Free-to-play games spreading as developers target Vita

Like Mary Poppin’s London, the winds are changing across the entire gaming industry following the success of the free-to-play (F2P) business model on PC, where hits such as World of Tanks and League of Legends have generated huge amounts of cash for its developers through microtransaction payments.

You only have to look back at E3 to see the way things are going. The Los Angeles Expo was full of F2P offerings on PC from Sony Online’s Planetside 2 and Bullet Run to the announcement that Star: Wars: The Old Republic will get an F2P update later this year.

Console developers have taken heed and DC Universe Online has proven that microtransactions may well be the best way toward profitability for developers. CCP Games’ first-person shooter Dust 514 will adopt the same model on PS3 later this year, tempting players to part with their cash with the lure of cheap weapons, dropsuits and vehicles.

Shortly after E3, EA’s chief operating officer Peter Moore said he believes that microtransactions and free-to-play titles are the future for the industry- “I think, ultimately, those microtransactions will be in every game, but the game itself or the access to the game will be free” he said.

Moore makes a very good analogy:

“It’s free [for] me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall. They don’t charge me to walk in there. I can walk into The Gap, enjoy the music, look at the jeans and what have you, but if I want to buy something I have to pay for it.”

Hooking gamers by providing something for free and then offering microtransactions as a way of topping up and enriching the experience is a clever way to cash in and now more PlayStation Vita developers are looking at the F2P business model and seeing its potential on Sony’s newest handheld.

Colourful puzzle game Montezuma Blitz started the ball rolling in the West, as a free game that gives players the option to buy extra lives and crystals which become crucial if you want to compete well in tournaments. SEGA has released Samurai & Dragons, a free-to-play follow-up to the iOS RPG title Kingdom Conquest, in Japan.

Only yesterday, Q Entertainment of Lumines and Child of Eden fame, announced a free-to-play RPG for PS Vita in the form of Guardian Hearts, which Famitsu claims will use an “item transaction system” to generate revenue. The fourth free-to-play title on its way for PS Vita is set to be Picotto Knights, a four player online co-op combat game from developer Game Arts, whose credits include Ragnarok Odyssey and Dokuro.

Over the next few years and beyond we’re going to face a new influx of free-to-play titles on console and handheld; and we’re all for it. Free-to-play games give you choice and the freedom to decide whether you want to invest or not, but also encourages developers to continue to provide quality support for its games throughout its life-cycle. If you really like the game, you invest it in. If not, it has cost you nothing. Meanwhile, developers can reap the rewards from its loyal fan-base who will no doubt invest more money into the game than if they would have paid a one-off fee right at the beginning.

What do you think of free-to-play titles with microtransactions? Do you think they’ll ruin the industry, or are you happy to play first then pay?