Join The Free To Play Revolution
$60 games are big business for the Ubisofts and Activisions of this world, but would you be surprised to learn that the money made from these AAA, headline-generating releases is insignificant compared to that of free-to-play (F2P) games? With the leading F2P games each generating $100 million to $500 million in revenue, each year, free-to-play is now the dominant business model in the industry, generating an estimated $14.6 billion in revenue in 2012; a figure that is expected to increase to $22.4 billion by 2015.
This trend has not gone unnoticed by publishers, all of which are now developing their own free-to-play games. Ubisoft is exploring RTS, simulation and action genres with Anno, Silent Hunter and Ghost Recon titles; EA is adding a Frostbite-powered Command & Conquer to its roster of successful F2P releases; and Activision has launched a free-to-play Call of Duty in Asia. With so many on the market, Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) requiring subscriptions have suffered considerably (the exception being Blizzard’s seemingly-invincible juggernaut, World of Warcraft), though their developers have been quick to react, retooling their titles for F2P audiences. Performed skillfully, the conversions have revitalized the games, as was the case for Turbine, which saw a 500% increase in revenue in the six months following Dungeons and Dragons Online’s F2P relaunch.
Newzoo’s graphic shows the rapid growth of the free-to-play business model in the U.S. MMO market.
So lucrative is the F2P model that new and upcoming F2P releases match the quality and technical prowess of the most popular $60 games. Sony Online Entertainment’s recently-released Planetside 2 is a prime example, featuring stunning graphics as good as those in any other game, massive 2,000 player battles, and soon, advanced GPU-accelerated NVIDIA PhysX effects, which were previously only found in big-budget, boxed releases like Borderlands 2.
Now live for a little over two months, Planetside 2 has already attracted three million players to its battlefields. To see if your system is up to the task of joining those players, hit up our GPU Analyzer.
Meteor Entertainment’s Hawken, meanwhile, offers a more personal 6v6 experience, but is no less impressive for it, boasting Unreal Engine 3 visuals, enhanced with NVIDIA PhysX and APEX effects.
"At Meteor Entertainment, we see free-to-play as the future of gaming” said Bill Wagner, Chief Production Officer. “Our strategy with Hawken is to create a truly unique, next generation experience. One that rivals the performance of most traditionally distributed blockbuster games and exceeds the expectations of the most demanding gamer. By partnering with NVIDIA, we can deliver the most advanced graphics and richest gameplay experience, especially with cutting edge technology like PhysX and 3D Vision. We are excited to be changing the game together”.
Hawken’s Unreal Engine 3 visuals are enhanced with a range of GPU-accelerated NVIDIA PhysX effects, adding to the action-packed spectacle. See if your system is ready for PhysX-enhanced Hawken with our GPU Analyzer.
Both Planetside 2 and Hawken impress, but the most advanced engine in the F2P market belongs to Crytek, developer of the Crysis franchise. Called CryEngine 3, their latest development platform pushes the boundaries in all respects, as you can see in their tech demo.
Following its first outing in Crysis 3 this month, CryEngine will be unleashed upon the F2P marketplace via Warface, the studio’s first F2P game. But unlike most developers and publishers, Crytek intends to bet the bank on F2P, foregoing boxed releases altogether, such is there confidence in the F2P model:
"As we were developing console games we knew, very clearly, that the future is online and free-to-play," said the studio’s co-founder, Cevat Yerli. "Right now we are in the transitional phase of our company, transitioning from packaged goods games into an entirely free-to-play experience. What this entails is that our future, all the new games that we're working on, as well new projects, new platforms and technologies, are designed around free-to-play and online, with the highest quality development."
"As is evident in Warface, our approach is to ensure the best quality, console game quality. That implies budgets of between $10m to $30m - so no compromise there - but at the price-point of $0 entry.”
Crytek's Warface takes F2P graphics to a new level.
The F2P market isn’t booming merely because of advanced graphics and high production values - it is the quality of the gameplay experience that attracts players, first and foremost. Several years ago, the few free-to-play titles that approached the quality of ‘normal’ $50 games weren’t so much free as they were ‘pay to win’, where players were only competitive or able to progress if they bought items and boosts, or essential gameplay tools that were held back behind a paywall.
Then, in 2009, the previously-unknown Riot Games launched League of Legends, a free-to-play game inspired by Defense of the Ancients, a Warcraft III mod that had developed a following second only in size to Counter-Strike. Few paid attention, having been burnt time and time again by supposedly “free” games, but those who loaded up League of Legends discovered something incredible: a truly free game.
Today, League of Legends is one of the most popular and profitable games in the world, with over thirty-two million people playing each month, yet players need never spend a penny unless they desire instant access to new characters, or cosmetic skins for their favorites. By making every element of the game free, and the in-game-currency-cost of purchasable items fair, League of Legends showed the industry how free-to-play games should be made.
Over twelve million people play League of Legends every single day, making it the most played game in the world.
Quickly, others followed suit with ‘fair’ F2P games, though surprisingly the first to nail the formula was a small Belarusian firm called Wargaming, known for niche turn-based strategy games. Launching initially in Russia with little hype in 2010, Wargaming’s World of Tanks arrived in Europe and North America April 2011. Its addictive gameplay and unique multiplayer tank-battling setting drew the players in in droves, culminating in a Guinness World Record for “Most Players Online Simultaneously On One MMO Server”. Now, less than two years later, World of Tanks rivals the popularity of League of Legends, making it the fastest growing game in the world.
Developers and publishers rarely supply user numbers for games, but with over forty-five million registered players it’s safe to say World of Tanks is second only in popularity to League of Legends.
