First Person

First Person
Killzone 3 Free-To-Play’s Most Important Lesson

Dennis C. Scimeca | 1 Mar 2012 21:00
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Now imagine if shooters continued with the Zynga formula and offered optional purchases to long-term players, but rather than dealing with small items for chump change, the purchases were larger blocks of content that shooter fans are already acclimated to like campaigns and map packs.

Imagine if Battlefield 1943 also had an optional campaign as a separate purchase. How much money could DICE still be making that way? I hope if Killzone 3 multiplayer takes off that Sony considers selling the campaign as well so this theory gets a fair test. A la carte single-player/multiplayer purchases could be one of the best ways to address the frequent complaints about games "not being worth sixty dollars."

The Darkness II and Syndicate have been out for a few weeks and I'm looking forward to playing both of them, but The Darkness II reportedly has a six-hour campaign and Syndicate's single-player mode sounds like a cyberpunk adventure much less cool than what Deus Ex: Human Revolution gave me just a few months ago.

The Darkness II's vendettas and Syndicate's co-op modes sound fantastic, but I'm not willing to effectively pay sixty dollars just for the multiplayer modes. I'll wait until the summer doldrums when the price of each drops to thirty dollars and I have a chance in hell of getting some of my friends to follow suit after I lead the way. If I knew they could just buy the multiplayer modes on the other hand, I'd probably have bought both games already. If the mechanics were as good as they felt in the demos I'd feel pretty confident that I could convince my friends to pick up the multiplayer modes shortly after I started trumpeting how much fun both games were.

The Mass Effect 3 demo also feels like a powerful argument for bifurcation of single-player and multiplayer mode purchases. I figured Mass Effect 3 multiplayer was going to be nothing more than a tack-on to justify attaching an Online Pass to the game, but Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is fantastic. The Mass Effect mechanics lend themselves to what amounts to Horde mode perhaps even better than Gears of War mechanics do. I know plenty of shooter fans who are not into role playing games and will therefore turn their backs on Mass Effect 3, but who might purchase only the multiplayer mode if they had the option.

The debate over used games underlies the fact that current pricing models in console gaming just aren't working anymore, and the fact that Online Passes are used to lock multiplayer modes behind purchases and thereby dissuade players from selling their games is a powerful argument that the multiplayer modes are where the real long-term value of these games can be found in the first place. Sony's experiment with Killzone 3 could provide a second and more definitive proof of that argument, and open the door to new and more constructive discussions about how the consumer assigns value to games, and what developers and publishers need to do in order to attract profits.

It does seem a little ridiculous that we'd need Online Passes and a successful experiment like Killzone 3 free-to-play multiplayer to make what seems like such an obvious point: Either make sure that the entirety of your game is worth the money, or only sell the consumer what actually is.

First Person is a weekly column by Boston, MA-based freelancer Dennis Scimeca. You can read some of his other musings on his blog, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.

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