantastic title, but it is just one game in one genre that is blowing up.”

“We think it’s possible to produce very high quality games that have huge audiences who are willing to pay.”

Mitch Lasky, a partner at Benchmark Capital, had this to say about the state of gaming which is a fitting end to my interesting analysis. “This is the most chaotic period in the game industry I can remember, and chaos is good for investors and startups. Social and mobile games are clearly lower risks, but if you find an extraordinary game like Hawken, you can build a defensible competitive position.”

So it does come down to money, but what doesn’t these days? People have got to make a living somehow, but I can’t help but feel like this payment scheme is the most righteous. If a game is good enough, people will pay to extend it. It certainly beats the hell out of paying $60 for an incomplete game that may or may not make your bum hum.

Hear, hear! I, for one, look forward to what Hawken will become with the $10 million turbine propelling it forward… it’s about damn time I sat at the helm of a Mech… for free!

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2 comments on “Free is the new profit

  1. […] Hawken is shaping up nicely and the release date can’t be too far away. With their new million-dollar backers funding this free-to-play mechstravaganza, one can’t help but drool buckets in anticipation. […]

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