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The rise of ‘free to play’ games

The gaming industry has a new trick up its sleeve—the free to play model—which has become a popular way to attract new players.

Greg Devine


Gaming setup playing Call of Duty

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Free to play Battle Royal games have become some of the most played in recent times. Titles such as Fortnite and Call of Duty Warzone are some of the most popular. Call of Duty recently released its newest incarnation, Modern Warfare 2, and along with it, a free to play game mode, Warzone 2

Fortnite on a Switch
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Battle Royal games require a big player base just to play one match—around 150 players all on one map. Regarding the sales of Modern Warfare 2, its player base might not be large enough to support the Battle Royal mode. However, by making Warzone 2 free to play, its makers attract a new player base that doesn’t need to spend £60 to join in the fun. 

The makers then advertise the full game to the free players, even locking away features that would make the game better, in return for a subscription. Should these players really enjoy the game and subsequently wish to upgrade their weaponry, they would need to purchase the full game, which, of course, is the aim and where extra sales lie.

Fortnite took over the world a couple of years ago. It’s especially popular with children and young teenagers. Whilst the game is free to play, certain features and customisable options are locked behind paywalls. People are willing to pay for these options, though, which brings the creators of Fortnite plenty of money.

These games tend to be the most watched live streams over on Twitch. Big name YouTubers like The Sidemen will often undertake free to play games, which their audience can download themselves. Among Us is another example of a free to play game that became popular during the lockdown periods. Whilst it wasn’t free to play on a PC, you weren’t charged if playing it on a mobile. Among Us isn’t a Battle Royal title, but a game more akin to an online version of Cluedo, in which players try to determine who the imposter is. 

The model isn’t always successful though. EA Sports’ main rival, Pro Evolution Soccer, tried to change one of its games in an attempt to reclaim the notoriety of providing the best football simulation. It changed the game’s title to eFootball and made part of the game free to play: myTeam. It was an attempt to profit in the same way EA does with Ultimate Team. Players open packs to get virtual football trading cards. They can use these cards in their own team and play online against other people to win trophies and titles. Ridiculous amounts of money can be made from these packs. EFootball thought that, by making their version free to play, they’d be able to undercut EA Sports. Unfortunately, eFootball’s gameplay was so poor that people opted to pay the full price for EA Sports’s game, which they felt was better overall.

One of the best features of these free to play games is that they’re predominantly cross platform. This means that people with an Xbox can play against people with a PlayStation and vice versa. It encourages greater online participation from friends who may own different consoles to each other, which ultimately increases the player base. 

The makers of Warzone 2 have been smart by releasing the free to play element at the beginning of the Christmas period. Players will then be likely to ask for the full game, Modern Warfare 2, in their stockings. Well played.

The gaming industry appears to have stagnated recently, with no significant graphical improvements or new ideas/mechanics. Still, the free to play model will attract players whilst the next big change comes together. It’s evidently a model that’s working perfectly.

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