How nice would it be to game in a world where the title you’re playing didn’t cost you one red cent? Pretty nice, I’d think. If PC game companies like GamersFirst and Perfect World have their way, that’s exactly what gamers can expect.
“Basically that means is rather than going into [a store] and paying $59 for a boxed game and paying a monthly subscription fee per month,” says Tracy Spait, Director of Online Publishing for GamersFirst, “what we’re doing is giving our games away for free.”
As was evidenced at 2009’s E3 in Los Angeles, free-to-play massive-multiplayer online (MMO) gaming has taken huge steps forward since its inception and has been growing in popularity and quality. Since the popularity of games like MapleStory and Second Life, what used to be a blind eye turned towards the genre has now gotten a second look in the US.
According to THQ*ICE’s product manager Ben Service, “What we’re seeing is an adoption of that business model in the U.S..”
While Perfect World was showcasing its “traditional” MMO’s with role-playing games such as its upcoming title Jade Dynasty, GamersFirst is proving that MMO’s aren’t just for swords and sorcery. The Irvine, California, based company offers a wide variety of choices ranging from first-person shooters to racing games. Even Sony has gotten in on the act with its free-to-play social networking game Free Realms, which is similar to the already established Second Life from Linden Labs (which has an optional monthly subscription fee).
These companies, however, don’t give these games away without thinking about their bottom line. All of them survive on what they call “microtransactions”. That’s when a person pays a small amount of money for a temporary or permanent enhancement to their free-to-play game.
Yoon Im, Director of Operations for Perfect World finds this to be a good way for his company to supply free games and still make money: “We’re a little different in a business model than a subscription MMO in the U.S. because we use microtransactions to monitize our games.”
“It’s similar to buying a song on iTunes,” says Spait, “but instead of buying a song, I bought a magic sword.”
As home gaming consoles continue to outsell PC games and gaming computers, maybe quality free-to-play PC gaming can give consoles a run for their money.
By: Barry White