Free-to-Play Games Likely Coming to Xbox Live

Free-to-Play Games Likely Coming to Xbox Live

Rumors abound that Free-to-Play gaming model will come to Xbox Live for the Xbox 360.


The business model for gaming consoles has been a fairly straightforward one for a long time. Buy a game, stick it in the console, play, repeat. However, as games and gaming hardware get more sophisticated, they also get more expensive. One of the ways in which PC's have dealt with this problem in the past is by creating a Free-to-Play (F2P) micro-transactional sales model. Of course, this is a necessity for gaming PC's that run no cheaper than $800 to $1,000 dollars with PC games that are just as expensive as console games at around $60 a pop. However, consoles have been inching up in the last generation ($200 to $400) and are now looking to expand their markets to individuals that will respond to a F2P option.

     The way the F2P model works now is primarily used in the MMO model, where massive communities of gamers are allowed access to basic components of the game, and a pared-down skeleton of the main plot and sub plots. Where the "micro-transactional" comes in is in purchasing extra features, equipment, access to levels or areas, etc. The most recent PC F2P game I've played is Lord of the Rings Online, which actually went F2P more than a year after its original release. As further expansions were released the older ones were placed in the F2P canon, and one could purchase character equipment, access to areas and quests, and greater character modifications through small credit card purchases directly on the game's interface.

     Rumors now are that consoles like the PS3 and (more importantly) Xbox360 will be adopting F2P games soon. A recent article from Eurogamer reveals that Hi-Rez Studios, makers of Tribes: Ascend, told Eurogamer that Microsoft plans to relax its rules regarding Xbox Live because of industry trends. Reportedly, Sony has also been exploring F2P games for their Sony Network, and Microsoft doesn't want to be left behind. "At least from our conversations," says Harris, "both Sony and Microsoft are moving there strategically but there are still some things to be worked out on both the business side and the technical side and the certification side regarding frequency of patches." At least for Xbox Live, there's some question as to how much to make available without payment, and how much support Microsoft has available to implement the frequent patches necessary to constantly update, unlock and lock content. Until that time, it seems Tribes: Ascend  will stay on the back-burner.

     Each platform seems to have at least one F2P MMO in the barrel, but each company seems to waiting for the other take the initial dive into the business model. "It's inevitable that Microsoft will move towards that because the industry is moving towards that," Harris said. However, both Xbox Live and Sony Network have also implemented ad-based revenue models for certain games that may further forestall F2P distribution. Xbox Live senior product manager David Dennis told Eurogamer, "The strength we have in the business right now and the momentum we have allows us to experiment and try different things like that and see what consumers like and what they don't like." It seems that Micosoft, at least at this point, is keeping its options open.