A German survey reveals that there's real money to be made by trading in things that don't exist.
The world of free-to-play, with its inherent dependence on microtransactions, has long been a point of acrimony among games publishers. However, a recent shift towards accepting this model - demonstrated by big players like Valve and Ubisoft announcing their own free games - is supported by new data released by German survey group Bitkom, who announced this weekend that a full 45% of German gamers now prefer free-to-play games.
As the global economy folds in on itself for the second time in three years (the much-prophesised "double-dip" recession), gamers are as justified as market investors in being careful with their money. According to Wooga, Europe's largest free games developer, the surge in interest in free games owes something to this uncertainty. "It's more attractive to pay if I like a game and if I want to progress faster and not pay 60 euros but not know what I get," said Wooga spokeswoman Sina Kaufmann. Wooga has seen its player base on Facebook jump from from 3.15 million active users in January 2010 to 32.83 million in June 2011.
Matthias Hellmund, head of mobile development at German developer Exozet, echoed Kaufmann's sentiments (and played perfectly to Mike Capps' fears) when he said at Gamescom that the market for $70 console titles is gradually shrinking as gamers adapt to a world of iPads and 99 cent games. He insists, however, that there is still room for profitability in free-to-play.
"People don't necessarily spend less, because fans might be willing to invest even hundreds of pounds for a game experience they really like," said Hellmund. "So some spend more money than they would on a premium-priced game."
In the light of this survey, it's even easier to seen why developers are increasingly leaning towards adding free-to-play titles to their franchises. Development company Turbine reported that revenue from Lord of the Rings Online tripled after it switched to free-to-play, following the example of Dungeons and Dragons Online, which saw a 500% increase in revenue after making the switch to free-to-play.
The impact that these changes will have on traditional console gaming remains to be seen, but it's not difficult to see the future will have to present a lot more cohesion than the present situation does. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic Games is all for combining console gaming with the opportunities offered by mobile platforms, though even he's unsure of how this would work. The future may look as weird as it does bright, but these shifts in the industry can't be ignored - all that remains now is to work out how to reconcile public interest in free-to-play with the demands of console gamers. Pray you live in uninteresting times, right?