The next generation of free-to-play games will target single-player experiences and provide content as compelling as Skyrim, says an ngmoco manager.
Many of you paid $60 for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on launch day and never looked back. Most folks agree that the game was well worth the price of admission. For the price of a semi-upscale dinner for two, Skyrim provided dozens - if not hundreds - hours of content with polished sound and visuals to envelop the experience. Now, here's the question: would you have been willing to pay that same $60 in several small installments? Ben Cousins, general manager of mobile game company ngmoco Sweden, thinks so. According to him, free-to-play games are about to enter their third wave, and within two years, something akin to a free-to-play Skyrim will ignite the core gamer market for massive profits.
"I believe that single-player will be the next to be cracked in terms of freemium monetisation," says Cousins. "[Traditional], story-based, scripted, linear and non-linear single-player that we see on consoles." Cousins holds the view that free-to-play games have had two distinct generations so far: an early one where only cosmetic items were for sale, and the current one where payments eliminate annoying roadblocks in a player's way, like accelerating construction time in CityVille. He envisions a third generation that appeals to core gamers by offering traditional single-player experiences with a staggered payment model. "A game like Skyrim, where you accrue skills and equipment over time, that you can play for hundreds of hours, is actually one of the easiest games to develop for a free-to-play model. That would be a big hit."
As for how much money a game like this could make, Cousins believes it has the potential to exceed even modern-day blockbusters. He argues that free-to-play single-player games make a "lifetime" investment of $60 easier than an up-front payment, and thus could attract swaths of traditional core gamers, as well as those in growing markets like South Asia and Africa. Cousins predicts that such an industry could collectively grow to $100 billion, but even more conservative estimates place a single-player, free-to-play industry into the billion-dollar-plus range.
The free-to-play single-player game isn't actually as bizarre as it sounds. Think about the proliferation of DLC and how AAA series from Assassin's Creed to Mass Effect are already selling players small chunks of an overarching story. The economics, tools, and customer interest for the third wave of freemium games are already here; now someone just needs to make an excellent game to go along with them.