Free-to-play pricing models could become an increasingly dominant part of the gaming landscape, according Dr Greg Zeschuk, vice president and co-founder at BioWare.
This week the Mass Effect developer announced Dragon Age Legends - a free-to-play Facebook tie-in to the fantasy RPG franchise, due to launch in February next year. While speaking to Dr Zeschuck at EA's showcase this week, we asked whether he could ever foresee a time when free-to-play becomes the dominant pricing plan for games:
"I think it could," he replied. "I think you do actually see something around that in Korea, as an example. But even there it's not fully dominant. Even while there's a lot of free-to-play games there, there are still subscription MMOs in Korea. It's one of the elements, it could even be the dominant one at some point, but at the same time it doesn't preclude other opportunities."
But Dr Zeschuk believes it is unlikely that the free-to-play model will ever completely replace subscription based games. BioWare is expected to use a paid subscription for its Star Wars MMO, The Old Republic, which will be released in 2011.
"You can't offer a subscription on something that's exactly the same as a free to play game. The expectation is that for subscription it will be deeper and have other longer-term benefits that perhaps wouldn't be as significant in a free-to-play game," explained Dr Zeschuk. "Or maybe the free-to-play game will offer the exact same thing, but it's going to cost you the exact same thing anyway [via micro-transactions] - the price is the price is the price, know matter how much you dress it up."
Only this week Codemasters Online announced that Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online had switched to a free-to-play model, joining the successful Dungeons & Dragons Online in the subscription-free space. Early in 2011 Atari's Champions Online will also switch a a free-to-play model.
As Dr Zeschuk said, charge a subscription and players expect a deeper experience, something found in abundance in World of Warcraft. The question is, will The Old Republic be able to match up?