Though not as technically advanced as Hawken or Planetside 2, Wargaming has brought World of Tanks up to date with a new game engine that launched as part of a sizeable patch last September. Loaded with the latest bells and whistles, Wargaming used the new engine in concert with battleground overhauls to significantly improve the fidelity and realism of the game, which was further complemented by a fully-modelled physics engine, adding an extra element of strategy to the game and opening up new attack opportunities, best of all being the ability to ram enemies off cliffs using your tank’s superior weight-to-power ratio.
World of Tanks’ setting and gameplay appeals to young and old alike, a fact that led to it being advertised on British television channels during primetime.
Now indistinguishable from the best AAA releases, F2P developers work to push their games towards the ultimate goal: participation in the eSports circuit. Acceptance to a league speaks to a game’s quality, singling it out as one of the best available. Finely tuned, balanced to a tee, and accepted by the elite few who earn a living playing games, this is a game you want, nay, need to play. With massive visibility, the eSports circuit can propel a game to lasting fame, up there with the greats like Quake and Counter-Strike.
League of Legends has already attained this fandom, displacing StarCraft II as the most popular eSports game in South Korea, a country where eSport matches are broadcast on TV alongside movies and news. Unsurprisingly, World of Tanks is fast following in LoL’s footsteps, running introductory, accessible eSports tournaments on their website, and on the professional stage also, with the help of Intel Extreme Masters, the World Cyber Games, and the ESL.
Similarly, Hawken and Planetside 2 are targeting the eSports arena, inking deals with MLG and ESL. For Hawken, the base for eSports is already there, as Meteor Entertainment’s Khang Lee explains:
“eSports are really going to be one of our main focuses. The game really lends itself to being competitive because you don’t die right away and there is a mode called Siege Mode which is very team based and involves a lot of strategy since you have to escort a battleship, sort of like a tank escort mission, and I think it’s going to be really fun to watch. We have signed up with both ESL and MLG to bring tournaments and money prizes to players.”
Distilling Planetside 2’s 2,000-player encounters into an eSport will be somewhat harder, however, as the PA Report reveals. With a solid gameplay base already established, Sony Online Entertainment has partnered with the MLG to determine how Planetside 2’s entertaining action can be converted into a manageable team-based spectacle that will require skill and strategy. Having already signed deals with both games, the eSport leagues clearly see the potential in their offerings, as they do with the other F2P games on their rosters.
To support this free-to-play revolution we’ve teamed up with Hawken, Planetside 2, and World of Tanks to create a Free To Play Bundle that gives buyers of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 600 Series video cards free in-game currency, enabling the immediate purchase of each game’s most desirable goodies.
In Hawken, bundle buyers receive up to 7,200 Meteor Credits, which can be used to buy new mechs, like the Rocketeer, which is outfitted with deployable mobile turrets, Hellfire lock-on missiles, Seeker dumb-fire missiles, and EOC Repeaters, which fire “chains of explosive pucks that stick to surfaces”. Alternatively, enhance your existing mech with cosmetic additions, ranging from new chassis to new jump jets, to new paint jobs (we’re particularly fond of the tiger skin).
One heavily upgraded Hawken mech. Looks: 9/10. Style: 10/10. Effectiveness of tiger stripes on battlefield: 0/10.
In Planetside 2, get a head start on the progression system, using up to 5,000 Station Cash to unlock new weapons instantly, and to specialize vehicles, turning an APC into a mobile spawner, for example. Prefer something cosmetic? Sony’s got you covered with numerous camos and skins, cosmetic armor modifications, and even hood ornaments to personalize your favorite vehicle.
This upgraded Planetside 2 Heavy Assault soldier sports a fantastic gun that teamkills as many friendlies as it kills enemies, a new, stronger pistol, a lock-on rocket launcher, skins for each and every weapon, custom armor, a custom helmet, and skins for them too. Unlocking the weapons through normal gameplay would take a good six hours; with Station Cash, two minutes.
In World of Tanks, the biggest lure for players joining the game is the promise of commanding the iconic tanks of World War II, be that the Russian T-34, the American Sherman, the British Churchill, or the German Tiger. Affording one of these tanks is another matter entirely, however, as many demand hours and hours of gameplay to acquire, a task that is greatly aided by Premium status, which boosts the amount of credits and experience earned each match by 50%.
Some tanks can’t be acquired through gameplay, however, having been designated as “Premium Tanks”. Already maxed out to Elite status, these Premium Tanks have reduced repair costs, and the experience earned through their use can be converted to free, standard experience using Gold (World of Tank’s real world currency). These benefits make Premium Tanks highly coveted by players as they significantly increase the rate of progression in-game, allowing players to acquire ‘standard’ tanks quicker, and to unlock their research upgrades at a faster rate. Why would you want a ‘standard’ tank? Fully upgraded, they blow the socks off Premium Tanks, giving you an edge in combat.
With the F2P Bundle, buyers will receive up to 10,000 Gold for the purchase of these Premium tanks, and a one-month Premium Account upgrade, which normally costs 2,500 Gold.
301 British Churchill III tanks were supplied to the Russians during World War II, and in World of Tanks you can take one of these rare, Premium variants for a spin. Combined with the Premium Account the experience and credits will be rolling in in no time at all.
As you can see, buying the F2P Bundle gets you a good deal of swag, saving you hours upon hours of time, and letting you get to the good guns and tanks instantly. With the GeForce GTX 650 or GTX 650 Ti, F2P Bundle buyers receive $25 of currency and items in each game, and with the GeForce GTX 660 or above that figure climbs to $50.