Microsoft might allow free-to-play titles on Xbox Live in 2012.
Up to this point, free content on Xbox Live has pretty much been a no no. This could change in 2012, according to a rumor reported by IGN that says Microsoft has free-to-play games in its sights for the Xbox 360.
IGN writes that a "trusted source" says free-to-play games will be made available on Xbox Live "sometime next year." If you don't know the difference between "free-to-play" and "free," I'll explain.
Free means free, with no strings attached. Free-to-play means that a player can download a portion of the game for free, and play that portion endlessly. However, free-to-play games are typically supported by microtransactions: smaller purchases that improve the play experience. For example, a free-to-play game might offer cosmetic upgrades, like hats, or scrolls that increase the amount of experience you can earn or your movement speed. Other free-to-play games give paying users access to more areas and more content.
The free-to-play model, as opposed to a subscription-only model, has been proven successful by titles that have switched over such as Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online. Free-to-play games are estimated to bring in billions of dollars a year, so it might be a smart business move by Microsoft to tap into that.
Dungeon Fighter Online, a free-to-play MMO on the PC, was announced for Xbox Live in March 2011, but was confirmed as a paid XBLA game. Considering this rumor, the game might switch back and become one of the Xbox 360's first free-to-play titles. If Microsoft does allow free-to-play games on Xbox Live, it'd be nice if the company also changes the way players can acquire Microsoft Points to perform microtransactions, perhaps allowing them to buy only exactly what they need and not a chunk. That's probably just wishful thinking.