Over the last few years the free-to-play market has grown dramatically, with almost all MMOs forced to go (sometimes immediately) free-to-play out of sheer demand. On average, people do not want to pay a subscription anymore for their massively multiplayer online fix. Games like World of Tanks and League of Legends are great examples of how free-to-play is both popular and successful.
Sony has embraced this growing trend in the gaming industry a little, with big titles like Killzone 3 and Uncharted 3 offering multiplayer free to download on the PlayStation Network but with a level cap that requires money to unlock. Other titles in Sony's free-to-play MMO lineup include DC Universe Online and Free Realms.
Sony has also seen some support from independent developers in regards to the free-to-play market on the PSN with the PlayStation 3 exclusive Dust 514, an online FPS developed by CCP Games. During the development process Sony and CCP Games worked together to define “universal PSN microtransaction rules” which are used in Dust 514, and could be used by other third-party developers for their own free-to-play game.
With the PS3, Sony has managed to get the ball rolling in this free play idea, but more needs to be done to truly capture this market on the console. At the moment it is undeniable that the current champion of the free-to-play market is the PC. There are a near infinite amount of options for the free play gamer on the PC, ranging from Korean MMORPGs (like MapleStory) to gun blazing MMOFPS (like Planetside 2).
With the next generation of gaming consoles almost upon us, this might become not such an obvious verdict. With PS4's very similar development architecture to the PC, coupled with the ability to self publish on the system via Sony's new self publishing platform, we could begin to see more game studios take a chance with a PlayStation console release. There may already be signs of this happening within the video game industry.
During a press Q&A at the Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) Fan Faire event in Las Vegas in 2011, John Smedley, SOE President, stated, “we were first with DCUO, second with Free Realms, and we have other things planned, possibly beyond even the PS3.” Even more interestingly however, SOE Creative Director Matt Higby felt the need to also chime in with a tantalizing “stay tuned.”
Flash forward a year to 2012, when questioned about the free-to-play market on consoles in an interview with MCV, John Smedley replied: “There's a great quote from The Matrix: 'That's the sound of inevitability’... At some point, when there's a business model that just works, it's hard to fight it.”
Rumors swirled around the internet about Planetside 2 making a PlayStation console appearance, potentially even on PS3. First party studios alone; however, would not be enough to tip the scales in Sony's favor in the free play market. This brings me to Wargaming.net.
One of the biggest players in the free-to-play market, the creators of World of Tanks Wargaming.net, is making a move into the console space following the purchase of console game developer Day 1 Studios, known by most for its work on the F.E.A.R. franchise. In an interview with IGN, Wargaming.net CEO, Victor Kislyi spoke of how “the move into console game development is a huge step for Wargaming” as it expands its presence onto new platforms.
The great success of World of Tanks in the free market on PC, the PC-like architecture of the PS4, and the ability to self publish heighten the potential for seeing World of Tanks come to Sony's new-approaching PlayStation and with it we could see Wargaming.net's other games jump ship as well.
This article, thankfully, isn't entirely based around speculation. There is one free-to-play PC game developer that has already publicly shown interest in the PS4. Zombie Studios, known for its successful free-to-play FPS Blacklight: Retribution, has officially announced that its presence will be known on Sony's next generation console, by bringing Blacklight: Retribution to the PS4.
Things are beginning to get a little shaken up in the video game industry with Sony coming out of the gate with all guns blazing, and in the coming months some of these speculations I have brought up will be either confirmed or denied. All that we can do now, however, is sit, wait, dream, and maybe drink a cup of tea.
The PS4 might be the console that brings it home for the free-to-play gamer. What do you think? Do you think the free-to-play market is important for the next generation of consoles success? Let us know in the comments section below.